Visiting Kerala? Here’s Where And When To Watch Theyyam

Originating in North Kerala, a theyyam performance includes a mix of dance, mime, and music. Here is a look at what theyyam entails and where to watch it
A theyyam artist performs at Kadannappalli Muchilot Bhagavati temple in Kannur
A theyyam artist performs at Kadannappalli Muchilot Bhagavati temple in KannurAJP/Shutterstock

Kerala's stunning theyyam art form is more than eight centuries old. It tells the myths and stories of Kerala's many gods and heavenly spirits. There are over 400 distinct types of theyyams each with its unique music, style, and choreography.

Originating in North Kerala, a theyyam performance includes a mix of dance, mime, and music. The theatrical dance is accompanied by traditional musical instruments such as the chenda, elathalam, and kurumkuzal.

In theyyam, the rituals must be carried out regardless of whether or not there is a captive audience. When the artist dons the theyyam costume, he becomes a deity rather than a human. Theyyam features prominent traditional local deities such as Bhairavan, Gulikan, Chamundi, Kuttichathan, and Pottan.

The Make-Up And Costume

A theyyam artist gets his face painted
A theyyam artist gets his face paintedPradeep Gaurs/Shutterstock

Theyyam performers' intricate face make-up is typically done with a coconut leaf stalk. Natural dyes such as turmeric and quicklime have traditionally been used in a coconut oil base. As the makeshift greenrooms where the performers prepare for the theyyam are not hidden from public view, you can see the process of face and body painting in progress.

The Communities

Theyyams are performed by Malayans, Vannans, and Velans who embody the spirits of local gods for the duration of the theyyam and are treated with reverence. The deities interact with the devotees, blessing and advising them as they walk among them.

Where To See The Performances

A theyyam artist performing with fire in Thiruvananthapuram
A theyyam artist performing with fire in ThiruvananthapuramANAND G IYER/Shutterstock

Every year, theyyams are performed in various temples, usually in front of the village shrine. The 'Theyyam Belt' in northern Kerala stretches from Kasargod to Vadagara. There is no fixed location where theyyam is performed. A theyyam will move from one location to another. It is believed that because theyyams at smaller shrines were not subjected to Brahminical influences, they are often more faithful to ancient folk traditions.

Theyyams can also be witnessed in some traditional Kerala family homes. Because the performances take place on an "open stage," they can be seen on festive or special occasions in traditional Malabar households.

Theyyam artist performs during a temple festival in Payyanur
Theyyam artist performs during a temple festival in PayyanurMazur Travel/Shutterstock

Kannur, a temple town in Kerala, is well-known for theyyams. There are several locations where you can see theyyams such as the Kali temple in Matamangalam, just outside Kannur. The Palotukavu in Keecheri is well-known, as are the Kannadiparamba performances. The Kerala tourism department has listed several performances that you can watch in December. Here are a few.

Naduvalathu Kottam

The theyyams being performed here include Vallar Kulangara Bhagavathy, Wayanattu Kulavan (Thondayyan), Vishnumoorthy, and Sree Bhootham. The temple is located at the Embettu stop below the Kavungal Athiyedam Pazhayangadi road that leads from the Kannur-Taliparamba National Highway.

Address: Sreestha P.O., Pazhayangadi, Kannur, Kerala - 670303

Approximate theyyam date: December 2-3, 2023

More info here.

Kokkanasseri Kandambathu Ara Vallar Kulangara Bhagavathy Devasthanam

Theyyam artist performing Thee Kuttichathan Theyyam
Theyyam artist performing Thee Kuttichathan Theyyam ANAND G IYER/Shutterstock

This temple is a Kavu (sacred grove) with its own characteristics and here customs and rituals are retained in their conventional styles. The theyyams performed here include Kannikkorumakan, Bhairavan, Kuttisasthan, Angakulangara Bhagavathy, Raktha Chamundi, Madayil Chamundi, and Vishnumoorthy. The place can be reached via the Madathumpadi road near Mukunda hospital off the Kannur-Payyanur road.

Address: Kokkanasseri, Payyanur P.O., Kannur, Kerala - 670307

Approximate theyyam date: December 3-6, 2023

Aduthila Guliyanka Bhagavathy Temple

The recently renovated Aduthila Guliyanka Bhagavathy temple is at the Aduthila stop on the Kannur-Pazhayangadi route. Guliyanka Bhagavathy is the prominent deity of this family temple. The theyyams here include Guliyanka Bhagavathy, Bali, Vishnumoorthy, Kundoor Chamundi, and Kurathi, Gulikan.

Address: Aduthila, Pazhayangadi P.O., Kannur, Kerala - 670303

Approximate theyyam date: December 6-7, 2023

More info here.

You can follow the Malabar Folklore Fellows, a trust dedicated to the preservation of folk art forms, for more information on theyyam heritage and performances.

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