Theyam : The Face of Malabar

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Theyam A ritual which you can see only in the northern part of kerala, India, which have many singularities beyond any other performing arts across the globe. While comparing with any other kind of performing arts, Theyam is a ritual with many unique  and salient features on its rendering.  While taking it as a whole, Theyam is a group of arts like music, painting, dance and marshal arts along with the harmonized coupling of color and light.

Theyam : Bhagavathi
Theyam : Bhagavathi, Cheriyoor Kavu, Kannur 2011

Over the platform of unwritten rules and guidelines, the artists performs Theyam by respecting every spiritual aspects and beliefs of the devotees around. Theyam is a deep spiritual performance which are connected to a lot of myths; which all have a social aspect beyond a spiritual emotions attached to it. 

Theyam : Panjuruli Amma
Theyam : Panjuruli Amma, Pattuvam, Kannur 2010

Years back there were a society with many deceased customs, enforced by the so called upper class where the lower classes of people were completely dominated, and slavered by the ‘profound ‘class system. Theyam is generally performed by a class of people alleged by the society as lower-class, who were completely restricted from the vicinity of the society. But once they staged to perform the art, the society considering them as a proxy of God or as a medium for sending their prayers to the Almighty.

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Giving Blessings

This custom or belief helped them to race their  voice, to the angst and pangs of a rustic community, crushed under the yoke of an oppressive social system and its authoritarian rules.

Theyam with Devotees
Theyam giving blessings to the Devotees


Theyam has an existence which is very much attached to nature, normally Theyam is performed in a place called “ Kavu “; most of them are surrounded by a forest-like surroundings.  Which is literally sounds like a natural reservoir, where you can find a plenty of bio diversities; and shelters of many living creatures. As there are some spiritual emotions attached to it, people normally protect those areas without any external disturbances or human interventions.

 Kavu view
Waiting for the next session of the performance

While we are going through the detailed aspects of this form of art, we can realize that each nodes of this art are the by-product of a series of complicated thoughts, inherited from the ancestors of ‘Theyyam’ artists.

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Theyam Performing in a Kavu at Kannur

The perplexing pattern of the makeup (Face painting), unique style of ‘Theyyam’ ritual songs known as ‘Thottam’ (Which is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Sthothram’), can make a vibe which has the capacity to elevate the human (artist) to its trans state accompanied with the unusual pattern of rhythm by the drummers.


Mysterious Patterns on face-painting, Theyam : Gulikan

State of Trans, is something making the ‘ Theyam ‘ to stand out from all other performing arts.

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Fire-Entry, Theyam : Kandanar Kelan

Fire-Entry is a must see session of the Theyam performance, and which can find only as the part of some rare  ‘Theyam’  like ‘Kandanar Kelan’ , ‘Thee Chamundi’, ‘Veeran’ etc.

Theyam FireEntry

The Artist and the comrades are going through a very risky phases of fire entry, under minimum safety measures

Fire Entry of Kandanar Kelan

Risky Stage of Fire-Entry, Theyam: Kandanar Kelan

As I described above, unequaled style of its accompanying songs, rhythm patterns and the use of other rare musical instruments (E.g. Cheeni) can create a very mystic ambiance, which leads the artist to a next level of its incomprehensible performance.

Ornaments of the Theyam : Gulikan

Physical Fitness is an inevitable factor for a ‘Theyam’ Artist; monthlong physical and mental training has to be practiced by an artist, before the day of performance.

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Theyam : Kathivanoor Veeran ( Thottam )

Kathivanoor veeran ‘ beliving as an embodiment of a warrior, who assassinated by his comrades. Here the performer should be very fit on his physical ability, as the steps involved in the performance are adopted from the marshal art ‘ Kalari Payattu ‘.

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Theyam : Kathivanoor Veeran

Face Painting ( Mukathu Ezhuthu ) taking a crtical role on the makeup of ‘ Theyam ‘, it varies for each ‘Theyam ‘. It’s complicated patterns are the main secret to make each ‘ Theyam ‘ to justify its basic charecter and mannerism.

Face Painting
Face Painting, Theyam : Kandanar Kelan

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Face makeup for a Theyam, Kannur, 2012

Its a highly complicated art, with difficult patterns and symetry which are fundamentally classified as  ‘ Vairadelam ‘, ‘ Kattaram ‘, ‘ Kozhipushapam ‘, ‘ kottumpurikam ‘. 

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Face-Painting Session , Theyam : Vishnu Moorthy

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Theyam : Vishnu Moorthy, Theyam : VishnuMoorthy, Worshiping as the embodiment of God Vishnu

Cock-Sacrifice is a mandate for many Theyams connected to its rituals. Though its an exception on the ‘ Satvic ‘ Hinduisam, on the cult of Theyam still these kind of propitiation and other rituals, existing as a continuation of a very ancient traditions and beliefs. 

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Cock Scarification, Theyam Bhagavathi

Sacrificed Cocks

Cocks After beheading called ” Scarification “

Beyond a tradition or it’s spiritual aspects still ‘ Theyam ‘ subsisting as a form of art, which helps a community to find their daily-bread bread.  On a society where the devotion is growing as business, behind the shield of the so-called ‘ Divinity’ these people being an exception, by trying their best to uphold the inherited values of their art, with all the respect and dedication to it.

Artist resting after the performance

It is a scaring fact that the upcoming generation from their community, is a bit reluctant to follow the path of their ancestors, because of its infeasibility to meet the increasing cost, against the contrast of benefit they earn from it.

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I believe its high-time for us to realize the creative side of this art, and to appreciate these artists, as they are standing as reason of a belief and as watchword of a rare form of art, from our profound tradition. Yes! we are liable to Preserve it for our next generation…!  aren’t We ?