Paavakathakali, a rare puppet art gets a new lease of life

Pavakathakali

The ancient glove puppet art form Paavakathakali, originating from Kerala, is slowly dying. Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), a government funded arts organisation, has now taken an initiative to give it a new lease of life by staging performances in the city.

 Paavakathakali or glove puppet play is an art form that is almost two centuries old. The art form emerged by incorporating Kathakali techniques and modeling puppets based on the characters in the dance form.

The classical dimension is what differentiates Paavakathakali from other puppet theatres. ‘Kathakali’ style masks, colourful ornaments and embellishments such as peacock feathers are another highlight. The head and arms are delicately carved in wood, painted, gilded and adorned. A cloth bag is used for the ‘body’ that is concealed by a long, flowing robe. The puppeteer uses three fingers to manipulate the puppet. Unlike some puppet theatres, the puppeteers do not hide behind the screen.

History has it that the Aandipandaram puppeteers from Kerala visited  villages with their puppets. They were originally from Andhra Pradesh and then settled in Kerala. In Kerala, they performed the Aryamaala, the Tamil folk drama as a puppet show.  Later when Kathakali became popular, they carved Kathakali figures, studied the text and devised their own art form. So is Paavakathakali still prevalent? “Yes, there continue to be some families in Paruthippulli and Kodumbu villages in Palakkad,” says Vikram Sampath, executive director, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), Southern Regional Centre. But it is a dying art form, he adds. And as an institution devoted to the documentation of traditional and folk arts of India, IGNCA is working towards reviving Pavakathakali in India. 

According to Vikram, the glove puppet theatre form is of great importance because of its ability to present Kathakali, the classical dance-drama, through puppetry. He adds, “When children and adults see a character unfold through puppets, it leaves a strong impression in their minds. It is usual in other countries to present theatrical forms like opera through puppets for children. As a form capable of initiating children to the appreciation of Kathakali, it answers a need of the day.”

Published on July 12, 2014 in The New Indian Express. 

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