Theyyam, Fire Dance, North Kerala, Cultural Dance, Rituals, Kerala, Kannur, Pristine Routes (PR), Journey Towards Unknown, Image by Aparajita Paul

Some Dance, Some Cultures and a mix of Emotions! (Theyyam)

A visit to the very rich culture of North Malabar coast of India – the ritual – cum – dance, Theyyam (also known as Kaliyattam). This ritual integrates not only dance, but also mime and music, and still elegantly preserves the rudiments of ancient tribal cultures of North Kerala.

There are around 400 Theyyam forms. Mostly 8 – 9 forms are performed in front of shrines and devotees without any stage or curtains, by persons belonging to the Vannan, Malayan and other related castes. One can watch from the start of preparation of each and every puja, the makeup of the persons who perform to the process of the rituals very closely.

The crown or the headgear, other ornamental decorations and making of some of them are worth watching due to its sheer size, appearance and spectacularity. There are many places in North Kerala (Kannur and Kasargod being the main) where Theyyams are performed annually from November till May of every year. Peak season is December to April where there are many options in different temples.

Theyyam, Fire Dance, North Kerala, Cultural Dance, Rituals, Kerala, Kannur, Pristine Routes (PR), Journey Towards Unknown, Image by Aparajita Paul
Fire

According to the rules of Theyyam, each individual caste has the right to perform certain deities and all performers must have a wide range of extraordinary skills. the inherited right to perform, know-how to sing, dance with the drum, do the complicated make-up and dress their own costumes. Theyyam artistes are male.

Theyyam, Fire Dance, North Kerala, Cultural Dance, Rituals, Kerala, Kannur, Pristine Routes (PR), Journey Towards Unknown, Image by Aparajita Paul
Preparation

For more pictures on Theyyam please check our gallery or click here.

How to reach:

  • Theyyams are performed in Temples or in the courtyard of ancestral homes mostly in remote villages – far from the city.

  • To reach Kannur –

    • Nearest Railway Station – Kannur Railway Station (312.6 km from Bangalore)

    • Nearest Airport – 152 km from Mangalore International Airport,117 km from Khozikhode International Airport, 275 km from Cochin International Airport

Tips for visit:

  • Since Theyyams are performed in more than 1000 Temples/ Tharavadu Kavus in one season, plan your trip by looking at the “Theyyam calendar” of that year.

  • Try to maintain the norms of a religious place - Shoes/slippers are not allowed inside the temple premises.

  • People consider Theyyam itself as a God and hence the visitors must refrain from any act that may harm the temple atmosphere.

  • To experience 8/9 forms of Theyyams, you may need to camp around 6 to 8 hours in temple location.

  • Some of the temple may have a restriction over the entry of non-Hindus.

  • It is recommended to visit Kannur for 3 to 4 days to experience Theyyam in depth.

The Experience:

Hard work pays – truly! The performers of Theyyam goes on a strict lifestyle during the days of performances to adapt their bodies into these. Then the kind of performance they give, the devotees believe them to be the God in itself and seek blessings from them. The dance of aggression, the dance of expression comes out with each step and expression.

When I was at the spot, there were some other fellow photographers, so I didn’t have much problem in photographing the whole act. There was a scarcity of light. Be ready with your gears for low light photography of dance performances. For the Theyyam dances with fire, it was a bit helpful though.

There are moments of hen sacrifices for the rituals of blood offerings to each God. The sacrifices being performed by some priests, were the most common start of all the performances. There were different stories to each of the form of dance, and ending up with seeking blessings and some conversations in local languages with the devotees.

Theyyam, Fire Dance, North Kerala, Cultural Dance, Rituals, Kerala, Kannur, Pristine Routes (PR), Journey Towards Unknown, Image by Aparajita Paul
Holy Sacrifice

For us, the most exhilarating was hence the dance with fire. Each move was as dangerous as worth watching. Moreover, when in one of the dance forms, the performer laid down on the pile of burning charcoal, it was too dangerous to believe my own eyes.

As a whole, in a span of around 6 hours, we just not had a new experience, but we taste the culture still kept protected with belief and perseverance.

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