Pulikali at Thrissur – Vibrant Festival of Tiger Dance

Pulikali is a folk art form of Kerala. Thrissur district of Kerala play host to the colorful ‘Pulikali’ or ‘Tiger Dance’ festival and is the best place to watch it. Puli means Leopard or Tiger and Kali means Play in Malayalam language. On the fourth day of Onam, Pulikali is celebrated. It means tiger and the play exhibit of the haunting and hide-seek activities of tiger from hunters.

The literal meaning of Pulikali is the “play of the tigers”. The performers are painted with the oil paints which is time consuming and labor to remove the make-up. Apart from the colors of tiger, the performers even use the facial features and patterns of lion on their bodies. Men with big bellies are seen painted along with kids wearing ready made masks. Many spectators come from near by villages as well.

Pulikali is also known as Kaduvvakali, considered to be a two hundred year old folk dance form. The then Maharaja of Cochin, Maharaja Sakthan Thampuran said to have introduced this folk art to celebrate the Onam festival with dance which reflected the wild and muscular feeling of the force.

It takes about five to six hours of painting and then the procession begins where the performers exhibit their skills. The performers enact scenes as being hunted by a hunter controlling a gun and tiger preying on an animal. The event not only creates excitement for the spectators but also for the performers.

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This post is written by Saurabh Chatterjee. He is a travel photographer and a photography trainer.
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