History Of Shadow Play In English

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Shadow Play

  • Shadow play, also known as shadow puppetry, is an ancient form of storytelling and entertainment, which uses flat articulated cut-out figures (shadow puppets) held between a source of light and a translucent screen or scrim .
  • There are four different types of performance in shadow play: actors using their own bodies as shadows, puppets where actors hold them up as shadows during the day, spatial scenes, and shadows from either side of the screen.
  • Shadow play is popular in many countries around the world in a variety of cultures, both among children and adults.
  • Shadow play is an old tradition and has a long history in Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia.
  • It has been an ancient art form and a living folk tradition in China, India, Iran and Nepal.


  • The shadow play probably evolved from the “Paar” show, in which narrative scenes are painted on a large cloth and the story is further related through song. As the show was mostly performed at night, the cross was illuminated with oil lamps or candles.
  • Shadow puppet theater probably originated in Central Asia—China or India—in the 1st millennium BCE.
  • By at least about 200 BCE, the cloth figures in Indian tholu bommalata shows seem to have been replaced with puppetry.
  • These are displayed behind a thin screen with flat, jointed puppets made of colorfully painted transparent leather.
  • The puppets are placed close to the screen and lit from behind, while the hands and arms are manipulated with attached canes and the lower legs dangling freely from the knee.
  • Evidence of shadow puppet theater is found in both ancient Chinese and Indian texts. The most important historical centers of shadow drama theater have been China, Southeast Asia, and the Indian subcontinent. While shadow play theater is an Asian invention, hand puppets have a long history in Europe.

Shadow Play In India

  • Shadow puppets are an ancient part of the culture of India, especially regionally in Keelu Bomme and Tholu Bommalata of Andhra Pradesh, Toglu Gombayata in Karnataka, Charma Bahuli Natya in Maharashtra, Ravana Shadow in Odisha, Tholpavakoothu in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
  • Shadow puppetry is also found in pictorial traditions in India, such as temple murals, open-leaf folio paintings, and narrative paintings.
  • During the 19th century and early parts of the 20th century during the colonial era, Indologists believed that shadow puppetry had become extinct in India, although it is mentioned in ancient Sanskrit texts.
  • According to Beth Osnes, the Tholu Bommalata shadow puppet theater dates back to the 3rd century BCE, and has attracted patronage ever since.
  • The process of making the puppets is an elaborate ritual, where artist families in India pray, go into seclusion, create the required art piece, then celebrate the “figurative birth of the puppet” with flowers and incense.
  • Shadows are used to creatively express characters and stories in Ramayana.