Pulikali is a colourful recreational folk art from the state of Kerala. It is performed by trained artists to entertain people on the occasion of Onam.
Pulikali is also known as Kaduvaakali. It is a 200 year old art form carefully preserved by the artists of Kerala state. Literal meaning of Pulikali is the ‘play of the tigers’. Hence, the performance revolves around the theme of tiger hunting. The folk art is mainly practiced in Thrissur [Trichur] and Palghat districts of Kerala. Best place to watch Pulikali is Swaraj Ground at Thrissur on the fourth day of Onam. Pulikali troupes from all over the district assemble at Swaraj Ground, Thrissur, to display their skills.
The most striking feature of this folk art is the colourful appearance of the performers. The artists paint themselves in bright yellow with patterns of black and red. They also wear a tiger mask on their faces to resemble a tiger.
Make-up is painstaking and time consuming. Hence, artists spend their entire night before the day of the performance in make-up. Patience of artists must be appreciated. Most paints contain toxic chemicals that cause a burning sensation when applied on freshly shaved bodies.
The Pulikali is wonderful to see humans in disguise of tigers roaming in the streets. Children specifically take great delight in Pulikali performance. The performers or entertainers dance, pounce and walk like tigers. They beautifully enact scenes of tiger hunting goats or tigers being hunted by human beings. The beat for the dance movements is provided by percussion instruments such as ‘udukku’ and ‘thakil’.