Pilivesha “Tiger Masque” (Kannada: ಹುಲಿ ವೇಷ Hulivēṣa,) is a Folk dance unique to the Tulu Nadu region of Karnataka. Pilivesha is performed during navaratri to honour the goddess Sharada – an aspect of Saraswathi whose favoured animal is the Tiger . It is also performed during the Krishna Janmashtami at Udupi and during Ganesha parbha in Moodabidri in Tulu Nadu.
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 Navratri, 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 until the last day of Navratri, and almost all of them form part of the Sharada procession. After the procession is over, performances are stopped and the paint is removed.
While pilli means “tiger”, dancers also painted themselves with leopard or cheetah motifs. 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.