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Shadow Puppet – Rama (Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore)

Asian Civilisations Museum - Shadow puppet Rama

Shadow Puppet – Rama

This “Shadow Puppet” depicts Rama, the lead character from the Indian epic, the Ramayana. It is a form of shadow puppet show called Togalu Gombeyaata unique to the state of Karnataka, India. Togalu Gombeyaata translates to “a play of leather dolls” in the native language of Kannada.

Shadow puppetry is an ancient tradition. Performances usually included music, song, and dialogue set against a screen with intense light from behind the puppets to cast a distinct shadow. The stories were drawn from famous Indian epics such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata, or myths, legends, and traditional storytelling.

The puppets are made of leather, with goat or deer skins used since they have the characteristic of transparency and can be easily colored. The colors are vegetable dyes of red, blue, green, and black. The hide is cut into appropriate shapes that are joined together using strings and sticks. The puppets represent god, human, and animal figures, where the head and limbs are joined in such a way that they can be moved easily.

A stage is set up using a white semi-transparent cloth strung across the stage to serves as a screen on which the images of the puppets are projected using a bright oil lamp placed behind the puppets to project their images onto the screen. The puppeteers sit behind the screen and manipulate the puppets to relate the story in the dialogue and songs.

Shadow puppets were a historic art form and tradition for dramatizing the vastly rich cultural epics. It is now mostly superseded by motion pictures and television; however, these puppets provide tangible evidence to the history of South Asian art and drama.

This shadow puppet depicts Rama, also known as Ramachandra, who is a principal deity of Hinduism. In the Rama-centric traditions of Hinduism, he is considered the Supreme Being.

Shadow Puppet – Rama

  • Title:                  Shadow Puppet – Rama
  • Dates:               19th Century
  • Provenience:     Karnataka, India
  • Materials:          Leather
  • Museum:          Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore

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Photo Credit: JOM