Drumbeats and exciting roars of the crowd filled the air. The mood was wild and electric.
Thrissur city on Friday turned into a sea of stripes and spots as more than 250 ‘human tigers and leopards’ pranced about the streets in a rollicking show of Pulikkali.
Leaving their dens, ‘tigers’ of five contingents from Ayyanthole, Viyyur, Sitaram Mill Lane, Sakthan and Kanattukara stormed the city to give a carnivalesque finish to the Onam celebrations.
The human tigers, who regaled thousands who thronged the Swaraj Round and its bylanes, appeared in all possible colours. They came in blue, black, fluorescent green, and even pink.
Pulikkali showcases a beautiful art of body painting. “Painting on the body for Pulikkali is not easy. Paint plugs sweat pores,” said actor-politician Suresh Gop who visited the ‘tiger dens’. “But the spirit of the event inspires them to ignore the pain,” he adds.
As usual, ‘pot-bellied tigers’ ruled the show. Pulikkali squads hunt for such performers, otherwise bullied for their huge tummies, as faces of tigers can be drawn well on big bellies.
There were some skinny tiger cubs too who cartwheeled and somersaulted to regale the audience.
There are no rigid rules for the dance movements. Each artiste creates his own style. Outsiders may criticise it as a crude belly dance, but for the people of Thrissur, Onam celebrations cannot be complete without Pulikkali.
The huge crowd goaded the dancers to let loose their best roars and growls. The tigers broke into wild dance steps. Scenes such as tigers preying on other animals and tigers being hunted were enacted in between.
Pulikkali, believed to have originated two centuries ago as a street dance form, became part of Onam celebrations later. Once dismissed as a rather obscene performance, it gained popularity after certain rules about the style and dance steps were introduced.
Women too have been ensuring their presence in the past few years since they created history by storming into the male bastion of Pulikkali in 2016. This year, two women – Nimisha Bijo, a TV serial actor, and Thara from Thalikulam – were part of the Sitaram Mill Lane team.
Two tigress cubs – 12-year-old Vaiga and seven-year-old Aradya – were part of the Viyyur team.