Details shared by Ramakrishnan A, Palakkad
Tholpavakoothu, which literally means ‘play of leather puppets’, is a shadow puppetry performed in the Bhadrakali temples in Palakkad district. The script of the play is based on Kamba Ramayana and the languages used are Malayalam, Tamil and Sanskrit. Tholpavakoothu is performed in a long stage called Koothumadam, which has a white screen behind which puppets are placed with sticks. 21 earthen lamps placed behind the puppets cause their shadows to fall on the screen. The puppeteer, called as Pulavar, who is well-trained in this art, controls the movements of the puppets using sticks and the shadows are fallen on the screen to perfectly match the incidents of the story. Performed at consecutive nights, normally it takes 21 days to complete the Kamba Ramayana episodes. Depending on the local traditions, the duration of the performance may vary, which can be 7, 14, 21, 41 or 71 days. While performing this ritual, an idol of Goddess Bhadrakali is placed in front of the screen, because legend says that Tholpavakoothu was originated as per the request of Bhadrakali who could not witness Rama killing Ravana because she was fighting Demon Darika at that time.
Name of Ritual/Custom
Tholpavakoothu is performed in connection with the temple festivals in Bhadrakali temples during January to May.
Bhadrakali temples in Palakkad are the venues for Tholpavakoothu. Other than Palakkad this ritual art is performed in the temples of Thrissur and Malappuram districts also.
Recommended length to visit
Generally Tholpavakoothu is performed at consecutive nights and continues for 21 days. But, depending on the local tradition the duration can be 7, 14, 21, 41 or 71 days.
Do's & don'ts
Tholpavakoothu is performed in the Koothumadams in Bhadrakali Temples. Those who come to the temple to watch this ritual should follow the customs and traditions insisted by the temple.
A usual performance of Tholpavakoothu with 9 hours a day, lasting for 21 days, needs about 200 puppets and 40 artists. The artists should be well versed in Vedas and scriptures with sound knowledge in Sanskrit, Malayalam and Tamil. It requires severe training of 6 to 10 years for an artist to fully master and perform this ritual art.