Theyyam is a temple art form practiced in the northern part of Kerala. There is an opinion that Theyyam is the Dravidian ancient art which has not yet bend to the Aryanism. It is known as Kaliyaattam towards North of Pazhayangadippuzha, as Theyyam from Pazhayangadippuzha to Valapattanam and as Thirayattam to the south of Valapattanam.

Theyyam is presented as goddess’s dance. Its dance is called Theyyattam and the attire is called Theyyakkolam. It consists of different practices of; chanting of manthras, gestures, actions, penance etceteras. Although the god and goddess of Theyyam are Shiv and his angels, there are also Theyyam of Kaali, Chaamundi, Gandharva, Yakshi, Naga and heroes of the land. It is also a combination of tree worship, mother goddess worsip, evil worship and shiv-vishnu worship.


Dr. Herman Guntart said that the word Theyyam has its root in the word Daivam(God). Theyy’s aattam(dance) is Theyyaattam. It could be Theyya dance or Fire Dance(Theeyaattom) says Chelanaatt Achyuthamenon. In Tamil, Daivam is pronounced Thaivam. Theyyam is the original art form of northern Malabar. Kasargod, Kannur districts are famous for this art form. It is the dance performed by the down trodden community to please their gods. The word Theyyam is the colloquial form of Daivam. It is believed that each sect has their own theyya Koolam. The beautiful face make up, clothing made of tender
coconut leaves and flowers, Chenda, Chengila, Ilaththalam, Karum Kuzhal, Thakil likewise instruments and systematic footages gives artificial enjoyment along with spiritual faith.

Epical Story

Each Theyyam has an epical story to tell. There are also different stories based on the culture and custom of the places where it is presented. From the time of Aadi Shankaracharyar, efforts to prove that Theyyam is a part of the Brahmin culture was on. ഐതിഹ്യം Also there were efforts to prove that there was only one history behind the Theyyam which is a Brahmin in origin. The temples in Payyannoor and Perimchelloor(Thaliparambu) where the Brahmin
population is high, Theyyam received favourable ground to grow and spread.

Places where Theyyam is perfomed.

Kaavu, Kottam, Thaanum(Holy Palce), Ara, Palliara, Mundya, Kazhakam are the main places where Theyyam is performed. Initial places might have been the shades of certain trees viz. Paala, Champakam Aal, Elanji which are still the favourable places for Theyyam.The Kaavu would have evolved from worshipping of the trees. There may be stone floors in the kaavu which are the abode of goddesses. But, in some places there are also shreekoils. Some kaavu have been formed up as Temples in latter years.


Participants are from the Vannaan, Malayan, Anjooraan, Velan, Mavilan and Koppalar aka Pulayan tribes.

Clothing and decoration

Face decoration, Body decoration, other decorations are used to categorize the Theyyam participants. Rice flour mix, burnt turmeric, turmeric powder are used as colouring agents. Coconut oil and fresh water are used to mix the colours.

The make up men are called Ezhuthaalar. Thalappali and Chennimalar on the face vala, kadakam, choodakam etc. on hands, chilampu, manikkayalu, pattumpadakam on legs are mandatory. There are also Theyyam with false faces using Beetel nut tree leaves and false eyes, and having false beards. Some Theyyam fit fir torches to their clothing. The method of presentation is based on local custom. There fore each Theyyam is unique.


Crown(mudi) is the main part of Theyyam. The crown is like that of gods. It may be decorated with tender coconut leaves or with colourful cloths. The procession of putting on the crown is called ‘mudiyettuka’.

Theyyam Koodal

One day prior to the procession, percussionists reach the place where Theyyam is about to dance. Before dusk the the begin the percussion. This procession is called ‘Theyyam koodal’. By the dusk ‘uchchathottam’ begins. Then there will be ‘vellattom’. After this there is ‘kodiyilathottam’. This is the part where the ‘Kolakkaran’ accepts the ‘naakkila’ with the rice and flame. ‘Anthithottam’ after the dusk. To inform about the celebration a flag will be hoisted in red,white and black. Kaavu will be cleansed and cow dung will be applied. When a lamp is lit and kept at the stage, the background
become lively.

Make up

There are ‘aniara’ (make up room) for the Theyyam. Where there are no permanent rooms, they will erect a tent under a tree. Facial decoration and dressing up are in this make up room. Those Theyyam with small crowns will come out from the make up rooms, fully ready, but those with large crowns will wear their crown infront of the ‘palliara’. The big crowned Theyyam will bend infront of the ‘Palliyara’and accept Nakkila with rice and flame and will turn towards the North, will keep the ‘Nakkila’ and begin to sing ‘Varaviliththottam’. The remaining decorations will be put on after
this. Also, the crown will be worn. At the last the Theyyam will do the Mukuradarshanam, in which the Kolakkaraan will see him as a goddess in a morror. It inculcates a feeling in the Kolakkaran that he has been turned to be a goddess. The priest will throw rice on to the Kolakkaran. With this the Kolakkaran will begin to dance as the Theyyam. Some times a Kuruthi Tharpanam (sacrifice) is done at this moment. After this the Theyyam will look for omen using betel leaf, Betel nut, coconut etc will be thrown and he will watch the course of it for omen(sakunam), Some Theyyams will use masks and some will use ‘kalasam’ (earthen pots filled with liquor). Kalasam will be arranged one on another and this should be brought by a person belonging to the Theeya tribe. He is called ‘Kalasakkaran’ which is a name by position. The Theyyams have a method of ‘Munpu parayuka’ which is a poem recited which contains the history of each god or goddess, their works, their life etc. Some Theyyams have ‘Kulasthanam’ and ‘Keezhacharam’. In some places ‘keezhacharam’ is also called ‘Swaroopavichaaram’. Swaroopa vicharam is important for ‘Vairarajan’ and ‘Kshethrapaalan’,

Goddesses in Teyyam

Theyyam was begun with an intention to please the natural phenomenon which were worshipped as goddesses and gods. Worship to the dead ones, Worship to mother, worship to the heroes are the common Theyyams. Also the revengeful reaction of the lower cast towards the upper cast who suppress them also could be seen in Theyyams. The Vishnu aaraadhan and shiv aaradhana seen in some places are due to the Brahmins trying to over power the Theyyam. In connection with the mother worship, the durga worship is also due to Brahmin intervention.