Colourful costumes, a call to appease and honour divinity, and a ritual form of expression that blends together dance, theatrical performance, and storytelling of the ages.
All of these describe one of the oldest dance forms to emerge from the South-Indian cradle; and if you’re visiting Kerala in December, you must make the time to find yourself a Theyyam performance before you leave.
An age-old tradition (it dates back quite a few centuries!), Theyyam originally sprung up in Northern Kerala – also known as the Malabar region – but is now performed all over the state. And, as with most religious ceremonies that have South Indian origins, Theyyam began and continues on in temple courtyards.
And really, if you think about it, the grand performance deserves an even more grand backdrop of a temple courtyard!
Incidentally, were you aware that there are over 400 Theyyams that can be performed?
How Theyyam is Performed
Speaking of which, a typical dance performance usually begins with the recitation of or a ritual song that narrates the story of the deity or the god it is performed for; this narration is followed by a folk-music recital before the full performance begins.
When you’re in Kerala, be prepared to see watch a fantastic procession of movement, music, and expression in complete awe. The performance – which is highly accentuated by the performers’ bright face paint, headdress, rhythmic movements, and facial expressions – is a confluence of drama and extremely well-honed skill developed over years of practice and immersion in the craft.
Where to Watch a Theyyam Performance
For an authentic experience, the best places to visit are Kannur, Kasargod, and Bekal. If you’re lucky, and hanging around for 3 or 4 days, you’ll be able to watch both, day and night performances.
And if the stars are really aligned for you, you may even be given permission to photograph the artistes while they’re having their extremely intricate make-up done.
You can also watch a Theyyam performance at the Kanathoor Nalvar temple, i.e. the temple responsible for organising the Theyyam festival in Kanathoor.
Regardless of where you’re able to watch a performance, you’ll still always be surrounded by northern Kerala’s lush green hills, coconut groves, and pristine beaches at close distance.
It really is the quintessential Kerala experience, so make sure you find the time for it!