With the onset of Malayalam month of Thulam (Oct - November), north Kerala villages are getting ready to welcome the beat of Theyyams. The procession of the Theyyams would extend into the middle of the month of Edavam(May -June). During this time, hundreds of Theyyams would visit devotees in their homes and public places and bless them.
Theyyams are not mere art forms, but the embodiment of belief and devotion. It is the visible form of god and the words that come from the Theyyam are believed to be the one spoken by god. While each caste has its own god in the Theyyam form, people who belong to the so-called lower-castes adorn the colours of all these Theyyams, which is a good example of the dichotomy that exists in the art form. When the Theyyams come in procession, people, irrespective of caste, bow in reverence.
Most of the Theyyams depict mother characters. Others are brave warriors who existed before.
In a way, Theyyams celebrate victory over all kinds of domination, be it caste-based, sex-based or knowledge-based. When the Pottan Theyyam shouts in fiery disdain, 'I am cold, I am cold,' while lying on embers, the fiery rebellion against a caste system that is believed to have burnt a lower-caste person for debating with Sankaracharya gets life and energy. Perhaps no other art form has protested against the caste system so fervently. The same is the case with the Muchilottu Bhagavathy Theyyam, which reminds one about an intelligent virgin in Perinchelloor, who defeated men in debates. Angered by her impudence, men barred her from the society and she committed suicide at Theekuzhichal. She then became Muchilottu Bhagavathy.
There are also Theyyams that celebrate communal harmony as in the case of AaliTheyyam at Kumbala. There are also other Theyyams that have various myths attached with them and carry with them strong, socially-relevant themes and concepts that are reminded each year.
However, the message and significance of Theyyams are being destroyed these days. Sacred groves are being cut down and concrete temples and granite structures are being built to impound the spirit of Theyyams. People are becoming mere spectators and rarely attempt to learn what Theyyams signify. Theyyams, like other cultural art forms, are making it to stages, processions and advertisements, where their beauty and significant are being destroyed.
Worse is the case of Theyyam artistes, who are forgotten after a few days of celebration each year. Some end up diseased while others spend a life in poverty. They never get the remuneration they deserve. It is high time that we do justice to the artists, condemned to live a life unsung, while each year they dress up as heroes who made positive changes to the society through their words, actions or mere thoughts.