In Pictures: Kerala's 8 Centuries Old Theyyam Festival

In Pictures: Kerala's 8 Centuries Old Theyyam Festival
A Theyyam artist performs during the annual festival at Ramapuram,Puliroopakaali temple in Kannur RPEES Photography / Shutterstock,

The temple town of Kannur in Kerala is famous for theyyams--a mix of ancient rituals and performing arts

OT Staff
November 08 , 2022
02 Min Read

Theyyam is one of the most stunning of the ceremonial arts forms of Northern Kerala and is a more than eight-century-old art form. Theyyam artists are watchful and dedicated to defending the purity of the art form and safeguarding its ritualistic history. Theyyam performances contain the myths and stories of the numerous gods and heavenly spirits in Kerala mythology. Here is a look at the festival. 

A theyyam artist performs with fire in Payyanur, Kerala


Theyyam is founded on the notion that immortal spirits temporarily inhabit human bodies in order to engage in a ritual dance of heavenly revelation. It is thought to have its roots in the word Daivam, which means god.

The ritual of preparatory make-up - known as theyyam kettal - is a long process and takes hours. Theyyam uses natural ingredients for the make-up. Eerkil, the mid-stem of the blade of coconut leaf is used as brush for the colours. Natural colours of sandalwood, camphor, turmeric, red sandalwood, lime, rice and rice flour are used to prepare the make-up.

A Theyyam artist at the Kadannappalli Muchilot Bhagavati temple in Kannur. One of the most crucial components of the Theyyam dance is the headgear, or Theyyam Mudi. When the Theyyakaran (performer) wears the Theyyam Mudi and looks in the mirror, it is believed that god is reincarnated in them. The mirror is known as ‘Nookodi’ or The Vision.

A Theyyam artist at the annual festival at Kappil Shiva temple in Kappil

The region of northern Kerala that stretches from Kasargod to Vadagara is known as the theyyam belt. Several temples known for their theyyams can be seen in and around Kannur town, in particular. Theyyam blurs the lines between ritual and art, which can be confusing for spectators used to the performance-audience dynamics of contemporary theatre. Whether or not there is a captive audience, the rituals must be carried out.

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