For Lakshmi Sharath getting lost was a blessing as it paved the way for her to witness a Theyyam performance for the first time

One of the best ways of exploring a town is to get lost. I was staying in a small village somewhere in between Kannur and Thallassery, on the shores of the Ezhara Beach and we were looking for more virgin beaches in the vicinity. The only “drive in beach” in India, called the Muzhappilangad Drive in Beach was closed to vehicles because of the heavy monsoons. However we walked on the flat surface of sands as cyclists attempted stunts and asked us to try biking on the four km stretch of firm flat surface of sand.

It was a cloudy day and the beaches were crowded. We drove along, turning into smaller villages and hamlets, finding posters of Malayalam stars while Che Guevara looked on from every street corner. Our journey had a destination — Thalassery but I wanted to drive through the villages and we promptly got lost. And that was how I landed in a very tiny hamlet to see a Theyyam performance for the first time.

It was a small Bhagavathy temple built on the banks of a river. Locals were sitting in the courtyard of the shrine, overlooking the waters, waiting in reverence. The ritual was to begin any moment and locals believe that God danced in front of them. I was told that this was a very short performance without much pageantry and would barely take an hour. I waited with bated breath as locals told me that the Theyyam artiste was God incarnated for the day and that the deity would answer their queries and bless them at the end of the ritual.

Soon the ritual began as a priest officiated. The drummers reached a crescendo as the Theyyam began, invoking the main deity of the temple through chants. The dancer then circumambulated the shrine and danced inside the courtyard, lost in a trance as devotees looked upon. It was over within a few minutes.

The priest then took charge as the Theyyam performer sat in the centre while a line of devotees stood in reverence waiting for their turn to speak to the deity. Some whispered their problems to him while he leaned close to their ears and advised them what the Goddess wanted them to do. Some were in tears while others asked for blessings.

While waiting my turn, I learnt that there were more than 400 Theyyams in this region, each invoking a different deity and they were performed usually in shrines. Most of them would have elaborate make-up and costumes, and the rituals would last an entire night. Soon we were summoned. We were asked if there were any questions that we would like to ask the deity. We just asked for blessings and paid our respects. A gentle smile broke out on the Theyyam performer’s placid face as we stepped behind giving way for the next lot of devotees. “You are blessed,” he said as we prepared to leave. For a moment I felt that God was speaking to me.