Pulikali is an Indian dance performed every year in Kerala as part of the Hindu harvest festival Onam. While it is traditionally a male dance, a group of women made history this year by joining 500 men in the dance, something that has not been done for 200 years.
The word pulikali translates to “play of the tigers.” Dancers wear masks, paint their bodies to look like tigers and hunters, and dance to music from traditional instruments, including the udukku and takil. The steps of the dance are meant to reflect the movements of a tiger being chased by a hunter. Pulikali is a celebration of bravery and the fighting spirit.
Three of the women are part of the Viyur Desham troupe and members of Women Integration and Growth through Sports, an organization dedicated to the empowerment of women. “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,” says Vinaya, one of the dancers.