ERODE: Narrating a story using visual elements captures the imagination of children and helps in their learning process. The art of shadow puppetry, practised only in the southern districts of the State at present, is one such medium. However, the popularity of shadow puppetry is on the wane. A non-academic teaching centre in Erode has taken up the initiative to introduce the art form to the next generation and keep it alive.
Five shadow puppetry artistes from Tirunelveli, who were brought to Erode by LiLa Learning Space recently to conduct a workshop for students. Since the puppets they used were around 200 years old and were related to mythology, the centre helped the artistes make over 10 popular cartoon characters.
"We were looking for an ancient art form that would help in improving children's intelligence and grooming them better. We came across shadow puppetry which fit our bill," said Madhumitha of LiLa Learning Space.
According to tutors, shadow puppetry is a combination of science and art. Children learn to create puppets and project their reflections using light from behind the screen. This help them to overcome stage fear, the tutors said.
"About 20 families in Tirunelveli region practice the art form. As Covid-19 pandemic affected their livelihood, they are modifying the art form in order to revive it," said Madhumitha.
Raju (71), an artiste who was awarded Kalaimamani in 2016, said his family has been practising shadow puppetry for more than four generations. "Our ancestors were from Thanjavur. They told stories with shadow puppetry during the Maratha rule. We moved to Tirunelveli three generations ago. Though the art form is famous in Kerala and Andhra too, we in Tamil Nadu know a unique process of tanning and using colours," he said.
The puppets used in Kerala are hard and difficult to colour. Artistes here process the hide for more than 10 days so that the colours reflect well on the screen, Raju explained. "In Kerala, more than 10 artistes sit behind the screen to give voices. On the other hand, in Tamil Nadu, only one artiste mimics voices for all puppet characters. We are ready to teach students anytime," the veteran artiste said.