Theyyam is a ritual dance quite popular in the northern districts of Kerala. A performer of Theyyam is considered as a medium between the supernatural and the mortals. The performers of Theyyam belong to the lower class community, and have an important position in Theyyam. People of these districts consider Theyyam itself as a God and they seek blessings from this Theyyam. According to the legendary, the various tribal groups were having certain kinds of thiras near the idols installed below certain trees. While the Samoothiri kingdom had Krishnanattam and Kochi the Ramanattam, the Kolathu nadu did not have any attakkali. Therefore, the Kolathiri felt that his kingdom also should have an attakkali, for which he invited a famous poet of Thalasseri and suggested to form an attakkali. He studied about all the Thiras performed by different tribals and made it a colorful and more attractive art form and create thottam pattu also. Within 30 days he presented many Theyyams before Kolathiri. Kolathiri then directed that these Theyyams should be performed in Kavus and Kooloms to attract people to the temple.
Theyyams come in dazzling costumes, marked by headgears of varying size and a predominance of red colour for the facial make-up. The performers resort to a unique dialect. The costumes of each Theyyam would vary according to the role and myth of the forms. The facial make-up itself would speak volumes about the nature of a particular Theyyam. All the costumes are prepared by the artistes themselves by using locally available materials.
There are approximately 400 types of Theyyam, including Pallivettakkorumakan, Vishnumoorthy and Sree Muthappan Theyyam.
There are different patterns of face-painting. Some of these patterns are called vairadelam, kattaram, kozhipuspam, kotumpurikam, and prakkezhuthu. Mostly primary and secondary colours are applied with contrast for face painting. It helps in effecting certain stylization in the dances. Then the dancer comes in front of the shrine and gradually “metamorphoses” into the particular deity of the shrine. He, after observation of certain rituals places the head-dress on his head and starts dancing. In the background, folk musical instruments like chenda, tuti, kuzhal and veekni are played in a certain rhythm. In Malabar, every year, from December to May, the many sacred groves attached to the ancestral houses (tharavadu) and temples in the region come alive with the sound of anklets, signaling the arrival of Theyyams.
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