Togalu gombeyaata

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Leather puppets demonstrating the war between the Pandava, Arjuna and his son Babruvahana

Togalu gombeyaata is a puppet show unique to the state of Karnataka, India. Togalu gombeyaata translates to "a play of leather dolls" in the native language of Kannada.[1] It is a form of shadow puppetry. Karnataka Chitrakala Parishat has undertaken research on this art and has a good collection of leather puppets.

Making of the puppet

The puppets used in togalu gombeyaata are made of leather. Goat hide and deer skin are generally used for making these puppets since they have the characteristic of transparency and can easily absorb colours. The raw hide is treated with salt and caustic soda to remove hair and other impurities and then dried. Then colours are applied on the leather using locally available vegetable dyes. Red, blue, green and black colours are usually used.[2] The hide is then cut into appropriate shapes which are joined together using strings and small sticks. For puppets representing human and animal figures, the head and limbs are joined in such a way that they can be moved easily.[3] The maximum size of the puppet is 4 x 3 feet and the minimum is 6 x 3 inches.[2] The puppets are usually characters from the Hindu epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata. More recently, personalities such as Mahatma Gandhi have also been created using puppets.[4]

Stage and settings

A stage is set up using bamboo stems and woollen blankets. A white, semi-transparent cloth is strung across the stage to serve as a screen on which the images of the puppets are projected. The puppets are strung across a rope behind the screen and a bright oil lamp placed behind the puppets projects their shadows on to the screen. The puppeteers sit behind the screen and manipulate the puppets based on the scene being played.[3] However, innovation has entered this art with the usage of steel frames for the stage, loudspeakers to amplify voices, and an arc lamp instead of the oil lamp.[4]


The performance usually starts with an invocation to the Hindu god Ganesha and to the Hindu goddess of learning Saraswati. The scenes enacted are usually those belonging to the Hindu epics, the Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Puranas. The puppeteers also provide voice to the puppets and an accompanying music is provided using a mukha-veena (a veena played by mouth) or a harmonium. The puppets are controlled using sticks and strings. The performances usually commence at night and continue till dawn.

See also


  1. A description of togalu gombeyaata is provided by Staff Correspondent (3 January 2005). "Create atmosphere to develop rural theatre". The Hindu. Chennai, India. Archived from the original on 18 January 2005. Retrieved 3 January 2005.
  2. 2.0 2.1 A description of togalu gombeyaata is provided by "Shadow Puppets". Online Webpage of 2001 Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 29 April 2007.
  3. 3.0 3.1 A detailed description of leather puppets is provided by K.L. Kamat. "Leather Puppets of India". Online Webpage of Kamat's Potpourri. 1996-2007 Kamat's Potpourri. Retrieved 29 April 2007.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Changes in the art of togalu gombeyaata are mentioned by K.L. Kamat. "Kamat Goes to a Puppet Show". Online Webpage of Kamat's Potpourri. 1996-2007 Kamat's Potpourri. Retrieved 29 April 2007.