Theyyam Ritual Dance

Author: David Lacina, published: 21. 02. 2010. All text and photographs are protected by copyright and reproduction is prohibited without the prior consent of the author.

Resting Theyyam Performer, Theyyam Ritual Dance, IndiaAccording to a Hindu legend, the human world was created when a primeval man, Prajapati, the Lord of Beings, who existed even before the founding of the universe, was sacrificed. Four main varnas (groupings) emerged from his body: from the mouth came the Brahmans—the priests and teachers, from the arms came the Kshatriyas—the rulers and soldiers, from the thighs came the Vaisyas—merchants and traders and from the feet came the Sudras—labourers.

God In The Mirror, Theyyam Ritual Dance, IndiaBesides these four varnas, in real life divided further into thousands of castes and subcastes, there is also a fifth group of people who are considered to be outside the caste system. They are called The Untouchables, or Harijanas (meaning „People Of God“) as Mahâtmâ Gandhi called them when trying to help them gain proper social status. People of this caste are considered too impure and too polluted to rank as worthy beings. They are banned from temples and higher caste homes, made to eat and drink from separate utensils in public places, and, in extreme but not uncommon cases, are raped, burned, lynched, and gunned down.

Even though there have been several attempts to change one of the longest surviving social hierarchies on the earth, and discrimination based on caste was rejected by the Indian constitution in 1950, in reality, there has not been many changes—particularly in rural areas, where nearly three-quarters of India's people live.

Dancer With Colorful Mask, Theyyam Ritual Dance, India

Yet on one special occasion, known as Theyyam, higher castes bow in front of The Untouchable asking him for blessings and the people, who are normally considered outcastes, become literally a god for the other varnas. Finding the Theyyam celebration in the small village of Karamburi, some 15km from Kannur, was not very difficult. Everyone in the village knows the directions and besides, there are beautiful drawings on the road leading to the main attraction of the day.


This is only a small part of the whole article. It has not been published yet. Feel free to contact me in case you are interested in publishing the story.