The irony of straddling the extremities of sublime godliness and pragmatic Communism cannot be more pronounced than in the split personae of P.V. Suresh Babu — who holds the supreme title of ‘Anjoottan’ as an electrifying performer of Malabar’s trance-ritual, Theyyam, and effortlessly transmigrates into a popular CPI(M) worker and public works standing committee chairman of Neeleswaram municipality in his more earthly avatar.
Conferred with the patrilineal spiritual onus of being divine incarnations ever since the spirit of the Goddess Muchilottu Bhagawati was subsumed into his sturdy young frame at Payyannur some 32 years ago, Mr. Suresh Babu, 51, and a member of the subaltern Velan community, has ‘embodied’ numerous deities in the subversive religious counter-narrative of Theyyam in caste-conscious Kerala.
Unmistakably, his filial affection shaped his political belief, too. ‘Anjoottan’ Krishnan, his father, was a CPI(M) activist who initiated him into Communism in one of the party’s strongholds in northern Kerala. While his father chose to remain as the mouthpiece of the Gods, Mr. Suresh Babu dabbled in politics at a young age, first getting elected to the erstwhile Neeleswaram grama panchayat as a member and for four years now, representing Chirappuram ward at the Neeleswaram municipal council.
“Party work and Theyyam performance cater to people’s faith; both are social services,” he said in a chat with The Hindu, as he rubbed the intense ‘red’ hue off his expressive visage that a few minutes ago showered Godly kindness upon the people as ‘Rudrani Bhagwati’ at the Vavillathu Vanasastha temple in Madikai, near Kanhangad.
Since his father’s death three years ago, Mr. Suresh Babu has been more focused in his pursuit as divine incarnation and transports to earth some 30 deities during a Theyyam season that lasts roughly six months between October and April (from Thulam 10 to Medam 20 on Malayalam calendar).
The raging poll fervour outside the shrine premises fades in comparison with his onerous duty as a dispenser of faith, he reckons. “It is no mean responsibility to live up to people’s belief in you and the deity you have incarnated. And, believe in God you should, to keep up their faith,” he vouches.
While Kaliyattoms require the performers to observe day-long vrutham (ritualistic abstinence) prior to donning the intricately done organic, almost surrealistic performance gear, Perumkaliyattoms (grand, elaborate Theyyam performances) call for a month’s abstinence and strict regimen. “The belief in the mystic cult as also in the communist party is inherited and therefore, robust,” says the shaman.
“The going — both as divine-incarnate and as a communist — has been good thus far. People of all political denominations have had a cordial relationship with me. But I will not contest another election and will restrict myself to the divine practice as there’s likely to be bickering over my dual role,” he says with a smile.
While the ‘Anjoottan’ rededicates himself to the cult, his only son, 15-year-old Adityan, is also waking up to the lore, readying himself to take on the baton of the esoteric tradition from his father. “He has begun to take minor Theyyam roles,” says the proud father.