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Theyyam belongs to the Northern Malabar area. It is a Hindu temple ritual predominantly performed in Kolathunadu in Kasarkode, Kannur, Wayanad and Kozhikode. This dance form is different and unique compared to other ancient dance forms. It is a ritual and tradition rather than dance. The person who performs Theyyam is considered a God and people seek blessings from him for good health and prosperity. Theyyam not only worships Gods and Goddesses but also heroes, serpent, animals and ancestors. Bhagavathy is an important cult in Theyyam. The people who perform as Theyyams hold a special position in the society. They are believed to be the blessed ones who are closer to the God.

theyyam photoPhoto by Navaneeth Kishor

Theyyam is performed either in the temple or at the ancestral shrine. It is performed in an open ground with space for the performer to move around without touching the spectators. The Theyyam act occurs in front of the public without any curtain or stage. There’s fire involved along with vigorous movements of the performers wearing large headgears. Vishnumoorthi, Rakteshwari, Chamundi and Kurathi are the goddesses propitiated in the ancestral shrine. Previously, Theyyam was performed by the upper caste people in the society. But as the severity in casteism started declining, the ritual became common for the public.

Makeup & Costume

theyyam photoPhoto by Bobinson K B

The main attractions of Theyyam are its makeup and costumes. The headgear and facial makeup are vital in accentuating the expressions and emotions required for the story in the dance form. Facial makeup is done according to the character, emotions and features of the gods. Natural ingredients or organic colours are used for makeup. Mukhathezhuthu or the makeup of the character is the medium of communication. Red, yellow, black and white are the main colours used in Theyyam. Red and yellow are predominantly used on the face and black to highlight the eyes.

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theyyam photoPhoto by Kumar Vaikom

The headgear represents the different regions’ handicrafts. Vattamudi, Neelamudi, PeeliMudi, Thoppi chamayam and Olamudi are some of the headgears, each depicting a different character. Costumes in red, white, and black in colours are stitched together to look like the Kathakali Uduthuketu.  Theekolangal mainly use tender palm leaves as the costume. These play with a lot of fire during the performance and the palm leaves protect them from the fire. For some types of Theyyam, the performers will hold sword and shield in their hands. Another highlight is the anklet known as Chilambu which is a metal ornament with trinkets inside worn on the ankles.

The Performance

theyyam photoPhoto by richard evea

Theyyam is unique dance form and its steps known as Kalaasams. The first part is Thottam where the person will wear only the headgear. The performer will recite songs with the drummers. Ritual songs will explain the myths and legends or hymns of the deity. After this part, the performer will return to the green room. After some time the person will come back in full costume and makeup to the centre stage. The dancer stands in front of the shrine and slowly transforms into the deity of the shrine. Then he starts dancing in tune with the folk instruments. The performer is believed to be possessed by the God or Goddess or the spirit. They dance in a trance-like state and bless the spectators before they exit the trance-state.

Theyyam has more than 400 forms and each one is different from the other. The choreography, music, style, and costume change according to the character. Some of the Kavu’s Theyyam festivals are performed in intervals of 12 or more years. This festival is known as Perumkaliyattom. Muslim Theyyam is also performed in some of the temples of Kasarkode district.

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Theyyam Season

The festival happens usually from December to April every year. This is the best time for the tourists and photography enthusiast to visit the Malabar area of Kerala.

Featured Photo by Kumar Vaikom

When Man Becomes God – Theyyam

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