Pulikali also known as Kaduvakali is a colorful recreational folk art which is performed by trained artists to entertain people on the occasion of Onam, an annual harvest festival where artistes dance wildly and mimic hunting moves to the beat of drums.Pulikali is a symbol Onam just like the legend of Mahabali and Pookalam.
Puli Means “leopard” and Kali means “Play”. On the fourth day of Onam celebrations (Nalaam Onam), performers painted like tigers and hunters in bright yellow, red, and black dance to the beats of instruments like Udukku and Thakil. Literal meaning of Pulikali is the ‘play of the tigers’ hence the performance revolve around the theme of tiger hunting. The folk art is mainly practiced in Thrissur district of Kerala. Best place to watch the show is at Swaraj Round, Thrissur on the fourth day of Onam, where Pulikali troupes from all over the district assemble to display their skills. The festival attracts thousands of people to the Thrissur city.
Pulikali makes use of forms and symbols of nature that finds expression in its bright, bold body painting in yellow and orange and high-energy dance movements. So by fusing man and beast in its artistic language, it flamboyantly celebrates the connection between humans and nature. But one of its grand shows takes place during Onam, the harvest festival signifying the New Year in this region of south India. A quirky procession of vibrantly painted boys and men in the guise of tigers and panthers romp the Swaraj Road of Trichur, on the third day of Onam amid much fan fare.
Pulikali is also known as Kaduvvakali is practised mostly in Thrissur and Palghat districts of Kerala and is believed to be a two hundred year old folk dance form and Pulikali performers have faces of lion or tigers painted on their trunks and their legs are pained yellow and is dried by standing under the sun.Pulikali is belived to have been introduced by Maharaja Sakthan Thampuran, the then Maharaja of Cochin, is said to have introduced the folk art, who wanted to celebrate Onam with a dance that reflected the wild and macho spirit of the force.
Pulikali performances of small scale are common in the villages and towns in Thrissur and Palakkad in Kerala but the grand spectacle is during the fourth day of Onam. Pulikali performers enact scenes such as the tiger preying on an animal, and a tiger being hunted by a hunter .The procession also include floats from each village. The different troupes vie with each other to make the best floats as well as the best dressed tigers.
Here is a video of Pulikali Performance in Kerala and if you want to watch this live do visit Thrissur on fourth day of Onam.
A striking feature of this folk art is the colorful appearance of the performers. A particular combination of tempera powder and varnish or enamel is used to make the paint. Dancers will have to remove the hair from the body, and then, the base coat of paint is applied on them and it takes two to three hours for the paint to dry under the sunlight after which the second coating is applied again on the participants and the entire process takes five to six hours.