October brings to northern Kerala the start of the auspicious Theyyam season when households, sacred groves and temples gear up to host the state’s centuries-old ritual worship.
Theyyam is a traditional and extremely popular folk theatre form of Kerala.
The word ‘Theyyam’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Daivam’ meaning God. Hence it is called God’s dance.
Theyyam is performed by various castes to appease and worship spirits of ancestors, folk heroes. It elevates members of the lower castes to the stature of God.
Theyyam encompasses various aspects of tribal and primitive religion, bringing them under a wide canvas of folk practice.
Chiefly among the worshipped are the Mother Goddess (Bhagavathi), who has different forms, along with ghosts and spirits.
There are nearly 400 forms of Theyyam, though many of them have faded into memory over decades.
One of the distinguishing features of Theyyam is the colourful costume and awe-inspiring headgears (mudi) nearly 5 to 6 feet high made of arecanut splices, bamboos, leaf sheaths of arecanut and wooden planks and dyed into different strong colours using turmeric, wax and arac