More than 300 men dressed as tigers and leopards prance about the streets of Thrissur in a rollicking show of Pulikkali

On Thursday evening, Thrissur turned a sea of stripes and spots as ‘big cats’ literally ruled city streets. The rains took a break and thousands watched as more than 300 men, dressed up as tigers and leopards, pranced about the streets in a rollicking show of Pulikkali.

Thousands of people thronged the Swaraj Round and by-lanes to watch seven teams stage the quaint pantomime-cum-parade that brought the curtains down on Onam celebrations. Tableaux brightened the procession.

Contingents from Vivekananda Seva Samithy, Punkunnam centre, Kanattukara Desam, Potayil Lane, Youth Club - Mylipadam, Keeramkulangara and East Fort regaled onlookers.

Inspired by the ecstatic rhythm of indigenous percussion instruments and encouraged by enthusiastic onlookers, the ‘tigers’ broke into wild dance.

Most groups had pot-bellied dancers. Pulikkali squads hunt for fat performers as faces of tigers and leopards can be drawn well on big bellies. The crude belly dance infused life into the faces drawn.

Some of the dancers got their bodies painted in fluorescent paint.

This time, there were tigers in all possible colours — pink, orange, blue and green. There were black panthers as well. The performers with tiger masks wore twinkling LED bulbs for eyes that shone just like a wild cat’s would in the dark.

Scenes such as the tiger preying on an animal, and a tiger being hunted by a game-hunter were enacted beautifully in between.

Pulikkali, a traditional art form of Kerala, is said to have originated in the late 18th century.

Street dance

It is pure street dance, with no rigid rules of style or movement. Each artiste creates his own style.

Once dismissed as an obscene play, pulikkali has gained popularity recently. The district authorities have introduced certain rules about the style and duration of the play.

Seventy-three-year-old Chathunni, the oldest Pulikkali artiste in Thrissur, performed this year too. Age did not deter the enthusiasm of the veteran, who had been performing for the last 57 years without fail. This time he represented Kanattukara Desam.

Bengali migrant workers too made their presence felt in the Pulikkali procession. Twenty-four migrant workers donned tiger masks and performed Pulikkali for Keeramkulangara team.

Processions taken out by seven Pulikkali teams, each having about 50 performers, entered the Swaraj Round around 4.30 p.m. through Kuruppam Road, M.G. Road, Palace Road and Shoranur Road.

They were judged at four points — Manikandanal, Naikkanal, M.O. Road and Paramekkavu.