Pulikali, also known as “Tiger Dance,” is a traditional folk art form performed in the Indian state of Kerala, particularly during the festival of Onam. The word “Pulikali” is derived from the Malayalam words “Puli” (tiger) and “Kali” (play/performance). The dance involves men dressed as tigers who paint their bodies with intricate tiger-like patterns and perform to the beats of traditional percussion instruments like the chenda (drum), thakil (cymbals), and urumi (a traditional percussion instrument).

The origins of Pulikali can be traced back to over 200 years ago when Maharaja Rama Varma Sakthan Thampuran, the ruler of Kochi, introduced the art form as a recreational activity for his soldiers. Over the years, it evolved into a popular performance art during the Onam festival and has become an essential part of the celebrations in Kerala.

During Onam, which is Kerala’s harvest festival, Pulikali is usually performed on the fourth day called “Nadam” or “Puli Kali Day.” Hundreds of participants, usually from nearby villages, come together to showcase their artistic skills and entertain the spectators with their energetic and playful tiger dance. Each group of performers has a unique theme or style, and they compete for the best performance.

Pulikali attracts thousands of tourists and locals alike, who gather to witness the colorful spectacle of “tigers” dancing, leaping, and enacting various scenes to depict hunting, tiger behavior, and other playful acts. The event creates a vibrant and lively atmosphere during the festive season and adds to the cultural richness of Kerala.

Pulikali has garnered widespread recognition and has become an important cultural symbol of Kerala, promoting traditional art forms and preserving the region’s unique heritage.

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