Kerala Women Break Stereotypes & Perform as Tigresses in 200-Year-Old Male Dominated Folk Dance

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Three women from Kerala broke stereotypes and created history when they dressed up as tigresses and participated in Puliklali, an annual Onam folk dance. On Saturday, for the first time in 200 years, women decided to dance in colourful attires along with 500 men in Thrissur’s Swaraj Round.

Customarily, the dance is organised on the fourth day of Onam, to mark the end of the annual harvest festival of Kerala. Men from all over the state perform the Pulikali, which literally translates to ‘play of the tigers’.

Pulikali participants wear tiger masks and paint themselves to resemble tigers and hunters in bright red, orange and black colours. They dance to the beats of instruments like udukku and takil.


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The dancers move in a way that their steps reflect the movement of a tiger being chased by a gun-wielding hunter during the road march. The dance, held in front of the Vadakkunnatha Siva temple, attracts thousands of visitors from across the world and troupes from all over Kerala send their dancers to perform. It is believed that the folk dance was introduced by erstwhile ruler of Cochin Maharaja Rama Varma Sakthan Thampuran and it celebrates bravery and the fighting spirit.

The three women belong to the 51- member Viyur Desham troupe from Viyur region, and they are also affiliated with Women Integration and Growth through Sports (WINGS) — an NGO that works for women empowerment. N A Vinaya, who is an assistant sub-inspector and the state co-ordinator of WINGS participated in Pulikali along with Sakheena, a fashion designer from Kozhikode, and Divya who is a teacher in Mallapuram.

The three of them danced before an enthusiastic crowd in a symbolic representation of their courage and free spirit. The gesture sought to establish the presence of women in popular public spaces. Vinaya told PTI, “It is a beginning and we want more women to come forward and participate in it. Organisations should also show readiness to include more women participants in the traditional art form.”

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