Theyyam—Gods Enacted


Performed mostly in Kerala's two northern districts of Kannur and Kasargod, Theyyam essentially deals with means to satisfy the local deity—thus keeping the village free from evil influence. A village shrine is called ‘kavu’ and every ‘kavu’ unmistakably nurtures a holy tree in its compound. Chamunda, Bhagabati, Vishnu etc are the protecting deities and they protect a village through divine means. A ‘theyyam’ performance is just personating those deities, through able and sacred dancers, and enacting their act. The main dancer first recites the part of the main deity in the concerned ‘kavu’. During ‘thottam’, he appears before the assembled crowd to tell them, in rhythmical verses, whom he is going to enact. He then goes under the guise of the assumed deity. The dancer then reflects on his transformed face on a mirror and a little tremble is noticed. This is the critical moment of God taking over. In a trance the dancer first starts circumambulating the holy tree and then, with shivering cries, breaks out into a running spree. Cymbals and drums go to a crescendo and the actor's sword takes on many nonphysical adversaries. Torches tied to the waste keep on piercing the space with fire and the dancer, as per the mood, keeps moving in eight different steps.