Theyyam is one of the most outstanding folk arts of Kerala and has its origin in the northern parts of the state.Theyyam or Theyyattam is a popular Hindu ritual of worship in North Kerala state.
Thirra is a ritual dance of north Kerala, south India, performed in Bhagavati temples. Thirra is performed primarily in the adjoining areas of Kannur and Kasaragod districts. This art form is performed by the artists of Peruvannan (Vannan) community. It has some similarity with Theyyam. It will be done at the time of Utsavam (Annual temple festival). Clan deities such as Bhagavathi, Vishnu, Shiva are worshipped in these forms.
Theyyam is an artistic dance form where metaphysical thoughts and expressions of immortal souls are impersonated to a believer through a mortal body. Theyyam originated from "Kaliyattam" once practiced by the tribal community of north Kerala. Theyyam had grown to the present form through many transformations since it’s origin. Landlords and chieftains of those days are the main forces behind many of such transformations. The community and its body began to use this art to propagate the major theme of social enforcement. The artists are also encouraged by the authorities to introduce new themes into its traditional layers and classified different acts and expressions to match specific needs for their desire. The character representations were very broad. They range from mild to wild in representations. Theyyam is a sect in which old heroes are sanctified and worshipped as the guardians of villages and homes. Yet, it includes a complex universe centered on the belief that a man can—after suitable mental, physical and spiritual preliminaries—don the costume of a particular deity and then become that deity. In this elevated state he assumes superhuman and divine powers—speaking, moving, blessing and even healing as a god or goddess. What is crucial is that the person is not possessed by the spirit of the deity.
Muchilot Bhagavathy is one of the most popular local deities worshiped in North Kerala. There is a practice of supplying food to the thousands of devotees in connection with the Muchilot Bhagavathy Theyyam festival. The highly decorative figure of Muchilot Bhagavathy is very attractive in a very aesthetic way. Most famous among the performances is the one being held annually at Muchilottu Kavu in Korom Village near Payyanur City. In Cherukunnu and Kannapuram, Muchilot Bhagavathy Theyyam is performed every year. But in several other Kavus the Muchilot Bhagavathy Temple, the Theyyam is performed with gaps of 12 or more years, like the one at Kayyur [near Nileshwar] in January 2008 was performed after a gap of 47 years. Ramanthali [near Payyannur] also came into the fore in January 2008 as a result of the Muchilot Bhagavathy Perumkaliyattam. Perumkaliyattam at Muyyam near Taliparamba was a great experience to the devotees in December 2007. In January 2009, Perumkaliyattam will be celebrated in Korom Muchilot Kavu, near Payyannur and Vengara Muchilot Kavu near Payangadi. In Muchilot, the Perumkaliyattams feast was arranged in memory of the marriage of Muchilot Amma. Elaborate arrangements are made by the natives for the grand celebrations.
An inevitable constituent in a majority of the Kaliyattams is the performance of the Vishnumoorthi Theyyam. And its performance includes complicated rites and rituals. The peculiar drum-beats can be heard up to a distance of 2 km from where the performance of the Vishnumoorthi Theyyam takes place. The enactment involving the Narasimha Avatara of Lord Vishnu by the Koladhari especially thrills the devotees and the spectators as a result of the body movements involved in it.
A Nambiar Tharavadu named Kadangot at Kunhimangalam near Payyannur, is famous as the seat of Kadangot Makkam Theyyam. Every year in the month of February, the Kadangot Makkam Theyyam Festival in Kunghimangalam attracts large numbers of devotees from different parts of Kerala and Karnataka. The Malayalam dates of Kumbam 10 and 11 are fixed as the days for the performance of Kadangot Makkam Theyyam. This Theyyam is also performed at the Chala Puthiya Veedu in Kannur. The Kadangot Makkam Bhagavathy is the Kula Para Devi of Kadangot Tharavadu, a royal and feudal Nambiar Family who were landlords in the Payyannur area. Kodakkal Koroth Tharavadu members played a major role in the recorded history of Payyanur and the neighbouring places for the last three centuries. This Tharavadu is also associated with the myth of the origin of the Kadangot Makkam Theyyam.
Also known as Sasthappan, Kuttichathan Theyyam attracts thousands of devotees. At Pallor Koroth Tharavadu, several Kuttichathan Theyyams come together to give blessings to devotees. In 2008 around 40 Kuttichathan Theyyams were performed in the presence of several people. In 2009, 47 Kuttichathan Theyyams were performed at the Koroth Tharavadu in Pallur. Here, a revolutionary step with regard to traditions was taken for the first time by the Tharavadu authorities, when they prohibited liquor within the premises of the temple.