The word ‘Tholu’ means leather and ‘Bommalu’ means dolls in Telugu.
“Tholu Bommalata” is an ancient shadow puppet theatre tradition- performed with puppets created from
In ancient times – the performers of this art were part of a group of wanderers and peddlers who travelled to
different villages regularly. The performers, as a source of livelihood offered to entertain their audience by
singing folk tales and narrating stories from epics and legends. The leather puppets were the highlight of the
story. The movements of the puppets matched with an instrument playing in the background. Mostly, music
from a harmonium and a mridangam accompanied the spoken and sung narrative. The performances were
immersive and meaningful – with words taken from Telugu and Sanskrit literature – honouring our history and
These puppets were also a symbol of the value of the art form. The color scheme, style, and decorative
elements were heavily influenced by the aesthetics of the 16th-century Lepakshi temple in the Anantapur
district of Andhra Pradesh. Nimmalakunta, a small village in Dharmavaram Mandal, is known for this art.
In order to revive this dying art which is now on the verge of extinction, artisans started using these art motifs
to create paintings, wall hangings and other décor items.
Depicted in this painting is a “Tree of Life” incorporating many salient features of this art form which
were otherwise an integral part of their puppet designs.