Tolpava Koothu : Storytelling Through Shadow Puppetry

Another medium which is popularly used by storytellers is puppetry as it is a powerfula nd engaging medium. India has a rich puppetry tradition and the traditions practiced vary across regions in terms of style, stories, size of puppets, etc. Some of the shadow puppet traditions practiced are known by the following names : Tholu Bommalatta in Andhra Pradesh, Togalu Gombeatta in Karnataka, Tol Pava Koothu in Kerala, Tholu Bommalattam in Tamil Nadu, Chamdyacha Bahuliya in Maharashtra and Ravana Chhaya in Orissa. This post is about the ‘Tolpava Koothu’ : The Shadow Puppet Tradition of Kerala.
Via mykerala.net

It is an ancient peculiar ritualistic art form dedicated to Bhagavati, worshipped by the people of Kerala as the Mother Goddess.

The puppet plays are based on selected verses from the famous Tamil Epic ‘’Kamba Ramayana’. The language used is a dialect of Tamil with an admixture of Sanskrit and Malayalam words.

An excerpt from the book “Tolpava Koothu: Shadow puppets of Kerala” by G.Venu:

Tolpava Koothu – alternatively Pavakootu or Koothu – originated in the Palghat district of Kerala, where it is performed in the temples of Bhagati or Bhadrakali as a part of the ritualistic worship of the goddess. Tol means leather, pava means puppet and Koothu means play. Tolpava Koothu thus means performance of a play with puppets made of leather. The theme of Tolpava Koothu is the Ramayana stories, extending from the birth of Rama to his coronation.

It is chiefly to propitiate Bhadrakali that Tolpava Koothu is performed in her temples and the devotee’s believed that the goddess watches the performances and would be pleased by it. This belief is based on a legend which is even today current among Pava Koothu performers and the devotees. Long ago there lived an asura (demon) named Darika, who was a threat even to the gods and who also became an intolerable menace to rishi –s and man. To kill this asura, lord Siva created the goddess called Bhadrakali out of the Kalakooda poison round his throat. Bhadrakali killed Daika in a prolonged battle. It was while Bhadrakali was engaged in this battle that Rama fought Ravana and killed him. Thus Bhadrakali was not able to witness Rama’s triumph over Ravana. She was unhappy because she had missed watching this event. That is why the story of the Ramayana was chosen for Tolpava Koothu and is performed in Kali temples.

What storytelling traditions are you familiar with?



  1. Furry-Byter March 23, 2009

    This brings back memories of my trip to Shoranur, Palakkad, where I had the good fortune to meet a Tolpava Koothu stalwart Mr R Pulavar.

    The show is mesmerizing – not least because of the shadowy larger than life mythical figures dancing on thin white curtain, the fires bellowing in little diyas behind the scene – creating the shadows, and the puppeteers leading the characters into a flight of fancy – fantastical story telling with singing, chanting, questions and answers and ancient wisdom and drama being passed on.

    I rediscovered The Ramayana that day. I also learned that certain niche filmmakers, researches, historians and teachers are using traditional games, story telling techniques and ancient literature, such as Manimekhalai and Silapadhikaram, to boost an interest in kids towards our culture.

    Some schools in inner Maharashtra and Chennai have exposed school kids to shadow puppetry by making it a fun activity and also spread awareness about civic and social issues.

    But youngsters, and young organizations such as Pratham need to take up the initiative to write, do and spread the tradition on a real time scale for shadow puppetry and other forms of ancient story telling traditions to see a revival.

  2. Sadanandapulavar Annamala November 8, 2015

    The art form tholpavakoothu is a gift of unknown handloom weavers who migrated from pandinadu to palakkad.we belives that Singi pulavar of pallassana was the creator of this art.if any one likes to understand koothu please contact ,,,,[email protected]


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