Onam
A male bastion crumbles
Images by KK Najeeb

As this year’s Onam -Kerala’s state harvest festival- draws to a close, more than 500 symbolic ‘tigers’ were out on Thrissur’s Swaraj Round, the venue of the famed Pulikali or Kaduvakali (the Play of Tigers/Leopards).

This colourful procession has ‘pot-bellied’ men paint their entire torsos in oil-paint to look like tigers who then indulge in a cat-and-mouse session with a gun-wielding hunter through the entire duration of the road-march.

(All images by KK Najeeb)

But this time, these two-footed males in the garb of tigers were also accompanied by three ‘tigresses’. This was for the very first time in the history of this 200-year old folk dance form.

Sakkeena who is a fashion-designer from Kozhikode, assistant sub-inspector N A Vinaya from Thrissur and Divya, a teacher from Mallapuram were part of the 51-member Viyur Desham team that participated in the Pulikali at Thrissur’s Thekkinadu Maidanam.

All the three women are affiliated to the Women Integration and Growth through Sports (WINGS) - an NGO working for women empowerment- of which Vinaya is the state coordinator.

"This is the first time in its history that women are participating in Pulikali. We are proud and happy to be its pioneers. We hope this will prove to be an inspiration for others in the coming years, wherein we will also try to introduce an all-women team," says Vinaya, while speaking to The News Minute.

Thrissur Coporation Councillor and this year’s Pulikali coordinator Anoop hails the inclusion of women as a welcome initiative that would only add value to the cultural fiesta.

"In Pulikali we have never had any restrictions imposed on the presence of women. It was just hesitation on their own part that stopped them from coming forward to take part in the same. To now have three women included is definitely a very welcome initiative," he opines.

Believed to have been introduced by erstwhile ruler of Cochin Maharaja Rama Varma Sakthan Thampuran two centuries ago, Pulikali, is held near the Vadakkunathan temple in Thrissur annually. The folk dance that celebrates bravery and fighting spirit is also popular in Palakkad.

The elaborate make-up itself is a long-drawn out process and starts long before the procession actually begins. The participants flaunt artificial ‘bouncing tummies’ to add mirth to their ‘wild’ antics.

The mantra being; the bigger the tummy, the better the bounce. And if genetically blessed with one, what more could the audience ask for!  

People throng from afar to see this colourful riot of colours inter-played with the tenuous relationship between man and beast.

WINGS was initiated by  Vinaya last year, when she served at the Thrissur Police Academy, solely for the purpose of enabling social upliftment of women in the state, especially housewives who have had little interaction with the outside world. 

Images by KK Najeeb