Thrissur’s Pulikali on the road to extinction

Two centuries ago, when tigers roamed Thrissur streets on the Chathayam day of Chingom, they did so in royal grandeur. It was majesty and power that Shakthan Thampuran probably intended to infuse into Kerala’s hallmark harvest festival when he introduced Pulikali, the tiger hunt–themed street art form that has men done up in tiger body art roaming the streets in a feral dance, well-aided by rustic drum beats.

Now, years later, the pomp is in place and even the gaiety, as Pulikali teams get on street on Chathayam day. But the shades of draining pride are more than conspicuous. The art form, which can proudly be called Thrissur’s own, is being ravaged mainly by financial crisis.

There are many teams that focus on the art form, but most of them are struggling to make ends meet, with expenses skyrocketing and fund flow in trickles. T.S. Sumesh of the Viyyur Centre Pulikkali Sangam says it is a tough time for the Pulikkali teams and many well-known teams have withdrawn from the scene over a period.

Unlike Thrissur Pooram, which is managed by Devaswoms, Pulikkali is managed by groups of youth who want to preserve the dying art form. From paint and thinner to fibre for making the masks and dresses, everything has become costly. Even the payment for the artistes has gone high, they say.

Funds shortage

Apart from aid from the city Corporation and the Tourism Department, major portion of Pulikkali fund comes from local people. The rest is from sponsors. Blame it on economic slowdown or GST, sponsors are increasingly hard to come by these days, complain the Pulikkali teams. They even pawn gold ornaments of their kin to raise fund. But often fall into debt traps, as cost exceeds the collection.

The acute financial crisis is further accentuated by the attitude of the Tourism Department towards the art form, say the Pulikali teams. While the art form should be flaunted as a flagship cultural event, it is grossly neglected by the department, they say.

“On an average, the expense for preparations for each team will touch around Rs. 15 lakh. The city Corporation is giving Rs. 1.5 lakh. But it will hardly suffice. Though the Tourism Department has been promising Rs. 1 lakh, it is not available on time,” says Sumesh. We are yet to get the fund for 2017 from the Tourism Department. Now it is already time for the preparations for 2018, he says. The department should keep a separate fund for Pulikkali, he adds.

If such an attitude and state-of-affairs continue, human tigers on the streets during Chathayam day will be as sparse as tigers in forests, lovers of the art form fear.

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