| India , Kerala


My initial experience with the art of Theyyam enthralled me to the point where I was anxious to seek out more of this captivating ritual art form.  I returned to the Kannur District Tourism Promotion Council (DTPC) office that had been so helpful in leading me to the first Theyyam I had witnessed.  It turned out that the man working at the office had a friend whose village was having a large Theyyam that night through the next morning and I could accompany his friend to the site.  I was a little hesitant at first, as I was planning on leaving the next day and figured that going to this Theyyam would likely put that off by a day.  Fortunately I decided to accompany the man named Perkash to the Theyyam and see where the night would go from there in what I figured would be an all night affair for better or worse.  What I observed was one of the most spectacular religious rituals I’ve seen.  The rather remote setting added to the atmosphere.  In order to reach the Theyyam site we first took a bus for about 25 km then a rickshaw for another 3 km, and finally hiked through coconut groves and rice patties for about 15 minutes.  This ritual had been taking place in this spot annually for longer than collective memory can determine.  Although now this Theyyam is held only every 3 years due to the expense involved in the production and the relatively few number of families who organize it.   It was an indescribably atmosphere to be out amidst the coconut palms on a full moon lit night with the relentless beating of drums as one after another of stunningly clad Theyyams went through the ritual of possessed dance.  I was able to get a few hours of sleep in a nearby house before the most impressive Theyyams began at around 3:00 am in the morning, and meals were provided to the audience as well so I didn’t have to starve.   A large portion of the costumes were for one time use and are constructed on site out of palm leaves and bamboo.  The elaborate 30 foot tall headdresses in some cases took all night to prepare.  One Theyyam walked around on stilts while another carried torches around its waist only to be out done by the next which was nearly covered in fire.  The final main deity of this Theyyam performed around 10:30 in the morning a version of the goddess Kali sporting a huge triangular sail like headress.  The people were all incredibly friendly of course, and I was as much of an attraction to some as the Theyyam was to me.  After the Theyyam one of the men in attendance invited me over to his house on a rubber tree plantation for some lunch.  It was an incredible, eventful, and very long day so I was relieved when I finally got back to Kannur for some much needed rest.

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