Have you seen a Snake dance? That too, on a colorful platform set with organic Rangoli? Have you seen tigers dance? That too, while enjoying the rhythm of typical Kerala percussion? Here’s something about the rituals followed in Kerala Culture that would interest you:
Sarppam Thullal or the Serpent Dance
Sarppam Thullal or the Serpent Dance is a traditional ritual performed by the Hindus of Kerala wherein virgin girls are supposedly possessed by the Serpent gods who are pleased by the rituals to bless the entire family. Most of the old Hindu households have a Kavu or Sarppakkavu where the Serpent Gods are worshiped with great reverence. It is believed that these Serpents save the family from diseases and also bless the members with children. Lord Vishnu rests on the 5-headed Serpent Anantha. So whenever someone falls sick or some family member has issues with conceiving, Sarppam Thullal ritual is performed to please the gods. Serpent worship is a part of Kerala culture that intends to save the nature.
Photo by jepoirrier
The venue is decorated with colorful powder rangoli wherein only organic and vegetable colors are used along with rice powder. A colorful Kolam or Kalam with the serpent gods’ figures is drawn and the pooja is performed. The Kalam has exact calculations and specifications on the columns and colors to be used. Bright colors are used to decorate the floor along with flowers and golden yellow palm leaves. Young girls who have not yet attained puberty are worshiped as goddesses. In the background, songs praising the Serpent Gods are sung in a rhythmic way. The Pulluvan and Pulluvathy sing songs praising the Serpent gods. The vocals are accompanied with Pulluvan Kudam, Ila thalam and Pulluvan Veena. The goddesses being worshiped slowly start dancing in a trance-like the Serpent in response to the song. Finally, they bless the family and leave the body of the dancing girls.
Puli Kali or the Tiger Dance
While the Sarppam Thullal is a ritual performed on a more serious note, the Puli Kali is a ritual performance on a much lighter note. Puli Kali is performed mainly in Thrissur as a part of the Onam Celebrations. Onam is the state festival of Kerala. It is a harvest festival and is considered the most auspicious time of the year. On the 4th day of Onam, the Tigers get on to the road dancing and celebrating the new season and year that has just begun.
Photo by Bobinson K B
Men with large paunch paint their bodies as tigers and dance to the rhythms of the Chendamelam, the local percussion that accompany all festivals and festivities. People dressed as hunters and deer also accompany the Tigers and they all dance together to welcome Mahabali and the new season. The most remarkable features of Puli Kali are the happiness and energy it spreads among the spectators. The streets of Thrissur fill up with performers painted as tigers and spectators cheering them in full vigor.
Around 200 years back, the then ruler of Thrissur, Shakthan Thamburan, started this ritual of celebrating Onam. Since then, Puli Kali has become an interesting part of Kerala Culture showcasing the joy, colors, excitement, and energy of the enthusiastic people of Kerala. The game of hunter and the beast accompanied by local percussion and the cheering crowd is attracting people from all across the world these days.
This one is not for those skinny and fit dancers you will find elsewhere in the world. The bigger your paunch and the better your rhythm, the more noticed you get as the tiger! This Tiger Dance or Puli Kali as it is known in the local language has become a pride of the city and the local authorities even sponsor a prize for the best Tiger Troupe.
Featured Photo by Nagarjun