India’s traditional products need more than just GI tags

GI tags, Geographical indication, artistes, location
The Geographical Indication (GI) tag has not helped a lot of artistes in India, who keep centuries-old tradition alive, market their products. Illustration - Eunice Dhivya

When Andhra Pradesh's leather puppetry was granted geographical indication (GI) tag in 2008, the makers thought the honour would give their vocation an impetus. But today, Dalavai Kulayappa, a fourth-generation leather puppet maker from Nimmalakunta village in Anantapur district, is unsure about the future of the craft.

“I learnt making these puppets from my father, just like how he had been trained by his father,” he says. “My son who is almost eight is learning it, but I am not sure if he will continue the family vocation. I struggle to make even ₹2-3 lakh a year now.”

Leather puppetry, which uses the hide of goat skin, has its roots in the ancient art form of ‘tholu bommalatta’, a form of puppetry that dates back to the third century. The craft form is among hundreds, including lamp shades, wall hangings and paintings, made in the nondescript but bustling village in Andhra Pradesh.

While the village has produced several extraordinary artistes and Kulayappa himself is a national award winner and a UNESCO awardee, the struggle to keep the art alive is real for him and the 300 artistes in his village.

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