16-year-old Renjini and her grandmother are the only practitioners of a delicate ancestral art. In Kerala, a centuries old legacy comes to life with wooden string puppets – on the tip of Renjini’s lips. Renjini is said to be the only person in the world today who can manoeuvre the entire Ramayana and Mahabharata on the tip of her lips.
According to The Hindu, The Kerala Puppet Festival 2013 showcased a wide and colourful range of traditional puppetry. The rarest of the shows was ‘Nokku Vidya Pavakali’ directed by the lone survivor of this art form, Pankajakshi and performed by her grand-daughter, Renjini.
Nokku Vidhya Pavakalli, is an indigenous puppet theatre form practiced for centuries by Renjini’s ancestors in Kerala. The secrets of this art lie with her family alone. To this day, they remain the sole practitioners. Pankajakshi says, “Our family’s tradition was very famous in those days. We were invited to perform at every festival. Every puppet you see here is crafted by my husband. He passed away some years back and a part of the tradition is gone with him. Now none of us know how to make the puppet dolls. My father taught me to pass on the legacy. Renjini has to pass on this tradition and keep it alive.”
According to Untold, to see the epics come alive on the little space between Renjini’s lips and nose, balanced on a bunch of strings is a bit like watching a magic show. But, this is no illusory trick. As Renjini explains, “It was very painful to learn it. I suffered from many wounds at first, but I didn’t mind.” She started learning at the age of eight, but her grandmother believes she still has a long way to go. “Now I’m the only one who can practice our ancestral art.”
Teetering on the edge, yet always upright. Literally hanging by a string of thread. Renjini has inherited the art of balance and she showcases it with grace.
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