Hulivesha—Dancing Tigers of Karnataka


On Janmashtami—or on Lord Krishna birthday—a strange group of dancers perform at Udupi, in Karnataka. They claim that they have been dancing this dance for more than 1000 years. ‘Huli’ means a tiger and the dancers literally go under its ‘vesha’—or garb. The process of taking the shape of a tiger takes a minimum of 16 hours. First a dancer in drenched in glue and then powder of cotton is showered on him through a sieve. That makes for the actual tiger’s hairy appearance and then on that foundation black and gold stripes are drawn stroke by stroke. Even faces of the dancers go through the same treatment. Before Janmashtami, 10-12 troupes of Hulivesha dancers reach Udupi and immediately start taking up the make-up. On that very day they come out into the streets and perform to a big crowd. The message is always the same. In every troupe there remains a dwarf who torments the tigers with his fake gun. The tigers first enact much pleading and appealing, but then they unite and prowl on the tormentor with the best acrobatic skill of folk dancers. Aged 1000 years or not, Hulivesha dancers are probably the world’s first conservationists.