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Moozhikkal Pankajakshi: The Great Artist Who Revived The Art Of Nokkuvidya Puppetry

Kerala is a land of diverse art forms. However, many of them are being lost today. Nokkuvidya puppetry is a centuries-old form of puppetry. Pankajakshi is the only remaining link to Kerala’s centuries-old traditional puppetry, Nokku Vidya Paavakali.

Moozhikkal Pankajakshi is an expert in the puppetry art, Nokkuvidya pavakali. In 2020, she received the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian honour.


Pankajakshi Moozhikkal Sivaraman, alias Moozhikkal Pankajakshi Amma, was born on March 14, 1936, in Urulikunnath, Pala, in the Kottayam district. At the age of 20, Pankajakshi Amma married Shivarama Panicker of Monippally near Uzhavoor in the Kottayam district. Vijayan, Radhamani, and Shiva are the three children of the couple. She and her daughter Radhamani are currently residing in Monippally.

The Craft of Tradition

Nokkuvidya Puppetry, a traditional art form of the Velapanikar sect, is performed by controlling the puppets on a two-foot-long wire above the upper lip and slowly moving the body to the accompaniment of song and ‘tudithala’. Her ancestors were puppeteers who received recognition from the kings of Travancore. Traditionally, this task was performed by women. Pankajakshi amma began learning Nokkuvidya from her mother, Paappiyamma. At the age of eleven, she began learning nokkuvidya, which she later performed with lyrics composed by her husband.

Her Vision

Due to its style and content, this rare kind of puppetry described in Chilapathikaram (an old Tamil literature) is regarded to be exceptional in every manner. Nokkuvidya is a tradition that Pankajakshi’s parents passed down to her. According to Pankajakshi, Nokkuvidya delivers puppets in a way that even regular people can comprehend and enjoy.

Contribution to Art

Nokkuvidya is a ritual handed down to her by her parents. For Pankajakshi Amma, it was her husband,  Sivarama Panicker, who played a major role in elevating her to the status of a renowned puppetry artist. He was a well-known practitioner of this art form. The highlight of the programme was his beautiful voice. He made several puppets for her and wrote songs based on Ramayana and Mahabharata.


Nokkuvidya Puppetry is an art form that combines focus, concentration and practice. Maintaining balance and concentration requires the eyes to be very attentive. Before progressively moving on to generating moves, it takes more than a year to learn how to balance correctly.

Documentary On Her

Nokkuvidya and anchor Pankajakshi were featured in the documentary ‘Nokkuvidya, The Life of a lone string puppeteer.’ by Reshmi Radhakrishnan, which was shown at the Kerala International Documentary and Short Film Festival.


She won various honours, including a fellowship from Kerala Folklore Academy (2012) and the Padmashri (2020). She performed in Paris in 2008 as a part of the Kerala Tourism Festival. In addition, Pankajakshi Amma has done Nokkuvidya in numerous locations inside and outside  Kerala.

Imparting to the next generation

Due to ageing, failing eyesight, and memory loss, she ceased performing Nokkuvidya puppetry at the age of 72 after more than 60 years of expertise. She passed on her great legacy to her granddaughter Renjini. For Renjini, her training over the years was painful and she suffered many injuries, but it was worth it to maintain a valuable legacy. Women are the focus of performance since this art form necessitates incredible attention and patience. The men of the family usually engage in musical narration through songs, playing instruments, and creating puppets.

Moozhikkal Pankajakshi has made immeasurable contributions to this dying art form as a Nokkuvidya puppeteer. Due to ill health, Pankajakshi stopped performing and handed over her legacy to her granddaughter. With great grace, her granddaughter now controls the gods and goddesses on the tip of her tongue to maintain old folklore and traditions.

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