Theyyam, in Kannur, Kerala


Kerala itself is an interesting place.  It's a state in southwest India, which has for the past few decades had a freely-elected communist government.  It has the highest literacy rate of any Indian state, and is a delightful area to travel in.

On my way north from the Backwaters, I stopped at Kannur, a north Kerala city, purposely to attend a performance of Theyyam.

Theyyam is a popular Hindu form of worship in Kerala.  Its signature is a dance performance by a spirit-possessed performer, heavily costumed and executing a very stylized dance ritual.




The performance I attended was at a small neighborhood temple on the outskirts of Kannur

The arena for the performance is the courtyard of the temple, where a standing crowd mills around, 




supplemented by spectators sitting in a natural amphiteater carved into the abutting hillside




so it is really an open theater

I pressed close to the dancer occasionally, and was pushed around vigorously by the crowd



The evening consists of a series of individual performances, of perhaps half an hour each

The first dancer emerges, and...



...accompanied by the drumming corps...




...begins his dance, which consists of some spirited dancing, interwoven by forays into the standing crowd,



Theyyam Dancer with Drummers (16 seconds)






 mock-menacing youngsters, sometimes chasing the older ones into the hillside seating

For small kids, the menacing sometimes was not so mock


Dancer Approaching Crowd (25 seconds)




Theyyam Drummers (4 seconds)




Theyyam Dancer with Participant (12 seconds)






After a brief hiatus the next performer enters, going through (to my totally novice eyes) much the same routine

This guy, though, was big (with a capital g), so the flavor was a bit different


Catch 19 seconds of his dance






The performances went on through the night, but I didn't



The small size of the temple setting proved to be charming, furnishing a true neighborhood event


Note that display between the two sets of steps



This display, in front of the little temple, is an interesting study in the accoutrements of worship

The containers are mostly oil, brought by devotees for the temple lamps

The yellow box is for donations




The Theyyam ritual is somewhat unique, in that the performers belong to the indigenous tribal community--and only in Kerala do the high-caste Brahmins and lower-caste tribals share an important position in a major form of worship.  And in that, it has a somewhat revolutionary character. 

Incidentally, the caste system is outlawed in the current constitution of India, but is alive and well in many of the traditions, customs, and taboos



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