Kerala Folklore
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Pulikali: The Roaring Carnival of Colors in Kerala


Pulikali, the Tiger Dance, is a captivating folk art form that originated in Kerala, India. This vibrant and energetic performance is an integral part of the annual Onam festival celebrations, held during the harvest season. Pulikali is a unique blend of art, culture, and tradition that brings together performers and spectators in a riot of colors and excitement.

Historical Significance:

Pulikali has a long and storied history, dating back over 200 years. It is believed to have originated in the region of Thrissur, where it was performed as a form of entertainment during the Onam festivities. The word "Pulikali" itself translates to "play of the tiger" in Malayalam, the local language of Kerala. Over the years, Pulikali has evolved from being a simple street performance to a grand carnival featuring elaborately designed tiger costumes and choreographed dance routines.

The Performance:

During Pulikali, trained performers, predominantly men, paint themselves as fearsome tigers using bright yellow, red, and black colors. Elaborate tiger stripes, sharp claws, and menacing facial expressions complete the transformation, creating a striking visual spectacle. The performers don traditional attire, with wooden masks and headgear resembling a tiger's head, giving them an awe-inspiring appearance.

Accompanied by the rhythmic beats of traditional drums like Chenda and Thakil, the tiger dancers take to the streets, showcasing their dance skills and theatrical movements. The captivating dance steps and acrobatics mimic the movements of a tiger, captivating the audience and creating an exhilarating atmosphere.

Symbolism and Celebration:

Pulikali holds deeper symbolism beyond its visual splendor. The tiger is a revered animal in Kerala's folklore and cultural heritage, symbolizing power, strength, and courage. The dance performance, with its lively and dynamic nature, symbolizes the triumphant spirit of good over evil and the joyous celebration of the harvest season.

Onam Festival and Pulikali:

Pulikali is an integral part of the Onam festival, which is the biggest and most widely celebrated festival in Kerala. It marks the homecoming of the mythical King Mahabali and is a time of immense joy and merriment for the people of Kerala. The Pulikali performance takes place on the fourth day of Onam, known as "Nada Thuruthu," when the streets come alive with color, music, and dance.

Preserving Tradition:

Despite the passage of time and the emergence of modern entertainment, Pulikali has remained an essential aspect of Kerala's cultural heritage. The government and various cultural organizations actively promote and support the continuation of this folk art form. Every year, thousands of people, both locals and tourists, gather to witness the enchanting and mesmerizing Pulikali performances during the Onam festivities.

In conclusion, Pulikali is not just a folk performance; it is an expression of Kerala's vibrant culture, unity, and celebration. With its vivacious display of colors, rhythm, and tradition, Pulikali continues to evoke a sense of awe and wonder, making it a cherished and unforgettable experience for anyone fortunate enough to witness this roaring carnival of colors.