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 »  » Pulikali


Place : Thrissur, Kerala
Month : August- September
Significance : A vibrant folk art of Kerala
Date: 11.9.2022

The Swaraj Ground in Kerala's Thrissur District play host to the vibrant 'Pulikkali' or 'Tiger Dance' festival every year in the month of August- September. Hundreds of males with huge bellies and children wearing tiger masks take part in the Tiger dance, that forms a key element of the popular harvest festival of Onam in Kerala.

Pulikali also known as Kaduvaakali, is a folk art form of Kerala in which artists paint themselves with tiger stripes of yellow, red and black, and dance to the rhythm of traditional percussion instruments such as thakil, udukku and chenda. The main theme of the dance is tiger hunting, and its origins are attributed to Muslims soldiers. Though the dance is performed all over Kerala during Onam, it has special significance in Palakkad and Thrissur districts. In Thrissur more than 800 people dressed as tigers from the neighbouring 14 village areas in the district, participate in the event held on the fourth day of Onam. 

The origin of Pulikali dates back to over 200 years, when the King Ramavarma is said to have introduced the folk art during Muharram. Mohemeddan soldiers of the British army stationed in Thrissur in the Pattalam (army) area used to celebrate Muharram with great fervor. Along with the celebrations, they used to perform the art form decked as tigers  with peculiar steps resembling the tiger, then known as 'Pulikkettikali' which was immensely enjoyed by the locals. Pulikali in Trichur is held in memory of this event.

Over the years, there has been changes in the adornment of Pulikali dancers. In the early days, masks were not used at all and participants would have themselves painted all over, on their faces as well. But now, ready made masks, cosmetic teeth, tongues, beards and mustaches are used by the participants along with the paint on their bodies. The tigers also wear a broad belt with jingles around their waist.

The festival in Thrissur has now become an all peoples event with huge response from people, especially youths who come forward to participate in the festival, and also from sponsors. The event is organised by the Pulikkali Co-ordination Committee, a unified council of Pulikkali groups formed in 2004 to preserve and propagate the art in all its true hues and tones.

A striking feature of this folk art is the colorful appearance of the performers. A particular combination of Tempra Powder and varnish or enamel is used to make the paint. First of all, the dancers remove the hair from the body, and then, the base coat of paints is applied on them. It takes two to three hours for the coating to dry. After that, the second coat of paint is applied with enhanced design. This entire procedure takes at least five to seven hours. A large number of artists gather to apply paint on the tigers. It is a meticulous process and start from the wee hours in the morning. 

pulikaliBy afternoon the Pulikkali groups or 'sangams' as they are called, from all four corners of Thrissur move in a procession, dancing, pouncing and shaking their bellies to the beat of the drums through the streets to the Swaraj Ground situated in the heart of the city. Scenes such as the tiger preying on an animal, and a tiger being hunted by a game-hunter are enacted beautifully in between. Thousands of spectators line the streets enjoying the dance, cheering the dancers some of them even trying to join in.

The groups assemble at Naduvilal in the Swaraj ground in front of the Vadakkunnanthan temple and offer a coconut each to the deity of the Ganpathi shrine (Naduvilal Ganapathi Kovil) here, before going on a procession around the ground. The procession also include floats from each village. The different troupes vie with each other to make the best floats as well as the best dressed tigers.

Contact Address :

Pulikkali Co-ordination Committee
Ramnath Arts & Sports Club,
Patturaikkal, Thrissur-680022,
Kerala, India
Mobile : 9847231562
E-mail: Contact now

Watch Video - Pulikali performed at the Swaraj Ground, Thrissur

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