Fewer tigers in number but high in spirit

Despite mild drizzles, Pulikkali unfurls in royal grandeur

September 11, 2022 08:33 pm | Updated September 12, 2022 02:28 pm IST - Thrissur

A pulikkali enthusiast dancing with a tiger during Pulikkali performance on Swaraj Round in Thrissur.

A pulikkali enthusiast dancing with a tiger during Pulikkali performance on Swaraj Round in Thrissur. | Photo Credit: K.K. NAJEEB

Growling and prancing, the tigers and leopards, with their bodies painted in bright shades of yellow and black, literally conquered Thrissur city on Sunday.

Dark rain clouds, which hovered in the sky for the last few days, kept away most of the time as if for the royal entry of tigers. Pulikkali, Thrissur’s hallmark street pageant, unfurled in all its grandeur, concluding the Onam celebrations here.

A record crowd, especially children, witnessed the event that was performed at Swaraj Round after a break of two years due to COVID pandemic. Threat of rain failed to douse their spirits.

Also Read | An Onam that erases pandemic blues

Shaking the bells around their waist, the tigers roamed the streets. Children giggled as the tigers, mostly obese with huge bellies, indulged in feral dance to the beats of rustic drums.

The men with pot bellies were in huge demand this time too. In addition to the tiger masks, faces were drawn on their huge bellies too. Bigger the bellies, happier the painters. When they dance in rollicking movements, their bellies vibrate rhythmically, giving vivid expressions of tiger faces.

Also Read | Onam festivities back after COVID break

Though preparations were in full swing in ‘tiger dens’ for almost one month, Pulikkali fans were worried due to the forecast of rains. The tableaux were mainly made of thermocol, which may easily get damaged in rain. There were reasons for their concern, as there was continuous rain in the district for the past one week.

The Pulikkali teams started preparations quite early, from choosing the tigers to selecting patterns for the body painting and masks. It was important to get every detail right. Designs and patterns were kept secret. Each team tried to bring novelty to their performance.

The tiger-themed street art form legendarily goes back over 200 years. Maharaja Rama Varma Shakthan Thampuran of Cochin introduced it to add colour to the Onam celebrations.

People in Thrissur maintain an emotional connection with the tiger dance. Pulikkali performers take huge effort for the preparation. First, body hair is removed and a base coat is applied. Later the entire body will be painted with tempera powder mixed with enamel paint. Dancing for hours with clogged sweat glands is really tough. Though, since 2016, women entered the male bastion that Pulikkali was, there were no tigresses for the show this year except for two.

In all more than 250 tigers of five teams—Ayyanthole, Sakthan, Punkunnam, Kanattukara and Viyyur—participated in the Pulikkali this year. There were tigers of all colours, even in pink, green, and black. There were tiger cubs too. Each team was accompanied by colourful tableaux.

The official inauguration of the event was cancelled in the wake of the death of Queen Elizabeth. Tight security was arranged for the event in the city. There was traffic regulation in the city.

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