Monday, December 7, 2009

Theyyam: More than a Ritual

This week is a special week for all of us in my native place in Kerala. Kannur is a district in North Malabar. After 30 long years, Theyyam a.k.a Kaliyatam is going to be staged in Cheruthazam, my mother’s home town. Since my childhood, I am familiar with this ritual. Theyyam or Theyyattam is a popular Hindu ritual of worship in North Kerala state, India, predominant in the Kolathunadu area (consisting of present-day Kannur and Kasargod districts). As a living cult with several thousand-year-old traditions, rituals and customs, it embraces almost all the castes and classes of the Hindu religion in this region. The performers of Theyyam belong to the indigenous tribal community, and have an important position in Theyyam. This is unique, since only in Kerala, do both the upper-caste Brahmins and lower-caste tribes share an important position in a major form of worship. The term Theyyam is a corrupt form of Devam or God. People of these districts consider Theyyam itself as a God and they seek blessings from this Theyyam.



The dance or invocation is generally performed in front of the village Shrine. It is also performed in the houses as ancestor-worship with elaborate rites and rituals.There is no stage or curtain or other such arrangements for the performance. The devotees would be standing or some of them would be sitting on a sacred tree in front of the shrine. In short, it is an open theatre. A performance of a particular deity according to its significance and hierarchy in the shrine continues for 12 to 24 hours with intervals. The chief dancer who propitiates the central deity of the shrine has to reside in the rituals. The first part of the performance is usually known as Vellattam or Thottam. It is performed without proper make-up or any decorative costume. Only a small, red headdress is worn on this occasion.


The dancer along with the drummers recites the particular ritual song, which describes the myths and legends, of the deity of the shrine or the folk deity to be propitiated. This is accompanied by the playing of folk musical instruments. Again after a short interval he appears with proper make-up and costumes. There are different patterns of face-painting. Then the dancer comes in front of the shrine and gradually “metamorphoses” into the particular deity of the shrine. He, after observation of certain rituals places the head-dress on his head and starts dancing. In the background, folk musical instruments like chenda, tuti, kuzhal and veekni are played in a certain rhythm. All the dancers take a shield and kadthala (sword) in their hands as continuation of the cult of weapons. Then the dancer circumambulates the shrine, runs in the courtyard and continues dancing there. The Theyyam dance has different steps known as Kalaasams. Each Kalaasam is repeated systematically from the first to the eighth step of footwork. A performance is a combination of playing of musical instruments, vocal recitations, dance, and peculiar makeup and costumes. The stage-practices of Theyyam and its ritualistic observations make it one of the most fascinating theatrical arts of India.
Deep red eyes, with black-lining and orange inscriptions drawn intricately on the face and this majestic look, with fire-log shooting around, my heart usually skips a beat. But then the thrill of being there is something which I don’t want to miss this year. Last when ‘Theyyam’ was seen was in Karivellur (My father’s place) about 5 years before.

Also we all cousins are going to meet after ages, though still more will be missing this. My mother has been slogging hard here at home. Managing three kids, elder being my father, is not an easy job. She is being pretty excited of having going back to her place, meeting her friends, cracking jokes and relishing in those memories, is so nice to watch. Thirty years before she was younger than my sister, studying in high class. Now married with two children she is going to witness the same. So many things have changed, her life, the place, people going to play, people going to witness etc. But then her memories and something continues to remain the same...
Information on Theyyam, I got it from Wikepedia. Just googling it, I got to know more of Theyyam.



4 comments:

nands said...

One of the good things about rituals/festivals is that the people who travel away from each other, come together again. It keeps alive belongingness. What say? :)

Your mother must be very excited! :)

Abhishek Rao said...

It was refreshing read for a Northie like me :)...Couldn't help imagining all the colourful and vibrant rituals of Theyyam...The elaborate make up of dancers was something that caught my eye...beautiful!!!
p.s next time whenever there is Theyyam held at your native place dnt forget to invite me...Im already in!!! :D

Vini V said...

Sure Abhishek...Its not late to join us:)
@Nands Yes mom is pretty excited...

Vini V said...

Sure Abhishek...Its not late to join us:)
@Nands Yes mom is pretty excited...