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The Story of Rani Abbakka
through Togalu Gombeyaata

Installation Design

Designed specifically for the International Arrivals Lounge of BIAL Terminal 2, this installation explores the story of Rani Abbakka of Ullal through the traditional Karnataka leather puppet craft - Togalu Gombeyaata. Seven display windows exhibit the different facets of this ancient art form as the narrative unfolds. Each window showcases a perspective of the craft in its own unique style. To maintain the authenticity of the craft we collaborated with a traditional puppeteer from Hassan, Gunduraju, a 9th generation puppeteer. Based on historical puppet forms, some of the puppets were designed in-house by our team, while the others were recreated in their traditional avatar. A mix of traditional and contemporary interpretations of the craft were fashioned into the backdrops to add to the ambience of each window. 


Character Development

The narrator puppet introduces the different characters at the beginning of the story,  just as is done in the live puppet shows. We are introduced to the key characters - Rani Abbakka and the Portuguese.

The look of the window is intentionally fragmented and integrates traditional elements into a contemporary setting. Different styles of puppets are explored, from folk to the elegant style used for royalty. The war mask and the foot soldier set the tone for the battle that follows.   


The different parts of the narrator puppet have been divided into layers with a one-point perspective, allowing a glimpse into the making of a character puppet.


The Process of Puppet Making

A single larger than life size puppet draws viewers from afar and shows the Portuguese invading Rani Abakka’s kingdom. The panel style Jamkat  puppet shows the Ullal soldiers fighting the Portuguese and introduces Rani Abbakka in her warrior queen avatar.

The Jamkat  puppet has been designed to lead the audience through the different stages of puppet making to capture the process of the craft.


The story begins from the top left corner with uncut translucent treated hide. The scratched outlines transition to the next stage of inking with a bamboo pen. Paint brushes direct the eye to the stage that follows of painting in the colours. Holes are cut into the leather with a special tool to add another dimension to the shadows. Actual tools float in front over that part of the puppet that they are related to.


Finally, at the base of the puppet - a warm light from behind casts an intricate shadow enhanced by the cut outs of the puppet onto a fabric screen. 


Shadow Play

After being defeated in battle, Rani Abbakka flees to the forest. This window explores the animal puppets in Togalu Gombeyaata which are less frequently used.


Animal puppets and forest vegetation have been designed to create dramatic play of light and shadow, with the peacock like bird in the foreground as the main puppet. Thin fabric screens layer each other and parts of the puppets, as this window emphasises the use of shadows in leather puppetry.


Layers of puppets - birds in trees and on branches - are set against a printed backdrop of large vines and contemporary leaves to create a forest ambience. 


The Colours

The legendary Rani Abbakka returns from the forest to reclaim her kingdom from the Portuguese invaders. The strong colours  and the dramatic backdrop accentuate the rage of war.


This window explores the warm colour palette of Togalu Gombeyaata. The fabric screensare intended to create colour blocks that magnify this aspect of the craft and  create an ambience of traditional puppetry.


Warring elephants in the backdrop set the set the context for the Battle of Ullal.

A ragged finish of old fabric parchment adds to the ambience while it also suggests the ancient roots of this art form.

Typical to Indian art tradition royalty is depicted much larger than other humans and is the main puppet in this window. The Rani is placed above eye level to add to her grandeur.

A canon behind a screen at the top of the window emphasizes the shadows in the craft.


The Movement

Rani Abbakka's triumph over the foreign invaders is celebrated throughout the Kingdom. Dancers and acrobats come together to  rejoice her victory. The play of lights emphasizes the motion in dance. 

The play of lights brings an element of motion to the joyous festivity. 

A moving shadow designed to bring focus to Togalu Gombeyaata as a movement art form brings dynamism to the scene and gives an illusion of a dancing puppet.


The backdrop uses elements from the craft to accentuate this sense of motion using lively patterns. Shadows of the smaller dancer and acrobat further adds to the dynamism of the window. 


Who is the Puppeteer?

An almost satirical twist is introduced as the show ends with the narrator puppet of Togalu Gombeyaata appearing to control the shadow of the  puppeteer on the fabric screen. Echoing tradition the narrator puppet concludes the show with a reflective thought for the viewers.

The intriguing question of who is the puppet and who the puppeteer brings an interesting turn of thought for viewers to carry back and mull over even after they have left the window.

Musicians and vocalists are an integral part of puppet theatre - in keeping with the satirical twist the backdrop carries a watermark of puppet musicians.


The screen with the puppeteer's shadow stretches diagonally across the window and was designed to take the viewer behind the scenes.


Meet the Puppets

This window will contain a mix of physical puppets, a backdrop and a digital screen. 


Set in the Jungle Rani Abakka flees to, this digital window is an offshoot from the main story and is designed to give the audience a glimpse of the art of Togalu Gombeyaata. 


Animals are the key character. They are gender neutral, making it relatable to a larger audience. The window has a screen that plays a looped video.

The constantly fluttering/falling leaves and swaying grass attract the traveller’s eyes from afar.

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