Since time immemorial, India is known for being united amidst the diversity of people of different castes, creeds, religions and beliefs through their amazingly colourful and attractive festivals. Among these, Theyyam is unurguably the most colourful, action packed, raw and humanitarian festival wrapped in the warmth of obedience, devotion and ritual of human emotions and faith altogether. It is probably the longest running festival in the world that runs in terms of days (nearly 7-8 months at a stretch) in a single season. The word THEYYAM means GOD in Malayalam language, which is derived from the same meaning of Devnagri word DEIVAM. It is the local festival of Kerala, where natives consider this as the channel to communicate with the god directly and to gain his blessings. In the process, different variety of Theyyam programs are organised in order to keep the state and its people safe from the wrath of different natural calamities, like drought, flood, fire, epidemic et all. People following the ritual believe that it can bring good fortune, wealth, prosperity and security in their day to day life. In every program, performance is made in the form of different Theyyam based on old mythological stories, where divine power is shown to protect people from those deadly happenings. People from lower communities, like Vannan(washerman), Gulika(Tantrik), Teli etc. get the privilege to perform Theyyam as a traditional right from their ancestors since generations. Many think, Theyyam system was generated long back to uplift the lower caste people to get rid of the dominance and suppression from the upper castes and Brahmins by giving them the pseudo power of enacting the god. But whatever the origin may be, Theyyam has now become an integral part of faith and belief among all strata of the society specially in the Malabar region of North Kerala, Kannur and Kasargad being the epicentre of this cultural extravaganza.
There are nearly 456 different form of Theyyam, out of which 112 are most dominating and famous. These are performed in more than thousand temples in this “god’s own state” and being organised by different families as per their turn they urge for. The festival is performed both in the day and in the night. Night Theyyam or Fire Theyyam is more enchanting, charismatic and popular among the viewers as well as worshippers. Theyyams are categorised in many ways, like its types, way of performance and type of gods etc. Theyyam performance is generally enacted by men performer, for both male and female part. The performer who enacts the role of the divine, powerful, mythological or hero character is known as “Kollam”. Devakooth is the only Theyyam where the performance is done by a female, which occurs only once in two years. The other notable Theyyams are Sree Muthappan Theyyam, Padikutti Amma, Vishnumoorthy, Gulikan, Padamadakki Bhagavathy, Chamundi, Kuttichathan etc.
Decorative headgear, elaborate makeup, heavy ornaments, colourful costumes and exotic make-up are the main highlights of Theyyam. But the prime interest that makes the event more attractive lies in the unique way of the performance consisting of face painting, dancing in raze, looking at the mirror for the spirit transformation, dancing and jumping on and over the fire, sacrificing rooster and so on. Altogether, each and every such distinct and unique aspect of this ritual smitten with the essence of faith and reverence makes this festival different from any other around the world.