LORD OF THE FESTIVALS
Travel+Leisure India|October 2021
On a trip to Kannur, in North Kerala, HEMA NARAYANAN comes face to face with Theyyam, an extraordinary dance ritual that narrates legends of gods, evil spirits, and local heroes.
HEMA NARAYANAN

I HAD SEEN STRIKING photographs of Theyyam—faces splashed with vermillion, orange, and red, and bodies dressed in vibrant costumes. Theyyam is a ritual dance festival popular in north Kerala where men don the guise of different gods and bring to life the many legends of the state such as those of blood-sucking yakshis (evil spirits), serpent gods, warlords, and heroes of yore. The name literally translates to ‘demi-god’, and the performers are from Dalit communities.

One fine morning in January 2020, I landed in Kannur and made my way to an over 400-year-old ancestral home named Koodali Thazhathu Veedu, on the invitation—to witness the magic of Theyyam. For the residents of Koodali, Theyyam is an annual occasion, held at the end of January—on the 14th and 15th nights of the Malayalam month of Makaram.

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