An Overview
Multiple functions of Indian Puppetry
Skilled Craft of Indian Puppetry
Inanimate to Animate in Indian Puppetry
Legend & Geneis of Indian Puppets
Categories of Puppets

Glove puppets, the simplest of all traditional Indian puppets, have no long history known to us. Nomads generally carried this puppet and performances put up in open space with minimum props. Normally people from the lower strata of society have used them for earning livelihood through entertainment. Since poverty has been a hallmark of these puppeteers, it is not surprising that they have not been chronicled in history books.

Pavakothu Performance

It is interesting to note that glove puppeteers have come from all communities and religions with the nature of stories and legends as no bar to the puppeteer. Puppets, made of wood, paper or terracotta, have no legs and remain covered by costume on the lower parts. The faces and the dresses are all fashioned after the local customs. Puppeteers perform solo and rarely in a team. The Indian States, where they are found are: Kerala, West Bengal, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.


The traditional glove puppet in Kerala is known as Pavakathakali (Pavakoothu), presented usually in a play form. Their occurrence is almost confined to a few local villages.
The Pavakathakali uses the narrative format prevalent in the famous classical dance-theatre Kathakali. The puppets, found in Palghat district, are more than four centuries old. They are carved delicately on woods, up to two feet high and beautified with colour paints, gilded tin, transparent corals and peacock feathers. The puppeteer manipulates puppets sitting on an elevated platform and use instrumental music, such as, Chenda drums, conch shell, etc. Puppeteers perform together for an hour or two in the evening in front of a brass oil-lamp.

Rama, Pava Kathakali
The episodes used are from Mahabharata. This form continues to find patronage from the village audience and was revived by Sangeet Natak Academi in the eighties. The puppeteers are great devotees of Subrahmanya and earn their chief livelihood by performing pujas.

In West Bengal (mainly south), glove puppets are known as Bener Putul, i.e., dolls of commercial people. The puppeteers characteristically belong to the scheduled caste of the old palanquin-bearers (Kahar). They are normally from among land-less labour.

Bener Putul

The puppets are one and a half foot high, with terracotta heads and wooden arms. The puppeteers sing songs during the show and play Domru (small drums) to attract crowd. The music is based on either common folk tunes or even popular Hindi or Bengali songs, full of robust humour and sarcasm. The puppets have anklets fixed on arms, which are used to keep rhythm by clapping. There are pairs of male and female puppets used by the puppeteers with two hands.The themes are based on social events like linguistic differences, escapade of lover- couples, or even family planning. The puppeteer starts early in life and roams from fair to fair, charging money for each song.


Glove puppets are widespread in Orissa with the major centres in Cuttack district. The puppeteers are poor agricultural labour, running small shops for livelihood. They perform Sakhi Natch showing the dalliance of Krishna with Radha and the milkmaids. The puppeteers, belonging to a subcaste of Rajput, claim to have migrated from Vrindaban. The puppet for Radha is with anklets round her waist, called Chandra Badani (moon-faced) and the music draws heavily on folk melodies accompanied by Dhol (barrel-shaped drum). The puppets, gaudily dressed, have definite expressions to depict emotions. The puppeteer operates with right hand and plays the dhol with left hand, while singing the lyrics.

Sakhi Kundehi

One puppeteer, with another playing the drum, often manipulates the puppets. The show is called Gopa Lila Kundhei. Glove puppetry is also known as Sakhi Kundhei and treats Radha and Krishna as common village boy and girl. The songs are from medieval poetry, using folk melodies popular in the villages.


The glove puppet has been popular once in the city of Lucknow. The puppeteers, sitting in an open space, use resplendent dolls and mount shows around the theme of two women: Gulabo and Sitabo. The narrative, recited in a singsong voice, is about the quarrel between Sitabo, the helpless wife and Gulabo, the beautiful mistress of the same man, around petty social happenings. The songs are interspersed with bawdy jokes and caustic humour, often reflecting the local incidents. The puppets are made of papier-mache with tinsel jewellery.

U.P Glove , Gulabu & Sitabu

The glove puppets of Tamil Nadu, that disappeared earlier, have been revived. These puppets are made of clay, rice husk and paper. Although the make-up is simple and there are only head movements and hand clapping, the accompanying music is sung melodiously, to the accompaniment of cymbals and Uduki drum. The puppeteers use a small-enclosed space and have separate musicians to provide rhythmic and musical support in the local language. The form is known as Pava Koothu (puppet dance) and is said to be imitative of dance goddess Lakshmi who had destroyed demons.


In Bangalore, mendicants and beggars were known to play glove puppet in one hand known as Chinni Patti (little doll) and Kartal with the other hand. In Malabar coasts, the aboriginal tribes used glove puppets for magic purposes in tribal rituals.


Glove puppet seems to be most neglected in India among the arts of puppetry except in Kerala, where the association with Kathakali has probably helped the form to survive. Association with people in dire poverty has not helped matters. The onslaught of mass media like TV and video parlours have made the situation worse. Official and private support is needed for this genre of art to save it from extinction.

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