THEYYAM ancient folk religious dance of kerala



The earliest Brahmin settlements like Payyanur and Perimchellur (Thaliparamba) in Kolathunadu where the Hindu religion was propagated through the institutions of temples largely influenced the popular folk religion based on Theyyam and other tribal cults. According to the legendary Keralolpathi, Parasurama sanctioned the festivals like Kaliyattam Puravela and Deivattam or Theyyattam to the people of Kerala. He assigned the responsibility of Theyyam dance to the indigenous communities like Panan, Malayar, Velan and Vannan. These traditions explain how the indigenous cults like Theyyam were incorporated and metamorphosed under the religious supremacy of the Brahmanism. In the long historical process a social system evolved in Kerala in which the little culture like Theyyam belonged to the depressed castes and classes where as the temple oriented culture belonged to the dominant castes and classes. There were no violent confrontations between these two cultures as there was no total destruction of the indigenous culture.

The dance or invocation is generally performed in front of the village shrines. It is also performed in the houses as ancestor worship with elaborate rite and rituals


There is no stage or curtain and other arrangements for the performance. The devotees would be standing or some of them would be sitting on a sacred tree in front of the shrine. In brief it is an open theatre. A performance of a particular deity according to its significance and hierarchy in the shrine continues for 12 to 24 hours with intervals. The chief dancer who propitiates the central deity of the shrine has to reside in the rituals. This may be an impact of Jainism and Buddhism. Further after sun set this particular dancer would not eat anything as legacy of Jainism. His make-up is done by specialists and other dancers. First part of the performance is usually known as vellattamor thettam. It is performed without proper make-up or decorative costume Only a small red headdress is worn on this occasion.


The dancer along with drummers recites the particular ritual song, which describes the myths and legends of the particular ritual song, which describes the myths, and legends of the particular deity of the shrine or the folk deity to be propitiated. This is accompanied by the playing of folk musical instruments. After finishing this primary ritualistic part of the invocation the dancer returns to the green room. Again after a short interval he appears with proper make-up and costumes. There are different patterns of face-painting. Some of these patterns are calledvairadelam, kattaram, kozhipupam, kotumpurikam, and prakkezhuthu. Mostly primary and secondary colours are applied with contrast for face painting. It had effected certain stylization also. Then the dancer comes in front of the shrine and gradually “metamorphosises” as the particular deity of the shrine. He, after observation of certain rituals places the head-dress on his head and dances. In the background folk musical instruments like chenda tuti, kuzhal and veekni are played with rhythm. All dancers take a shield and kadthala (sword) in their hands as continuation of the cult of weapon. Then the dancer circumambulates the shrine, runs in the courtyard dances. The Theyyam dance has different steps known as kalaasams Each kalaasam is repeated systematically from first to eight step of footwork. A performance is a combination of playing of musical instruments, vocal recitation, dance and strange makeup and costumes. The stage-practices of Theyyam and its ritualistic observations make it one of the fascinating theatrical arts of Ind