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Pulikali during Onam in Kerala – Pulikali – The Dance of the Tiger

One of the colorful cultural programs that is held during the Onam festival in Kerala is the Pulikali – ‘Puli’ means tiger and ‘Kali’ means play. Pulikali is a display of a mock hunting of a tiger by a hunter. What makes the Pulikali famous is the painting of the tiger done on the body of men with paunch or potbelly. Although Pulikali is performed in all parts of Kerala, the traditional and the most colorful Pulikalis are held in Thrissur District in Kerala.

Pulikali used to be performed during the festival of Muharram, by the Muslim soldiers of the British army stationed in Thrissur before independence. Then it was known as Puliketti Kali. The soldiers danced with peculiar steps decking themselves up with paint and cloths that had an uncanny resemblance to the majestic looks and stealthy moves of the mighty Tiger.

A major Pulikali procession is held during Onam in Thrissur and is attended by several Pulikali. A small version of the mock fight between Puli and hunter is enacted in other places of Kerala but it does not have any resemblance to the Pulikali procession held in Thrissur.

Pulikali Paint

A particular combination of Tempra Power and warmish is being used to make the paint for getting the real perfection in paintings.

Pulikali Mask

In early days there was no concept of mask at all; paintings were done on the faces of the participants; but in modern times this is replaced by ready made masks and lot of work will be added in order to fix teeth, tongue, beard and mustachios on it.

Pulikali Body Make Up

First of all the dancers have to remove the hair from the body and then the base coat of paints is applied on them. It will take two to three hours for the coatings to dry. After that the second coat of paint is applied with enhancing designs. This entire procedure will take at least five to seven hours. During the entire time the Pulikali proponents will gather around and cheer them up. The organizers will also make sure that all the needs of these performers will be met.

Source excerpts from an article that was published in a website that was exclusively dedicated to pulikali but sadly the website is no longer to be found.