Kerala's 'Theyyam' at Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya in Bhopal
BHOPAL: Under the
museum series Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya (IGRMS) will introduce
‘Theyyam’ as exhibit of the month on Friday. Theyyam is a traditional object
from Kerala would be displayed at IGRMS throughout November.
An artwork of Theyyam
Dance, it is often represented as an expression of the aesthetic values, social
life and cultural ecology of a community. The object may be sometimes an
individual affiliation or sometimes be a grand exposition of religious acts.
The presented exhibit
is a wooden sculpture of an artist, KK Damodaran Achari, according to IGMRS
official. It is intricately chiselled to carve every detail of heavily dressed
costumes and body decoration. An important attraction of the sculpture is the
gait and facial expression articulated to exhibit the impression of divinity,
Theyyattam or Thira) is a popular ritual form of worship of North Malabar in
Kerala, India, predominant in the Kolathunadu area (consisting of present-day
Kasargod, Kannur Districts, Mananthavady Taluk of Wayanad and Vadakara and
Koyilandy Taluks of Kozhikode of Kerala) as a living cult with several
thousand-year-old traditions, rituals and customs.
The performers of
Theyyam belong to the lower class community, and have an important position in
Theyyam. People of these districts consider Theyyam itself as a God and they
seek blessings from this Theyyam. A similar custom is followed in the Tulu Nadu
region of neighbouring Karnataka known as Bhuta Kola.
It can be said that all
the prominent characteristics of primitive, tribal, religious worship had
widened the stream of Theyyam cult, where “even the followers of Islam are
associated with the cult in its functional aspect” and made it a deep-rooted
folk religion of millions.
For instance, the cult
of Bhagawathi, the Mother Goddesses had and still has an important place in
Theyyam. Besides this, the practices like spirit-worship, ancestor-worship,
hero-worship, masathi-worship, tree-worship, animal worship, serpent-worship,
the worship of the Goddesses of disease and the worship of Graamadevataa
(Village-Deity) are included in the main stream of the Theyyam cult. Along with
these Gods and Goddesses there exist innumerable folk Gods and Goddesses.
Most of these Goddesses
are known as Bhagavathy (the Mother-Goddess that is the Divine and United form
of the three principal Goddesses namely, Brahmani (Saraswati), Vaishnavi
(Lakshmi), and Shivani (Durga)).
Different branches of
mainstream Hindu religion such as Shaktism, Vaishnavism and Shaivism now
dominate the cult of Theyyam. However, the forms of propitiation and other
rituals are continuations of a very ancient tradition. In several cult-centres,
blood offering is seen, despite being forbidden in sattvic Hinduism, Jainism
In such centres,
separate places outside the precincts of the shrine are selected for blood
offering and for the preparation of the traditional Kalam known as
Vatakkanvathil. The Theyyam deities propitiated through cock-sacrifice will not
enter such shrines. This religious cockfight over blood sacrifice, which does
also include the cockfight as a blood sacrifice, is a prime example of “cultural
synthesis of ‘little’ and ‘great’ cultures”.
On account of the supposedly
late revival of the Vaishnavism movement in Kerala, it does not have a deep
impact on the Theyyam cult. Only a few deities are available under this
category. Two major Theyyam deities of Vaishnavism are Vishnumoorthi and
Daivathar. Vaishnavism was very popular in the Tuluva region in the 13th
century when it came under the rule of Vishnuvardhana of the Hoysala dynasty.
He was a great champion of Vaishnavism.
Most probably he was
initially deified as Vishnumoorthi and incorporated into the Bhoota cult of the
Tuluvas and then further incorporated as a prominent folk deity into the
Theyyam cult as well. To some, the legend of Vishnumoorthi is symbolizes the
God\'s migration from Tulu Nadu to Kolathunadu.
All other categories of
Theyyam deities can be classified under Shaivism or Shaktism. Even spirits,
ancestors, heroes, and animals are deified and included in those categories.
provides a good example for the religious evolution of, and the subsequent
different stages in modern Hinduism, with the overall understanding that within
Hindu sycretisms lay propitiation as ancient practices and rituals of ancient
worship intended for the blessings of the supernatural not unlike, “in Indus
Valley and other ancient civilizations, mother goddess had been invoked for
fertility and prosperity”.