Folklore | Kerala

Gods of small things

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When the rains come, the big Theyyams retreat, and the child avatars take over.

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As the monsoon begins in June, the season of Theyyam — a ritual dance performed in a myriad forms in the northern Malabar region of Kerala — winds up. Silence shrouds the sacred groves of the hilly tracts after the end of the scorching summer when Theyyams danced to the frenzied chenda beats.

It pours heavily during the Malayalam month of Karkidakam (July-August). And with the rain comes a slew of maladies. That is when Adivedan and Galinjan, Theyyams performed by boys, come to Malabar’s households to dance and drive out diseases. Across the rain-drenched landscape of the Malabar, they travel wearing elaborate jewellery, bright red attire and a crown, and go into a trance, swaying to the beats of a single chenda.

Parthiv, 9, from the Malaya caste, belongs to a clan of Theyyam performers from Madikai village in Kasaragod. He is the chosen one this season. Every day, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., Parthiv treks door to door as Adivedan, to weed out ailments. As he steps into a home, families light the lamp in the puja room. Once the trance-dance is over, the dancer does rituals to cast out ailments. The women of the house then lay the lit wick on the floor and sprinkle water and holy ash around it.

Adivedan is Shiva who appears as a hill hunter before Arjuna to test the strength of his devotion. It is this story that is sung as an incantation when the Adivedan Theyyam goes into a trance.

There was a time when the Theyyam would visit every day for nearly a month. Now the visits are restricted to Saturdays and Sundays when schools are closed.

Images & text by Thulasi Kakkat

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