Award for Pavakathakali and Poikkal Kudhirai artistes
- Lalitha Venkat, Chennai

March 16, 2011

The Madras Craft Foundation and Friends of Dakshinachitra presented the Dakshinachitra Virudhu for lifetime achievement in performing arts to Ravi Gopalan Nair (Pavakathakali / glove puppet) and Poikkal Kudhirai (dummy horse) performer Thangai G Raju of Gramiya Kalai Kuzhu on March 12, 2011 at Dakshinachitra, Chennai. Dancer Anita Ratnam awarded the citation to the artistes of these two art forms that have been on the brink of extinction. The award also carries a purse of Rs. 20,000 in cash.

The evening started with a tasty array of snacks and tea followed by a poikkal kudhirai performance in the beautiful open courtyard of Dakshinachitra by Thangai G Raju. Though his wife is also a performer, that evening he was accompanied by artiste Lakshmi and together they gave a spirited display that had the onlookers clicking umpteen photographs happily. Raju beamed with happiness as he accepted the award from Anita Ratnam. Poikkal Kudhirai as a folk form is almost disappearing, but he belongs to the fourth generation of performers and is happy that the family art is now safe in the hands of his son and hopes that the chain continues without a break. He feels it is a good sign that folk performers are being recognized for their contribution and hopes more artistes get recognition.
Raju and his son
Raju and Lakshmi
On accepting his award, Ravi Gopalan Nair said the Pavakathakali group was established in 1982 by G Venu through his Natana Kairali Centre in Irinjalakuda, Kerala, with the blessings and support from the great Kamala Devi Chattopadhyaya to rejuvenate the art form that was in danger of going into oblivion. Sangeet Natak Akademi granted the initial financial assistance for a training program. Under G Venu's guidance, a group of artistes was chosen and given training in music, manipulation and puppet making at Natanakairali. Since then, this puppet troupe has performed in all the major festivals in India and abroad and has won recognition as one of the best glove puppet theatre forms in the world.

Ravi Gopalan Nair's troupe included KV Ramakrishnan and KC Ramakrishnan who have been jointly selected for this year's Sangeet Natak Akademi award for their lifetime contribution in the field. These three artistes have participated as master puppeteers in presenting Pavakathakali plays, including Kalyanasaugandhikam, Duryodhana Vadham and Dakshayagam at Natanakairali. The troupe gave a riveting 40 minute performance of Duryodhana Vadham. The dramatis personae included Krishna, Duryodhana, Dushasana, Dritarashtra, Draupadi and the five Pandava brothers. The Pandava brothers have lost all in the game of dice including their wife Draupadi which gives an upper hand for Duryodhana who demands that she come sit on his thigh. Dushasana pulls the end of her upper garment in an effort to disrobe her. The scene where Draupadi prays to Lord Krishna intensely and her garment becomes an endless fabric as Dushasana keeps on pulling was portrayed vividly. Draupadi vows not to tie her hair until the death of Dushasana and Bhima takes a vow to do that act himself.
Ravi Gopalan Nair
KV Ramakrishnan and KC Ramakrishnan
Ravi Gopalan Nair and KC Ramakrishnan
The scene shifts to the battlefield where a terrifying battle is in progress. In a fierce fight, Bhima kills Dushasana and draws out his entrails. In a prolonged duel, Bhima kills Duryodana. Bhima had promised Draupadi that he would drink blood from the chest of Dushasana and would dress her hair with the blood from the thigh of Duryodhana. Draupadi celebrates the event by tying her hair and the episode concludes with a prayer to Lord Vishnu who appears in his Viswarupa form.

From the lighting of the ceremonial lamp to the final arathi to Vishnu's viswarupam, there was a touch of piety to the presentation. The spirited performance by the puppeteers, their facial expressions mirroring the emotions of the characters and vocalization imparted to the puppets were remarkable and all it needed for the audience was to supply a small understanding to complete an interesting show. The subdued vocal music, the attention getting chenda and the cymbals created a seeming Kathakali performance in itself and what with the puppets made up in the Kathakali costumes, head gear and make up, it was a Kathakali performance par excellence!

A little more publicity would have helped since it was well worth driving all that distance for this delightful evening.

More pics of the Pavakathakali performance

Lalitha Venkat is the content editor of