Among the jewels of Kerala (beaches, nature, people) lies another not-so-hidden gem: the Theyyam festival. In the northern region of Malabar, during the dry months, it’s easy to find in one of the many temples or kavu (usually smaller family run temples) a Theyyam ritual going on. In these festivals some performers, that belong to specific castes, don richly decorated red dresses with massive head-covers and become living gods for the believers that flock en masse to attend. Pilgrims from neighbouring villages bring forth their wishes and consult with the living gods about their health or family problems. Not only the Theyyam sits and listens to the ailments of the villagers, they also perform some crazy dance where they spin at unbelievable speed, run around and sometimes jump over a bonfire.
Sarah and I decided to make a reportage out of this festival so most of my time was dedicated to filming and during the rare moments I took some shots they were mainly portraits that probably don’t paint a very good picture of the festival itself: when the reportage is aired and put online I’ll give you a heads up so you can have a better idea of what the entire celebration is.
This is one of the most intense and interesting ritual I have ever witnessed but these festivals take many forms and for instance the first one we attended in Payyanur was a bit of a dull experience: although this festival was held only once in thirty years and the number of people attending it was huge there was not much going on, with people queuing for hours to exchange a few quick words with a single, sitting Theyyam performer. In that instance the small donations people gave to the living god had to be carried away by the bucketload.
In another festival we attended, during the day, the situation was completely different though and straight away we were taken aback by the magnificence and strenght of Theyyam! Not only there were less people attending but there were so many different types of Theyyam that we soon lost count of them: I would say there were at least twenty different performers that during the course of the day donned at least forty different outfits and head-covers. The festival was held near Kannur and I strongly recommend it, if you wish to have further information about it please contact me.
We stayed there all day long until the very climatic fire “sitting”, where a performer with a coconut skirt is made to sit on burning ashes and then lifted by two people holding his arms. At the end of the day, I must have filmed for eight straight hours under the scorching sun and I was so into it that I somewhat forgot to take pictures: here you have just a few portraits but I urge you to watch the reportage once it will be broadcasted (I will provide a link here).