About the art form and the story of its revival
Pavakathakali or Puppet Kathakali is a puppet theatre form indigenous to Kerala, that dates back to a few centuries. Traditionally performed by the members of Andi Pandaram-s, a community that migrated to Kerala from Andhra Pradesh somewhere in the 18th century, Pavakathakali makes use of glove puppets to narrate the stories of Kerala’s classical art form, Kathakali. They used to wander from house to house, with their puppets, putting up shows in households and the hosts usually took care of their needs.
As the art form started to wane during the 1960s, two puppets kept in the Thrissur Museum were noticed by Kamaladevi Chattopadyay, the eminent cultural personality, who initiated the process of this form’s revival. She entrusted G.Venu with the task of the revival, which started in the Seventies. A troupe from Paruthippally village, led by Chamu Pandaram, one of the then surviving masters, used to perform in regions till the Poornathrayeesa Temple in Tripunithura. In 1972, with the help of Govind Vidyarthi, then Documentation Officer at Sangeet Natak Akademi, the first-ever documentation of Pavakathakali performed by Chamu Pandaram was made in 16 mm film.
In 1980, following Kamaladevi Chattopadyay’s suggestion, G.Venu undertook an exhaustive survey of the art form, collecting puppets and valuable information with the help of K.V.Ramakrishnan, nephew of Chamu Pandaram. When the training program for reviving Pavakathakali was initiated by the Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi in 1982, the main performers Chamu Pandaram and his colleague Velayudhan Pandaram had passed away. Only K.V. Ramakrishnan, the son of Velayudhan Pandaram, K.C. Karuppan, K.C. Ramakrishnan, the children of Chamu Pandaram and the percussionist V.Thankappan remained in the traditional family who could just about handle the art form. But none of them had the expertise to make puppets. Thottassery Narayanan, Kathakali artist and costume designer, took it on himself to make the puppets after studying the available old puppets. Six students were selected from Puthuppulli and Kodumbu villages for training. Ravi Gopalan Nair was one of the students who studied the art of making puppets.
The initial stage of the training was at Vijnanakalavedi, the Chengannur-based Kathakali Vidyalaya, shifting to Natanakairali, Irinjalakuda after one year. In 1984, G. Venu choreographed Kalyanasaugandhikam as Pavakathakali, and was presented at the India International Centre, New Delhi. Following this, Duryodhanavadham, Dakshayagam and Utharaswayamvaram were also choreographed. Soon, Pavakathakli started to get numerous stages in India and abroad, becoming popular across the world.
At present Natanakairali’s efforts are trying to bring back traditional art forms like Pavakathakali that have now migrated from the rural towards greener pastures in the urban, back to their rural origin.
The troupe of puppeteers at Natanakairali are the only group in Kerala preserving this art form, consisting of K.V.Ramakrishnan, K.C.Ramakrishnan, Ravi Gopalan Nair, K.Srinivasan, V.Thankappan and Kalanilayam Ramakrishnan. The recognitions including the Award of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi to K.V.Ramakrishnan and K.C.Ramakrishnan (2011) and the Dakshina Chitra Viruthu Award for Ravi Gopalan Nair, have given a morale boost for this art form.
At the Kalari, a young generation of puppeteers have been initiated and are undergoing training. The training programme is supported by the Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi.
K. V. Ramakrishnan
K. C. Ramakrishnan
Ravi Gopalan Nair