A ritual brings colour, spectacle and the faithful from Kerala
Ornate in his intricately crafted headgear and captivating red, white and yellow ritualistic colours smeared across his face, Muthappan sways to the intense drumbeats of the traditional ‘chenda'.
Far from the Parassinikadavu temple, in Kannur district in north Kerala — where Muthappan theyyams, or Vellayattam, a ritualistic and spiritual folk art associated with the Muthappan kavu (temple) — to a small school ground in Mathikere, Malayalis from across the city gathered to welcome, watch and seek the blessings of Muthappan.
Muthappan, believed to be Shiva's incarnation, is often referred to as the common man's god. People believe that the dancer who performs as the Muthappan theyyam is blessed with divine powers. What is unique about Muthappan and this form of worship is that it is removed from Brahminical traditions. Interestingly, fish is offered to the deity as an offering.
Standing in the long queue, waiting for the darshanam, Savitha Kumari, a schoolteacher in a Kendriya Vidyalaya here, said though she had left her town in Kasargode two decades ago, no trip to Kerala is complete without a visit to the Muthappan shrine. “The past few years we have had the privilege of having this ritual in Bangalore. Now my neighbours from Andhra Pradesh also accompany me every year.
For Renjith J., the experience is as much about the spectacle, the “dance, music and culture” as it is about spirituality. “Even if you don't stand in queue to touch Muthappan's feet, it is worth it to visit here to watch the Vellayattam,” he says. Having moved to Bangalore from Ernakulam decades ago, neither he nor his son had ever watched a theyyam performance, which is unique to parts of north Kerala.
The Vellayattam is organised by the Shri Muthappan Charitable Trust. Though the trust was formed just a year ago, this is the eight consecutive year the theyyam was being performed in Bangalore.