Thursday, April 9, 2009


Theyyam is a temple ritual dance of North Kerala , India. Predominant in the Kolathunadu area (consisting of present-day Kannur and Kasargod districts). As a living cult with several thousand-year-old traditions, rituals and customs, it embraces almost all the castes and classes of the Hindu religion in this region. The term Theyyam is a corrupt form of Daivam or God. People of these districts consider Theyyam itself as a God and they seek blessings from the Theyyam.


The dance or invocation is generally performed in front of the village Shrine. It is also performed in the houses as ancestor-worship with elaborate rites and rituals.

There is no stage or curtain or other such arrangements for the performance. The devotees would be standing or some of them would be sitting on a sacred tree in front of the shrine. In short, it is an open theatre. A performance of a particular deity according to its significance and hierarchy in the shrine continues for 12 to 24 hours with intervals. The chief dancer who propitiates the central deity of the shrine has to reside in the rituals. This may be due to the influence of Jainism and Buddhism. Further, after the sun sets, this particular dancer would not eat anything for the remainder of that day (again possibly on account of a legacy of Jainism). His make-up is done by specialists and other dancers. The first part of the performance is usually known as Vellattam or Thottam. It is performed without proper make-up or any decorative costume. Only a small, red headdress is worn on this occasion.

The dancer along with the drummers recites the particular ritual song, which describes the myths and legends, of the deity of the shrine or the folk deity to be propitiated. This is accompanied by the playing of folk musical instruments. After finishing this primary ritualistic part of the invocation, the dancer returns to the green room. Again after a short interval he appears with proper make-up and costumes. 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. All the dancers take a shield and kadthala (sword) in their hands as continuation of the cult of weapons. Then the dancer circumambulates the shrine, runs in the courtyard and continues dancing there. The Theyyam dance has different steps known as Kalaasams. Each Kalaasam is repeated systematically from the first to the eighth step of footwork. A performance is a combination of playing of musical instruments, vocal recitations, dance, and peculiar makeup and costumes. The stage-practices of Theyyam and its ritualistic observations make it one of the most fascinating theatrical arts of India.

According to the legendary keralolpathi(origin of kerala), Parasurama sanctioned festivals like Kaliyattam, Puravela and Daivattam or Theyyattam to the people of the Malabar region. He also assigned the responsibility of performing the Theyyam dance to the indigenous tribal communities like Malayar, Panan, Vannan and Velan. To some, these traditions explain how indigenous cults like Theyyam were incorporated into and metamorphosed under the religious supremacy of Brahminism. In the long historical process a social system evolved in Kerala in which the culture of Theyyam belonged to the depressed castes and classes whereas the temple-oriented culture belonged to the dominant Brahmin and Kshatriya castes and classes. There were no violent confrontations between these two cultures and so the culture of the former was saved from destruction. "There can be no doubt", say Bridget and Raymond Alchin, "that a very large part of this modern folk religion is extremely ancient and contains traits which originated ruing the earliest periods of Neolithic, Chalcolithic settlement and expression" (The Birth of Indian Civilization 1968 p.3039).

Theyyam is performed by people of the lower castes such as Shudras, Vaishyas etc. The lower castes were denied entry to the temples and were not allowed to even come close to people belonging to the Brahmin and Kshatriya castes. This led to the lower castes creating their own temples in afforested areas that were known as Kavus.

Classification of Sub Cults

It can be said that all the prominent characteristics of primitive, tribal, religious worship had widened the stream of Theyyam cult and made it a deep-rooted folk religion of millions. For instance, the cult of the Mother Goddesses had and still has an important place in Theyyam. Besides this, the practices like spirit-worship, ancestor-worship, hero-worship, masathi-worship, tree-worship, animal worship, serpent-worship, the worship of the Goddesses of disease and the worship of Graamadevataa (Village-Deity) etc are included in the main stream of the Theyyam cult. Along with these Gods and Goddesses there exist innumerable folk Gods and Goddesses. Most of these Goddesses are known as Bhagavathy (the Mother-Goddess that is the Divine and United form of the three principal Goddesses namely, Brahmani (Saraswati), VaishnaviLakshmi), and Shivani (Durga)). (

Different branches of mainstream Hindu religion such as Shaktism, Vaishnavism and ShaivismHinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.[citation needed] In such centers, separate places outside the precincts of the shrine are selected for blood offering and for the preparation of the traditional Kalam known as Vatakkanvathil. The Theyyam deities propitiated through cock-sacrifice will not enter such shrines. now dominate the cult of Theyyam. However, the forms of propitiation and other rituals are continuations of a very ancient tradition. In several cult-centers, blood offering is forbidden under the influence of

On account of the supposedly late revival of Vaishnavism in Kerala, it does not have a deep impact on the Theyyam cult. Only a few deities are available under this category. This may probably be due to the lesser influence of Lord Vishnu on the village folk who had an uninterrupted tradition of the worship of the Mother Goddess for fertility and the Lord ShivaMurukan for protection and security even during the Sangam age. Two major Theyyam deities of Vaishnavism are Vishnumoorthi and Daivathar. Vaishnavism was very popular in the Tuluva region in the 13th century when it came under the rule of VishnuvardhanaHoysala dynasty. He was a great champion of Vaishnavism. Most probably he was initially deified as Vishnumoorthi and incorporated into the Bhoota cult of the Tuluvas and then further incorporated as a prominent folk deity into the Theyyam cult as well. To some, the legend of Vishnumoorthi is symbolizes the God's migration from Mangalore to Kolathunadu. and His celestial son of the

All other categories of Theyyam deities can be classified under Shaivism or Shaktism. Even spirits, ancestors, heroes, animals etc are deified and included in those categories. Briefly, Theyyam provides a good example for the religious evolution of, and the subsequent different stages in modern Hinduism.


The communities like the Nambiar, Peruvannan, etc were patrons of Theyyam, and it was not uncommon for every Tharavadu (clan) to have its own Theyyam. They even established their own shrines and Kavus (groves) for Theyyam deities where non-Brahminical rituals and customs were and still are observed. The Goddesses like Rakteshwari, Chamundi, Someshwari, Kurathi, and the Gods like Vishnumoorthi are propitiated in these house-hold shrines. There, the Theyyam dancers appear during the annual festivals of Gods and Goddesses. The rituals in such shrines are different from those of the Brahminical temples. Such a cultural fusion or inter-action between the ‘little’ and ‘great’ cultures makes Theyyam an interesting field of research for social scientists. The impact of this cultural fusion could be traced to the social organization based on the caste system and in the agrarian relations. Once the cult was patronized by the Brahmins, the intermediate and lower castes also took it as a major religious practice. In fact the cult has become the religion of the masses.

Myths and Legends about Sree Muthappan

Sree Muthappan is believed to be the personification of two divine figures - Thiruvappana and Vellatom. The dual divine figures Thiruvappana and VellatomTheyyamkaliyattem of the Northern Malabar region. Though Sree Muthappan is worshiped as a single deity, it actually represents an integrated or unified form of two Gods, namely Vishnu (with a fish-shaped crown) and Shiva (with a crescent-shaped crown).

Sri Muthappan's Theyyams are performed year-round whereas other Theyyams are seasonal (lasting October to May).

Story of Parassinikkadavu Muthappan

The traditional story of Parassinikkadavu Muthappan describes the background of the deity.

The Naduvazhi (landlord) Ayyankara Illath Vazhunnavar was unhappy, as he had no child. His wife Padikutty Antharjanam was a devotee of Lord Shiva. She made a sacrifice to Shiva for children. One day in her dream she saw the Lord. The very next day, while she was returning after a bath from a near by river, she saw a pretty child lying on a flower bed. She took the child home and she and her husband brought Him up as their own son.

The boy used to visit the jungle near their house (mana) for hunting with His bow and arrows. He would then take food to the poor and to the backward communities with Him. As these acts were against the Namboothiri way of life, His parents earnestly requested Him to stop this practice, but the boy turned a deaf ear to their warnings. Ayyankara Vazhunavar became very disappointed.

One day the boy revealed His divine form (Visvaroopam or Viswaroopa or Cosmic All-Pervading form) to His parents. They then realized that the boy was not an ordinary child but God. They prostrated themselves in front of Him and He blessed them.

He then started a journey from Ayyankara. The natural beauty of Kunnathoor detained Him. He was attracted by the toddy of palm trees.

Chandan (an illiterate and uncivilized toddy tapper) knew that his toddy was being stolen from his palm trees, so he decided to guard his palm trees. While he was keeping guard at night, he caught an old man stealing toddy from his palms. He got very angry and tried to shoot the old man using his bow and arrows but fell unconscious before he could let loose even an arrow.

Chandan's wife came searching for her husband. She cried brokenheartedly when she found him unconscious at the base of the tree. She saw an old man at the top of the palm tree, and called out to Him as "MUTHAPPAN" ("Muthappan" means grandfather in the local Malayalam language). She earnestly prayed to the God to save her husband. Before long, Chandan regained consciousness.

She offered boiled grams, slices of coconut, burnt fish and toddy to the Muthappan (Even today in Sree Muthappan temples the devotees are offered boiled grams and slices of coconut). She sought a blessing from Him. Muthappan chose Kunnathoor as His residence at the request of Chandan. This is the famous Kunnathoor Padi.

After spending some years at Kunnathoor, Sree Muthappan decided to look for a more favorable residence so that He could achieve His objective of reincarnation. He shot an arrow upward from Kunnathoor. The shaft reached Parassini where the famous Parassini Temple stands today. The arrow, when it was found, was glowing in the Theertha (sacred water) near the temple. The arrow was placed on the altar of the temple. Since then, Lord Sree Muthappan has been thought to reside at Parassinikkadavu.

Another story

As a boy, Muthappan was rebellious. He was a great hunter and would skin the animals that He killed and wear their skins as clothes. One day, He came across a coconut tree that was being tapped for toddy, the liquor fermented from coconut sap. He climbed the tree and emptied the jar that was holding the toddy. When the toddy tapper returned and saw Muthappan, he immediately challenged Him. Muthappan turned the man to stone for daring to address such a powerful God as Himself in such a manner. During performances of Muthappan Theyyam, the performer consumes the toddy liquor and passes it around to the spectators. In this act, Muthappan “breaks” the temple rules by allowing alcohol into temple grounds.

Sree Muthappan and Dogs

Sree Muthappan is always accompanied by a dog. Dogs are considered sacred here and one can see dogs in large numbers in and around the temple.

One can see two carved bronze dogs at the entrance of the temple that are believed to symbolize the bodyguards of the God. When the Prasad is ready it is first served to a dog that is always ready inside the temple complex.

Local legends enhance the importance of dogs to Sree Muthappan, such as the story that follows:

A few years ago, temple authorities decided to reduce the number of dogs inside the temple; so they took some dogs and puppies away. From that very day, the performer of the Sree Muthappan Theyyam was unable to perform; it is said that the spirit of Sree Muthappan enters the performer's body for the duration of the ceremony. But He probably refused to enter the Theyyam performer's body because the dogs had been removed. Realizing their mistake, the dogs were bought back to the temple by the temple authorities. From that day onwards, Theyyam performances returned to normal.

Temple Festival Procession

Tradition requires that the Annual Festival ('Ulsavam') of the Muthappan Temple at Parassinikkadavu to start by a procession led by a male member of the "Thayyil" clan of Thayyil, Kannur from the family home to the main altar of the temple, where he offers a 'Pooja' (prayer) to the God.


is a ritual dance of north Kerala, south India, performed in Bhagavati temples. Thirra is performed primarily in the adjoining areas of Kannur and Kasaragod districts. This art form is performed by the artists of Peruvannan (Vannan) community. It has some similarity with Theyyam. It will be done at the time of Utsavam (Annual temple festival).

Thirra brings the gods to life. Performers dress up with ceremonial facial paint and loud clothing and dance in front of the deity, the bhagwati. The objective clearly is to bring a sense of awe to the proceedings. Each performer represents a particular deity and is sponsored by devotees as a prayer offering. These dancers are viewed as possessed by the gods when they are in their act, with devotees queuing up to meet them to share woes and wishes.

Alcohol plays a very significant role in the proceedings,it is an offering to the gods and almost all the performers dance under the influence. This helps in creating the feeling of "possessed".

The thirra gods do not reflect the brahmanical pantheon of Hindu Gods and are derivatives from ancient tribal belief

Guligan Theyyam

Guligan Theyyam is worshipped as the Lord Shiva. In every Kaliyattam, the performance of Guligan Theyyam is inevitable. Among the Guligan Kavus, the most famous and most powerful one is situated at Nileshwar popularly known as the Benkanakavu [Venganakavu]. This Benganakavu is situated at the nerve centre of Nileshwar.

The 'Kanhiram' tree with the supposed weapons of Guligan and Padinhare Chamundeswari, in the premises of Benkanakavu, is believed to shower blessings on thousands of devotees in and around Kasargod district. Devotees from Tulunadu to the Valapattanam river pay their respects to the Kavu for its immense power. The mysterious lamp of the Kanhiram tree that surrounds the tree is brightly lit up on every Tuesday and Friday after 10 pm. The prosperity of the people in the neighboring places is believed to be on account of the presence of the God Guligan in Benkanakavu. The adjacent Koroth Nair Tharavadu, Kazhakakkar, and Kolakkar, together organize the Theyyam festival in the Benganakavu once every two years.

Muchilot Bhagavathy

Muchilot Bhagavathy is one of the most popular local deities worshiped in North Kerala. There is a practice of supplying food to the thousands of devotees in connection with the Muchilot Bhagavathy Theyyam festival. The highly decorative figure of Muchilot Bhagavathy is very attractive in a very aesthetic way. In Cherukunnu and Kannapuram, Muchilot Bhagavathy Theyyam is performed every year. But in several other Kavus the Muchilot Bhagavathy Temple, the Theyyam is performed with gaps of 12 or more years, like the one at Kayyur [near Nileswar] in January 2008 was performed after a gap of 47 years. Ramanthali [near Payyannur] also came into the fore in January 2008 as a result of the Muchilot Bhagavathy Perumkaliyattam. Perumkaliyattam at Muyyam near Thaliparamba was a great experience to the devotees in December 2007. In January 2009, Perumkaliyattam will be celebrated in Korom Muchilot Kavu, near Payyannur and Vengara Muchilot Kavu near Payangadi. In Muchilot, the Perumkaliyattams feast was arranged in memory of the marriage of Muchilot Amma. Elaborate arrangements are made by the natives for the grand celebrations.

Kannangat Bhagavathy

Every year, Kannangat Bhagavathy Theyyam is performed in the Kannangat Bhagavathy Temple, Payyannur. In several Muchilot Kavus, the Kannangat Bhagavathy Theyyam was performed along with the Muchilot Bhagavathy Theyyam. There are 11 Kannangattu Temples in kannur district, and they are all located in the Payyannur area :- 1.Adi Kotti Kannangattu Temple, near Payyannur Railway Station. 2.Payyannur Sree Kokkanisheri Kannagattu Temple. 3.Kandangali Karalikkara Kannangattu Temple, near the Municipal HSS, Payyannur. 4.Ramanthali Thamarathuruthi Kannangattu Temple, in Ramanthali, 6 km from Payyannur. 5.Kankol Kannangattu Temple, 10Km from Payyannur. 6.Alapadamba Kannangattu Temple, near Mathil. 7.Vellora Kannangattu Temple. 8.Edanadu Kannangattu Temple, in Edat, 2 km from Payyannur. 9.Kuttor Kannangattu Temple. 10.Peringom Kannangattu Temple, near the CRPF camp, Peringom. 11.Kizhakke Allakadu Kannangattu Temple.

Story of Sree Muthappan Madappura, Nileshwar

Several Muthappan Temples are seen in different parts of Kannur and Kasargode districts. This shows the popularity of the God in the minds of the people of North kerala. The Sree Muthappan Temple near National Highway No 17 in Nileswar has a rich heritage. It seems to convey the philosophical, devotional and educational importance of Nileswar. There is an interesting story regarding the construction of this Muthappan Temple. It is related to a certain Koroth Raman Nair, famous as Ezuthachan (expert in teaching). He had a practice of drinking Madhu (taken from coconut tree with out mixing any intoxicant, fresh and good for health popularly called as 'neera'). Before drinking it, he would pour some drops of in front of a jack fruit tree by saying it is for God Muthappan. After his death, the natives faced a lot of disturbances. They obtained the services of an astrologer on the issue. He concluded that as a result of the regular practice of giving madhu to Muthappan the God had started residing there and demanded the continued offer of liquor. The death of Sree Raman Nair had resulted in liquor not being served anymore to the God and this had provoked Him to create trouble. So a temple was erected at the spot by the local people. This temple developed as a famous pilgrim center, and daily hundreds of people visit it. There is a strong belief that the God will cure all diseases and will give prosperity to His devotees. The devotees get Payakutti from the temple and it continues to develop as a great pilgrim center like the Sree Muthappan temple at Parassini Kadavu. Around 100 Muthappan Vellattams are held each year in the Madappura as offerings from the devotees.

Koroth Naga Bhagavathy

It is more like a Thira than a Theyyam. But all the rituals and the devotion of the devotees establish that Koroth Naga Bagavathy is more than a theyyam. No picture of the theyyam is available because of the strict vigilance of the devotees. In this hightech society also people feared to take the photo of the Theyyam. That tells the divinity of the Koroth Naga Bagavathy. The Koroth Naga Bhagavathy Temple situated in the middle of a forest. It is protected by walls and in the centre is built the Nagathara. Praying for the cure of diseases and for having children, thousands throng this place and pray to the deity. The Ayiyur Koroth Tharavadu Bhagavathy Temple is localy famous as an important centre of Nagaradhana [snake-worship]. Kumbam 3rd is observed as the day of the main Theyyam festival in the Koroth Naga Bagavathi temple, Ayiyur. Years ago, Puja in this Temple was performed by the Koroth Namboothiris of Chovva near Kannur. The Koroth NamboothirisVishnumoorthi Temple, Cheemeni. Ayillam day is famous for the Sarpabali in the Temple. Lakhs of people from different parts of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu annually assemble here to on this religious occasion. Various factors contributed to the disintegration of Koroth Tharavadu into several small groups. They helped the Rajas of Wayanadu, the Kozhikode Zamorin, the Kolathiris etc. The word Koroth derives from 'Ko' meaning King and 'Othikkan' meaning regulator. They were associated with Lokanarkavu Temple and Thacholi Othenan. were mentioned in the story of

Myths around the Koroth Tharavadu: There is a long recorded history surrounding the Nair Tharavadu of Koroth. Firstly, it is necessary to know about Nairs. The nair equal the word knights in the ancient feudal syatem of Europe. The tharavad name koroth is popular in kerala. They were years ago acted as chieftains in a large area and arranged Kalaripayattu and other martial arts and supplied soldiers to the Zamorins, Kolathiris and Nileshwar rajas. They sometimes acted as king makers. The name derived from Ko means King and Othikan means regulating . Based on Ayiyur the political conditions influenced them to move north wards upto the Chandragiri river. They feared to cross Chandragirui river because of losing their caste. The establishment of Kolathunad and Nileshwar raja vamsam related to this migration. Like wise the theyyattams also spread to the north and gradually influenced by the Tulu culture. Originally the male members of the Koroth tharavad related to Kalaripayattu and the famous Lokararkavu. The influence of Kalaripayattu was present in theyyattams.Disintegrating from the origin land the members of the tharavad setteled in different parts of north malabar like koroth near Payyanur, Nileshwar, Pallur near Tallicherry, mahe, Vadakara etc. The branmches of the koroth Tharavad infuenced the social, religious, cultural and economic condition of north malabar for the last 5 centuries. While residing in different parts, they continued the practice of Nagaradhana [Ayillyam][ snake worship] , worshiping God Shiva , Vishnu large number of other gods and goddesses.They organised theyyam festival. In all branches they worshiped Kuttichathan theyyam and Karnor theyyam[Bairavan]. There history also related Tacholi Othenan and other martial heroes of North Malabar.

Branches of Koroth Tharavad: From the original home Ayiyur the koroth tharavad disintegrated and settled in different parts of Kannur, Kozikode and Kasaragod districts.The tharavad name koroth is popular in kerala. Koroth tharavad [group of families] at Koyipra is situating near Taliparamba. Koroth tharavad [group of families] at Nileshwar is famous as per the story of Mannampurath bagavathi and also got fame in the origin of Nileshwar Muthappan Madappura, defending of Tippu Sulthan according to the myth of Nechitholedutho Nayammare, and annual Kaliyattams [ theyyam festival].KarnorBairavan,Dharmadaivam], Kuttichattan, Rakta chamundi, Vishnumoorthi, Dandiganath bagavathi,Padarkulangara bagavathi, Gulikan, Bhootham etc were performed in the annual kaliyattams. The koyyodan koroth Tharavad at Pallur, near Thallisseri is famous for the grand theyyam festival in the month of Makaram. As many as 40 kuttichathan theyyams come out together to give blessings to the devotees. Thousands of people assemble there to watch the marvellous divine performance of the theyya kolams. On 31 january 2008 at 1pm 38 kuttichattan theyyams were performed their divinity as a part of devotees vayipad. More than ninety kuttichattans are planned but because of the absence of Koladarikal the number reduced to 38. The remaining kuutichathans performed in 2009 corresponding the malayalam month of Makaram 16 [as per the malabar calendar]. The main karmi of Koyyodan temple visited regularly in the Kalakkattillam near Koroth [a place near Payyanur]on the day of Krim Kuttichathan Theyyam .The illam is considered as the root of Kuttichathan Theyyam. The presence of Koroth families [ Kodakkal Koroth remains there ] years ago gave the name Koroth to the place. Kodakkal Koroth tharavad members played a great role in regulating the history of Payyanur and the neighbouring places for the last three centuries. Tharavad also related to the myth of the origin of the Kadamkot Makkam Theyyam. Large number of people annually pilgrimaqed to the Kadamkot Makkom bagavathi temple on 10 kumbam [malayalam month]In Nileshwar the Nairs belongings to Koroth family helped the rajas of Nileshwar in several campaigns against the neighboring rulers. Another branch of the Tharavad is known as pommeleri koroth. There are Mundayadan koroth near Kannur and Koyipra Koroth tharavad near Taliparamba. The puthalath koroth in Mahe earns fame as the centre of famous puthalath thira and the association with leaders including Mahatma Gandhi.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Theyyam Images