Theyyam is an indian tradition – a ritual performance which takes place in front of the village shrines in Kerala Southern India. The word Theyyam translates as ‘GOD’ – ‘The dance of the Gods’. The performance combines many art forms dance, sculpture, body art, music and usually fire is prevelent in the perfomance piece and the dance is an offering to the hindu Goddess Kali – she is the destroyer and is synonymous with those powerful elements. There a lots of variations of Theyyam and different characters relate to different Gods, researching was quite overwhelming, trying to distinguish the different characters and find out there meaning as visually they can look quite similar.
The hindu religion is one which artistic representation of ‘gods and goddess’ have existed for thousands of years and the different ceremonies, rituals and performances offered to the gods are specific to each individual region. The Tradition of Theyyam is specific to Kerala and like any tradition has developed over time.
‘Every deity’s physical appearance conforms to an image envisaged centuries ago in the dream or vision of a respected guru’.
The performers of Theyyam belong to the lower caste community in ancient caste structure formed by Namboothiri brahmins in Kerala, and have an important position in Theyyam. The people of these districts consider Theyyam itself as a channel to a God and they thus seek blessings from Theyyam.
There are apparently over 400 different types of Theyyam, the most famous being Vishnumoorthi – It tells the story of a great devote of Lord vishnu Palanthai Kannan – The jist of the story is the Palanthai Kannan is Killed by a local land and property owner – this enranged Lord Vishnu and he destroyed the Lands of the killer. The Killer Kuruvat Kurup, quickly built a shrine for Lord Vishnu which eventually gave Kurup the name Vishnumoorthi. The performance tells this story.
Music is also a big part of Theyyam, traditional indian instruments such as the Chenda, Elathalam, Kurumkuzal, and Veekkuchenda are used within the performances. It is similar to the performance traditition of Kathakali but visually quite different – I think the intricacy of the body painting for these specific characters is amazing. Below is my tribute to the Theyyam tradition.
A list of resources used –