The Clown Puppets

Clowns and clown/stage-managers are a part of many performing traditions found in India. Starting with the Vidusaka of classical Sanskrit drama, and continuing up to the clowns found in the myriad folk performing traditions active today, these figures exhibit a diversity that prohibits one neat interpretation of their function or role in the overall performance event. In some instances, such as the Vidusaka of classical Sanskrit drama, they are closely associated with the play and its characters, and they may enhance or compliment the character of the hero in particular, through their own more negative or inverse characterization. In other instances they have usurped a portion of the stage manager's role, and they exert some control over the play's pace as well as over the manner in which it is interpreted. The Vidusaka of Kuttiyattam and the Kattiakaran of Terukuttu are Examples of this type of clown. There are also clowns who develop an autonomous level in the performance, separate from the epic episode or play, in both action and values. Juttupoligadu and Bangarakka are examples of this type of clown. There is also variation in the degree to which scatological and erotic vocabulary and themes are incorporated by the clowns into their skits. The Vidusaka of both classical Sanskrit drama and Kuttiyattam use relatively less obscene vocabulary and never employ overt scatological or erotic images. Juttupoligadu, Bangarakka, and Ketigadu, on the other hand, employ a great deal of obscene or vulgar language and always use scatological and erotic imagery in their skits. With this diversity in the clowns' roles and material, comes a diversity in their impact or effect upon the performance, that makes it important to examine each clown or each tradition's set of clowns carefully so that comparative statements and studies can be made with greater precision.

Tolubommalata also has a set of clowns who participate in its performance in a variety of roles. Acting on an apparently autonomous level, Bangarakka, Juttupoligadu, and Ketigadu develop a set of values separate from those found in the epic episodes, or in the more formal portions of the outer frame. While the epic episodes present archetypes of good and evil, the clowns present more recognizable personalities and themes, that are characterized by a state of continual flux between aspirations towards an ideal model, and actual, less self conscious, behavior. In this role, the clowns have no trouble in engaging their audience, who prove more receptive to their skits than to any other portion of the performance.

The clowns also operate on a number of other levels in the performance. They participate within the epic episodes as minor characters, and, in those roles, they typically play the fool. They also appear on a level between their autonomous skits and the epic episodes, in instances where the clown Ketigadu takes one of the fools out of his epic context in order to abuse him. The clowns are also able to converse with the puppeteers and Bhagavatar directly, and help with some of the performance's formal elements, one of which involves their addressing the audience directly when they acknowledge their sponsors and patrons and pay their respects to the assembled people.

Previous interpretations of the role the clowns play in the performance have centered on their ability to entertain the audience. These interpretations have been rather superficial however, and no one has analyzed fully how or why these characters generate and maintain their appeal. In addition to and commensurate with their ability to entertain, the clowns may also have a symbolic function or functions within the performance. Bruce Tapper (1979) argues that they repel or absorb the evil eye through their grotesque physical nature and their inauspicious behavior. David Shulman (1985) believes that their physical nature and behavior act to invert the standards of normal or accepted behavior, and thus open up and release pent-up energy and potency. This interpretation follows claims that performances of Tolubommalata were staged to bring rains during periods of drought (1961 Census of India, Radhakrsnamurti 1969). Before discussing these various interpretations further, let us review in detail the clowns of Tolubommalata, and the roles they play in its performances.

The Cast of Characters


Bangarakka, Golden Sister/Mother/Harlot (Monier-Williams 1899:2, Brown 1903:19) was the first puppet clown to appear in the performance, and she was introduced as a member of the troupe, who was late in coming to the show. The identification of the puppet clowns as troupe members held for Juttupoligadu and Ketigadu as well, and was also a feature of the puppet clowns of Togalu Gombe Ata. In the latter case, the male clown, married to Bangarakka, was called by the puppeteers' caste name, Killekyata (Stache-Rosen 1976:282). Bangarakka was also the first puppet to speak, which she did with the Bhagavatar and the other puppeteers, for Ganapati and Sarasvati had only danced during their appearances. Her puppet was usually delicately incised and colored, and was of equal stature with the puppets used to represent Sarasvati, Mandodari, or Sita. In the one instance, where Bangarakka's puppet was not quite of this stature, (Sindhe Rama Rao troupe), she was still bejeweled, dressed in a nice sari, and only slightly plump. Contrary to an earlier report (Tapper 1979), I did not see any puppets that depicted Bangarakka as a coarse or naked figure. The refined physical image of Bangarakka did not hold up in performance however, where she was presented with a more contradictory set of values in her dialogues and skits.

The first descriptions of Bangarakka given by the troupes usually upheld her refined image. She was called "the delicate one" in the performances of Kumara Raja Rao, and the Sindhe Rama Rao troupe waxed poetic on the manner in which she would come to the performance. In the latter example, she was described as a graceful dancer who was accompanied by the vina and maddele; a set of instruments that suggest a more classical style of music than was actually found in Tolubommalata. This refined and delicate image of Bangarakka was contrasted with another that suggested that she was, perhaps, a different woman in the flesh. When she made her first appearance in the performance, the Bhagavatar often commented on her disheveled state. She was breathing hard, scratching herself all over, and combing her hair with her hands. These are not the actions of a refined woman and suggest that she had been working or playing hard before she came to the performance. She was also said to be wearing a grimy sari and dirty blouse piece, and, in one instance, her overall physical appearance was presented as a parody of physical beauty. Instead of referring to her as a paragon of beauty whose face was like the moon, the puppeteers of the Kumara Raja Rao troupe had this to say about her:

Example one


Voice one

Your hair is like the nest of the weaverbird, like tamarind in the husk.

Voice two

Your body_____O brother Telipingana_____Your body is an ancient relic; your lotus face has wilted.

Voice one

charcoal_____Your teeth are black like charcoal.

This contradictory physical image of Bangarakka may be a result of a change that her character underwent the past few years. Tapper indicated that the Bangarakka he saw in Madhavapatnam was very similar to the Bangarakka of Togalu Gombe Ata. She was short, fat, and naked, with pendulous breasts and a gaping vagina. This might explain the detracting physical references, but it still leaves her character standing between two sets of values, for whether her puppet is beautiful or grotesque, its opposite image is still presented in performance. The beautiful Bangarakka is referred to as ugly, and the ugly Bangarakka is referred to as lovely. While she might have changed outwardly, she maintained her contradictory image.

The contradictory nature of Bangarakka was further illustrated through her behavior. On the one hand she was polite and well spoken, and deferred to her husband in public. In this role she refuted references made by the puppeteers and other clowns that she was promiscuous. On the other hand, her aggressive sexuality, though never physically displayed on the screen, was common knowledge, and was usually a focal point in any conversation she took part in, as has been demonstrated in part in chapter three. For Example, she was late in arriving for the performance, and the reason given for her tardiness was that the local water had had a mysterious effect upon her body. While this was intended to poke fun at the people of the locality mentioned, it also suggested that she had stopped along the way to make love, which was also indicated by her disheveled state. After this water joke, the puppeteers always commented on her arriving at the performance without any escort. They immediately assumed that she was a loose woman, and asked her, not if she was married, but whether or not she had a lover. This was not done directly, but through their reference to a possible Idujodugadu associated with her. An Idujodugadu is a man with whom a woman could be suitably or compatibly paired or matched. He is not necessarily her husband. She responded naively, and in the process, indicated that she did have a lover. The puppeteers then asked her to call for her husband which she did with the word mogudu, a coarser term for husband much like "old man" in English. Here is an Example of their dialogue from the performance of Sindhe Rama Rao.

Example two


Bhagavatar: Say, do you have an Idujodugadu? You're not alone are you?
Bangarakka: No sir!
Bhagavatar: ah
Bangarakka: There is an Idujodu (pair/match) for this neighborhood,
Bhagavatar: ah
Bangarakka: and for that neighborhood.
Bhagavatar: ah
Bangarakka: There is an Idujodu for the mortar,
Bhagavatar: ah
Bangarakka: and for the pestle.
Bhagavatar: ah
Bangarakka: For either the ant on the ground or the bird in the air there are Idujodus.
Bhagavatar: ah
Bangarakka: If I didn't have an Idujodugadu around, I couldn't sleep for even an instant.
Bhagavatar: No! No! Then, which one is who to you?
Bangarakka: What?
Bhagavatar: Look, Jon has come from America. He has organized this show and is employing us.
Bangarakka: ah
Bhagavatar: We are following his instructions and now, the show is running late.
Bangarakka: ah
Bhagavatar: Please, get on with it and call your Juttupoligadu (who is also late).
Bangarakka: You want me to call my husband?
Bhagavatar: Yes.
Bangarakka: Oooooooold man!
Bhagavatar: Amma! Not that way!
Bangarakka: ah
Bhagavatar: If you call "old man", there is the old "old man",
Bangarakka: ah
Bhagavatar: there is the young "old man",
Bangarakka: ah
Bhagavatar: there is the "old man" at home,
Bangarakka: ah
Bhagavatar: and there is the "old man" with your children.
Bangarakka: ah
Bhagavatar: There is more than one "old man"!
Bangarakka: There is only one old man! The one who touched my foot with his foot in the marriage ceremony (her husband).
Bhagavatar: Call whichever one.
Bangarakka: Heyyyyy old man! Come here old man! Come here!
Juttupoligadu: Hey woman! I'm coming! I'm coming!

There is a match for everything she says, and if she didn't have one, she wouldn't be able to sleep for even a moment. The implication is clear; Bangarakka has a lover or a set of lovers. The sexuality of her relationship with this Idujodugadu is also implied in her mention of the mortar and pestle. This is not the small set of grinding utensils found in the west, but a deep hole in the ground in which grains of rice are pounded with a rod four feet long. The fact that she has a lover comes up again when she was asked to call her husband. She used the word "mogudu", the meaning of which has been explained above. The puppeteers pointed this out to her and listed several men who might respond to her call. In keeping with her outwardly refined image, she maintained that she had only one man, her husband, but when she called for him with the term mogudu, two other males also responded and, unseen by Juttupoligadu, they mimicked his every move. When faced with her husband she continued to present a contradictory image, as the example in the section on getting started has demonstrated. She calmed him down at first by maintaining that he was her only man. Then, just before she left the screen in the outer frame, she suggested that she had taken his nephew as her lover. This double imagery of Bangarakka as outwardly chaste and secretly promiscuous was carried over into her appearances during the presentation of the epic episodes.

In addition to her domestic, contradictory character, Bangarakka also had a more formal role in the outer frame. At her husband's urging, she invited the four varnas (priests, ruler/warriors, merchants, and laborers) of classical Indian society to the performance, and paid her respects, and those of the troupe, to the assembled audience. In this capacity she was polite and there was no attempt at any kind of humor. She also assumed this role when she participated in discussions on the current state of Tolubommalata.

Bangarakka represents a confusing and contradictory medley of values and images, some of which she shares with female figures from other dramatic performing traditions. In her formal role she takes on some of the characteristics of the Nakali Sundari or Nati, who is found in classical Sanskrit dramas and some of the regional language dramatic traditions that were popular among the urban, educated elite during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This female was typically presented as the Sutradhara's wife, and appeared in the outer frame where she might entertain the audience with a dance. She also carried on a conversation with the Sutradhara that led into the presentation of the play. Throughout, she was pictured as a demure and chaste wife with a refined sense of poetry and dance. If she appeared in the play itself, she took on one of the play's roles and did not appear as herself. This image stands in stark contrast to Bangarakka's domestic image, and is an indication that within the overall performance, the Nati and Bangarakka have little in common.

It appears however, that this female figure found in the outer frame of dramas was retained and modified when dramas began to be performed in some of the regional languages of India. In the Marathi theater of the seventeen and eighteen hundreds, there is mention of a dialogue between a Sutradhara and a Nati in the outer frame just before the play began. It is not clear just what form this dialogue took or what sort of figure the Nati presented in traditions associated with temples or with the rising urban elite of the late eighteen hundreds. Within Tamasha, a more popular dance drama tradition found in Maharastra, the female figures played a more erotic role.

Known simply as Tamasha women, this group of female actors and dancers participated in the outer frame and periodically during the presentation of the tale or story. In the outer frame one would typically play a milkmaid who was engaged in a conversation by Krsna and his companion, which featured double entendre. In this type of appearance her sexuality was presented through her movements, dance, and looks, and her words were more or less demure. The sexual nature of the conversation was here carried by the male actors. This was also found in the presentation of the story itself where the Tamasha women and their male companions often interrupted the main action. In one Example provided by B. Gargi (1966), three males visit one of the women when her husband is away. She doesn't let them in, however, and talks with them from inside her house in this manner:

Example three

"Man: Is anybody in?
Woman: No.
Man: Then you are alone in the house?
Woman: No.
Man: Is your husband in?
Woman: No.
Man: Has he gone out?
Woman: No.
Man: May I come in?
Woman: No.
Man: Your husband is not in the house?
Woman: No.
Man (slyly): Do you mind if I make love to you?
Woman: No." (Gargi 1966:79)

Gargi also reports that a Tamasha woman can shock "the most outspoken rascal in the audience by her remarks." (1966:84) Unfortunately, he does not provide any Example of this type of dialogue though he does mention that their dances are highly suggestive.

The Bangarakka of Tolubommalata would appear to have a great deal in common with the Tamasha women. She too is a dancer and her dialogues are suggestive of her sexuality. Like the Tamasha women, she is often led to say things that incriminate her. Both are featured in their respective traditions, and have little connection with the story proper. Both are also more appreciated and enjoyed than is the story or epic episode itself, for the audience of Tolubommalata pays greater attention to the skits in which Bangarakka appears, and as Gargi has noted, "When a saucy Tamasha woman appears, a wave of enthusiasm sweeps the auditorium." (1966:85)

In a performance of Vidhi Natakam I witnessed in Andhra Pradesh, there was also a female dancer/actor who played in skits having no bearing on the epic episodes. At times she danced to folk music and to Hindi and Telugu film music. At other times she participated with a male clown in skits with an erotic intent. In one instance the male tricked her into saying that she wanted him in her belly, i.e.. that she wanted him to make love to her.

In both of these traditions, these actresses present a contradictory image just as Bangarakka does. Their sexuality is not openly displayed, but is suggested in their dancing and perhaps in some coy looks. It is implied however and is repeatedly brought up by their male companions. Females from two other traditions, Vidhi Bhagavatam and Togalu Gombe Ata, though incompletely described also bear scrutiny for comparative purposes.

Dr. V. Raghavan has noted that there is a female character in the Vidhi Bhagavatam of Andhra Pradesh who provides most of the dance and singing. She also participates with a Brahmin Vidusaka figure in a comic skit wherein she "cross-examines the Brahman as to his real Brahmanhood and expatiates on what a real Brahman is according to the sastras and under the torrent of her questions and Sanskrit quotations from the sastras, the poor Brahman is left breathless." (Raghavan 1978:36) While there is no erotic content here, and V. Raghavan does not mention any in the performance, the females who participate in this tradition originally were courtesans versed in the arts. Even without an erotic content however, this female breaks out of the mold of the silent, serving, Indian female.

The only other female clown or female figure found in Indian performing traditions who is discussed in any detail is Bangarakka's counterpart in Togalu Gombe Ata. She is also known as Bangarakka, and is married to one of the male clowns, Killekyata. Unlike the Bangarakka I saw in Tolubommalata, the Bangarakka of Togalu Gombe Ata was not depicted with a beautiful puppet. She was "heavy-set, her hair standing straight on end, her mouth parted in an almost demonic, toothsome grin, her two pendulous breasts ending in black, torpedo-like nipples, a thick neck and double chin suggesting a repulsive sensuality, and an overall impression of coarseness rendered ridiculous by the many ornaments such as the enormous gold ring that adorns her large and crooked nose." (Shulman 1985:205.) The exact nature of her role in the outer frame and within the story is not clear, but she does participate in the Ganapati puja in some fashion, and dominates her husband in their domestic skits. Mention is made by M. Helstien (1982) of vulgar or obscene dialogues when the clowns are acting, but it is not clear how much sexuality is actually included in their skits.

From these few examples it is evident that the Bangarakka of Tolubommalata is not totally unique in the world of performance in India. There are other females who also present values that are not expected of "nice" women like the archetypal Sita. It is apparent in each case however, that these females of contemporary folk traditions are not simply reversing or inverting the archetypal model, for some elements of it are found in their characters as well. Thus Bangarakka outwardly aspires to be like Sita, but in practice she fails. A more detailed interpretation of her role in the performance will be given at the end of the chapter, once more is known of the male clowns.

While Bangarakka did not participate in the epic episode of Tolubommalata, and rarely strayed from her character as presented here, the male clowns appeared in a number of guises, and, at times, they interacted with the epic characters.


Juttupoligadu was always the second clown puppet to appear in the show, and like Bangarakka, he was identified as a member of the troupe. His puppet was shorter, three to four feet tall, than the puppets of the major epic characters such as Rama, which was five to six feet tall. He was usually black, but not the dark color of a Krsna or a Rama. He was covered with little tufts of real hair, and had a sway back and a potbelly. His mouth was open and a large tongue and a row of sharp teeth were exposed. He also had a large erect penis that could be exposed with a tug of a string. Standing in opposition to these more grotesque and vulgar characteristics was a set of Vaishnavite markings on his forehead, shoulders and chest, and a Brahmin-style topknot. The contradictory nature of Juttupoligadu's physical image was thus more openly presented than was Bangarakka's.

Juttupoligadu put forward a mixed character in his dialogues and actions as well. In the song used to introduce him, Bangarakka related that she had been looking for him with longing in her heart, but that he had not shown himself. When they first met however, it was Juttupoligadu who asked her for a kiss, complaining that she had not kissed him in a long time. During the song itself, he was mocked by the other male clowns, who had responded to Bangarakka's call of "mogudu". Immediately after the song, he puffed up his chest and questioned Bangarakka as to her faithfulness. This caricature, where Juttupoligadu was outwardly a strong husband who lorded over his wife was opposed by his depiction as a cuckold. Bangarakka's promiscuity has been documented above, and Juttupoligadu proved to be only vaguely aware that something was happening behind his back. In one skit, Juttupoligadu was talking with several other male clowns. He told them that his wife was very faithful, very virtuous. He repeated this several times, and then posed a question. How was it that she had gotten pregnant? Obviously, Juttupoligadu did not feel that he had any cause for being the father, either for lack of contact or impotency. This joke was also mentioned by Bruce Tapper (1979:4). In his example, Juttupoligadu had been out of the area for several years and when he returned he found that his wife had given birth to several children. His wife told him that she had no idea how this had happened, and he professed his own puzzlement about this curious circumstance.

Juttupoligadu also had trouble in asserting his status of respected elder over his nephew Ketigadu. Learning that he might be sleeping with his wife, Juttupoligadu angrily called for him and they began an unusual fight. They struck their heads together, then their backs, their backsides, arms, etc., and all was equal until they reached their penises. Ketigadu's was twice the size of Juttupoligadu's and he proceeded to beat him with it. The Appa Rao troupe went so far as to have Ketigadu rape his uncle anally and orally. When this fight was over, Juttupoligadu was understandably upset, but he did manage to reassert his elder status over Ketigadu, who was now more deferential. This back and forth movement of Juttupoligadu and Ketigadu was repeated in the skits in which they participated when the epic episode was being presented. Although Ketigadu never beat or raped his uncle again, he did infer on numerous occasions that Bangarakka was his lover. Throughout these inferences though, he deferred to Juttupoligadu who, for his part, paraded about with a superior position and tone.

Like Bangarakka, Juttupoligadu also had a formal side to his character in which he addressed the audience and commented on the state of Tolubommalata. He also paused to comment on the evening's production, but it was not the epic episode he was interested in but the quality of the sponsorship or patronage behind it. Several troupes started skits of this type with Juttupoligadu complaining to Bangarakka that he was suffering from some pain. She questioned him as to where the pain was, and listed a number of bodily parts that might be afflicted. In one case, Juttupoligadu eventually admitted that his belly was sore from lack of food. It seemed that the sponsor of the performance had given the troupe only enough money to buy vegetarian meals rather than chicken, and Juttupoligadu did not feel that he had enough. On top of that the sponsor of the show, Jon, had been brought lime soda and then tea during the performance, but the troupe had received nothing. This sort of complaint against the sponsor was found in several performances from different troupes. This type of skit dovetailed with the more historical recanting of Tolubommalata's sad state. Both were intended to encourage sponsors and patrons to back Tolubommalata. In this particular case, it was hoped that the sponsor, Jon, would give them more, but it also brought Jon to the audience's attention, and identified his as the person behind the show.

Again, like Bangarakka, Juttupoligadu presents a varied character that defies a simple classification. He is an elder male and husband who is outwardly acknowledged as such. He is also a cuckold whose very own nephew is fooling around with his wife, and also takes the opportunity to beat him. Additionally, he is a representative of the puppeteers on screen, who voices their acknowledgments and complaints. In these roles, Juttupoligadu too has counterparts in other performing traditions.

Reference has been made to Juttupoligadu resembling the Vidusaka of classical Sanskrit dram (Seltmann 1971), but beyond some physical similarities, excluding Juttupoligadu's erectable penis, there is actually little that they share with regard to their roles in their tradition's performances.

In his earliest form, the Vidusaka was one of the stock figures of Sanskrit drama, and he participated in its outer frame as well as in the presentation of the play. There is some indication that he participated in the opening ceremony where the stage was consecrated by the Sutradhara and his two assistants, the Pariparsvikas. Kuiper (1979) believes the Vidusaka was one of these two assistants, and that he stood in for the Vedic god Varuna, while the other assistant played the Vedic god Indra. In this role the Vidusaka played it straight, and deferred to the Sutradhara. It is possible though that in this role he helped to prevent any harm from befalling the performance. (More on this below under the discussion of the evil eye.)

The Vidusaka had a further role in the outer frame where he participated with the Sutradhara and another figure in a conversation known as the Trigata. No example of this dialogue remains but Bharata reports in his Natya Sastra, that the Vidusaka's role in it emphasized the absurd (Gupta 1954:120). The nature of his absurd dialogue is not entirely clear, but, with Bharata's aversion to vulgarities and obscenities, it may be assumed that sexual topics and coarse language were avoided (Gupta 1954:130).

The lack of a detailed description of the Trigata conversation of Sanskrit drama leaves little to go on for comparing the role of the Vidusaka with that of Juttupoligadu in the outer frame. With regard to their roles in or during the presentation of the play or epic episode however, there is considerable comparative material. Shulman's (1985) detailed analysis of the role of the Vidusaka within Sanskrit drama indicates that there is little reason to believe he has any similarity with Juttupoligadu.

In stark contrast with the clowns of Tolubommalata, the Vidusaka participates directly in the play and is the hero's closest companion and confidant. His character is so closely associated with the hero in fact that it is dependent upon the hero for its very life and existence. Every word and deed of the Vidusaka results directly from the circumstances in which the hero finds himself, and while the Vidusaka's character does develop through the course of the play, it does so only in relation to the development of the hero's character. In later dramas, the Vidusaka does become involved in secondary erotic skits, but these are still within the framework of the main dramatic action, and are nothing like the apparently extraneous comic skits of Tolubommalata, for the eroticism is more covert, or is presented in a more sophisticated manner.

Within classical Sanskrit drama, the only other change the Vidusaka underwent was an increasing propensity to vulgar and obscene language, that Shulman (1985) has noted. Otherwise, he remained closely attached to the hero, and to the action. Within the Sanskrit dance drama tradition of Kuttiyattam found in Kerala however, the Vidusaka'a role in the performance has undergone a dramatic change (Shulman 1985). While still attached to the play's action and to the hero, he also broke out into two additional roles. For one, he translates the Sanskrit of the play into Malayalam, and, for another, he comments on the action of the play as well as upon local events and people. In these two roles, the Vidusaka of Kuttiyattam moves out of the play to a position on the boundary between it and the audience. He stands outside of the play to comment about it to the audience, and he draws the audience into the play through his comments about Kerala and India. He also stands astride two languages, with the power to alter the sense of the language of the play.

In this Vidusaka of the Kerala stage, some elements of the Tolubommalata clowns can be seen. In particular, his ability to bring contextual material into the play resembles the similar ability of Juttupoligadu, Bangarakka, and Ketigadu, when they place their skits in local settings or bring local personalities into them as mentioned in chapter three. The Vidusaka also has a life and character of his own that is not dependent upon the hero for its development. Still, he is actively involved in the play and with its events, and a portion of his character depends upon its characters, events, and language. This Vidusaka is independent but he is not autonomous.

While Juttupoligadu and the other male clowns of Tolubommalata do not resemble the vidusaka to any great extent, they do have some similarity with other clowns found in performing traditions active today. One group of clowns in particular has a role independent, to varying degrees, from the main action of the play or epic episode. The Songadya of Tamasha acts in this role at times, as does the Rangalo of Gujarat's Bhavai theater (Gargi 1966). The Kattiyakaran of Terukkuttu also steps out of the play to recite and sing obscene and vulgar material, and he participates in extraneous skits with the other clowns (Frasca 1983). The Munshiji of Uttar Pradesh's Nautanki, vilifies patrons in the same sort of way as the clowns of Tolubommalata do. Accepting a donation given in respect for the wit he has shown in the performance, the Munshiji lashes out with an eloquent insult concerning the donor's miserliness (Varadpande 1979). There are two clowns in Vidhi Nataka, a male and a female, who also fit into this type. They both break up the action of the epic and present extraneous skits very similar to those used in Tolubommalata. The male maneuvers the conversation to a point where the female makes some sort of statement that can be taken in two ways, one of which is sexual. They also present dance programs to folk music, and to Telugu and Hindi film music. While all these clowns do operate, at times, independently of the drama, it is difficult to determine from existing descriptions if their characters present the same sort of contradictory set of values found in the clowns of Tolubommalata. It is also clear that several of them, the Songdaya and Kattiyakaran in particular, participate in the play or epic episode and comment directly upon it, something the clowns of Tolubommalata do not do to the same extent. Before proceeding further with comparisons of Juttupoligadu to other clowns, there are several other clowns of Tolubommalata that need to be described.


The male clown Ketigadu was very similar to Juttupoligadu physically, except that his body was a little smaller and his penis was bigger. Otherwise he was dark, misshapen, covered with hair, and portrayed with a gaping toothsome mouth. His character, as developed through dialogue and action, presented greater contradictions than did Juttupoligadu's. In the song sung while he and his uncle fought, Ketigadu was described as having a sectarian marking on his forehead and a large sack of turnips dangling from the front of his loincloth. The latter was actually a reference to his large penis, which was also referred to as being a weapon in Ketigadu's hands, as Juttupoligadu found out. As has been shown in the discussion on Juttupoligadu, Ketigadu also presented a contradictory set of values in his behavior. He deferred to his uncle in one instance, and then beat and raped him in another, in addition to taking his wife for his lover. He also participated in the formal functions of the outer frame and commented on Tolubommalata and its sponsors and patrons in a manner similar to Juttupoligadu and Bangarakka.

He had another role however, which he did not share with Juttupoligadu or Bangarakka, for unlike them, he had the ability to enter the presentation of epic episodes. On occasion he participated directly in its action as a minor character, which he played with stupidity and cowardice. More commonly however, he entered the epic episode and drew out one of the other puppet clowns, either Gandholigadu or Allatapayya. In skits such as these, Ketigadu assaulted the other clowns verbally and physically, usually on trumped up charges. He deliberately misinterpreted their dialogue in a derogatory manner, and used these moments to beat on the other puppets. In the following Example from a performance of the Appa Rao troupe, these characteristics are prominent.

Example four


Ketigadu: Shoes! Shoes! Hey! Mr. Bastard Donkey!
Allatapayya: What, what, what, is it my boy?
Ketigadu: My bastard girdles his loins! Shoes!
Allatapayya: My name is Allatapayya. It is a well-known name.
Ketigadu: Bastard Donkey!
Allatapayya: Today my king has gone to make love to Sita. He has one hundred thousand wives, one hundred thousand sons, uncounted attendants, and guards like elephants.
Ketigadu: Bastard Donkey! So you say you are the famous Allatapayya. What does that mean?
Allatapayya: Allatapayya
Ketigadu: Bastard Donkey! While I was watching, you took my red paste (a word similar to that used for shoes), and you plastered it on your forehead, and put black and white paste over it (thereby making a sectarian mark). What should I do with my red shoes?
Allatapayya: Slap it on!
Ketigadu: You mother! (He hits Allatapayya on the head with his shoes.)
Allatapayya: Wha-wha-what is troubling you father?
Ketigadu: Who is my son compared to you? Get out of here! You sister!

(Ketigadu then commands Allatapayya to sit and stand, sit and stand, which Allatapayya does. This is a technique used by Telugu teachers to control an unruly student.)

Allatapayya: What is troubling you father?
Ketigadu: Father means that I am your mother's husband. You grandmother! (Ketigadu hits Allatapayya) What is that smell?

(Allatapayya makes a sound as if he is vomiting or defecating.)

Ketigadu: What stinks? Bastard Donkey!
Allatapayya: No, go swami, go swami!
Ketigadu: If you call me swami, (holy one) am I like Lord Rama in some temple?

(Ketigadu hits Allatapayya)

Allatapayya: What is it sir? Please go Babu, go Babu (friend).
Ketigadu: If you call me Babu am I the Nawabu (Muslim ruler)?

(Ketigadu hits Allatapayya)

Ketigadu: What is your name?
Allatapayya: My name is Allatapayya, sir.
Ketigadu: Ooooh, Allatoppayya (big toppi 'penis'). My son, if you say, in some street, neighborhood, or court, that Buddiketigadu has beaten you, I will stick it in your mouth. Let's go.

In this example Ketigadu jumped into a scene from the Ramayana, where Ravana, accompanied by his courtiers, was on his way to threaten the kidnapped Sita. Ketigadu grabbed Allatapayya, took him out of this group, and proceeded to abuse this courtier of Ravana. He accused Allatapayya of stealing his red shoes, or, with a slight change in pronunciation, red paste used in making sectarian markings, and he maneuvered the dialogue to a point where he had Allatapayya tell him to hit him over the head with his red shoes. He also misinterpreted every vocative that Allatapayya chose to address him with, and took the opportunity to strike him on these occasions. His final threat of oral rape if Allatapayya should squeal on him completed his mastery over this other clown, and gave further proof of his potency.

Indeed, as depicted, he was a most potent figure. He had taken his uncle's wife as his lover, and had demonstrated his power over Juttupoligadu through a sound beating with his penis. In his encounters with other male clowns, he threatened them with some sort of rape as well. In another scene he portrayed a bangle seller, and carried on a highly suggestive dialogue with Bangarakka, where he changed the words used to call out his wares, so as to give his cries a sexual content. At one point, he called out that he had a weeding tool that one could use standing up, squatting down, or lying down, all positions in which a woman could be made love to as well. He also repeated the imagery of the mortar and pestle, and included other references to long poles and crowbars. Throughout his appearances, Ketigadu exuded an image of sexual power and potency. He also demonstrated, at times, the power to alter language when it was convenient for him and inconvenient for others. In this he had a degree of similarity with several clowns from other traditions.

Notable among these is the Kattiyakaran of Terukkuttu, the dance drama tradition of Tamil Nadu. While he differs from the clowns of Tolubommalata in his connection with the epic episode where he serves as a combination stage manager and minor epic figure, he resembles Ketigadu at times in his deliberate misinterpretation of characters' dialogues. In one instance, while introducing Dusasana, he changes the pronunciation of his name and refers to him as Tamarind. This control of language is also found in the Vidusaka of classical Sanskrit drama and of Kuttiyattam in varying degrees. It is an indication that clowns within Indian performing traditions have the power to dissolve or cross accepted linguistic boundaries in order to satisfy their own ends.


These two male clowns were actually separate characters and puppets but their names were used interchangeably by different troupes. In the outer frame, when Bangarakka had called out for her husband, a third male had responded to her call of "mogudu", and had mimicked both Juttupoligadu and Ketigadu. He was known as either Gandholigadu or Allatapayya, and was smaller than either of the other male clowns. He also had a large penis that was often larger than he was. He appeared again, just as Juttupoligadu began to kiss Bangarakka in their skit from the outer frame. At that moment, this puppet crept up behind Juttupoligadu and clobbered him over the head. He quickly left, and this puppet was not used further in any troupe's performance.

The other clown puppet was also known by both names, but was physically different from all of the other male clowns. He was generally lighter in complexion, and did not have any tufts of hair. He might have a gaping mouth but this was not always the case. This clown was found within the epic episodes as a minor character, such as an assistant, a guard, a messenger, etc., and was introduced in the skit above, where he interacted with the puppets of the epic itself. In the example above, Allatapayya was identified as a member of Ravana's court, but only a minor one. At other times he was the assistant to such characters as Kalanemi or Lankini, and in this respect he was usually allied with the epic characters supporting Rama's enemies. In this role, he was always a bungling idiot, who could never take or give a message correctly, and, accordingly, was beaten regularly by his superiors, who played a straight role throughout.

These two clowns also appeared in skits with low ranking characters from the epics such as the Raksasa guards of Lanka. In these skits the subject matter was ridiculous and the dialogue was spiced with vulgarities. Here is an example from a performance of Lanka Dahanamu by Sindhe Rama Rao. In it Lankini, the doorkeeper for Ravana's capital of Lanka, has just knocked out Hanuman, the monkey emissary of Rama who is looking for the kidnapped Sita, and has left him with her guards, one of whom is Allatapayya.

Example five


Lankini: Hey Guards!
Guards: Ha ha ha ha!
Lankini: That monkey, that cowardly monkey,
Allatapayya: cough!
Lankini: was an insect!
Allatapayya: cough!
Lankini: He couldn't take a punch.
Allatapayya: ah
Lankini: He was disguised as a cat,
Allatapayya: ah
Lankini: but he was speaking boldly.
Allatapayya: amma
Lankini: My body was burning.
Allatapayya: cough!
Lankini: I got angry and threw one punch.
Allatapayya: cough!
Lankini: He fell right over and died.
Allatapayya: cough!
Lankini: Now, Hey!
Allatapayya: cough! cough!
Lankini: I'm going into the city to get something to drink.
Allatapayya: ah
Lankini: Mattu (clap) amattu (clap) nallamandu (clap) brandy (clap) all these I'll drink and then return.
Allatapayya: ah
Lankini: You take that monkey,
Allatapayya: ah
Lankini: and cut him up.
Allatapayya: ah
Lankini: Then cook him in some ghee.
Allatapayya: cough!
Lankini: I'll be right back.
Allatapayya: Go mother, go! cough! Hey! Uncle!
Guard: Hey uncle!
Allatapayya: cough!
Guard: What is it my son? You're coughing badly.
Allatapayya: cough! cough!
Guard: Hey! Should we come or go?
Allatapayya: Hey Uncle!
Guard: ah
Allatapayya: It is a good day today.
Guard: ah
Allatapayya: A good time.
Guard: ah
Allatapayya: A good day. cough!
Guard: ah
Allatapayya: You know that I'm married and that my wife is pregnant.
Guard: ah
Allatapayya: Fourteen years have passed and still no delivery.
Guard: ah What! How's that? Fourteen years and still no delivery!
Allatapayya: still no delivery.
Guard: ah
Allatapayya: You ask how this could be?
Guard: ah
Allatapayya: My wife says she wants monkey meat.
Guard: Did she say she wanted the monkey's tail?
Allatapayya: She said the monkey's tail.
Guard: ah
Allatapayya: The monkey has been caught, and I want
Guard: ah
Allatapayya: his heart,
Guard: ah
Allatapayya: his belly,
Guard: ah
Allatapayya: his throat,
Guard: Oh no you don't! You take the tail but I want the heart!

As Lankini takes her leave Allatapayya coughs in response to her dialogue, rather than grunting "ah". He then tells the other guard that he is happy to have caught a monkey, as his wife is in desperate in need of the piece of meat at the base of its tail. This is due to the remarkable fact that she has not delivered after fourteen years of pregnancy. The word used for delivery here is "inu", a term used to refer to delivery among animals, implying that Allatapayya is, in some manner, a beast. This type of dialogue continued until Hanuman revived and took on his heroic shape once again. Seeing this new Hanuman, Allatapayya and the guard suddenly lost the bravado they had exhibited earlier, and cringed behind each other. In skits such as these Allatapayya and Gandholigadu bring an element of slapstick humor to the performance, often at moments of high tension. In the example above, Hanuman had been knocked unconscious when the clowns stepped in. Everyone knows that he will eventually beat Lankini, but having him knocked out prolongs the moment and heightens the crowds' anxiety. The clowns deflate or defer this anxiety through their absurd dialogue about a fourteen year long pregnancy.

This type of clown is also a part of several other traditions. To a certain extent, he resembles the Vidusaka of classical Sanskrit drama, for the latter is closely associated with a straight character as has been seen. Of course, the fool of Tolubommalata is much less intelligent, and his counterpart is never the play's hero, but the nature of the relationship often resembles the classical model. Other traditions that use this type of fool clown include Yaksagana, Vidhi Nataka, and the Lila plays of Uttar Pradesh, among others. These characters appear only in or near the epic episode or story, and usually play its lowest level characters. Their stupidity and low stature make them the targets of physical abuse as well, and in all these traditions they usually end up being beaten. This type of comic pair is similar to one referred to by Don Handelman (1981), which he believes serves more to entertain an audience than to carry out some symbolic or ritual function in the manner of the characters he has labeled as ritual clowns. When compared with the characters of Juttupoligadu, Bangarakka, and Ketigadu, this seems to be true in Tolubommalata as well. Gandholigadu and Allatapayya do not present the same sort of contradictory set of values that Juttupoligadu or Bangarakka do, as they are always stupid, cowardly bunglers, even in their roles as courtiers.

Integration into Performance

The descriptions provided on the clowns of Tolubommalata and their roles suggest that they fulfill a variety of functions in the overall performance event. Given the enjoyment the audience derives from their skits, the clowns obviously entertain them and keep their attention from waning during the long show. As Tapper has suggested, they also help to protect the performance event through their grotesque physical natures that serve to avert the evil eye. The clowns also have a more complicated symbolic function that is centered on their contradictory characters and their ability to cross over the perceptual boundaries separating puppets, puppeteers, and audience. In this role they are agents of change who help to release rain during droughts and, perhaps loosen the tight control of correct social behavior.

Previous scholars (Vijnanasarvasvamu 1961, 1961 Census of India, Contractor 1968, Radhakrsnamurti 1969) have paid little attention to these clowns, and what little they have said, has centered upon the vulgar and erotic nature of their skits. It was felt that this risqué humor kept the audience from falling asleep, or, from leaving the show. This is undoubtedly true for the Bhagavatar skillfully manipulated the placement of skits in accordance with the audience's mood. If they were drifting away he would insert a skit. Similarly, he would prolong the fulfillment of an expectation, such as the defeat of Lankini by Hanuman, through a comic diversion. Within a rural setting and during long performances, the clown puppets might actually become, more overtly, the driving force of the performance, dominating it to such an extent that the epic episode might be relegated to a sideshow. However, the clown puppets provided more than entertainment and superficial humor. Their contradictory nature suggests that they have a number of symbolic functions as well.

As stated above the epic characters present archetypal models of good and evil, that are outside of the realm of the audience's everyday experiences. They represent ideals that are desirable but unattainable in practice. The clowns on the other hand, present an image of village life that, though exaggerated, is still closer to actual circumstances and behavior. Juttupoligadu and Bangarakka aspire to be or claim to be like Rama or Sita, but in fact fail miserably, just as the members of the audience do. They aren't funny just because they tell dirty jokes or act like fools, but because the audience can identify with them or see, through them, people and situations they have experienced. They know people like Juttupoligadu, Bangarakka, Ketigadu and Allatapayya, and recognize the cuckold and the cowardly fool. These clowns thus provide an immediate access to the performance and engage the audience in a more direct manner than do the epic characters. The puppeteers were cognizant of this ability, and they used them in their pursuit of patronage. This only worked for a short time however, for once the audience realized what was happening, they ceased to identify with the clowns and lost interest. An exception to this was found in skits where the clowns maintained their "comic" nature while advertising, such as when Juttupoligadu complained about being hungry due to the sponsor's miserliness.

To say that the clown's only purpose in the performance was to entertain and engage the audience however, diminishes the rich and variegated quality of their characters and skits, that appear to indicate that the clowns also have a symbolic function or functions within the performance event. Along these lines, Tapper (1979) has suggested that the clowns protected the performers, puppets and audience, from the evil eye through their grotesque appearance and inauspicious behavior. In this they resemble disti bommalu, mannequins, often equipped with prominent genitalia, used to protect new buildings and agricultural fields from the evil eye. It is felt that these mannequins draw away any malevolent glances and thus protect the valuable building or crops that surround them. Tapper feels that the clowns of Tolubommalata function in the same manner, both in performance and in between performances. In the performances he witnessed, all of the clowns, including Bangarakka, exposed their genitals, and were the antithesis of the physical image of the epic puppets. Beyond their physical appearance, the clowns further protected the performance through their representation of inauspicious events. In this sense they defused the effects of the evil eye by acting them out, sort of like telling an actor to break a leg before a performance. Tapper reports that when Bangarakka first appeared on the screen she related how all the men in her life had died or been injured.

Example six


"Bangarakka: Hello! How are you? Hope you are well.

Player: Yes, I'm well. How are you?

Bangarakka: Oh, what can I say about myself? At the time of my first menstruation, a herd of cows died. At the time of my second menstruation, my father in-law died. On the day of the consummation of my marriage, my husband died. The only fellow left, my husband's younger brother, then fell into a pit and lost his leg. Right after that, my secret lover brought me here. So, oh woman, what can I do?" (1979:4)

This sort of belief is very common in Andhra Pradesh among all castes. A Telugu Brahmin from the delta region of A. P. related to me how, when he was an infant, he had become very ill, and his mother had placed him upon a garbage pile in order to avert the evil eye. She also started to call him by a name that signified that he too was garbage, in the hope that whoever or whatever was causing his illness would consider that either the job was done, or that he was not a worthwhile subject, as he no longer had any value to his family or to society.

It is possible that clowns from other performing traditions in India also function as disti bommalu. In every case, the clowns present caricatures highlighting inauspiciousness or eccentric qualities. The Joothan Mian of Bhavai dots his fact with makeup and wears a comical cap (Gargi 1966). These leather conehead caps are also worn by the clowns of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh (Shulman 1985). The Mansukh of Raslila covers his face with ashes and wears a sack clothe dress (Gargi 1966). The puppet clowns of Togalu Gombe Ata are physically similar to their counterparts in Tolubommalata, and the males are short, dark, covered with hair, and are ithyphallic as well (Helstien 1982). Several of these male puppets exhibit large penises, often with two or three heads attached to the shaft (Robbins 1983). Bangarakka, like the Bangarakka that Tapper saw, is nude with large breasts and a vagina that is graphically displayed (Helstien photos in private collection).

The Vidusaka of classical Sanskrit drama is also a distorted figure, "a dwarf, with projecting or jagged teeth, a hunchback, double-tongued, with a disfigured face, bald, yellow eyed." (Natya Sastra 35.57) While his physical features are meant to compliment and enhance the positive physical qualities of the play's hero, and are, no doubt, a source of humor for the audience, there is some indication that this figure may also serve to help protect the performance. Kuiper (1979) has argued that the Vidusaka played the role of one of the Pariparsvikas in the opening ceremony where Indra's banner was established upon the stage. Where the other Pariparsvika represented Indra, the Vidusaka represented Varuna, god of the waters and upholder and overseer of cosmic order. In the latter capacity, Varuna is inscrutable, for he alone knows fully the nature of the cosmic order, and his reactions to transgressions of it were unpredictable and often terrible. As such, he was perhaps the most feared Vedic deity, and his supplicants approached him with awe and trepidation. Basham remarks that when they did so they covered themselves with ashes and wore sackcloth (Basham 1954:237), which I take as a symbol of their already debased condition. While there is a pitiable element in this supplicant, it is also possible that he or she was trying to prevent any further harm from befalling him/herself. In a similar fashion, by using the Vidusaka to represent the dread Varuna, it may have been hoped that his already deformed and debased condition would prevent any harm from befalling the performance, either from Varuna, or from any other source.

It would appear then, that all clowns operate as disti bommalu to a certain extent, and through their grotesque or absurd characters deflect or absorb any malevolent glances. However, their deformities and absurd behavior also grants them a license to say and do things otherwise inadmissible, a feature of their characters just as prominent as their physical nature. The nature of this behavior suggests that the clowns of Tolubommalata and other traditions operate as more than disti bommalu. This is supported by the nature of the change the Bangarakka of Tolubommalata apparently underwent. Where she was nude and grotesque in the performances of Tolubommalata that Tapper saw, as well as in Togalu Gombe Ata, in the performances that I witnessed, she was always represented by a beautiful puppet. I also found no examples of inauspiciousness in her behavior of the same nature found by Tapper, though she was rebellious and promiscuous. While this change is undoubtedly the result of a Victorian consciousness exerting its influence over a folk art form, it also indicates that Bangarakka's role in the performance is not simply as a disti bomma. While the male clowns of Tolubommalata did not change apparently, it will be remembered that they did not just present images of physical grotesqueries, for their puppets displayed sectarian markings and a Brahmin style topknot. This sort of contradictory nature is not a typical feature of disti bommalu, and suggests a further function for these clowns.

Shulman (1985) has suggested that one such function lies in the nature of the clowns' capacity to invert or reverse behavior and practices considered as normal or expected. He believes that the folk clowns of South India have a transformative role in their performances, and that their "inversions of everyday standards coupled with the release of contained energy is felt to be capable of reversing a cosmic state or of revitalizing the liquid flow in the universe which had for whatever reason, become arrested and blocked." (Shulman 1985:207) In his opinion this is more properly their function, and rather than protecting the performance, as disti bommalu, they are actually stirring up trouble so to speak. This interpretation finds some support in the reports that Tolubommalata was staged in the hopes of bringing rains during times of drought, as well as during wedding ceremonies (1961 Census of India, Radhakrsnamurti 1969). The clowns' inversion of everyday standards would then trigger rain or a fertile marriage.

Looking at the clowns of Tolubommalata closely however, it appears that more is happening than a simple inversion or reversal of expected or proper behavior. As seen in the descriptions of these clowns given above, each is more of a representation of an assortment of contradictory values rather than simply an inversion of one set of values. Don Handelman (1981) has labeled this as internal oscillation, and he has distinguished it from role reversal, that he feels is only a temporary phenomenon. Any transformation or reversal of character is eventually followed by a return to a norm, and thus, a female might take on male attributes during a performance or ceremony, but, by its conclusion, she will have returned to being a female. Handelman notes that role reversal or inversion tends to support the existing societal values, as they are always reestablished. "As numerous scholars, by now, have argued, role-reversal and identity-inversion strongly underline the correctness of the ordinary social order." (Handelman 1981:331) Within Tolubommalata, the clowns do not undergo any sort of change or reinversion and they remain true to their characters throughout the performance. At its conclusion they merely disappear, only to appear in the same form during the next performance.

Rather than outwardly exhibiting a movement from one state to another and then back again, the clowns of Tolubommalata have internalized this movement, and continually oscillate between two states or sets of values in the manner in which other ritual clowns described by Handelman do. He notes that "the sacred-clown type can be said to subsume a border, or boundary, within itself, which it straddles, or through which it moves, back and forth in a never ending pattern, for so long as it is true to type." (Handelman 1981:330) This continual movement exhibited by the ritual or sacred clown types serves a purpose within other traditions or ceremonies. In each case the ritual clowns are participating in a process that insures or ushers in a change from one state to another, and, in fact they are the agents who provoke that change. They carry a bride through her marriage ceremony where she is changed from a single to a married woman, and it is they who open the door, so to speak, so that she can cross from one state to the next.

"Like liminality within the ritual frame, which is necessarily "in-process" from beginning to ending, I would summate the internal organization of the ritual-clown type as being in a state of "in-process": being in-motion, but remaining unfinished and uncompleted. Yet, if the exterior of this type is a summation of its interior qualities, then the overall type is also a powerful statement of "process". That is, the ritual-clown type is a consistent solvent on a number of strata of organization, and its essence would appear to be that of "process". As Welsford, Willefor, Zucker, and other, have noted, the ritual-clown type dissolves its environment." (Handelman 1981:330)

The statement of "process" exhibited by the clowns of Tolubommalata, includes an internal oscillation between two contradictory states that they encompass, as well as an external oscillation, demonstrated by their ability to cross over the conceptual boundaries that separate puppeteers, puppets, and audience. They participate within the presentation of the epic episodes as well as within their own autonomous skits. The clown Ketigadu enters the epic world and takes Allatapayya out of it, and, after abusing him, returns him to it. In addition, the clowns converse as equals with the puppeteers, and address the audience directly, something the epic puppets can not do. The clowns of Tolubommalata are thus contradictions within themselves, as well as within the performance as a whole. This indicates that ultimately, it is they who determine the overall message or impact of the performance, for their movement dissolves the epic episode, and unites audience, puppeteers, and puppets into one group.

Internal oscillation seems to be a more satisfactory interpretation of the nature of Tolubommalata's clowns, rather than role reversal or identity inversion. The result is the same however, for through their behavior the clowns become the agents for engendering a change. As stated above, this change may have some connection with fertility, with the clowns being the agents who bring or release rain during drought, or who insure a fertile marriage. It is also possible, but much more speculative, that the boundaries that they dissolve are societal, for there is some indication that Tolubommalata was once performed by troupes of Lingayats or Virasaivites. It will be remembered that the family that started the Surabhi Nataka tradition had originally been puppeteers of Tolubommalata, who had been taught their art by Lingayats. (P. Sastry 1975:3) It has also been reported that Jangams, wandering Saivite or Virasaivite ascetics, still perform Tolubommalata in the coastal district of Andhra Pradesh. Virasaivites in particular have shown a desire to restructure, or break the structure, of the Brahmin dominated society in which they roam, and these puppet clowns may have been one more agent through which they attempted to symbolically stimulate a change.

Unfortunately, Tolubommalata is performed only rarely today, and when it is performed, it is within a new context. Its popularity among the rural audience has diminished, and its new patrons are members of the urban elite and of government sponsored art groups, who are attempting to revive an art form that they feel has degenerated. As a result, they have tried in the last twenty years to eliminate the vulgar and erotic nature of the clowns' skits, and have emphasized proper pronunciation during recitations and prose. This change has also lifted Tolubommalata out of its village setting and context, which has hindered a more complete understanding of the role that these clowns might have played in the past. Still, enough remains of their skits and dialogues to give some indication that they performed several functions in the performance, and were in fact, central to performances of Tolubommalata. As has been stated above, they were the most stable feature of its performances, and were found within every show regardless of its epic content. This centrality coupled with their symbolic role as transformers, indicates that Tolubommalata had at one time a more ritual or religious significance where it now provides primarily entertainment.



Topic 1: History

Topic 2: The Troupes and Their Texts

Topic 3: Getting Started: the preliminaries to the performance of the epic episode

Topic 4: Literate and Oral Performance Traditions

Topic 5: The Performance of an Episode from an Epic

Topic 6: The Clown Puppets

Topic 7: Bibliography

Topic 8: Mangalam