Theyyam: The Dancing Gods of North Kerala
Theyyam is a highly revered and culturally significant art form that originates from North Malabar in Kerala, India. This ancient dance-form is rooted in the cult of hero worship and is a combination of religious rituals, music, dance, and visual art. The word ‘Theyyam’ is derived from the word ‘Theyyattam’, which means the dance of God, and is a corrupted form of the word ‘Daivam’, which literally translates to God.
Despite the influence of other cultures in later times, Theyyam has managed to survive without much change. It is performed in Kavus or Bhagavathy temples and consists of a variety of performances such as Kathivanur Veeran, Vishnu Murthy, Gulikan, Bhagothy, Patakali, and Chamundi. Over the years, Theyyam has become an integral part of the religious life of the people in North Malabar.
The Theyyam ritual involves the dancer transforming into a particular deity or hero through the use of artificial hair, colorful face paints, and musical instruments. The performer is accompanied by Tottam Pattu, a form of song that is sung during the performance. This dance form is centered on the belief that a man can don the costume of a deity and, through dance and trance, become that deity. The performer, with their intricate costumes and facial art, inspires awe and devotion among the spectators.
The Theyyam celebrations are held annually at Thalathoor Heritage Homestay and go on for three days, with 39 different performances being held. One of the main acts is the Thee Chamundi, a Fire Goddess performance that involves the dancer gracefully dancing around a bonfire and even walking on embers. This event is a time of great excitement and energy in the community, with the local women coming together to make seasonal specialties and the community joining in to create a carnival-like atmosphere. The highlight of the festival is the open-air cinema set up, offering an amazing experience of watching a movie with the stars as a backdrop.
Unfortunately, with modernization setting in and the lack of a written form of their language, the tribal community is at risk of losing their precious language and culture. The whole history and culture of this remote community is stored in the stories and songs performed at the Theyyam festival. This is why it is so important to attend events like the Theyyam festival, where you can meet people from the tribal community, like Kariyan, who leave their livelihood to perform every year. Listening to their stories gives us a glimpse into the struggles they go through to preserve their age-old traditions, but also highlights the importance of preserving their language and culture through events like these.
Fortunately, with the growing popularity of Theyyam, the younger generation of this tribal community is also keen to learn and perform this 2000-year-old dance form, ensuring that it will be preserved for generations to come. Whether you are interested in experiencing an ancient cultural tradition or just looking for a unique and exciting experience, attending a Theyyam festival is an experience not to be missed.