Kerala

News in frames | Theyyams in a bind

The sacred groves of north Malabar were emptied of devotees thronging to receive the blessings of Theyyams, ritualistic embodiment of deities, in the past two years thanks to the scourge of the pandemic.

Shorn of their divine accoutrements, towering Theyyam performers took to sundry labour in the face of the prevailing uncertainty. Barring a few instances to the contrary, not many were forthcoming to wipe the tears of the hapless men, who in their Theyyam roles had offered a divine shoulder for people to cry on!

The sacred groves and shrines began to be decked for a normal Theyyam season towards the end of last year when it looked as if COVID-19 was making a slow retreat. Messengers fanned out to locate Theyyam performers who have taken to menial jobs. With the beats of the Chenda, people returned to the groves in December. The Theyyams danced in a frenzy, holding aloft their ritual swords, their outer edges lined with bells, and wearing their thick bell metal anklets. They embraced the aggrieved, offering them turmeric tilak on peepal leaf and chanting, “May there be good, may there be good, may everything be better!”

But by January, with regulations returning, grandiose Theyyam performances that drew massive crowds were called off. The Theyyam does not lend itself to be held in a restrictive environment with a sparse crowd. It doesn’t separate the devotee from the deity. In fact, the deity goes into the crowd, holds the hands of the grieving, listens to their pleas and places its calming hand on their heads.

With a new wave of the pandemic raging, Theyyam is held in a restricted manner in some places. This season, too, will pass in another four months. The only hope that drives the performers is that the restrictions will soon be lifted and the deities will soon be back in their majestic best.

Shared sorrows: Devotees cry as a Theyyam speaks to them at the Paalankallu Gulikan Kaavu in Kasaragod. The pandemic has hit hard the performers of the ritualistic art form in which they turn into a divine embodiment.
Shared sorrows: Devotees cry as a Theyyam speaks to them at the Paalankallu Gulikan Kaavu in Kasaragod. The pandemic has hit hard the performers of the ritualistic art form in which they turn into a divine embodiment.
Fire ritual: A Gulikan Theyyam at Alambady Illa in Kasaragod.
Fire ritual: A Gulikan Theyyam at Alambady Illa in Kasaragod.
In with the times: A board hung on a tree urges people to maintain COVID-19 protocol as a Bhootham Theyyam performs at the Paalankallu Gulikan Kaavu.
In with the times: A board hung on a tree urges people to maintain COVID-19 protocol as a Bhootham Theyyam performs at the Paalankallu Gulikan Kaavu.
Recurring image: A sanitiser bottle kept near the offering box as the Karim Chamundi Theyyam gets ready for the ritual at Paalankallu Gulikan Kaavu.
Recurring image: A sanitiser bottle kept near the offering box as the Karim Chamundi Theyyam gets ready for the ritual at Paalankallu Gulikan Kaavu.
Protective action: A drummer boy adjusts his mask at Paalankallu Gulikan Kaavu in Kasaragod.
Protective action: A drummer boy adjusts his mask at Paalankallu Gulikan Kaavu in Kasaragod.
On the stage: The Chamundi Theyyam at Alambady Illam.
On the stage: The Chamundi Theyyam at Alambady Illam.
Keeping her distance: A lone devotee watches Chamundi Vellattam Theyyam at Alampady Illam.
Keeping her distance: A lone devotee watches Chamundi Vellattam Theyyam at Alampady Illam.
All aboard: Everyone but the Theyyam wears masks at Paalankallu Gulikan Kaavu.
All aboard: Everyone but the Theyyam wears masks at Paalankallu Gulikan Kaavu.
Time for blessings: Without dropping their masks, devotees have a word with the Theyyam at Paalankallu Gulikan Kaavu.
Time for blessings: Without dropping their masks, devotees have a word with the Theyyam at Paalankallu Gulikan Kaavu.

Printable version | Jun 9, 2022 1:50:23 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/news-in-frames-theyyams-in-a-bind/article38348856.ece