In my previous blog, I said, this month is all about my hometown. Kerala. Small yet rich in culture. Our traditions we follow in Kerala is not in practice with any other states in India. We hold that unique nature. We portray our vibrant culture and traditions through a wide variety of festivals.
Today I am going to introduce you to an art form called Theyyam. We have festivals dedicated for this art form. Originated in Malabar (northern part of Kerala), I can describe this art form in modern day as Dance-Drama. Usually the season for Theyyam festival is in the months of November to March. During my college days, I got the privilege to take part in these festivals. I still cannot forget those images of Theyyam characters. Vivid and colorful.
Theyyam is very sacred and related to temple arts. The stories they perform always revolves around Hindu mythology. They usually perform this art form before shrines and sometimes ancestor worshiped temples managed by some families. Not everyone can perform this art. Takes years of training and dedication. Before they perform these individuals perform religious practices including celibacy for a period of time.
Theyyam simply means God. Some people refer to this art form as “Dance of Gods”. This art form is mainly performed by men from certain tribes from Kerala. They have the rights to perform. Mostly these tribes are called scheduled caste (in modern times we say low caste). This art form has deep roots from the times of Dravidian culture.
People believe that when the performance happens, the spirit of the deity (GOD) conceptually transferred to the performer and they seek blessings from them. People widely believe that these performers, while they are in the presence of divine, they can cure their illness and give solutions to their problems.
I have to admit this. As a Keralite, I have witnessed this in person. I believe there are some supernatural abilities when you have faith. I have personally travelled to Parassini Kadavu Sri Muthappan Temple, one of the temples in North Kerala where my friends have told me that if we go there and pray to Theyyam, you will pass all the exams. I did. Not sure whether or not because of the prayer, I passed all the exams. Don’t think I have done any extra preparations for the exam. I did the same as all the years. But in the previous years I have failed many papers. All the papers got cleared after I met with this Theyyam. I cannot forget this experience in my life.
Some form of Theyyam have performers walking on fire, hot coal or even jumping in to them. We may think it is some sort of magic. I had a friend from Payyanur, and he invited me once to see this art form. I went to his home four days prior to this performance. I talked personally to the performer. He said, he is on a strict religious rules for forty-one days. He has to put daily some medicine oil on his body. He has to pray every single day before this performance. One day prior to the performance I saw two trucks full of wood came in. They put them on fire. The fire was about two stories high. I couldn’t believe these performers jumped in and we could feel the heat far away. Nothing happened. I saw the same person next day, and he did not even have one single burn spot.
One cannot take the eye from Theyyam. The headgear is so elaborate and the make on their faces are unique. Mostly makeup takes about hours. They lie down on the floor when their face get painted. Headgear is made from coconut leaves. They make the crown from bamboo and wooden planks. Some weigh a lot. Each character is unique to witness. Male and female characters are all played by men.
In short the performance is like this. Begins with a part called Vellattam or Thottam. Here not much makeup you can see. They will recite about the shrine of that particular temple. Drummers and performer will accompany them, will recite some ritual songs. After that they will go back to get ready with all the headgear and makeup. This time they come out and the atmosphere will change. The energy will change. The music and drum beats will change. The people around will feel the energy or God in them.
The Theyyam will enter the shrine and he gets seated in front of the shrine. That is when symbolically people believe the power is in the Theyyam. We consider him divine. People will ask his blessings. He sometimes even predicts what is going to happen.
I hope you enjoyed this blog about Theyyam. I will try to bring more unique experiences about my hometown. Kerala- Gods Own Country. Thank you for reading.