Traditional string puppet theatre from Andhra Pradesh in south-east India. Also called chekka bomalatta, kathaibommalata, keelu bommalatam or sutram bommalu in different regional dialects. Bommalu, meaning puppet, is common to all. The word koyya or chekka means wood.

The puppets with their wooden torsos sculpted from a single piece of wood have joints at the shoulders and hips. They dance but normally have no legs. The puppets’ clothes that appear to float from the body accentuate the movement conveyed by the manipulation of the two strings affixed to the head, the two strings at the hips and the two strings attached to the hands. The six strings are tied to a triangular-shaped control. The puppeteer, holding the control and bending over the puppets, is hidden behind a dark curtain that conceals him either partially or fully. While the puppets are comparatively small, no more than 40 centimetres tall, their very long arms hang almost to the ground. The arms are painted, like the face, with vegetable colours.

Just as other forms of puppetry and shadow theatre from Andhra Pradesh, koyya bommalata brings to life episodes from the two epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

Today, there are troupes and traditional families performing koyya bommalata, some of whom are master puppeteers recognized in their communities and sometimes nationally for their contribution to the art of puppetry.

(See India, Sangeet Natak Akademi Awards for Puppetry.)