The Dance of The Gods
He dances. With awe-inspiring attire and the vibrant burst of colours. The radiant lamps, the traditional decor, the rhythm of the resonating drums and the ardent devotion of the worshippers who gather around form the perfect backdrop. As the dance, music and devotion reach zealous heights, the artist becomes the God. It is not just a visual spectacle but a deep, intense experience. The Theyyam.
An ancient ritualistic form of worship predominant in the north Malabar region of Kerala, the folk art can be dated back to around 1500 years ago and describes the myths/legends of the deity to be propitiated. Theyyam finds its roots in ancient tribal cultures and is accompanied by series of customs. The Theyyam season in Kerala is usually from October to May. Over 400 Theyyams are performed today, some more famous than the others. It is usually performed in shrines, at sacred groves called ‘kaavu’ or at ancestral homes called ‘tharavadu’. In addition to the Gods and Goddesses, numerous folk heroes and heroines are also worshipped. Some of the rituals in earlier days are believed to have had human sacrifices, though animal, especially cock sacrifices still exist in some shrines as a part of the rituals.
The Theyyam costume is as elaborate as it is imposing. However, the performance does not start with the dancer in full costume, but he gets bedecked in the course of the display. The complete attire is worn only for the last act of the dance. The first part of the performance is usually known as Thottam and Vellattam. It is performed with a simple, red headdress. After finishing this primary part, the dancer returns to the dressing room and returns in his grandiose attire. The dancer then comes in front of the shrine and engages in his performance. With the beats of the musical instruments at its zenith and the fervency of the devoutness at the peak, the dancer transforms into the temple deity. At the end of the ritual, the devotees present their personal problems and the deities give them advice and blessings.
The Theyyam ritual is not just an entertainment or dance, but has profound implication and value in the hearts of the believers. It is an expression of their devotion and dedication. It is a divine dance where the dancer becomes the embodiment of a particular deity. To the devotees, he is their living god, whom they can see and to whom they can speak to. To the pious, Theyyam is God descending from heavens to be among the mortals.