Theyyam (Teyyam, Theyyattam or Thira) is a popular ritual form of worship of North Malabar in Kerala, India, predominant in the Kolathunadu area (consisting of present-day Kasargod, Kannur Districts, Mananthavady Taluk of Wayanad and Vadakara and Koyilandy Taluks of Kozhikode of Kerala) and also in Kodagu and Tulu nadu of Karnataka as a living cult with several thousand-year-old traditions, rituals and customs. The performers of Theyyam belong to the lower caste community, and have an important position in Theyyam.People of these districts consider Theyyam itself as a God and they seek blessings from this Theyyam. A similar custom is followed in the Tulu Nadu region of neighbouring Karnataka known as Bhuta Kola.
The eerily fascinating folk dance Theyyam literally means ‘God’. This folk dance is performed mainly in North Kerala. It is a dance which is performed by ordinary people, who then become extraordinary during the period of Theyyam; which takes place from December to February. This form of dance showcases stories of Gods and Goddesses.
Theyyam– folk art of Kerala
Theyyam, also known as Kaliyattom, is a ritualistic folk dance of Kerala (India), dating back to centuries. It flourished in North Kerala and assumed the characteristics of a socio-religious ceremony. The root of the art form is in divine and hero worship. The sacred dance is methodically carried out to ensure safety and well being of the families and the community. Villages were duty bound to organise it to propitiate the gods and goddesses and the spirits of departed heroes. Hence, it was also called Thirayattom, which means dance of the village or village dance. The ritual used to be performed at the sacred groves, shrines that were common property of the villages. Performances were conducted also before other places of worship and courtyards of influential families. The season for the performance is between December and May (summer).
Each manifestation of Thirayattom is known as a kolam, which means a shape or form. They represent different aspects of various manifestations of goddess kali or other heroes and heroines. Many kolam of heroes and heroines have development over the years. Each Kolam will have a different dress, hood and ornaments that bring forth their heroic aspects. Elaborately furnished crowns, head dress, breast places, garlands, bangles and arm ornaments and garments are used for this purpose. The make up of some kolams would take hours to complete. The dance is performed at night in the light of cloth and leaf torches (theevetties, panthoms and chootes). The red high contrast light emphasises the colours of attire and adds to the aura of the kolams. The appearance of the kolam will be preceded by a song about the strength and holy aspects of the kolam to the accompaniment of percussion instruments, chenda and elathalam.
While the spectators gather around various temples across North Kerala; the dancers and other workers gather near the temple. Everyone knows what their duty is, and they are a tireless lot who work with much enthusiasm. The actors who are to portray various Gods and Goddesses as well as other characters such as demons, are all waiting nervously as the makeup is being put on them. Once that is done, the costume comes on. The costumes are quite elaborate and are made up of jewellery, imitation weapons of those used in ancient times; flowers and other substances. If one looks closely, the paint that is put on the artistes faces and bodies have intricate patterns. The costume and makeup is usually in bright colours to signify the sanctity of the characters…unless the character is a demon!
The dancers then pray at the temple & miraculously go into a state of trance…and a genuine one mind you…there’s no hocus pocus here! This is because all the dancers have been worshipping different deities with a pure heart, requesting that the presence of the deity come into their being, so that they can enact the performance with divinity pervading through them. The public too are aware that deities are present in the bodies of these performers. Once the divine has taken over their bodies, they are aware of nothing…only the deities are enacting the performance now.
Drummers in the premises, who have been beating the drums rhythmically for many minutes, now change their rhythm once the performance starts. Dancers, who are in a trance, go into a frenzy enacting scenes of different divine stories. Each and every movement of theirs captivates everyone present. The tempo of the rhythm rises and falls as each and every emotion, feeling, action and reaction is captured regardless of victory or defeat in the enacting of the story. Every spectator is silent; truly entranced by this magical performance. Performances include enacting the stories of various Goddesses such as Durga or Kali. Even stories of Lord Shiva and Parvati and many others are staged. Each story is separately performed and is magnificent to watch.
At the end of this enthralling performance, the dancers return to normal. The frenzy is over and many don’t remember a thing! Now the spectators rush forward to seek the blessings of the deities and make offerings to them. Once the prayers and offerings are over, the audience disperses and the dancers finally remove their costumes. They rest and wait for their next performance. These 3 months make them feel closer to God. Once the festival period is over, the performers return to their ordinary lives as mere mortals, biding their time, till they are once again immortal Godly beings.
The kolam performs various types dancing and it is believed that the spirit of the god, goddess, hero or heroine migrates into the person. The dance may take slow or fast pace depending upon his character. Sometimes even weapons are used.
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HOW TO REACH –KERALA
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