Theyyam, a ritual art of northern Kerala, is becoming more and more popular with young performers keen to carry on the mantle with the help of increasing financial support.
Most of the “Kavu” (sacred grove) and “thanam” (community centres), the seat of theyyam performances, associated with ancestral homes, are getting spruced up and renovated to host the festival by the respective community and family members seeking divine intervention for lasting peace and prosperity.
The worshippers are making offerings as fulfilment of their prayers while donations flow to meet the mounting cost of hosting the theyyam festivities.
The theyyam dance or invocation is generally performed in front of the village shrines and Tharavadu House (joint family house) as ancestor-worship with elaborate rites and rituals.
The festivities, held from mid-June to mid-November, attracts a large number of tourists.
Theyyam, of late, has been gaining greater popularity as more and more people seek blessing of the “God incarnate”, C. Rajivan Nair, President of Cheripadi Chamundi Devaswom, the hosts of the three-day annual event in a leading Nair family at nearby Uduma, said.
“Till recently, we were facing hassles in mobilising funds for hosting the festival. But the situation is different with more family members and those from outside make offerings for the smooth hosting of the event,” he said.
Narrating his experiences as an ace theyyam performer, K. M. Mukundan Panicker said the art had been assuming significance thanks to the divinity and spirituality attached by worshippers who throng in larger numbers to seek “blessings from the deity.”
Theyyam performer, regarded as “God incarnate” comes out with soothing words or at times even cautioning against any misdoing and pass on positive energy while blessing the worshippers.
Enacted traditionally by men members of the socially backward Vannan, Malayan, Koppalan castes lead a dedicated life strictly abiding by the conventions and even observe fast for months before scheduled theyyam festivals in a locality.
It is equally imperative for a theyyam performer to have comprehension of rythm, music, dance and knowledge on vedas, puranas and hymns, Mukundan Panicker, a class V drop out, who later mastered a few renowned Sanskrit works to master the intrinsic aspects of the ritual performance, said.
“However, one’s flawless skills would come out only if the performer tend to practice what is being preached and he should dedicate unto the almighty,” Mr. Panicker, who enacted his first theyyam performance at the tender age of nine, said.
The young performers get training by minutely observing elders or taking advice on the nitty gritties of the “divine secrets” involved in theyyam enactment and such aspects are never revealed to others.
However, Mr. Panicker, who had enacted major theyyams like “Vishumurthy”, an incarnation of Lord Narasimha and “Chamundi Amma” depicting Goddes Durga, expressed deep anguish over the manner in which the theyyams are being dragged during public processions and street displays.
The performer, forced to enact theyyams in streets as part of projecting Kerala’s tourism potential purely out of monetary considerations, can never hope to imbibe divinity and holiness in his performances elsewhere, Mr. Panicker observed.
This tendency needed to be condemned and resisted, he said.
Keywords: Cultural performance