Mangaluru: ‘Tigers on the Prowl for Money! ‘Kudla Dasara’ is incomplete without a ‘Pili Vesha’!

Mangaluru: Hulivwesha in Kannada or Pili Vesha in Tulu aka Tiger Dance is a form of folk dance that is typical to Mangaluru, is performed once a year during Dasara festival and at times during other festivals like Krishna Janmashtami. During Dasara,the tigers are associated with the goddess Durga in India and Dussera itself marks the triumph of good over evil. The tiger dance is very popular in Mangaluru and in DK. Mangaluru Dasara is going on in full swing, and the festival, like any other festival, is a big draw among children in the Dakshina Kannada district.

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Tiger Dance in Mangaluru is a unique form of dance that is performed by the people of Kudla during Dussehra(Dasara) and Sri Krishna Janmashtami. Tiger Dance here is one of the most popular dances in South India. Both young and old in Mangaluru are fascinated by the dance form. In fact, both young and old take part in the Tiger Dance.

Tiger Dance is performed on the pious occasions of Dussehra. According to the Hindu mythology, the tiger is the carrier of Goddess Sharada, also known as Goddess Durga. Therefore, the Tiger Dance is performed by the devotees on the occasion of Dussehra. Dussehra is a festival that celebrates the victory of the good over evil. The Tiger Dance celebrates the grandeur of Devi Durga. The devotees show their reverence towards Goddess Sharada through the Tiger Dance. Moreover, the Tiger Dance is also performed on Sri Krishna Janmashtami. Sri Krishna Janmashtami is a festival that commemorates the birth of Lord Krishna. Tiger Dance forms a major part of the festivities of Mangaluru, and is among the favorite dance forms of coastal city.

The rituals of Mahanavami Utsava had few days ago and the idols of Sharada and Nav Durga were installed on the same day as a part of the festivities. Visitors to this coastal town at this time can experience the famous Tiger Dance and The Bear Dance, which are the main attractions of Mangaluru Dasara. These dance forms are typically performed by young artists and roam around the streets and houses of Mangaluru. The dance is performed to honour Goddess Durga and this dance form attracts thousands of outsiders from around the country every year.

The Huli Vesha art form was born of the love, respect and veneration showered on the tiger by the people of Dakshina Kannada for whom the striped predator was but another face of god. The origins of the dance date back to days when people lived each day in awe, wonder and fear of the tiger. The body paint is part of an arduous ritual, with layer upon layer of yellow applied, and allowed to dry, before the black stripes are super imposed. Huli Vesha quite literally means ‘tiger masquerade’. The survival of such dance forms and the ancient attitudes they represent are at risk today, because if the tiger goes, the cultures it spawned will also surely vanish.

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Pili vesha is unique to undivided Dakshina Kannada district and people just love to see dancers costumed or painted with tiger or cheetah motifs dancing to the tunes of the band with two or three drummers. Pili vesha has become an indissoluble part of our tradition and culture and is unique to this coastal region.Typically, young males form troops of five to ten members or more, which will have three to five males painted and costumed to look like tigers, and a band with two or three drummers. This troop is accompanied by the manager of the group. During Dussera these troops will be roaming the streets of their towns, with the accompanying drum beats of their bands. They stop at homes and businesses or on the road sides to perform for about ten minutes after which they collect some money from the people who have observed their performance.

The troops perform till the last day of Dussera, and almost all of them form part of the Sharada procession. After the procession is over the performances are stopped and the paint removed. While the dance is called a tiger dance, the characters also themselves painted with the motif of a leopards or a cheetah. Each person will be wearing just a knicker which usually has a tiger skin motif. The rest of his bare body and face is painted with various designs that denote tigers, cheetahs and leopards. A mask made of fake fur and sometimes a tail is worn to complete the ensemble. The paint causes a burning sensation on the skin. But this is endured by the persons to be part of the celebrations and also to earn some extra money in the holiday season. Originally people used to do this as a part of a religious vow. The paint is kept on the body for a couple of days and repainted or retouched as desired.

This ritualistic dance performance fascinates everybody regardless of age and as a young boy during my school days after classes I remember following these dancers wherever they went. The clue was the typical drum beat that can be heard from afar. The tiger dance troupe usually comprises of five to dozen of people, sometimes even more, and couple of young boys as tiger cubs. Each dancer performs his specialty act to start with followed by as a group. Couple of them perform breathtaking somersault flips and it is absolutely amazing to watch them.

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Well-wishers and watchers shower money at these tiger dancers -its fun to watch how these dancers pick money bills scattered on the dance floor, by their mouth. Towards the end the tiger cub is carried as the dancer performed his act. Grand finale is to see, each artist staying on top of another artist to create a pyramid.

There are quite a few tiger dance troupes in Mangalore -to name a few, Barke Friends Club, Ballalbagh Friends Circle,Goraksha Dandu, MGT, Rajalakshmi, MFC, Jain Friends, Dhanyavad Friends Club-Urwa, Chilimbi Friends Club, SriAdimaheshwari Hulitanda, and Geleyara Bala­ga. It is learnt that here might be more than 50 such troupes in the region.

It is not easy task to be a tiger dancer and perform the dance. The paintings on these dancers are done in layers and may take several hours to complete. During this period the performer has to stand still so the drawings are not distorted. They have to stand half naked for hours to get painted, withstanding the scorchi­ng heat. There is certain attire that is typically worn for the dance like the Satin underwear and the head gear made of wool to resemble tiger’s head. Tiger dancers are expected to bend backwards and lift currency notes through their teeth, lifting aheavy bag of rice etc etc.

About Mangaluru Dasara:

The Mangaluru Dasara is famous Festival celebration and its grand Procession which is carried across the streets of Mangaluru-it is also referred as Navarathri Festival, Vijayadashami and also called Marnemi In Tulu. Tiger dance and Bear Dance are main attraction in Mangaluru Dasara. The city is decorated with dazzling and sparkling lights everywhere and it is like a carnival for 10 days. Royal Tiger dance (Kannada- Hulivesha |Tulu- Piliesa) is one of the famous folk dances during dasara Navaratri, typically young males form troops of five to ten members they are costumed like tigers and a band with two or three drummers. This troop is managed by the manager of the group; they roam around the streets and houses during these days. Tiger dance is performed to honor the goddess durga whose favored animal is tiger. The well-known Mangaluru Dasara celebrations is famous for its sparkling procession.

The Citizens of Mangaluru and thousands of devotees from various parts are joining together in the City to witness the grand finale of the Mangaluru Dasara on the day of Vijayadashami. People will be decorating their houses and business building, shops, hotels, etc. Over all the entire streets in the City have been decorated with electric bulbs to welcome the procession. During the procession Idols of ‘Navadurgas’ along with Mahaganapathi and Sharada are taken, which is blown up by flowers, decorative umbrellas, tableaus, bands, chende and traditional dances, folk dances, music, Yakshagana characters, dollu kunitha, gombe (dolls), karaga, hulivesha (Tiger Dance) and other traditional art forms to make the procession more colorful.

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