Pulikali, a colorful and energetic folk art

Pulikali is a colorful and energetic folk art form that is a prominent feature of the Onam festival celebrated in the state of Kerala, India. It is a traditional dance performance where men paint themselves as tigers or leopards and showcase their skills in mimicry and dance to entertain the spectators. The word "Pulikali" is derived from two Malayalam words - "puli," which means tiger, and "kali," which means play or performance. Therefore, Pulikali literally translates to "tiger play" or "tiger dance."

onam boat race known as vallamkali

During the Onam festival, usually on the fourth day known as Nalaam Onam, the streets of Kerala come alive with vibrant Pulikali performances. Men from various localities dress up as tigers with elaborate body paint, mimicking the patterns and colors of a tiger's coat. The participants wear skirts made of coconut leaves or colorful clothing to complete the look.


The main elements of a Pulikali performance include:


Body Paint: The participants spend hours getting their bodies painted to resemble tigers. Skilled artists use vibrant colors to create intricate tiger patterns on their faces, torsos, and limbs.


Mimicry: The men portraying tigers put on a show of agility and strength, imitating the movements and behavior of the majestic big cat. They roar like tigers, crawl on all fours, and enact various playful gestures.


Dance: The Pulikali dancers move in groups, performing coordinated dance routines while staying in character as tigers. Their energetic and synchronized movements captivate the audience.


Music: Traditional drums and percussion instruments accompany the Pulikali performance, adding to the festive atmosphere and rhythm of the dance.


Entertainment: The dancers often interact with the audience, engaging in playful antics and humor to entertain onlookers.


Pulikali is not only a form of artistic expression but also a way to celebrate the joy and spirit of Onam. The dance reflects the cultural traditions and folklore of Kerala, and it has become a symbol of the festive season. The lively and captivating Pulikali performances draw large crowds, and both locals and tourists eagerly await this unique and colorful spectacle during the Onam festival.