This year, Pulikali may lose its roar

Pulikali, which traditionally brings the curtains down on Onam celebrations, is a well-known tourist attraction. —File photo

Pulikali, which traditionally brings the curtains down on Onam celebrations, is a well-known tourist attraction. —File photo  


This Onam, fewer tigers may dance on the streets of Thrissur. And many who do will be a worried lot.

With the cost of preparations steadily escalating, several Pulikali (tiger dance) groups are struggling to find funds to keep them going. Many well-known Pulikali teams have already decided to keep away from this year’s event, simply because they cannot afford the costs and, sponsors are increasingly hard to come by.

Pulikali, which traditionally brings the curtains down on Onam celebrations in the district and is a well-known tourist attraction, is to be staged on August 31 this year.

The tiger hunt-themed street art form legendarily goes back over 200 years, when Maharaja Rama Varma Shakthan Thampuran of Cochin introduced it as a finale to Onam festivities.

The human tigers and leopards, painted in bright shades of yellow and black, have been literally ruling the city roads the fourth day after every Onam, doing their own crude belly dance to rustic drum beats, and an all round rush of adrenaline.

The fatter, the merrier

The performers are usually fat men. The fatter, the merrier. This is the time that men with huge potbellies are in high demand in the city. For, the faces of tigers and leopards can best be drawn on big bellies and their rollicking movements will infuse more life onto the tiger and leopard faces painted on them.

The swaying, sweaty, tigers prey on smaller animals, and the big cats in turn are hunted by hunters in between.

Baby P. Antony, president of the Pulikali Coordination Committee, says these are tough times for Pulikali teams.

“The cost will touch Rs. 6 lakh or more for each team. The city Corporation has increased its financial aid from Rs. 75,000 to Rs. 1 lakh this year. But it will hardly suffice,” he adds.

Dying art form

Unlike the other big tourist attraction in the city, the Thrissur Pooram, which is managed by well-endowed Devaswoms, Pulikali is left to groups of youth who want to preserve this dying art form, Mr. Antony points out.

“They raise money from the local people. They even pawn gold ornaments of their kin, expecting this would be made good by financial assistance from the city Corporation and the Tourism Department. But they are often pushed into debts, since the costs exceed the collections and aid. Delay in payment is another issue,” he adds. The city Corporation has been claiming to be conducting the annual event for the last two years, with the Police Department chipping in.

However, Mayor Rajan Pallan is optimistic that this year’s Pulikali will not lose its sheen.

More aid

“We hope to have more teams than last year. The Corporation has increased the financial aid to Rs. 1 lakh for each team. The Rs. 5 lakh assistance declared by the government last year has already been handed over. In addition to that, there are cash prizes of Rs. 35,000, Rs. 25,000 and Rs. 20,000 respectively for Pulikali teams which win first, second and third positions, and for the tableaux too,” the Mayor says.

Human tiger dens become active almost a month ahead of the event. It is important to get every detail right. The patterns that are drawn on the bodies of performers are well-kept secrets of each Pulikali team.

Eight teams are expected to participate in the pantomime-cum-parade this year. Thousands of people will gather at the Swaraj Round and the bylanes to watch the show. Interestingly, migrant labourers, who have become integral part of the State, too are among the performers.

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Printable version | Dec 13, 2019 7:53:43 PM |

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