The Science of “Theyyam”

For our ancestors art is nothing but life. It is believed that art was their life’s gratification; so that it is very difficult to single out the folk art from their routine life. Kannur or Cannanore in North Kerala (Malabar) is proud of being one of the leading place which gives fore-most importance to folk arts and for preserving traditional and ancient cultures. Theyyam or Theyyatam is one of the best beautiful traditional ritualistic form of North Kerala (Malabar). It is the product of a synthesis of ritual, vocal and instrumental music, dance, painting, sculpture and also literature. It is another form of God and Godess and it gives the devine voice to devotees. Since the interest in it is there in the blood of the people, the “Theyyam”survives the onslaught of science and politics over the ages.

Theyyam, a colorful ritual dance of Kerala that attributes great importance to the worship of heroes and ancestral spirits, is a socio-religious ceremony. The Theyyam festival usually held in from October to May every year. The colorful pageantry, the enthusiastic crowd and the religious favor are all worth witnessing. Every village in North Kerala was bound to perform it in connection with the local shrine (Kavu). Theyyams are performed before the shrines. This sacred dance is believed to bring about well being for the society and the family. Theyyam also called Kaliyattom presents divine forms as well as heroes from history and myth. The indigenous theyyam cult under the influence of the great classical Indian tradition incorporated new ideals and legends. It is a unique combination of dance music and also reflects the main features of a tribal culture. Theyyam performance has an aura of divine splendor as its accompanied by rituals and other devotional hymns. Certain dangerous feats performed by the Theyyams are again attributed to the divine power vibrating in them during the performance like “Thaiparadevatha theyyam, Theechamundi theyyam, Puthiya Bhagavathi theyyam etc.”

Theyyams are performed by the male members except Devakkooth theyyam in Thekkumbad which is the only theyyam deity performed by a lady. To millions in Kerala, the theyyam in their villages are visible, tangible gods and goddess, who appear but infrequently. From tribal spirit to ‘modern Gods ‘the theyyam represent myriad forms of divinity, and straddles the gamut of human belief. The stories around which the theyyam performances are built range from tales of blood-drinking yakshis and witches, and the myths of serpent and animal deities, to the deeds of local heroes and ancestors. Theyyam is a magico-religious observance. The very word theyyam brings forth in the mind of a listener an enchanting and beautiful picture. It is impossible to see the above said aspects in such a combination anywhere and in any field all around the world. Theyyam a gorgeously attired vigorous figure, red faced, keen artistic work on the face, black eyed and white armed with rouged lips, large red metal breast plates, a beautiful headdress with a halo of palm spines that looked alike a giant circular saw blade, the deity appears in to the shrine courtyard rattling her bracelets and hissing like a snake. She revolve rounds the shrine, her face distorted and twitching from side to side like a huge lizard. Now she is frenetically pirouetting around the courtyard of the shrine, strutting and jabbing unsheathed sword in one hand, bow and a quiver of arrows in the other.