The oldest ritual art of Kerala, Theyyam invokes the temple deity with frenzied dance. It is a common feature of temples in North Malabar.
The word 'Theyyam' is thought to have originated from 'Daivam', which means God in local dialect. There are over 400 Theyyams in northern Kerala and each Theyyam represents a mythological or divine character.
The uncanny head dresses and elaborate costumes and flashy body painting coupled with the frenzied trance like performances make this artform extraordinary. The costumes are made of natural materials like coconut leaves and tree bark. Theyyam is performed to the accompaniment of traditional musical ensemble of chenda, elathalam and kuzhal.
The Theyyams are performed exclusively by the male members of specific caste groups like Malayan, Vannan, Koppalan, Navilan, Pulayan, and Velan belonging to the scheduled castes and tribes. Men also don the female roles.
If you want to catch up with these amazing temple art , make sure to hit the Northern part of Kerala during the festival season between January and April where Theyyam performances can be seen in most of the temples.
Some of the Theyyams such as kanthakarnan theyyms will have very tall head gear that measure up to 15 feet, which are elaborately decorated with tender coconut leaves. Lighted torches are fixed around the waist and the theyyam performance goes on all night with frenzied villagers shouting and chanting hymns and prayers all through.
The theyyam concludes as he acknowledges the villagers and bless them for a prosperous and happy year ahead.