Padma Awards 2020: This award is special, says Andhra Pradesh leather puppetry artist Dalavai Chalapathi Rao

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On January 25, 84-year-old Dalavai Chalapathi Rao’s joy knew no bounds on learning that he was selected for Padma Shri award. Since afternoon all the residents of Nimmalakunta in Anantapur district, from where Mr. Chalapathi Rao hails, have been celebrating the achievement in their own way.

Nimmalakunta is synonymous with leather puppetry and Mr. Chalapathi Rao, who has been selected for the Padma Shri, is a popular face of the village and a brand ambassador for staging puppet shows and laboriously making them even today.

Mr. Chalapathi Rao, who has shifted to Dharmavaram town, 12 km away to be closer to his family members in his old age, says winning accolades and getting rewards was nothing new for him, but Padma Shri was very special and cannot be compared with any of his other awards.

After a countless number of shows in India and abroad, he had won national award in 1988 and several others later. When contacted, Mr. Chalapathi Rao said “kalamma Thalli karuninchindi” (the goddess of art has showered blessings) and his grandson Prakash was busy handling hundreds of congratulatory phone calls coming for his grandfather.

Puppet making

Mr. Chalapathi Rao began his journey as a teacher and guide to his community youngsters after excelling in the art of making leather puppets. Mr. Chalapathi Rao with his seven brothers and relatives began training the craftsmen in making leather paintings, lamp shades room partitions, after leather puppets saw no takers and the new trend touched the public imagination.

Born in 1936, he began his journey in puppet-making at the age of 13 as this art is mostly a family affair. He had learnt the art from his father Khade Rao and for 40 years gave several shows, mostly on mythological themes. Later he underwent a formal training in the craft.

The most popular acts performed by him along with his troupe of eight artists are adaptation of six khandas (scenes) from Ranganatha Ramayana-Sundarakanda, Lanka Dhanam, Sugriva Pattabhishekham, Sati Sulochana, YudhaKandam (Kumbhakarna & Ravana) and two paravalas from Bharatham: Virata Paravam and Draupathi Vastra Bharanam. He had performed 65 times in the USA, Germany and France.

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