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Theyyam Performance

Theyyam performances are not conducted on a stage nor are any such requirements necessary for Theyyam. This holy invocation is usually performed before the village shrine. It is also performed in some joint-family houses as ancestor-worship with elaborate rites and rituals. The arena resembles that of an open theatre. Most of the devotees would be standing and some would take the comforts of the sacred tree in front of the shrine.

A performance of a particular deity according to its significance and hierarchy in the shrine continues for 12 to 24 hours with intervals. The chief dancer who propitiates the central deity of the shrine has to reside in the premises. This shows the influence of religions like Jainism and Buddhism on this art. After the sunset the dancer will not eat anything for the rest of the day. This, again, is possibly an influence of Jainism.

The make-up is usually done by specialists and co-dancers. The first part of the performance is usually known as Vellattam or Thottam. It is performed without proper make-up or any decorative costume. Only a small, red headdress is worn on this occasion.

The dancer along with the drummers recites the particular ritual song, which describes the myths and legends of the deity of the shrine or the folk deity to be propitiated. This is accompanied by the playing of folk musical instruments. After finishing this primary ritualistic part of the invocation, the dancer returns to the green room. Again after a short interval he appears with proper make-up and costumes. There are different patterns of masks or face-painting used in Theyyam.  vairadelam, kattaram, kozhipushpam, kotumpurikam, and prakkezhuthu are some of the patterns seen prominently. Mostly primary and secondary colours are applied with contrast for face painting. It helps in effecting certain stylization in the dances. Then the dancer comes in front of the shrine and gradually “metamorphoses” into the particular deity of the shrine. After the observation of certain rituals he places the headgear on his head.

Chenda, tuti, kuzhal and veekni, the folk musical instruments of Kerala, are played in the background in a certain rhythm. All the dancers take a shield and kadthala (sword) in their hands as a continuation of the cult of weapons. Then the dancer circumambulates the shrine, runs in the courtyard and continues dancing there. The Theyyam dance has different steps known as Kalaasams. Each Kalaasam is repeated systematically from the first to the eighth step of footwork. Thus a performance is the combination of playing of musical instruments, vocal recitations, dance, and peculiar makeup and costumes. The stage-practices of Theyyam and its ritualistic observations make it one of the most fascinating performing arts of India.

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