Puppet

1850 (made)
Puppet thumbnail 1
Not currently on display at the V&A

Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This shadow puppet from Belgaum, Karnataka, in south-west India depicts a Rakshasa or demon. It would probably have been used in performances of the Ramayana, the great Hindu epic which tells the story of Rama, an incarnation of the god Vishnu, his exile in the forest and his battles against the ten-headed demon king Ravana, who abducted Rama's wife Sita and took her to Lanka, his island fortress and home of his army of rakshasas. Rakshasas could change their shape at will; in Hindu belief most, though not all, were evil and some feasted on human flesh. They often disturbed the religious sacrifices made by priests and sages.
The shadow puppet performance would have been carried out with lamps and a cloth screen (made of dhotis or saris) set up in the village. The puppeteers, members of hereditary groups, were positioned behind the screen and would hold and manipulate the puppets by their integral cane or bamboo sticks. The Ramayana would have been performed in its entirety and would have been accompanied by music as well as singing and narration. There are different styles of shadow puppets in various regions of India, and those of Karnataka are called Togalu Gombe Atta.


object details
Category
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Leather pieced and painted
Brief Description
A Rakshasa shadow puppet, leather painted, Karnataka, India, ca.1850.
Physical Description
Single standing figure of a rakshasa. Natural body colour; long black hair, thin beard and moustache; 2 eyes visible; open mouth with fang showing. Loin cloth garment in red with two tassels hanging down; simple ankle ornaments. Holding sword (scabbard tucked into waist) and round shield with black ground with red rim and three visible circles in whitish colour.
Dimensions
  • Maximum including handle height: 76cm
  • Maximum width: 39cm
  • Depth: 1.5cm
Credit line
Given by the Associates of the V&A
Production
Karnataka
Subject depicted
Literary ReferenceRamayana
Summary
This shadow puppet from Belgaum, Karnataka, in south-west India depicts a Rakshasa or demon. It would probably have been used in performances of the Ramayana, the great Hindu epic which tells the story of Rama, an incarnation of the god Vishnu, his exile in the forest and his battles against the ten-headed demon king Ravana, who abducted Rama's wife Sita and took her to Lanka, his island fortress and home of his army of rakshasas. Rakshasas could change their shape at will; in Hindu belief most, though not all, were evil and some feasted on human flesh. They often disturbed the religious sacrifices made by priests and sages.

The shadow puppet performance would have been carried out with lamps and a cloth screen (made of dhotis or saris) set up in the village. The puppeteers, members of hereditary groups, were positioned behind the screen and would hold and manipulate the puppets by their integral cane or bamboo sticks. The Ramayana would have been performed in its entirety and would have been accompanied by music as well as singing and narration. There are different styles of shadow puppets in various regions of India, and those of Karnataka are called Togalu Gombe Atta.
Bibliographic References
  • Los Angeles : University of California. 'Asian puppets : Wall of the World'. Los Angeles : Regents of the University of California,1976. pp. 10-43.
  • Contractor, Meher. 'The Shadow Puppets of India', Ahmedabad : Darpana Academy of the Performing Arts, 1984.
Collection
Accession Number
IS.38-1983

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record createdOctober 9, 2008
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