All About Theyyam

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Theyyam Introduction

Theyyam – the ritualistic performance, which can be described as the most visible, spectacular art form of Malabar (Northern part of Kerala), associated with myths and legends. Theyyam can also be described as a form of worship consisting of rituals, colorful costumes and divine dance through which the gods are appeased and honoured. Theyyam – the form of worshipping gods, goddesses, legendary heroes etc is based on a rather simple concept, that after suitable propitiatory rituals, the god or goddess belonging to a temple becomes temporally manifest in the body of an empowered man (the performer), thereby elevating him to a divine status. Theyyam ceremonies usually take place either within the precincts of a small shrine – usually called Kavu, Kazhakam, Muchilottu, Mundiya, Sthanametc or in the yard of an ancestral house, or in an open space with a temporary shrine called Pathi.

Origin and 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. It is very difficult to find out the exact period of the origin of theyyam. At the same time none can refute its antiquity. According to the general belief the origin of the theyyam is attributed to ManakkadanGurukkal.( Gurukkal means master) He was a great artist and occultist belong Vannan Community. Once, the Rajah of Chirakkal invited this great occultist to test his capacity as an artist as well as a magician. Gurukkal was residing at Manakkad in Karivellur, about 40 kilometers away from the palace of the Rajah. The Rajah had given several tests like causing obstacles to the ferry as he was trying to cross the river. But Gurukkal managed to cross the river with his divine power. The gates of the fort were also closed to prevent him from entering, but here also he managed to appear before the king with his physical power. The Rajah sat along with a few other persons so that Gurukkal could not identify him. But Gurukkal easily recognized the king and respected. While he was called for the food it was so arranged that he himself would have to throw away the plantain leaf in which food would be supplied. This was intended to make him feel inferior. Gurukkal foreseeing this received the hot rice in a melon leaf and after taking the food he swallowed the leaf and thus he cleverly avoided the indignity of himself taking the leaf and throwing it away. Thus he successfully overcame the tests of the Raja, ManakkadanGurukkal was asked to make the costumes for some deities whose ritualistic dances were to be performed in the form of the theyyams in the night. Accordingly, Gurukkal designed 35 different theyyams before the sunrise. Rajah realizing Gurukkal’s skill, a title, Manakkadan was bestowed on Gurukkal. It is believed that this is how the present form of Theyyams originated.

Divinity of Theyyam

Theyyam reveals the human capabilities of abstraction, synthesis, and idealization; it describes social and economic activities and reveals practices, beliefs and ideas. It provides a unique insight into spirituality, intellectual life and cultural adventures. It is a divine dance with ancient testimony of customs, traditions and artistic creativity. Shrines, ancestral houses, Kavus in villages offer the platform for theyyam festivals. Since the theyyam performer, transforms to the status of a particular deity, theyyam is very much a divine dance. Invoking god or goddess in his body, he dances through the compound of the sacred space where deities are worshipped. The dance is considered not for propitiating gods or goddesses, rather it is dance of the gods or goddesses themselves. Scores of nature deities (including animals and trees), ancestors, village heroes and heroines, and gods and goddesses from Saivite, Vaisnavite and Sakti traditions of Hinduism form part of the pantheon of theyyam performance. The fundamental facts of existence of theyyam performance, even in the present day, make the ritual a powerful instrument that influences the thoughts and practices of Malabar society.In support of this, experts point out that the deities are worshipped and propitiated for the blessing of fertility, for protection and security. There are powerful deities who ward off smallpox and other contagious diseases. Theyyam ritual performances also provide judicial services. Some of the major disputes and caste conflicts are often settled by a specific representative of a particular deity during the theyyam performance. The devotees present their personal problems and troubles to the deities and the deities give them counsel and blessings.

Stages of Theyyam performances

Theyyam reveals the human capabilities of abstraction, synthesis, and idealization; it describes social and economic activities and reveals practices, beliefs and ideas. It provides a unique insight into spirituality, intellectual life and cultural adventures. It is a divine dance with ancient testimony of customs, traditions and artistic creativity. Shrines, ancestral houses, Kavus in villages offer the platform for theyyam festivals. Since the theyyam performer, transforms to the status of a particular deity, theyyam is very much a divine dance. Invoking god or goddess in his body, he dances through the compound of the sacred space where deities are worshipped. The dance is considered not for propitiating gods or goddesses, rather it is dance of the gods or goddesses themselves. Scores of nature deities (including animals and trees), ancestors, village heroes and heroines, and gods and goddesses from Saivite, Vaisnavite and Sakti traditions of Hinduism form part of the pantheon of theyyam performance. The fundamental facts of existence of theyyam performance, even in the present day, make the ritual a powerful instrument that influences the thoughts and practices of Malabar society. In support of this, experts point out that the deities are worshipped and propitiated for the blessing of fertility, for protection and security. There are powerful deities who ward off smallpox and other contagious diseases. Theyyam ritual performances also provide judicial services. Some of the major disputes and caste conflicts are often settled by a specific representative of a particular deity during the theyyam performance. The devotees present their personal problems and troubles to the deities and the deities give them counsel and blessings.

Theyyam Costumes

The costume as well as the facial make-up of each theyyam varies according to the role and myth of the form, which speaks volumes of the nature of the particular theyyam. Using indigenous pigments and other materials the artistes themselves prepare most of the 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.

Places of Theyyam performances – Temple or Kavu

The staging area of Theyyam is known as kavu. Kazhakam, Muchilottu, Mundiya, Sthaanam, 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. AngakulangaraKavu, OravankaraKavu, KakkaraKavu, KappattuKavu, ChembilotKavu, KannangattuKavu, KarakkeelKavu, ChembilotKavu, CheralathuKavu, ThiruvarkkattuKavu, AndaloorKavu, PalotKavu, UrpazhassiKavu, MuchilotKavu, PuthiyaBhagavayKavu, CheerbamKavu, Kurumba Kavu are the main Kavus where theyyams are performed.

Related Links :  All about Theyyam Theyyam performers  Temple (Kavu) list , Theyyam listing, Theyyam Videos, Theyyam Photos, Theyyam Calendar, Travel tips for Theyyam visitors

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