Pulikali: a folk art of Kerala


Kerala is one of the most culturally diverse states in India. More than 2000 festivals are celebrated in the state every year. Onam is one of the major festivals for Malayali people, to entertain people on the occasion they perform a dance called pulikali (Tiger dance). It is also called ‘Kaduvakali’, the folk art form of Kerala which is performed by a trained artist. The origin of pulikali dates back to over 200 years, The Maharaja of Kochi Rama Varma ‘Sakthan thampuran’ introduced this folk dance to celebrate Onam with a dance that reflects wild. Early morning the body of the performers is being waxed to put the paints and they start painting the tiger face on their body. The entire procedure takes at least six to seven hours. They paint with a particular combination of tempera powder and varnish which would require kerosene to remove after the procession.

This dance is performed in many parts of Kerala but performance in Thrissur is quite old and traditional. This attracts thousands of people to the Thrissur city. There are five groups, each group is having 30 to 40 dancers, evening all the groups assembled at Naduvali to offer a coconut to the deity of the Ganapathi in front of the Vadakkunnathan temple. They dance through Swaraj round along with the traditional percussion instruments such as thakil, udukku, and chenda. The committee also announces the best performing team at the end of the event and award them with prize money. They formed a unified council of Pulikali groups in 2004 to preserve and propagate the art.

The art of pulikali, unfortunately, is losing the popularity that it had because of the lack of funds from the government and other philanthropic institutions. Even though the municipality of Thrissur is allocating funds to the performing teams, it does not suffice to meet the increased costs of the processions and the painting. Pulikali lives on the funds and recognition that the people of Thrissur providers who find it to be a valuable representation of their culture.

About the author:
Rishi Devarajan is studying at ICAT DESIGN & MEDIA College, Chennai. He won the Nikon Photo Contest 2019 bronze medal in the Next Generation category.

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