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Kerala Theyyam Ritual Art

Theyyam is one of the most popular ritual arts of Kerala. Theyyam is a rare combination of dance, mime, and music, reflecting important characteristics of a tribal culture. Theyyam evolves from Kaliyattam, practiced by aboriginal tribes of northern regions of Kerala.

Kaliyattam is an annual festival connected to shrines like muchilod, kavu, palliyara, mundya, tanam, and madhapura in the districts of Kannur in Kerala. Theyyam is performed as an offering for generating children, winning legal suits, protection from evils, getting rid of epidemics and for fulfillment of individual and social desires.

Theyyam is always performed by men, who also enact female roles wearing necessary make-up and costumes. The costumes are generally made of palm leaves, cloth and brass jewelry, ferocious masks and a big headgear, often extending up to 40 ft in height. The size and appearance of the costume will surely astonish you. With its unique and grotesque make-up and costume, energetic foot work, gymnastic enthusiasm and ritualistic vigor, Theyyam ritual art is a sight to watch on your Kerala Tour.

Theyyam represents a wonderful period of folk life in Kerala. The introductory rituals of Theyyam are Thudangal (the beginning) and Thottam (the invocation). Theyyam is the worship of spirits by invoking them to the mortal body of the gaudily dressed dancer. The souls of the dead heroes of the land and the gods and goddesses are believed to come down through the medium of these dancers who become possessed, and converse with people on contemporary issues. Impersonating the spirits, the dancer gives blessing to the believers.

More than 400 Theyyams are performed in Kerala. The most spectacular Theyyams are those of Raktha Chamundi, Kari Chamundi, Muchilottu Bhagavathi, Wayanadu Kulaveni, Gulikan and Pottan. These are performed in front of shrines, without stage or curtains.

In South Malabar, Theyyam is known as Thira. Karivalloor, Nileswaram, Kurumathoor, Parassini, Cherukunnu, Ezhom and Kunnathoorpadi are the places in North Malabar where Theyyam is performed annually from December to April.