Indian Shadow Theater Puppet Forum on 10/17 at 7 p.m.

As part of its 2023 Fall Puppet Forum Series and in conjunction with the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry’s current exhibit, Tradition and Revolution in Indian Shadow Puppetry, the Ballard Institute is pleased to host an Indian Shadow Puppetry puppet forum with Tradition and Revolution exhibition curator Rahul Koonathara and Indian puppetry scholar Dr. Claudia Orenstein, on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023 at 7 p.m. at the Ballard Institute Theater, located at 1 Royce Circle in Downtown Storrs. This forum will also be broadcast via Ballard Institute Facebook Live ( 

Rahul Koonathara is a UConn graduate student in the Department of Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies, and a 12th-generation puppeteer in the Pulavar family of Tholpavakoothu shadow performers in Kerala, India. Dr. Claudia Orenstein is a professor of theater at Hunter College and CUNY Graduate Center whose work focuses on performing object theatre and puppetry forms in India and Japan. Koonathara and Orenstein will discuss the spectacular South Indian shadow puppet traditions of Tolu Bommalatta and Tholpavakoothu, as well as recent innovations reflecting the changing nature of the form, all of which can be seen in the current Ballard Institute exhibit Tradition and Revolution in Indian Shadow Puppetry. The exhibition will be on display through Dec.17, 2023. 

Admission to this event is free (donations greatly appreciated!), and refreshments will be served. For more information or if you require accommodation to attend a forum, please contact Ballard Institute staff at 860.486.8580 or

About the Speakers

Rahul Koonathara is the younger son of legendary shadow puppet master Padmashri Ramachandra Pulavar and puppeteer Rajalakshmi Ramachandra Pulavar. He was born into a family of puppeteers which has preserved Tholpavakoothu shadow theater traditions for twelve generations. Rahul is currently a graduate student in the Department of Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies at the University of Connecticut, under the guidance of Professor Matthew Cohen, and practices traditional shadow puppetry together with contemporary puppet productions, as well as scholarly research in the puppet arts. Rahul has a Bachelor’s degree in Physics, and a Master’s degree in Folklore Studies, as well as a degree in Acting from the National School of Drama in Bangalore. Rahul has performed major roles in traditional and contemporary shadow puppet productions at the Tholpavakoothu and Puppet Centre in Kerala, and at national and international festivals around the world. 

Claudia Orenstein, Theatre Professor at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, CUNY, has spent nearly two decades writing on contemporary and traditional puppetry in the US and Asia. Recent publications: co-edited volumes Women and Puppetry: Critical and Historical Investigations and The Routledge Companion to Puppetry and Material Performance. She worked as dramaturg on Tom Lee and kuruma ningyō master, Nishikawa  Koryū V’s, Shank’s Mare, is Board Member of UNIMA-USA and Associate Editor of Asian Theatre Journal. Current book projects: Thinking Through the Puppet: Essays on Puppet Dramaturgy and a two-volume co-edited anthology with Tim Cusack, Puppet and Spirit: Ritual, Religion, and Performing Objects.