Friday, 29 June 2018

Theyyam-the dance of the Gods!

Travelling through the narrow roads of Mangalore- Kannur state highway this summer, one sight that could not be missed was the innumerable flexes and banners announcing the Theyyam performances in various temples (not that I could read the Malayalam banners but the picture of the Theyyam on those banners said it all). I secretly hoped to witness at least one performance while I was in Kannur. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to attend two performances the very next day (but not the ones that were performed at night)!

Theyyam is a popular ritual form of worship in Northern parts of Kerala and also in some parts of South Canara and Coorg districts of Karnataka (usually referred to as Bhuta Kola). The word Theyyam is derived from the word Daivam (God). Theyyam is a corrupt form of this word! There are about 400 different types of Theyyams. Its' origins are said to be from the ancient art form of Kaliyattam. It is said that Parashurama, the sixth incarnation of Vishnu (and founder of the state) sanctioned the festivals like Kaliyattam and Theyyattam. Several indigenous tribal communities were given the responsibility of Theyyam and from there the great stories of heroes and worship of celestial beings began.

Vigneshwari Theyyam

Gulikan Theyyam

The sweltering heat of the next day, the crowded open ground of the small shrine did not stop us (my sister's family and me) from seeing the Theyyam perform. We thrusted ourselves to have a better view of the power-packed performance. Sadly, all the four Theyyams there were seated taking a break from their frenzied performances. People gathered around the seated Theyyam seeking blessings and fanning the exhausted 'God'. Wait of another 15 minutes, then one of them rose and entered the shrine in circular motion. Standing on a wooden stool, Theyyam made an offering to the God and sat on the same stool to wear metal accessories (to his fingers), headgear (mostly made of tender coconut leaves) and other remaining parts of the costume that required him to keep his arms up in air (which also demanded him to be in that position till end of his performance!) Once dressed-up, he started the circular motions again by stopping at regular intervals to give blessings. The energy of the drummers beating the 'Chenda' in perfect synchrony provoked the Theyyam for a more rigorous performance.

Vishnumoorthi Theyyam

The dancer's make-up is done by specialists and there are different patterns of this make- up for different Theyyams. Mostly primary and secondary colours are applied (that is prepared by mixing rice paste, turmeric and chunnambu with coconut oil)  with contrasting colours to enhance the stylization in the dance. Each Theyyam has its' unique make-up, costumes, headgear and series of ritual practices. 

The accessories and headgear...

Theyyam is sponsored by the members of upper class and ruling class families but it's artists hail from low caste communities. This is considered as an equalizer of the course of the history. This was clearly visible in the second performance we attended in another temple- Muchilotte Bhagavati Theyyam. 

Muchilotte Bhagavati Theyyam

It was a more organized set up (as compared to the rustic look of the earlier performance) with well decorated temple complex and special arrangements for the devotees to watch. There is no stage for the performance so the devotees were standing while the Theyyam performed. The make-up looked more complex and the costume heavier than the one we had watched earlier. With a burning log of wood in both hands, the Bhagavati took Pradakshina of the temple and the temple priests and other devotees seeked her blessing. The performance related to the particular deity belonging to the shrine- in this temple it was Bhagavati. Most Theyyam performances last up to 12- 24 hours with regular intervals. The night performances are believed to be more energetic than the ones played at day time. But, I was there for a short time as my visit was brief. Though I had missed the night performance, I was thoroughly contented with whatever I had watched.

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