Teyyam (Dance and Dancer)

Theyyam priest Kerala

Teyyam refers to a folk ritual art of Kerala, India and it also refers to the dancer, as in the figure above. As is the case with most of the traditional art forms in India, this is non-secular as well. Teyyam is closely related to Bhutaradhane (Spirit worship) from Coastal Karnataka. One example of Bhutaradhane is Pilichandi on this blog site.

Teyyam is the medium for the deities (Saiva, Sakti, Vaisnava and other). The headgear, makeup and the attire identify the deity Teyyam represents.

Teyyam is conducted in open fields adjacent to Kavus, village/family shrine, during the December-April period. Teyyam is normally performed by designated lower caste members, who has observed austerities for a number of days.  At the time of Teyyam, the caste difference ceases to exist and members of all castes seek the blessings of Teyyam.

This figure above is static and in the actual event, the dancer is a very dynamic figure. The dance is to the tune of songs, drum and clarinet and may be accompanied by subordinate Teyyams. The songs are called Tottams and supposed to have philosophical meaning. On this count, Teyyam is closer to traditional Hindu religion as compared to its counterpart Bhutaradhane.

In this example, the Teyyam is holding a sword and shield. In addition, he is wearing Ani, the decorative band around the waist and upper body.  This idol is about 18.5 cm in height and it is from Kerala. It may not date earlier than the twentieth century.

Though not related to Teyyam I have reproduced below, Deepalakshmi from one of the earlier blogs. It is quite likely these two figures are from the same workshop/foundry. Note the treatment of eyebrows and eyelashes.


Sita K Nambiar ‘ The Ritual art of Teyyam and Bhutaradhane’  Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts 1996


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