Photo credit: Harikrishnan
Being a Malabari or a person who resides at Malabar is something I am proud of. I’ve tried to explore almost all peculiar features of this region from festivals, costumes, food (except non-veg) and of courses places. However I’d never view the performance of the best and colorful devotional art form of North Kerala, the theiyyam.
Last Sunday I happened to attend that much awaited art performance. My mother’s home is in Kannur. It is the primary location of theiyyam festivals. It starts by November and ends in May. This season is actually associated with harvest. Earlier it was conducted in barren fields after reap. This is held by families. They usually has a sacred grove named kavu and is considered to have presence of God.
Although I’ve visited many temples across South India, I’ve not been to a theiyya kavu . I felt it is more public and intimate to common folks. There is no much dress code. Only thing you’ve to keep in mind is to remove chapels before entering kavu.
Another point is it is a devotional as well as leisurely festival. If you are a person who keeps on checking the watch and complains it is running late, it is a wrong place for you to visit. You’ve enough time to mingle with people around.
The costume of theiyyam is very heavy and elegant. It takes about 8-9 hours for make-up. The head cover for some are as high as a coconut tree. This headdress is put on once theiyyam artist sits in front of sanctum in holy peetham or stool. And then the artist stares into a hand held mirror. This is known as mukhadarshanam . Then he transforms himself to a holy being. He dances and speaks to people as god. We’d go close to him. He’ll hold our hands and would patiently hear our problems. I was amazed to see such long queues. Human beings of all ages, caste, creed, religion or sex are present there. Usually the whole thing is performed at night.
The highlight of that day was Gandakarnan, a theiyyam that ties 14 fire sticks around his body and has very long headdress. Apart from this, theechamundi is another showpiece where the artist jumps into fire more than 100 times. Next time I’m going to watch it. I’d say if you are visiting Kerala during theiyyam season, never miss these as it it’d not only gives a delight to your senses but also you’d mingle with true Malabaris.