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Pavakathakali- Puppet theatre from Kerala

Pavakathakali- Puppet theatre from Kerala

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Glove puppet theatre, as a way of recounting stories, exists almost everywhere in the world since a long time. In India too, various forms of puppet theatres exist- gloves, shadow and string puppets telling the folklores and local legends- from Rajasthan's Kathputli to Kerala's Pavakathakali.

 

Pavakathakali- Traditional marionettes from Kerala
courtesy: Jean-Luc Larguier

 

'Pava' literally stands for puppets, 'katha' for story and 'kali' for play. Thus Pavakathakali becomes the puppet play of a story.

 

The art of Pavakathakali dates back to a few centuries. Like any other street art, this was performed by nomadic puppeteers who would wander from village to village. It may have been started in Kerala by the wandering 'andi pandarams' from Andhra Pradesh way back in the 18th century. The puppeteering got influenced by the local arts and traditions. Attakatha- texts from kathakali- were adapted for puppet play and thus evolved the unique pavakathakali.

 

Pavakathakali- Traditional marionettes from Kerala

courtesy: Jean-Luc Larguier

 

The classical dimension is what differentiates pavakathakali from other puppet theatres. The performances are done on ritually sanctified stages. Oil lamp "Nilavilaku" is lit and sacred hymns are chanted to create the right ambiance. Musical instruments that are used for kathakali are used here as well- Chenda, the Changila the Ilathalam and Shankha. Usually, there is an ensemble of 5-6 persons for the performance. Unlike some puppet theatres, the puppeteers do not hide behind the screen. Traditionally, pavakathakali was performed in houses especially during festivals such as Thiruvatira or Sivaratri, where religious observance needed people to keep awake throughout the night. The duration may vary from an hour or two or longer.

 

Pavakathakali- Traditional marionettes from Kerala

courtesy: Jean-Luc Larguier
¬† 

The puppets are elaborated in 'Kathakali' style with masks and colourful ornaments and embellishments such as peacock feathers. They measure anything from 30 to 60 cm. 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- head of the puppet by index finger and the arms by thumb and middle finger.

 

Various stories from Hindu epics and legends are depicted by this theatre- `Kalyanasougandhigam', 'Uttarasvayamvaram' and `Duryodhanavadham' from the Mahabharata, `Balivadham,' `Ravanotthbhavam' and `Thoranayudham' from the Ramayana and `Daksha yagam' from Sivapuranam.

 

Even though pavakathakali is centuries old, it could not withstand the ravages of modernity. It had almost disappeared if it were not for the efforts made in 1981 by the Sangeet Natak Academy and the Department of Culture, Govt. of India to revive this art form. Remaining practitioners Chammu and Gopal Venu* were invited to rediscover and transmit the art of pava kathakali to others. It is by virtue of their efforts and the art made popular by artists such as Andivelan, Karappan, Raman, Chinnan, Thengara, Veeran that we know pava kathakali today.

 

Pavakathakali- Traditional marionettes from Kerala

courtesy: Jean-Luc Larguier

 

There are centres such as Natanakairali (research and performing centre for traditional arts) and Ammannur Chachu Chakyar Smaraka Gurukulam (a training centre for Kutiyattam) in Thrissur District of Kerala that have dedicated themselves to reviving and transmitting the traditional arts of Pavakathakali, Kutiyattam (Sanskrit drama), and Tolpavakuttu (leather puppets for shadow theatre) for posterity's sake. Internationally, pavakathakali has been performed and recognised in various festivals and places including Japan, Poland, Paris, Geneva, Locarno, Lausanne, Basel and Zurich etc.

 

 

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