During the festival, there are multiple performances, including other art forms such as Thottam and Vellattam.

This Kasaragod village celebrates Perumkaliyattam in Theyyam season after 700 yearsPhotos: Murali Periya
news Culture Saturday, December 28, 2019 - 16:12

The fragrance of camphor, the rhythmic beats of Chenda and Elathalam and lights from the pandam, made from a bundle of dried coconut leaves — for devotees in North Kerala, this Theyyam festival is believed to be especially significant as it takes place in Kalliot after 717 years.

Kalliot, a rural village about five kilometres from Periya in Kasaragod district, was eagerly awaiting Perunkaliyattam, a festival of Theyyam and its associated art forms, at the local temple in the name of Kalliot Bhagavathy. The mass performance featuring about 50 to 100 Theyyams in one venue will take place over the course of seven days.

Perumkaliyattam is usually held once in 12 years but for the village of Kalliot, the festival has not been held there in recent memory. Astrologers at the temple suggest that it was over 700 years ago that the last Perumkaliyattam was celebrated at the town. The festival began on December 23 and will continue until January 1, 2020. During the festival, there are multiple performances, including other art forms such as Thottam and Vellattam. Organisers say it will be the first of its kind of north Kerala.

"This temple is about 2,500 years old. We have never had a Perumkaliyattam here before. Every year, we have Theyyam performances for three days. This is the first time we have a Perumkaliyattam," M Kunjambu Jyothsyar, working chairman of the temple committee, says.

"There are people from different religions, castes and communities supporting us. We aren't associated with any political parties. This is the festival of our village, not of a particular religion," he added.

Perumkaliyattam is rarely conducted as it is an expensive affair. Kalliot temple will spend around Rs 2.5 crore for the grand festival.

"Serving lunch for everyone who attends the festival is another speciality. We serve everyone on all seven days. About 8,000 people can eat at the same time in our dining area. More than 500 people are assigned to serve lunch. Two hundred people who are on a vratham (special fasting) prepare the food daily," says MK Sundandan, general convenor of the festival committee.

Fifty-two Theyyams will be performed on the seven days from 3 am to 1 am the next morning.

Theyyams are performed in temporary areas constructed in the compound of the temple. "Among the Theyyams performed here, some will be austere in nature or calm in nature. Each has their own choreography, style and music," Sunandan added.

What is Theyyam

Theyyam is known as the divine dance. It is assumed that the performing artist, adorned in bright costumes with intense colours painted on their faces, are the living embodiment of god, and devotees seek their blessings.

Though bright red is the colour of Theyyams, it varies depending on each Theyyam. Raktha Chamundi, Vishnu Moorthy, Vettakorumakan and Pottan are among the numerous Theyyam performances that narrate legendary stories through dance, music and mime. There are around 400 Theyyams in North Kerala, and all of them will be performed in various temples during the season.

Thottam is the beginning of a Theyyam, where an artist sings and performs without any makeup. The next day, the artist will appear as Theyyam and perform.

Along with beaten rice and puffed rice, fish and toddy are also used in a few temples as offerings for Theyyams. In Kalliot, the end of Parunkaliyattam will witness the slaughter of 101 chickens.

"The art painted on each Theyyam's face is different,” TK Manzoor, managing director of Bekal Resorts Development Corporation Ltd (BRDC), a state-run tourism promotion body in Kasaragod district, tells TNM. “There is a legend behind every performance. More than an art form, it is a unique ritualistic performance of north Kerala."

He said that Theyyam can boost the tourism sector of north Kerala and the department will make sure that the ritualistic art is not commercialised for it. "Before the Kalliot Perumkaliyattam started, we have arranged a seminar for enthusiasts so that all will understand Theyyam before participating in it. Let tourists go to the places where Theyyams are performed rather than performances being conducted just for tourism," he adds.

BRDC also planning to introduce a mobile app that provides the full details and schedule of Theyyam performances in Kannur and Kasaragod districts. 

Photos : Murali Periya

Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!
You can also support us with a one-time payment.