Blessed by GOD at a Theyyam ritual in Kerala
One of the best ways of exploring a town is to get lost. I was staying in a small village somewhere in between Kannur and Thalassery, on the shores of the Ezhara Beach in Kerala and we were looking for more virgin beaches in the vicinity. The only “drive-in beach “ in India, called the Muzhappilangad Drive-in Beach was closed to vehicles because of the heavy monsoons. However, we walked on the flat surface of sands as cyclists attempted stunts and asked us to try biking on the four km stretch of sand, which seemed more like a flat surface. It was a cloudy day and the beaches were crowded even during the day. We drove along, turning into smaller villages and hamlets, finding posters of Malayalam stars while Che Guevara looks on from every street corner. Our journey had a destination – Thalassery but I wanted to drive through the villages and we promptly got lost. And that was how I landed in a very tiny hamlet to see my first ever Theyyam Dance- Ritual art form of Kerala.
It was a small Bhagavathy temple built on the banks of a river. Locals were sitting in the courtyard of the shrine, overlooking the waters, waiting in reverence. The ritual art form of Kerala was to begin any moment and locals believed that God danced in front of them as the Theyyam dance began. I was told that this was a very short performance without much pageantry and would barely take an hour. I waited with bated breath as locals told me that the artiste who performed the Theyyam dance was a “God” for the day and that the deity would answer their queries and bless them at the end of the ritual.
Soon the ritual art form of Kerala began as a priest officiated. The drummers reached a crescendo as the Theyyam dance began, invoking the main deity of the temple through chants. The dancer then circumambulated the shrine and danced inside the courtyard, lost in a trance as devotees looked upon. Within a few minutes, the Theyyam was over .
The priest then took charge as the Theyyam performer , sat in the centre while a line of devotees stood in reverence waiting for their turn to speak to the deity. Some whispered their problems to him while he leaned close to their ears and advised them what the Goddess wanted them to do. Some were in tears while others were asking for blessings.
While I was waiting for my turn, I learnt that there were more than 400 theyyam dance performances in this region, each invoking a different deity and they were performed usually in shrines. Most of them would have elaborate make-up, costumes, rituals and would last an entire night. Soon we were summoned. We were asked if there were any questions that we would like to ask the deity. We just asked for blessings and paid our respects. A gentle smile broke out on the placid face as we stepped behind giving way for the next lot of devotees. “ You are blessed,” said the Theyyam performer as we prepared to leave. For a moment I felt that God was speaking to me.