Theyyam, otherwise known as Kaliyattom,
is an ancient socioreligious ceremony performed in Kerala
since very remote times. As the word Kaliyattom denotes, this
is a sacred dance performance for Kali. Kaliyattom is sometimes
called Theyyattom because every thera or village was duly
bound to perform it. These name show that Kaliyattoms were
special festivals of religious and social importance. In ancient
times every village of Kerala has its own common shrine called
Kavu and it was imperative to have Kaliyattom performed in
front of it. As the word Kali has also the meaning of "safety"
in Malayalam, Kaliyattom may have the significance of a sacred
dance for social or family safety. The Dravidians were worshippers
of the ferocious goddess called Kottavai. To propitiate this
goddess a peculiar dance was performed. It would not be mere
conjecture to say that the old Kottavai dance performance
was the actual foundation on which Kaliyattom took roots later
on. As Kerala was primarily a land of people with Sakthi (Bhagavathi)
worshippers, the Kaliyattom became very much a part and parcel
of the social structure. Kali worship made its stronghold
especially in the northern parts of Kerala, known as the Kolthirinad,
the ancient kingdom of Kolathiri (Chirakkal Raja). Therefore
it was in Kolathunad (North Malabar ) at kaliyattom flourished
more than in any other part of Kerala. In this way, a wide
range of Kaliyattom nurtured and developed. With the passage
of time along with different aspects of Kali, various other
Kolams of heroes and heroines were defined and special Kolams
were attributed to them. Thus we find Sankaracharya as Pottan
Daivam, Thacholi Othenan as Ponniatu Pataveeran, Katangot
Makka as Makkapottu and the great commander of the Kolathiri
militia as Vayanattukulavan. In short, in Kaliyattom, permanent
forms and special attributed are given to Kolams and divine
as well as hero worship is substantially and methodically
carried out. Each manifestation in a Kaliyattom is known as
Kolam. Kolam actually means "shape" or form. God, goddess,
hero or heroine have their own peculiar and specific forms,
and each form has its own particular representative aspects.
To bring out that aspects each Kolam has special features
in face painting which is a work of difficult craftsmanship
and is a unique piece of art. Some Kolams take eight to ten
hours time to paint the face according to the strict rules
of tradition. In the same way the crowns, head dress, breast
plates, arm ornaments, bangles, garland and above all the
woollen or cotton garments are all so elaborately furnished
and variously shaped that the figure of a Kolam is something
to see and wonder. It is said that the vivid and masterly
ornamental dressing of Kathakali has originated from this.
Kaliyattoms are generally conducted in places of worship called
Kottams and Palliyara. Besides, there are compartments set
apart in family houses where the family deities are worshipped.
In such houses Kaliyattoms are performed in the courtyards
just in front of the separate compartments. (Normally the
season for Kaliyattom is from December to May.) There are
various ceremonies conducted in a Kaliyattom, the most serious
and important being the actual manifestation of the Kolam.
Just before the Kolam a song describing the history of that
particular Kolam and its great strength and holy aspect is
sung by a set of people to the accompaniment of chenda and
elthalam. After the songs are sung the Kolam appears before
the assembly of the people, in front of the place of worship.
It is believed that the spirit of the god or goddess or hero
or heroine of the Kolam migrates into the person who has assumed
that Kolam. Then the Kolam performs various types of dancing
with chenda and elathalam as the chief accompaniments. In
the actual dancing there are the slow - paced dances and fast
moving ones. The former is called Pathiniyattom and the later
Elakiyattom. Swords and shields, bows and arrows and other
weapons are used. Sometimes sword play of a very high order
is displayed. Kaliyattom is performed generally in the night
and sometimes some of the Kolams will go on even after day
- break. Clothe torches (Panthoms) and the coconut leaf torches
(chootu) are used in plenty. The red light of the torches
with sharp contrast of light and shade gives the entire scene
a glamorous setting. The crowns and the articles of dress
receive further additions of pictorial cuttings of white tender
coconut leaves and bunches of red flowers. Kaliyattom is conducted
for propitiating god and goddess to bless the family or community.
There are particular communities for performing Kaliyattom.
It is rather curious that Kaliyattom which is performed for
all sections of people in Kerala from Brahmins downwards,
the persons authorised to assume Kolams are from the untouchable
classes, like Malayans, Peruvannans and Velas.
Kurathi are a set of gypsies who go about from
place to place telling fortunes. In this dance called Kurathiyattom,
two Kurathis first enter dancing, in the guise of characters
representing the wives of Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva. Then
they stage a controversy through songs over the exploits of
their respective husbands. The favourable point in one's favour
becomes the but of ridicule at the other's hands and while
one praises profusely the other condemns sarcastically. This
is interpreted with fluent mime and brought out in picturesque
postures. The gestures, bodily flexions and foot- work, show
perfect co-ordination and rhythmic grace. After this Kuravan
(male) and Kurathi enters and enact a mock quarrel. Though
lacking in dramatic element, the technique is skillfully exploited
and the exposition of different moods-suspected chastity,
injured innocence, disappointment and the joy of reconciliation
- are of a high artistic level. Maddalam , Kaimani etc., are
the instruments used.
This is a dance in which only women participate.
It is usually performed in connection with the Onam festival.
All the girls are dressed in immaculate Onakkodi dress and
sit round in a circle. At the centre of the circle sits the
performer. Now all the girls sing in chorus to the rhythmic
clapping of hands and occasional vociferations know as Kuravai.
The rhythm and the pitch of the clapping and the songs rise
to feverish when the girl in the centre enters into a trance
and begins to dance.
This is women's dance prevalent in Kerala.
The dancers move in a circle and the hand gestures signify
reaping and harvesting. One of the women leads the singing
with a favourite song while the rest take up the refrain.
Each performer renders a new line in turn and the dancing
stops when all get tired. In local variations of the Kummi
dance men also participate. Here the men with small sticks
in their hands form a circle, inside which stand the women
in a smaller ring. The beating of the sticks by men and the
clapping of the hands by women are perfectly synchronised
with the steps that they make and also with the rhythm of
This dance, also known as Pulikali, is performed
during the Moharram season. Dancers realistically made up
as tigers with appropriate costumes go about from house to
house, dancing vigorously to the loud beating of instruments
like Udukku, Thakil, etc. (