Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana, which was released on November 19, has been receiving tremendous response from audiences and filmmakers alike.
The story is set in Mangaluru and connects easily with people with its numerous little factors like Pili vesha, gully cricket, friendship, ‘don’t mess with my friend, otherwise…’ kind of vibe that is omnipresent in any small town. Of all the factors the tiger dance (representing Shiva’s Tandav) by Raj in front of Mangaladevi temple (Mangaluru gets its name from Goddess Mangaladevi, who was consecrated by Parashurama on this southern coast of Karnataka) for Sojugada Suji mallige has a separate fan base.
The are many people who are watching the movie just to watch Raj’s pili nalike over and over again. This is not the first movie that has tiger dance in it. There are many other movies. They became very popular after the 2014 Kannada film, Ulidavaru Kandante, showcased it very well. Later, other films too popularised them.
If you are from Karavali Karnataka you will definitely know that no function is complete without Tiger dance. From kids to old age people everyone enjoys pili nalike. Whenever we hear ‘thaase da pet’ (beats of the traditional drum) we all feel like dancing! I’m very sure everyone will agree with this because ‘‘thaase da pet’ is an emotion for every coastal Karnataka people.
Painted mainly in stripes of yellow and black as the tiger ‘patte (stripe) huli’ or as cheetah ‘chitte (blot) huli’ or a few as black tigers or panthers, these two-legged tigers dance ceaselessly lifting the legs high in the air to have their toes touch their raised hands yet landing on the feet just like the tiger on its soft yet mighty paws.
The tigers paint themselves, worship the headgear and other props, bow down to the deity at the shrine and seek her blessings before they can begin their tour of the town, visiting other shrines and households. They go down all four limbs with the specially made head gear embellished with the mane of sheep wool.
Traditionally, children sport the appearance of the tiger to mark the completion of a vow in return for receiving devi’s grace in a time of distress. This is based on the local folklore where the mother of a young child who couldn’t walk had vowed to Mangaladevi that if her child were to find strength in his limbs she would have him painted like a tiger and dance at the shrine like her vahana (vehicle).
And to this day, each year, one finds ‘tiger cubs’ as tiny as six years old who wait for Marnemi (Mangalore Dasara) from the minute their parents make a vow, practising the dance steps, in absolute surrender, turning into tigers on the day of Ayudha Puja.
But the transformation isn’t easy. The entire body has to be first shaved, after which they are required to bathe in gram flour. Following this, they pour a bucket of charcoal water on themselves. And on the eve of Ayudha Puja begins the process of transformation.
To watch them stand with their feet apart and their arms stretched on two staves for over 12 hours, as the painting artists first coats them with white and then the yellow and black stripes, painstakingly waiting for each layer to dry, is a lesson in plain devotion that is beyond all physical and mental limitations.
In Mangaladevi Temple though, Navaratri is also the devi’s annual ratha yatra and the tigers hence are ritualistically part of the devi’s journey like the jumbos of Mysuru’s Chamundeshwari to the Shammi tree where she sits and witnesses the Ayudha Puja and then heads to the ratha.
The next morning as she heads for her ‘jalaka’ the tigers accompany her, and it’s the water sanctified by her bathing ritual that is taken by the tigers as the one that completes the vow and transforms them from tigers to humans once again.
Till few years ago one had to wait for a whole year to see pili vesha, but nowadays we see performances throughout the year.