(Last Updated on : 06/10/2014)
Theyyam is one of the most outstanding and popular ritual arts of northern Kerala
, particularly the area of Kolathunadu of the present Kannur
District. As a living religious group with centuries old traditions, rituals and customs, it embraces almost all castes and classes of Hindu
religion. The term Theyyam is a distorted form of 'Dhaivam' or God. It is a rare combination of dance and music and reflects important features of a tribal culture
as a whole. This folk dance
is believed to be a divine expression and the local residents of Kerala invoke the blessings of God through this dance form. This custom is also followed in the area of Tulu Nadu in Karnataka
Origin of Theyyam Dance
Historians are of the view that Theyyam dance is an ancient folk form and possesses characteristics which suggest that it had originated as early as the Chalcolithic
periods. There existed certain communities who refused to accept the supremacy of Brahmin
s, especially in temple
worship. These people were major patrons of Theyyam, and this dance used to be practised by every Tharavadu. Brahmins were never permitted to participate in this dance form, as it belonged exclusively to the regional tribal communities of Kerala. However, some royal clans erected their individual shrines where Theyyam deities
were established. In domestic shrines, Goddesses
like Kurathi, Chamundi, Vishnumoorthi, Someshwari and Rakteshwari are appeased. Thus this dance is also based on caste system. Nowadays, Brahmin 'Thanthri' is invited to sanctify the 'Kavu' idols and the Thiyyas perform this dance as a significant religious custom.
Cults of Theyyam Dance
Theyyam dance, being an ancient tribal dance boasts of a widened scope which also includes the religion of Islam
. 'Bhagawathi' or the cult of Mother Goddesses plays a significant role on this dance form. Besides Goddesses, other cults of Theyyam include serpent
-worship, ancestor-worship, 'masathi'-worship, animal worship, Goddess of disease, spirit-worship and worship of village deity or 'Gramadevataa'. 'Shivani'or Durga
' or Lakshmi
and 'Brahmani' or Saraswati
are the major Goddesses worshipped through Theyyam. The Theyyam deities who are worshipped by a cock sacrifice are not allowed to enter shrines. During the 13th century, Vaishnavism was a popular theme of Theyyam, in Tuluva region, under the reign of Vishnuvardhana
belonging to Hoysala Dynasty
and Shaivism are the other important categories of Theyyam.
Costumes of Theyyam Dance
The make-up involves face painting in different styles and also body decoration. Different costumes
like leaf dress or 'Tazha Adai', headdress or 'muti', 'arayoda' or 'Vattoda' and other body decorations are to be prepared by the artists for performance. Some of the costumes are made up of tender coconut
leaves that are used only for single performance. Some head crowns and masks
are used in different occasions. Preparation of these items requires proper skill and craftsmanship. Perfect knowledge of primary and secondary colour combinations is also important at times. In certain dance items a dance has to wear burning wicks around his waist and observe fire walk wearing the heavy headdress. He has to learn the method of weight distribution by moving hands, shoulders and legs. In morning hours they usually give instruction to the in experienced dancers. Oil massage is applied to the body of a young dancer.
Performance of Theyyam Dance
A training in 'Kalaripayattu' is required for the Theyyam artist who performs the role of hero deities like 'Kathivannur Veeran', 'Poomaruthan', 'Pataveeran' and many others. Theyyam dancers perform this dance in front of the local village shrine and sometimes also might practise it inside residences for the purpose of worshipping ancestors, accompanied by intricate customs and rituals. Curtains or stage is absent in this particular dance. Spectators are generally devotees who sit near the shrine or stand in reverence, since it is a form of open-air theatre. Performance of Theyyam dancers, who play the part of deities last for 12 to 24 hours, interrupted by a few intervals. The chief dancer of Theyyam participates in rituals associated to this dance form. He makes up the central deity of the holy place has to reside in the 'aniyara' or green room. In that room he observes vegetarianism, fasting etc. as a part of the rituals. After the sunset also this particular dancer would not eat anything as a legacy of Jainism
. The initial portion of the dance is termed as 'Thottam' or 'Velattam' and is done without any essential make-up or elaborate costume. Dancers are clad in a tiny red headdress while performing it.
Ritual song is recited by the dancers with the drummers and the name of the shrine is mentioned. In the background folk musical instruments
', 'Tuti', 'Kuzhal' and 'Veekni' are played with rhythm. All dancers take a shield and sword in their hands. Thereafter, the dancer appears with his face painted in patterns called 'Prakkezhuthu', 'Kattaram', 'Kotumpurikum', 'Vairadelam' and 'Kozhipuspam'. There are different types of face painting for which primarily and secondary colours are employed. Then, the dancers appear in front of the shrine and transforms into the particular deity following the performance of certain rituals. He commences his dance after placing the red headdress over his head. Carrying a sword or 'kadthala' in their hands, dancers move around the shrines in circles and continue dancing. Theyyam dance has different steps known as 'Kalasams'. Each Kalasam is repeated systematically from first to eight system of footwork. A performance is said to be complete when a combination of plying of musical instruments, vocal recitation, dance, makes up and costumes all work together and thus the performer gets his field.
Significance of Theyyam Dance
Theyyam theatre or Theyyam folk art has completely different rituals, which possess elaborate performances, which are totally different from the other art form. The caste councils or village elders for bringing prosperity to the village maintain the village places of worship and cult spots. In such places the village goddess or Bhagavathis named after that particular locality are appeased as an ancient practice. The Theyyam festival of that particular shrine has a meaning and purpose. The elaborate rituals observed in these holy places including the preparation of the Kalan or square are intended for blessing of the super nature. The process symbolizes the womb of mother goddesses. It is the significant aspect of the fertility cult. Offerings of cereals, cock blood, red flowers
, etc are made in front of the 'Kalasam' or Kalan. These rituals are responsible for the blessings of the super nature for prosperity in men and women, cattle and wealth. The dancer throws rice
on the audience and distributes turmeric
powder as symbols of blessings. This turmeric powder has also high medicinal value, against small pox, etc.
The entire village folk attend the Theyyam festival in the places of worship while the members of Tharavadu and relatives attend the Theyyam festivals in their Tharavadus. Some grand Theyyam festivals or 'Kaliyattoms' of the 'Vaniya' caste, Thiyya caste and 'Maniyani' caste are followed by the common feast for the entire devotees. Different castes and communities
participate in such festivals as well. They share the expenditure by means of donation. The members of the special caste who possess the holy place and offsprings made by the devotees pay compulsory charge. The elders settle major disputes and caste conflicts during Theyyam festival. It was an effective way of administration of justice in the medieval period and even continued in the days of British administration.
This art has acquired a significant place in the cultural history of the region as a religious and social institution. Under the impact of Aryans the religious belief of Theyyam had changed. Currently, it incorporates new trends and sub cults along with its tribal character. When the cult of Theyyam, borrowed liberally from Brahaminism, the Brahmins with their social and caste superiority also encouraged the Theyyam Gods and Goddesses. The Theyyam traditions and arts inherited by a son from his father, or a nephew from his uncle. This practice continued uninterruptedly for centuries.