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Theyyam - A Unique Art Form of Kerala

Theyyam or Theyyattam or Thira, practiced in North Malabar in Kerala, is one of the unique art forms of Kerala. Intertwined with Art and religion, this folk form of worship has generated a lot of interest among connoisseurs of art and culture, both in India and abroad.

Theyyam - A Unique Art Form Of Kerala

Vishnumoorthy Theyyam
Theyyam, also known as Theyyattam or Thira is a popular Hindu ritual form of worship of North Malabar in the South-West Indian state of Kerala. This ritual is predominantly practiced in the Kolathunadu area, consisting of Kasargod, Kannur districts, and some parts of Kozhikode and Wayanad districts. This ritual embraces almost all the classes and castes of the Hindu religion, and, has several thousand-year-old customs and traditions. In fact it is a form of worship, practiced by the indigenous tribal community. This form of worship is unique to Kerala in the sense that both the upper caste Brahmins and lower caste tribals share important elements in this form of worship. The Theyyam is evolved from the word Devam or God. People practicing this ritual consider Theyyam as God and they seek blessings from this Theyyam.
Theyyam Set
The legend says that festivals like Kaliyattam, Puravela, and Daivattam or Theyyam are sanctioned by Parasurama to the people of North Malabar region. According to the belief, he had assigned the responsibility of performing the Theyyam to the indigenous tribal communities like Malayar, Vannan, Velan and Panan. Theyyam is the non-Brahminical representation of Hinduism by the tribal community. These rituals often involve offerings of liquor and meat to Bhagavathy, Siva and Vishnu. Theyyam was patronized by the Nair feudal chiefs. It is an art form of Dravidians. One revolutionary thing about this ritual is that even the high caste people will have to worship the Gods coming in the form of Theyyam, and those who played the Theyyam always belonged to the lower caste. So we can say these art forms transcended the barriers of caste.

Bhagavathy or Mother God has an important place in Theyyam. Theyyam also encompasses practices like spirit-worship, ancestor-worship, hero-worship, serpent-worship, tree-worship, and animal-worship among others. Worship of Goddesses of disease and Gramadevata is also present in Theyyam rituals. Other than these, there are many folk Gods and Goddesses. Goddesses are known as Bhagavathy, who is a unified form three principal Goddesses, Saraswathi, Lakshmi and Durga.

Elements of major branches of mainstream Hinduism like Shaktism, Vaishnavism and Shaivism could be seen in the cult of Theyyam. Blood offering is seen in some sub-cult centres. Usually cocks are sacrificed to propitiate Theyyam dieties.

Since Vaishnavism doesn't have much influence in Hinduism in Kerala, not many Vaishnavite dieties are found in Theyyam. Principal Vaishnavite dieties of Theyyam are Vishnumoorthy and Daivathar. Worship of spirits, ancestors, heroes and animals come under Shaivism or Shaktism categories.

Nambiar and Ezhava communities were major patrons of Theyyam. Every Tharavadu used to have its own Theyyam. Brahmins and Nairs were not authorised to participate in the Theyyam performances as the right to this belonged to the tribal communities. Yet they established shrines and Kavus for Theyyams dieties where non-sattvic rituals and customs are practiced. Goddesses like Chamundeswari, Rakteswari, Kurathi and Someswari, and gods like Vishnumoorthy are worshipped in household shrines. Rituals in these shrines were different from that of Brahminical temples.

Theyyam is performed in an open theatre. There will be no stages or curtain or any such traditional arrangements.

Various types of Theyyams

There are many different forms practiced in the North Malabar. Some of them are given below.
Guligan Theyyam, Vishnumoorthy, Sree Muthappan Theyyam, Sree Muthappan Theyyam, Marapuli, Kandapuli, Pulimaruthan, Karinthiri Nair, Puthiya Bhagavathy, Kuttikol Thamburatti Theyyam, Elayor Theyyam, Muthur Theyyam, Chuzhali Bhagavathy, Vannathan, Kannangat Bhagavathy, Kodoth Chamundi, Agni Kandakarnan, Moovalamkuzhi Chamundi, Palot Daivam, Dandinganath Bhagavathy, Vannathan, Kannangat Bhagavathy, Kodoth Chamundi, Agni Kandakarnan, Moovalamkuzhi , Chamundi, Palot Daivam, Dandinganath Bhagavathy, Padamadakki Bhagavathy, Manakkott Amma, Karim Chamundi, Muthala Theyyam, Elleduth Bhagavathy, Adukunnath Bhagavathy, Narambil Bhagavathy, Chembilot Bhagavathy, Kuttichathan, Pulichon, Vellarangara Bhagavathy, Mayyakkal Bhagavathy, Koroth Naga Bhagavathy, Padinhare Chamundi, Vettakorumakan.

In some Kavus the Theyyam festival is conducted once in 12 or more years. These kinds of festivals are known as Perumkaliyattam. In 2008, Perumkaliyattams were celebrated in Ramanthali Muchilot Kavu, Kalayikode Muchilot Kavu and Mandur Padinjatta Thiruvarkat Bhagavathy Temple.


  • Vishnumoorthy Theyyam (4400-121825-Vishnumoorthy-Theyyam.bmp)
  • Theyyam Set (4400-121826-theyyam1.bmp)
  • Theyyam (4400-121827-Theyyam.bmp)
  • Theyyam1 (4400-121828-Theyyam2.bmp)
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