Every year during the dry season, between November and May, there are many festivals that are celebrated in India. Kerala, the gods own country is no exception. The festivity and celebrations commence from the end of the winter harvest season until the beginning of monsoon. Among many such festivals, one of the most fascinating is Theyyam. It is a popular dance ritual form of worship at Northern Malabar region of Kerala . This is a major event that offers a feast for culture lovers.
Performed each year between November and May, the great Theyyam season is between December and March. Theyyam usually last for 2 days and are performed at night. It is a unique dance form where a man in the guise of Theyyam represents a divine and heroic character. The Theyyam are celebrated in more than 1200 temples, in North Kerala. This ritual, celebrated since more than eight hundred years, is among the most visually impressive form of Hindu devotion with performers wearing huge masks and heavy make-up.
Theyyam are generally performed in the premises of temples or in courtyards of old family houses (called tharavadus). It is performed in an open space where a small and temporary temple is installed. It is said that during the performance, the divinity attached to the temple embodies the main performer of Theyyam, thus raising him to the divine status. In northern Kerala almost all villages, communities and households have their own deity which implies their own celebration of Theyyam. They believe that performing the Theyyam rituals will bring prosperity and remove hazards from one’s life cycle.
Theyyam and History
Theyyam (meaning God) or Theyyatam (meaning the dance of the gods) is rooted in the cult of heroes and has been performed for centuries by people in different parts of Kerala. When artists adorn traditional makeup and start performing, they embody the local god and are worshiped and revered by all, regardless of the caste.
According to the Hindu legends, Parasurama, the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu sanctioned the Theyyam to the people of North malabar region.
Hundreds of Theyyam are performed in various shrines. In some places, the dancers gets possessed by the spirits of their ancestors. At times they also act as a legendary heroes under the influence of the holy spirits. Thousands of different stories and legends are attached to Theyyam but since time immemorial it has always made its devoted audience spellbound with its spiritual aura.
Theyyam is held outdoors, in temples, houses courtyards (or Kavus). The captivating performances can last several hours, and are punctuated by scenes of religious fervour and sometimes impressive trance. Some performances may last 12 to 24 hours depending on the importance of the history and the embodied divinity, but the majority of them are much shorter.
The entire village gather to attend the celebrations and receive the blessing of the gods. The performers are beautifully dressed and their face is fully painted mostly in red tones. Artists can embody multiple local deities to tell their legendary stories. According to popular belief, immortal spirits enter the bodies of the dancers to make them perform ritual dances intended to bring prosperity of the faithful families.
Towards the end, the performer blesses the people by distributing the Kuri (turmeric powder) and rice. Music marks the end of the performance while the devotees throw rice on the Theyyam. The devotees then make a donation to the sanctum before returning home.
From tribal spirits to gamut of modern beliefs Theyyam is a form of divinity that you can experience only in Kerala. To feel the intensity of this ritualistic tribal festival of Kerala check our programs for South India and Kerala over here: http://www.shantitravel.com/en/south-india-tours/kerala/