Character of the glove puppet theatre of Iran. The Pahlavan Kachal puppet character is found mainly in the eastern regions of Iran. The character’s name also refers to the kind of show where it appears.
The show can also be called jiji viji from the sound of the voice modifier, safir (swazzle). Inserted into the puppeteer’s mouth to alter the sound and give voice to the puppet, the whistling, chirping, otherworldly sound of the safir distorts the human voice to create a puppet language. The safir, about 1 centimetre wide and around 2 centimetres long, traditionally consisted of two thin gold sheets but brass or another metal is currently used. A piece of cloth or hide is placed between the two metal sheets and the three pieces are bound with string. Another name for this show is Panj. Panj, meaning “five times”, perhaps alludes to the number of puppets engaged in the play; this word, however, could also be a phonetic corruption of the English word Punch, which the British would have used to refer to this form of puppet performance and could be a legacy from the period of British occupation of the south of Iran.
The character of Pahlavan Kachal can also be compared to the French Polichinelle and the Egyptian Aragoz. Some even think this may be a glove puppet ancestor of the Turkish shadow theatre hero. The researcher, Siaveshgil, considers that Pahlavan Kachal combines features of Karagöz (“Dark Eye”) and Haji Evaz. Like his cousins, both European and Turkish, Pahlavan Kachal is a hunchback. In this regard, we note that the Arabic word guz does not mean “eye” (as in the Turkish göz or eye) but might instead derive from the Persian word ghuz or khuz, which means “hump”. Thus, the meaning of “black eye”, which is what signifies Karagöz in Turkish, is perhaps not the original meaning.
With a strong, forthright spirit, Kachal Pahlavan uses mockery and condemns hypocrisy, including that of religion. This has led to his being banned at times. He defends the honour of the people against the villains, and he fights bravely, always winning in the end. The manipulator takes his hand out of the figure that has been batted to the playboard of the simple booth and the dead body of Pahlavan’s opponent falls to defeat.
In his book, Le Théâtre en Perse (Theatre in Persia, 1878; Theatre Persan), Aleksander Chodzko named Pahlavan Kachal the most powerful puppet show in the world, because it represented the hypocrisy of some clergymen.
- Chodzko, Alexandre. Le Théâtre en Perse [Theatre in Persia]. Paris, 1878; rpt., 1944.