BECOMING A DEITY

In Theyyam rituals, local deities are summoned by Theyyam specialists to momentarily inhabit the performer’s body and bring fortune to the community. Theyyam is a deeply religious practice, but with the rise of secularism in Kerala, government and tourism officials have tried to frame it as an art form.

Theyyam is performed primarily by men. He who manifests the deity devotes many hours to preparing himself for the ritual. His costume must be deliberately applied and his intricate face- and body-paint even more so.

The ritual itself is a high-energy performance. To the beat of rapid drums, the performer moves around the area in front of the community or family shrine, jumping and interacting with his audience as he gradually becomes possessed by the deity in question. In some performances, the performer’s costume has thick torches attached which are lit during the ritual, adding to the event’s sensory experience with the flames’ bright light and heat, whilst also invoking awe in the audience as the performer maneuvers through the ritual as fire licks right under his arms.

Balakrishnan, the head performer at Parassini Kadavu temple, took us to the main forest shrine for the popular theyyam Mutthapan. Murali Panicker, one of the most esteemed performers of the theyyam Gulikan, invited us to his home to meet his family. He also introduced us to a performance at a temple outside Pinarayi, where we were able to witness extravagant fire theyyams.

THIS IS THEYYAM

ഇതാണ് തയം

 

In Theyyam rituals, local deities are summoned by Theyyam specialists to momentarily inhabit the performer’s body and bring fortune to the community. Theyyam is a deeply religious practice, but with the rise of secularism in Kerala, government and tourism officials have tried to frame it as an art form.

Theyyam is performed primarily by men. He who manifests the deity devotes many hours to preparing himself for the ritual. His costume must be deliberately applied and his intricate face- and body-paint even more so.

The ritual itself is a high-energy performance. To the beat of rapid drums, the performer moves around the area in front of the community or family shrine, jumping and interacting with his audience as he gradually becomes possessed by the deity in question. In some performances, the performer’s costume has thick torches attached which are lit during the ritual, adding to the event’s sensory experience with the flames’ bright light and heat, whilst also invoking awe in the audience as the performer maneuvers through the ritual as fire licks right under his arms.

Balakrishnan, the head performer at Parassini Kadavu temple, took us to the main forest shrine for the popular theyyam Mutthapan. Murali Panicker, one of the most esteemed performers of the theyyam Gulikan, invited us to his home to meet his family. He also introduced us to a performance at a temple outside Pinarayi, where we were able to witness extravagant fire theyyams.

BECOMING A DEITY