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( Tiger Dance )
Pulikkali (meaning tiger dance) is performed
by men on the streets on the fourth Onam day. Hundreds of men and
children wearing tiger-like masks and painted body will dance according
to various rhythms in Thrissur as part of Onam festival.Pulikkali
is perhaps the only folk art that involves painting of the body
on such a large scale. Pulikkali is one of the few animal mimetic
dances of primordial origin that has survived the onslaught of civilisation.
It is perhaps the only folk art, which involves painting on the
body at such a large level. Even in Kerala, Thrissur is the only
place where such a festival is held on an elaborate scale during
According to folklorists, the play in Thrissur is almost a century
old. The Tamil speaking Muslims originally introduced it as part
of the Moharram festivities. The legend of Ali, the son-in-law of
Prophet Mohammed, is said to have close links to the performance.
Ali was a great warrior and the Islamic faith portrays him as the
guardian angel of the Almighty, possessing the strength of a tiger.
Gradually the Muslim population lost interest in the play. Communities
of Konars and Chettiars of Tamil origin took it up as they were
used to the "puliyattam", the Tamil version held during
The choreography of Pulikkali is essentially that of miming a tiger
that moves on its hind legs. But the influence of Kalaripayattu,
Kerala's martial art, can be clearly seen. The artistes accomplish
acrobatic feats on two rods supported by men, often climbing bamboo
poles imitating the movements of tiger. All movements of the hands
and the body are in perfect unison with the rhythmic accompaniment.
In the past there were artistes who were carried away during the
performance. Instances of miming a bloodthirsty animal were not
rare. There were performers who could lift a full-grown goat by
biting it on the neck. Such cruel practices died out later.
Painting the artiste is an awesome job. It takes almost a whole
night to complete. The body is clean-shaven and tempera powder mixed
with varnish is applied as first coat. Professional painters then
draw the designs of the various animals on the body.
Though a non-ritualistic art form, a sense of tradition is seen
during the preparations and performances. Seldom does the painting
begin without lighting a traditional lamp. The artistes invoke the
blessings of their "creator" — the painter. A visit
to the nearby temple is a must before the play starts.