This is the second part of the interview with the Theyyam artist Sri. Rajan Panicker. The first part can be read here.

Q) Can you tell us about the costumes of Theyyam?

A) We use the palm leaves, metal sheets etc…

Q) Natural ingredients?

A) We used to have such things before. But later we have changed it for more attraction. In the early days, we used to play with natural lights or lamps but these days we have a lot of electric illumination.

Q) Could you talk about the Theyyam performers/artistes? I heard Theyyam is limited to a particular period of time every year.

A) Yes. Theyyam is performed in the months of November-June. We are almost jobless in rest of the times. When we are committed to perform Theyyam in the temples, it’s like we are jailed. We wouldn’t have any freedom. Then there are a lot of mental and physical tensions because it’s like a mission. But we carry on because of the divine blessings.

Q) I heard there are some Theyyams to be performed by specific castes. Can you explain about that?

A) It’s a traditional thing. Vannaan community performs mostly the Goddess Theyyams. We perform Theyyams of Vishnu, Siva etc. Every community has such specific roles.

Q) Why is the Goddess theyyam performed by men?

A) Women do not perform Theyyams except for one in Pazhayangaadi. It is the only place where a woman performs Theyyam in Kerala.

Q) Why is it so? Why women are not allowed to perform Theyyams in other places?

A) it’s something related to the physical features. Aren’t there many physical differences between men and women? And according to the temple customs, they cannot do it. Also the costumes are too heavy for them.

Also it is full of tight bindings from lips to hair. Even the blood-circulation wouldn’t happen properly at the time of performance. It affects our physical condition. My father is a famous Theyyam artist. But he can’t do anything now. It is because of his Theyyam performances in the early days. I think I will have to retire even before that.

Q) Does your financial income solely depend on the Theyyam season?


Q) Is there any help offered from the government?

A) There are some plans being worked out by the government.

Q) What about folklore academy?

A) They don’t give much importance to Theyyam. There are many other folk arts. Theyyam is limited to the north Malabar. Now it’s extended to Kozhikode district, but the main centers are from Payyannur to Kasaragod.

Q) People see Theyyam as a form of God. But these days Theyyam is being performed in many stages as a form of art. What do you say about that?

A) When we perform it in the common stage, it can be considered as a fancy dress only. We do not add any custom rituals in such performances. It becomes just like a performance art.

Q) So do you think it affects Theyyam as a divine ritual?

A) Yes, it’s bad because we are losing our originality by performing it without the proper customs.

Q) Has there been any change in the common man’s attitude towards Theyyam?

A) No. I feel that Theyyam helps to build up a close-knit community in the modern society. According to the old times, people are more interested in Theyyam these days.

Q) What is the difference between Kaliyaattam and Perunkaliyaattam?

A) Kaliyaattam is a Theyyam that takes place once in a year or in three years. Perunkaliyaattam happens after so many years.

Q) What are the procedures in performing Theyyam?

First we will fix a date and the temple committee will fix a person to perform Theyyam. On the day prior to the Theyyam performance, we will have a bath and chant prayers and will give an outline of Theyyam (that is going to be performed in the next day) to the crowd. It’s called “kuLicchu thOtam”. And then we will perform Theyyam on the very next day. “thOttam” explain the myths behind Theyyam. We learn these thOtams from the ancient texts and from our gurus.

(Sings a thOtam a example)


Translated from the M-Pod episode. Click here to listen to Theyyam episode in M-Pod, The Malayalam Podcaster.

Images copyright: Joseph Thomas.