Filipe – Theyyam Researcher and Ms. Madina Ziganshina
As a researcher on performance I was asked to give an opinion on Theyyam, a ritual that I had the opportunity to study. Theyyam is an ancient ritual performed by the traditional lowest castes of the once highly stratified Kelala society, but involving most of the other social groups. It combines Dravidian and Arian elements and it is integrated in Hinduism in a most peculiar way. It is old (but not 7.000 years, don’t believe everything you’re told) and it has been adjusting along the years, like any other ritual. At present day Theyyam is going through an intense process of folklorization, even if there are many that struggle to maintain its symbolic and religious values. Mass tourism is a big danger for Theyyam, if the administrations of the temples don’t learn how to handle it and if tourists are not responsible. So, I suggest that, if you have the opportunity, you shouldn’t miss to see a Theyyam ritual. But keep in mind that it is a religious ceremony and not an entertainment. Behave as if you were in a European cathedral: don’t smoke, don’t eat and use your photo camera discreetly, if you can’t do without it. Beware that some temples recently started to forbid photos and videos, better ask for permission. Don’t believe in everything you are told: not all the locals have knowledge about the ritual (and many of them are the first responsible for the danger of it turning into folklore). Most of the locals don’t show much appreciation for the preparatory stages of the ritual: Thottam and Vellatam are very performative and worth to be seen. Choose small family or village temples; avoid the big festivals where, because of the crowds, you won’t see anything. Talk to the people, they are very gentle and friendly. If you’re there at lunch or dinner time, you will be offered a traditional Kerala meal: be ready for a generous amount of rice and spicy curry. Briefly, try to be a responsible tourist. If you really cannot, you’d better go to Goa and enjoy a trance party.