At a time when pavakali or Puppetry is considered a fading art, Moozhikkal Pankajakshi’s name will be written in bold letters for taking the art form all through her life and popularising it.
Moozhikkal Pankajakshi from Kerala is the recipient of this year’s Padma Shri Award, which is India’s fourth highest civilian award. She is the last surviving link of Nokkuvidya Pavakali, which is a unique form of puppetry centuries old.
She is the only practitioner in Kerala who practises this unique form of puppetry called Nokkuvidya Pavakali. The puppetry is unique as the performer has to balance puppets on the upper lip. After this, the movement is controlled by the gaze and the strings. The puppetry revolves around the stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata.
Moozhikkal Pankajakshi, who is now in her 80sm, has been performing this art form since she was eight years of age. Her ancestors were practicing Nokkuvidya Pavakali in Kerala for the last five centuries.
On cultivating an interest for the art form, she was quoted as saying that she was keen from her childhood to learn the art form. After discontinuing studies, she accompanied her parents for performances. She said that her family had never discouraged her. Pankajakshi said that her husband and children helped with her show.
Her eyes take on a wistful look as she reminisces about her childhood. Moozhikkal also remembers that there were other families who performed the art form. However, she said that no one was interested in the art form now.