The Enigmatic Theyyam Festival of Kerala (Part 2)

Hope you all have enjoyed reading Part 1 of the Theyyam Festival. In this article, I will elaborate and share a glimpse at different Theyyam forms.

So friends, let us continue with the enigmatic expedition of Theyyam festival. The casts scheduled to adorn Theyyam are Vannan, Malayan, Paanan, Cheravan, Chinkaththan, Koppaalan, Pulayan, Kalanaadi, Perumannan, Thuluvelan, Anjoottaan and Munnoottaan. Depending on their community, they assume different Theyyams. They have been reverently doing this for centuries in their family line. However, the pandemic has disrupted their lives badly.

I hope the different forms evolved through the centuries and sacredly revered will not face extinction. There are more than 450 established forms of Theyyams being performed across Kannur and Kasargod. And even in some pockets in the neighboring state of Karnataka too.

Behind every Theyyam form, there is a legend. And it is believed to be evolved from a God or Deity. A Theyyam while performing the story of a Deity is metamorphosed into that deity. During each enactment, a human person thus becomes a God or Deity. And that makes Theyyam a ritual beyond description and comprehension for an ordinary person. An outsider can only watch each of these forms and remain awestruck.

Understandably the word theyyam is derived from the word “Deivam”, the Sanskrit word for God.

The 450+ Theyyam forms have been subdivided under four characteristics:

  • Bhagavathi Theyyams
  • Saiva Vaishnava Theyyams
  • Manushika Theyyams
  • Purana Theyyams

Anthropologists have categorized them as:

  • Animal Theyyam,
  • Ghost Theyyam,
  • Ancestor Theyyam,
  • Incarnational Theyyam,
  • Joker Theyyam,
  • Thulu Theyyam,
  • Folk Theyyam, Etc.

Well, the enigma surrounding each form of Theyyam never fails to amaze us. It is impractical to mention about each form. Each form is different in terms of the representation of Deity, legends, community, attire and the musical accomplices. The materials used as attire and for bodily painting are easily available from nature. They mostly use coconut and areca nut tree leaves, rice powder, turmeric powder and charcoal powder. Among the various forms, a few have been popular and unique. Some forms like Perum Kaliyattam are performed only once in 12 years.

I shall try to present a few of them.

Muthappan Theyyam

Most commonly appeared of forms is Muthappan Theyyam. There are several temples dedicated to Muthappan. However one of the most famous Muthappan temples is situated at Parassini Kadavu, Kannur. A visit to this temple in the evening hours can offer you the blessed sight of the Muthappan Theyyam. People of all religions and nationalities are permitted to enter the temple and take part in the worship.

Muthappan is a personification of two completely different divine powers. The Thiruvappana (Vishnu) and the Vellatom (Siva) are thus represented. The form is seen holding either of Spear or sword or bow and arrow. Strangely fish and toddy are the offerings given to Muthappan.

The rituals at Muthappan temples are performed by members of the Thiyya community.

Vishnumoorthi Theyyam

This form is a representation of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu as Narasimha. Owing to this the Theyyam is decked as Narasimha – half man and half lion avatar of Vishnu. It is considered to be a complicated Theyyam form due to the rites and rituals and the attire associated with it. The performer has to endure long hours as he is helped with his attire made mostly of areca nut tree leaves. And the deep colours adorned by him take hours to paint. It is famously celebrated at many groves in the northern Malabar.

Gulikan Theyyam

Believed to be an incarnation of Yama, the Hindu god of death Gulikan Theyyam is a mysterious figure. As per a belief, Gulikan is a spirit that can affect and control human psyche. A few peculiarities make Gulikan so unique. Gulikan Theyyams take place after midnight. As part of their attire, they have false legs and frightening, lengthy adornment towering upward. Holding a trident Gulikan throws a few tantrums at the audience.

Venganakavu Gulikan temple at Nileshwar is the most famous Gulikan temple in North Kerala.

Puthiya Bhagavathy Theyyam

There are several shrines dedicated to Puthiya Bhagavathi in Kannur. She is believed to have emerged from the sacrificial fire as cure to diseases especially chicken box. Puthiya Bhagavathi is believed to have brought cure to chicken box when it was widely spread in the region. Hence the commemoration.

People of Vannan community are entitled to perform this form. Burning flambeau stuck around the waist while performing makes it a performance to adore. Other features include fiery sticks pocking out from the headgear and colorful attire.

Koovapratthu Kaavu in Kavinisseri and Morazha Koorumba Kaavu in Pazhangottu – both in Kannur – are popular for Puthiya Bhagavathi Theyyam.

Pottan Theyyam

Sacred groves across northern Malabar celebrate the presence of Pottan Theyyam. They believe the Pottan is a symbol of goodness that can wipe out social evils.

The attire largely consists of strands of tender coconut leaves tied around the body. Besides the colourful appearance and the anklets jingle in rhythm with the frenzied spell, the vigorous dance makes it a sight to watch.

Legend has it that Lord Shiva appeared in front of Sankaracharya as a ‘Pulapottan' to test him.  The event is commemorated even today during the Pottan Theyyam performance. Performers are usually from the Pulaya and Malaya communities.

Kuttichathan Theyyam

As per the tradition a few Brahincal families in Kannur devoutly venerate Kuttichathans during Theyyam season. Wearing elongated waist adornments, colorful flapping headgear, feather-like extension, the Theyyam forms look akin to peacocks. This form of Theyyam is more popular in Kannur.

Many more…

Chembilot Bhagavathy, Vayanat Kulavan, Oorpazhachi, Padikutti Amma, Agni Kandakarnan, Urpazhassi, Karinthiri Nair and the list can be enchantingly endless.

How to reach

Kannur and Kasargod are neighbouring districts in Kerala. Both places are well connected by road from other cities. Getting a local aid will ensure easy access to various Theyyam hubs.

The Kannur International Airport and Mangalore International Airport can land you to Kannur and Kasargod respectively.

Year 2021 could herald better times for Theyyam festival. Fingers crossed. The season ends by June-July. There is still time to plan the trip.

I hope you have enjoyed reading the two parts of the Theyyam festival. Please share your views and comments.



A Travel enthusiast and Foodie, craving to explore the intricate beauty of nature and its gift of delectable treats. Pens down his thoughts and experiences to present a delightful journey for his readers

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7 thoughts on “The Enigmatic Theyyam Festival of Kerala (Part 2)

  • November 20, 2020 at 8:28 am

    It’s quite an engrossing write-up that kindles an urge to explore and experience Kerala’s unique artforms, especially the mystical Theyyam.
    I have heard that during the Theyyam season, mere mortals, sometimes from the lower strata of society, transform into divine manifestations, commanding respect and adulation from one and all.
    Even without direct links to Theyyam, one can sense the painful void created by the pandemic. It leaves one’s curiosity piqued, stirring a yearning to be amid the vivid vibrance of artforms such as Theyyam!

  • November 21, 2020 at 6:27 pm

    Wow! This is such a detailed post! I had no idea about its different forms but now I know 🙂 So thank you for sharing these information about Theyyam festival.

  • November 21, 2020 at 11:53 pm

    I went to Kerala a few years ago and it was such a magical experience! I’d love to go back one day to see this festival.

  • November 22, 2020 at 10:55 pm

    This is looks like festival in Bali. I think India and Indonesia has some tradition relation.

  • November 23, 2020 at 12:44 pm

    Thanks for such a detailed and informative article. The gorgeous clicks make the read even more intriguing.

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