The Human Gods of Malabar

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  1. Coming Face to Face with Kerala's Fierce Gods and Goddesses | Nat Geo Traveller India
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  3. The Living God
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This is Theyyam — and its days may very well be numbered. The Theyyam tradition dates back centuries. In the traditional ceremony, the human oracle dons an elaborate costume of brilliant oranges, reds, and golds. This chenda , as it is called, can weigh around 90 pounds and stands nearly twelve feet tall when mounted on the shoulders of the performer. After prayers from holy men and other minor rituals, the oracle emerges before the crowds who have assembled and, flanked by drummers, begins the thottam , the sacred song and dance that transforms the human performer into an embodiment of the divine.

Source: flickr. For his book Nine Lives , historian William Dalrymple visited Malabar and asked one Theyyam performer what the experience is like. The oracle answered:. You lose all fear.

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Even your voice changes. The god comes alive and takes over. You are just the vehicle, the medium.

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Coming Face to Face with Kerala's Fierce Gods and Goddesses | Nat Geo Traveller India

In the trance it is God who speaks, and all the acts are the acts of the god — feeling, thinking, speaking. The dancer is an ordinary man, but this being is divine. Only when the headdress is removed does it end. People travel from around the region and across India to receive personalized blessings from these manifestations of the Hindu pantheon. There are also traveling Theyyam troupes, often made up of families who received the traditions from their parents and grandparents as kids and have passed them down to their own children at the age of ten or eleven years old.

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These troupes go from village to village from December to February or March, bringing the apparitions of divinity with them. One of the most interesting things about the Theyyam tradition is the way it inverts the social hierarchy — at least on the surface. Only the low castes, including the Dalit or untouchables, have the right to be oracles. The priestly Brahmin caste is excluded.

Theyyam ritual performances also provide judicial services. Some of the major disputes and caste conflicts are often settled by a specific representative of a particular deity during the theyyam performance.

The Living God

As a creative professional I am passionate about translating ideas through visual languages, and I had picked up the camera merely to add another dimension to my creativity. I started photography in , and immediately set my focus to beautiful landscapes. After studying the art further and travelling extensively, I have newfound appreciation for environmental and story based photo series. My journey with my camera has been an interesting and ever evolving one and these explorations have unveiled to me the beauty of different global cultures, people and their daily lives.

Their reproduction, even in part, is forbidden without the explicit approval of the rightful owners. I was curious if there is any book in English about the myths and legends associated with various Theyyams.

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I cannot read Malayalam, so searching for an English one. Kindly recommend, if you are aware of any books related to this artform. Also intrigued to know more about the lives of these artistes.


  1. Coming Face to Face with Kerala’s Fierce Gods and Goddesses.
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  3. Theyyam-The Human Gods of Malabar | Flickr.

Had also heard that in Wayanad, the rituals are also associated with animal sacrifice. Is that true? Web Site.

Photo Stories. Binu Jun 21, Wonderful photographs… as always…. Shyjith Jun 23, Vinaya Joseph Nov 9, Shyjith, beautiful shots!

Chanced upon your blog while trying to learn about Theyyams. Nimmi George Oct 28, Very beautifully composed photo story.

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And the captures are amazing too!! Thank you Sir. Leave a Reply. Your email address will not be published.