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What is the divine aspect of Kerala’s fire dance – Theyyam?  

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Theyyam, the 800-year-old spectacular yet lesser-known dance form, is performed during the annual festival of Gods and Goddesses. This ritual art form is performed through a mélange of dance, music, drama, and mime. Having its roots in the ancient Dravidian culture of South India, the Theyyam is a popular ritual dance where the dancer takes up the role of a deity. This artistic dance form imbibes metaphysical thoughts and expressions of immortal souls which are impersonated by a believer through a mortal body.

Divine ritual

Ritualistic art form evoking divinity

During the few days of the part-dance, part-extreme ritual festival, the Theyyam performers are elevated to the status of Gods. The awe-inspiring performance includes over 400 different styles of dance, invocations, and rites by priests wearing elaborate costumes, bright face paint, and carrying cult weapons. This ancient art form, which is popular in the northern region of Kerala, is a ritualistic expression of worship. There are various types of Theyyam performed by both men and women. There are around 456 theyyakkolams or types of Theyyam. Among these, a few popular ones are Vishnumoorthi, Sree Muthappan Theyyam, Gulikan, Padikutti Amma, and Muthappan Anthithira among many more.


As it is accompanied by rituals and other devotional music, there is an aura of divine splendor in this art form. The history of this folk ritual has many variations, ranging from the yakshis (spirits) or witches to myths of animal deities, to the deeds of local heroes, hugely linked to various myths like fertility rites, curing of sicknesses, and agricultural harvests. While performing this art, the artist takes the role of the divine. As the word in itself suggests, to millions, Theyyam is their visible and tangible form of Gods and Goddesses.

Performance season and venue 

Theyyam is celebrated and performed during the months between October and May in certain temples in North Kerala, mainly in the Malabar region and Kannur, making it a hub for national and international tourists, art enthusiasts, art photographers, and a host of others. It is usually performed in sacred groves called “Kaavu” or at ancestral homes known as “Theravada” in the villages.

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