Thursday, February 23, 2012

Malabar Coast, Kerala in the Theyyam season

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That night as Olivier headed off to the airport I took a rickshaw in the opposite direction to a village square where there was to be a performance of a Theyyam.
Seems that the origin of the Theyyam has been lost in the mists of time, so ancient is the practice. In more recent times, Theyyam have evolved into the form it is now because of the lower caste people being barred from entry to Hindu temples. Nothing daunted, they created their own individual forms of worship and celebration the most spectacular of which is the Theyyam.
Every village will tell their story in a different way but the event is staged around a story of the Hindu gods or a local god, as the story is enacted the dancers take on the paint and the part of the god in an elaborate ritual which happens back stage while the crowds mill about and picnic and pass babies around, all waiting patiently for the moment to come.
When the dancer who has been ritually prepared observes his face in the mirror he is said to become at that moment a vessel of the god, then he is lead out in a costume of flames and towering headdresses.
Impervious to the fact that half of his costume is on fire, he runs and leaps and his eyes roll wildly, he has two bodyguards on either side to protect his physical body.
Eventually things calm down and the god is bought to again, People line up to make offerings and ask for blessings or advice.
By five in the morning, the excitement is over and people start dwindling back to their homes, I find the rickshaw wallah and go home with my head full of sparks. Imagine that kind of ceremony in the days before electricity, before television, before we all got so sophisticated! It would have scared the living daylights out of most kids!

Theyyam season is happening now in the Kannur region of North Kerala! 
This post is part of a longer story on North Kerala, published on womentravelblog

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