Theyyam is a ritual art form that is performed mainly in the Malabar region in Kerala. Theyyam also called as Theyyattam has derived from the words Deyvam meaning God and Attam meaning dance. In short it means the dance of God. Kolathunaad which comprises of Kannur and Kasaragode area is famous for Theyyam. Theyyam is also called by several names such as Thira, Thirayaatam, Kaliyaattam etc. Theyyam is carried out from Kaavu during the festivals.
The person who performs this theyyam is called as Kolam which means a figure or make up. These are forms are done by people from certain castes like velan, Malayan, Vannan etc. It is not their job to perform theyyams, but it comes by virtue of birth as these tribes are responsible for performing such theyyams. The people of these castes are good in folk dance and they are taught to sing songs for theyyams, applying make ups etc. These people are considered as untouchables by the Brahmins. Even then the Brahmins worship the theyyams performed by these people. Other communities like Mavilan, Vettuvan, Pulayan and Koppalan also perform theyyattam, but it is not as colorful as the theyyam performed by the velan, Malayan and Vannan.
There are around 400 different theyyams in Kerala. The main deity is goddess Bagavathi or Badrakali. Songs are sung praising the goddess about her victory against the demons.
Costumes and make up
An important feature of theyyam is its colorful costumes. The waist dress is made of bamboo slices and is covered with red cloth. For the theyyams performed by the Malayan, coconut leaves are used to tie around the waist. This dress is useful when the theyyam is required to leap into the fire. The body is normally colored in various colors. The way of coloring in one theyyam is different from the next. The colors mainly used are red, orange, yellow, black and white. The styles of body painting include Parunthuvaal ezhuthu meaning eagle’s tail and Anchupulli ezhuthu meaning five dots. Different painting styles are adopted for drawing on the face. This includes Praakkezhuthu, Sankezhuthu, Naagam Thathal Ezhuthu, Varezhuthu etc.
A special type of dress is worn on the head called as the mudi. These mudis are made of bamboo slices or wooden pieces and covered with cloth or flowers. The mudi for each type of theyyam is different. Some theyyams use mudi which is around 50-60 feet tall. Bamboo is used for supporting such long hair dresses. In some theyyams, a silver colored serpent head is used as crown. Ornaments are also worn by the theyyams. The female theyyams depicting goddesses wear ornaments which glitter. All theyyams wear an anklet called as chutakam and bangles called as katakam. In order to represent fierce deity the eye make up is darkened with black ink highlighting the eyes.
Various musical instruments are used for theyyams which include drum, conch, utukku, chermangalam etc. The rhythm of playing these instruments changes during the play and it becomes interesting to watch the theyyam performance while the instrument is played. There may be singers to sing songs related to theyyam during the performance. The song sung during the theyyam is called as thottam.
There are two styles of theyyam dances namely the thandavam and laasya. Thandavam is the masculine and laasya is the feminine. The different movements of during the performance give theyyams a graceful look.
The theyyam festival lasts for around three days. These are performed during night and on the first day the performance gets started from the kaavu. It is then followed by the kolam dance and thottam song reciting the rituals to be done. The pooja is performed for the Gods. Next a person called as ilamkolam arrives who prays for the deity to appear by reciting few lines called as varavili. The deity then appears and performs the dance. The kuri made of turmeric powder is then distributed to the devotees and blesses them. After the performance gets over, the devotees donate money and the theyyam removes the crown in front of the shrine.
The devotees still believes in theyyam and this is the main reason why this art form still exists in our society. It is believed that while performing theyyam, the person attains some powers and is able to do miracles such as walking through the fire, dancing with firing wicks stuck to their waist etc. The person does not get hurt even in such performances indicates the existence of super natural power and makes the devotees believe in this art form.