KERALA SPECIAL ARTS

Introduction

Theyyam is a form of worship where man dons the guise of God and propitiates the Gods through possessed dancing; Theyyam is also known by the name Kaliyaattom. The performance of Theyyam is supposed to make life prosperous and remove all hazards. Theyyam is perhaps the most significant ritualistic art form of Kerala – God’s Own Country. Theyyam has its etymological origin from Daivam, i.e., god in vernacular. Theyyam is performed in mainly in the North Malabar districts of Kannur and Kasargod in Kerala State, India. Though Thira prevalent in Malappuram and Kozhikode districts and Bhootham of South Canara region and Kasargod district have similarities with Theyyam, when one goes into the details, it will be seen that they are very different from each other. The staging area of Theyyam is known as kaavu. Kazhakam, Muchilottu, Mundiya, Sthhaanam, Kottam, are the other names for the staging area. Theyyam is also performed at home and fields by erecting temporary pathi as the staging area.

Theyyam forms

Vishnumoorthy, Puthiyabhagawathi, Pottan, Kathivanoor Veeran, Gulikan, Rakthachaamunnddi, Madayilchaamunnddi, Vayanaattu Kulavan, Kutty Shaashsthan, are the popular Theyyam forms. It is estimated that there are about 450 Theyyam forms. 

Theyyam is performed between the 10th day of Thulam (Malayalam month corresponding to mid-October /mid-November) and middle of Idavam (Malayalam month corresponding to mid-May/mid-June). This is the period between the completion of the year’s harvest and preparations for the next year’s harvest. This period for Theyyam is the time for prayers for a good harvest, prosperity and general social solidity.

 

Theyyam usually considered as ritual art and the only members of particular communities like Vannan, Malayan are allowed to perform these rituals. The headgear and other ornaments that are clad on the performers body are huge in size and appearance. Different costumes like leaf dress, headdress, breastplates, bangles, arm ornaments and other body decorations are to be prepared in advance before the performance.

 

History of Theyyam

According to Hinduism, all the creation-preservation-destruction activities in the universe are controlled by the three Gods – Brahma, Vishnu, and Maheshwara (Shiva), respectively. For upholding righteousness, these gods appears in many godly guises and incarnations. For propitiation of these gods, apart from ritualistic worship and sacrifices, man also gave form to donning their godly forms and performing as another form of worship. These became a part of their culture, underwent many changes over time, and is an evolution of the clan culture. Each Theyyam has an underlying storyline; that of Pottan Theyyam is as follows: 

“To remove the caste consciousness in the mind of Shankarachaarya, who, after gaining supreme knowledge, was on the way to Mount Kailas to ascend the Seat of Omniscience, Shiva along with Parvathi, Nandikeshvaran, and eight acolytes appear in front of him in the guise of Pulayas (an untouchable caste in Kerala). When Shankarachaarya demands the untouchables to make way for him, a debate on the lack of reason in casteism takes place; Shankaraacharya is stumped for replies, and realising his mistake, prostrates himself in front of the Pulayas.”

 

As indicated in the storyline, Pottan Theyyam has three parts: 1) Pulamaaruthan (Nandikeshvaran) 2) Pula Pottan (Shiva) 3) Pulachaamundi (Parvathi). The storylines of most of Theyyams are associated with the triple Godhead of Hinduism, especially Shiva. Vishnu who incarnated as Narasimha to save his devotee Prahlada is Vishnumoorthy. Shiva, who in order to expiate his sins of decapitating Brahma, becomes a skull-bearing mendicant-itinerant is Bhairavan. Parvathi’s terrifying incarnation to kill Daarakaasuran is Bhadrakaali. Parvathi who had to descend to the earth due to a curse from the Sun God is Kuraththi. When Shiva and Parvathi donned the guise of hunters and had a progeny, he was Vettakkorumakan. When they took on the forms of tigers, their progeny are the Pulitheyyams. When Shiva, in a terrible rage, smacked his left thigh with his right hand, that gave birth to Vayanaattu Kulan. The god who cures sickness – Kanntakarnan – originated from space between the ears and throat of Shiva. Vasoorimaala was born from the eye of Shiva. Shiva recreates Yama, incinerated by him, from his own big toe – and he is Gulikan. There are many such examples. 

Theyyam Costumes

The costumes of Theyyam are made out of cutting and painting coconut sheaths in black, white and red patterns, fresh coconut fronds form skirts, fashioning breasts out of dry coconut shells and tying a red cloth around the waist. The facial decorations are intricately designed with enriched symbolism. Theyyam is performed in the courtyard of a house or village temple, as the artist gets ready and the spirit of the deity is evoked during the nighttime. The hood, headdress, face painting, breastplate, bracelets, garlands and fabric of attire of each theyyam are distinct and meticulously crafted. Also called Thirayattam, (Because every thira or village performed this ritualistic art at the village temple) this primitive ritualistic ritualistic art demands long hours of preparation before the performance.

 

Theyyam Performers

Theyyam’ performers belong to one of the Hindu communities (Malayan, Vannan, Velan (Thuzhuvelan), Koppalan, Mavilan, Chingatthan, Panan, Parayan, Pampatharavan, anhuttan, Munnuttan etc.). Each individual caste has the right to perform certain deities and all performers must poses a wide range of extraordinary skills. They must know the ritual and character of every deity. They have the inherited right to perform, know-how to sing, dance with the drum, do the complicated make-up and dress their costumes. Theyyam artistes are male. It is not a profession or calling that can be adopted. The artist's shrine rights are always inherited from the mother's family and when he marries, he also acquires the shrine rights of his wife's family. The artistes share a common training and tradition in which the process of becoming the deity is achieved after intense mental, physical and spiritual preparation. All Theyyam artistes must be able to do much more than just perform. Every deity's physical appearance conforms to an image envisaged centuries ago in the dream or vision of a respected guru. An artist must know how to make the headdresses and costumes of all the deities, how to apply the face and body makeup in all the different styles and designs, how to sing, play the drums, and know the stories, songs, and character of each deity.

 

Theyyam usually considered as ritual art and the only members of particular communities like Vannan, Malayan are allowed to perform these rituals. The headgear and other ornaments that are clad on the performers body are huge in size and appearance. Different costumes like leaf dress, headdress, breastplates, bangles, arm ornaments and other body decorations are to be prepared in advance before the performance.