Theyyam other wise known as Kaliyattam or Thirayattam, is one of the most outstanding folk arts of Kerala. Just as the name Kaliyattam indicates, it is a sacred ritual dance performed to glorify the goddess Kaali. The term 'Theyyam' is supposed to be the corrupt form of the Malayalam word 'Daivam', meaning God. According to legends, Parasuram, the creator of Kerala, sanctioned the festival Kaliyattam to the people of Kerala. It earned the name Thirayattam as every thira or village performed this ritualistic art at the village temple known as kaavu.
Theyyam is a popular ritual dance form of North Kerala, particularly in Kannur and Kasargod districts. The Theyyam represents a mythological, divine or heroic character. Theyyam is always performed by men. They also enact female roles wearing exotic make up and colorful costumes. There are over 350 Theyyams performed in northern Kerala, of which Raktha Chamundi, Kari Chamundi, Muchilottu Bhagavathi, Wayanadu Kulaveni, Gulikan and Pottan are the most spectacular. Unlike other dance forms of Kerala which are onstage performances, Theyyam is performed in front of village temples, without stage or curtains.
Theyyam Costume and Make-up
Costume of the Theyyam is what lends flamboyance to this spectacular dance form. Different costumes like leaf dress, headdress, breast plates, arm ornaments, bangles, garland and other body decorations are to be prepared by the artists for performance. Some of the costumes are made up of tender coconut leaves and they are used only for single performance. Preparation of these items requires proper skill and craftsmanship.
Make up of Theyyams is done by specialist. There are different types of face painting for which primarily and secondary colours are used. Therefore it is essential that the makeup man should have perfect knowledge of primary and secondary colour combinations. Sometimes, it takes hours to paint the faces as per the strict rules of tradition.
First part of the performance is usually known as 'Thottam' (the invocation). It is performed at night without proper make up or decorative costume. Only a small red head dress is worn on this occasion. The second stage is the performance of various ceremonies before the actual manifestation. The last is the most serious and important part of the Theyyam. It is the actual manifestation of the divine spirit. Here the dancer reappears in proper make up and costumes. As mentioned earlier, the Theyyam represents a mythological or divine character. The spirit of that Theyyam migrates into the artist who has assumed that spirit and it is a belief that the god or goddess comes in the midst of the gathering through the medium of the possessed dancer. The dancer throws rice on the audience and distributes turmeric powder as symbols of blessings. It is believed that the Theyyam has curative powers.
Karivalloor, Nileswaram, Kurumathoor, Parassini, Cherukunnu, Ezhom and Kunnathoorpadi in north Kerala are places where Theyyam is performed annually from October to May.