The dance denotes the ferocious animal's prowling and its attack. It usually contains two performers - the tiger and an archer. The tiger after a long rhythmic march is shown as wounded by an archer. This is followed by the two performer's pursuing each other. The tiger almost gets hold of his killer, jumps to catch hold of him but falls and dies due to the wound.

The costuming and make up of the dancer takes about eight hours. The whole body will be smeared with yellow varnish and on it are given black spots and stripes. The costume also contains a tiger's mask. Some are half-masks covering only the face. The performer wears bells to one ankle. The tiger's tail will be specially designed and prepared. The end of the tail (which is made of cloth) will have a bushy bunch made out of thin bamboo structure and it is decorated with colour papers. Since it is very difficult for the performer to keep the tail in tact, there will be an assistant who holds the tail in order. The costume also contains, as in that of a king, decorative pieces for shoulders (bhuja keertulu). The make up on the body includes tiger's paintings on both the knees and a painting of a snake on the stomach. As this is a ferocious dance, the performer needs to do udhruta nritya. The well-built dancers show not only their powers, but also their muscles.

The tiger dancers sometimes indulge in acrobatics also. The most popular one is to lift a big brass vessel filled with water with the fore-teeth. Some performers also show the tiger carrying a lamb in its mouth (often a dummy made of cloth and sometimes a living animal too).

The dance starts with udam (jumping) and then takes a circular ambulation. Then follow dakam - which means jumping backwards rhythmically. Then it picks up momentum. The dance increases its tempo when the archer also comes on to the area. In some villages the tiger is shown in the milieu of a forest - prepared with a long bullock-cart decorated to look like a forest by planting a few branches of a tree, thick bushes, etc., on it. The tiger is seen wandering in his den. Then the archer wounds it. The tiger jumps out of its den and runs after the archer, sensing the killer's moves carefully, after which the fight between the two follow.

As a sheer dance which imitates one of the most ferocious of the animals, the tiger-dance is heart-throbbing. The popularity of the tiger-dance indicates that in the forests surrounding Andhra, tigers are more prominent than the other man-eaters such as the lion.

There is no variation in the dance style of either the Hindu dancers or the Muslim ones, the only difference being the seasons during which they take to tiger-play. While the Hindus do it during the Dassera time. Muslims do it during Moharram.


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Folk Dances of Andhra Pradesh, India
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