April 29, 2020

Inspiration for the day

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Pankajakshi  Amma, Monippally, Koothattukulam, Ernakulam

Hardly few people would have seen the ‘Nokkuvidya Pavakali’ or its artists.  And even fewer may have understood the rigours and ascetic concentration that its practitioners, usually ladies, are called upon to display during the entire show of about one-and-a-half hours. 

For this puppet show is based on balancing a long half-inch thick wooden stick, with the puppets and support structure mounted on it, on the space between upper lip and nose.  Pankajakshi Amma is an artist who has dedicated her entire life for this art.

It all began when she was 11.  She was initiated into the tradition of practicing the balancing act.  The initial practice was to balance ‘machinga’ on ‘eerkkil’ in the same space below the nose.  Many a scar and wound later, she mastered the art of balancing.  It helped matters that her parents and ancestors were all traditional Pavakali artists with royal commendations.   

After marriage, she landed in a household which welcomed her and her art.  Her husband took keen interest to prepare puppets and sticks for her performance.

In 2009, in the tourism festival at Paris, she was able to perform.  Her performance, though visually and technically a delight, was not appreciated much because of lack of verbal explanations parallel to the play.  Since then she had been including that also in her act.

Later, Pankajakshi Amma suffered a stroke and had to retire from active performance.  But by then her granddaughter Ranjini had picked up the mantle.  In the international puppet festival at Bangalore last year, Ranjani did a flawless demonstration.  This led to an opportunity to perform at New Delhi.  Among the spectators in Delhi were Central officials who recommended Pankajakshi Amma for a probable Padma award.

No good effort can go waste.  Certainly not a lifetime of dedication to an art with few practitioners.  And 84-year-old Pankajakshi Amma’s effort has been lauded by the country with a Padmasree award.


Roopa Dayabji (text), Sreekanth Kalarikkal (photo), Vanitha, February 15-29, 2020


''It does not matter how slow you go as long as you do not stop."