Onam 2022: All you want to know about Puli Kali, the folk ‘Tiger dance’ from Kerala

ByZarafshan Shiraz, Delhi

Onam, the annual 10-day Malayali harvest festival, will be celebrated this year from August 30 to September 8 with Puli Kali, the ‘tiger dance’ or folk dance form, performed during the fourth day. The 10-day harvest festival of Onam marks the beginning of the Malayalam year ‘Kollavarshamis’ in the state of Kerala and on the fourth day of the festive celebrations, devotees disguise themselves as a tiger by painting their faces and bodies like tigers with stripes of yellow, red or orange and black while dancing to the rhythm of traditional percussion instruments such as thakil, udukku and chenda.

This festival is also called the ‘Play of the Tiger’ and is celebrated mainly in the Thrissur district of Kerala on the fourth day of Onam where the Swaraj Ground plays host to this carnival that witnesses people appearing in various unique hues and masks. Several men come out on the streets with painted bodies and masks and perform with bursting energy.

The main theme of this folk art form of Kerala is tiger hunting with devotees playing the role of a tiger or a hunter and the make-up for the same is applied using oil paints. This make-up is said to be extremely hard to remove but regardless of it, several locals and visitors alike join in on the revelry on the streets of Thrissur every year during Onam while other people from across the state and the world are attracted to view this special event.

The dance form of Puli Kali is believed to have been introduced by erstwhile ruler of Cochin, Maharaja Rama Varma Sakthan Thampuran, two centuries ago and is performed by a large number of trained artistes as a symbolic representation of bravery and wild spirit during the annual Onam festivities. Though Puli Kali has been an exclusive bastion of male artistes in Kerala’s Thrissur, a group of Keralite women broke the conventional gender barriers in 2016 as they donned the garb of symbolic tigers and performed alongside men on the streets and danced to the beat of drums while wearing tiger masks and body painted with the face of big cat to added colour to the annual folk fiesta.

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