Teyyam is the Best Tool for Reconstructing the History of North Malabar

© Kamla-Raj 2008 Anthropologist, 10(4): 283-287 (2008)
M. P. Damodaran
Department of Anthropology, University of Madras, Chennai 600 005, Tamil Nadu, India
Telephone: +91 44 25368778 Ext: 329 Mobile: 9840245078
E-mail: damodaran68mp@yahoo.com
KEYWORDS Caste. Deity. Jajmani System. Performanc Reconstrution
ABSTRACT Teyyam, one of the popular folk traditions in North Malabar, Kerala is famous for its vividness and
the peoples’ passion over it. The gods and goddesses, spirits, heroes and heroines, animals and ancestors are
worshipped in the form of teyyam. Such divine powers are worshipped in ‘special kind’ of performance in sacred
centers. The devotees and believers, who worship teyyam as god, certainly include all the four varnas of the Hindus.
All the performers are akin to Scheduled Castes, the so-called ‘untouchables’. The magico-religious ritual of North
Malabar has attracted me more towards it not because of its wonderful world of fantasy but because of its references
on real life actions. Myths and legends are the backbone of teyyam. Each teyyam tells us about his-story, the
history of the North Malabar. And all these stories narrate the actions of life. For example, the story and
performances of teyyams like Chonnamma, Iepalliteyyam, Kurikkal teyyam, Kuttychathan, Maruthiyodan kurikkal,
Muchilottu bagavathi, Pottan teyyam, Palenthayikannan, Pulimaranja thondachan, Vishakandan, Vishnumurthi,
etc, express glimpses of peoples’ life and culture. Some of them point towards social discriminations, purity and
pollution, and practice of untouchability. Kathuvanur veeran and Makka pothi narrate the family life. Teyyam like
Kuttychathan, Vishnurmuhi, Muchilottubaghavathi, etc, reveal the economic pursuits of the society. So, over all,
teyyam provides a real portrait of socio-political, and economic activities of this area.
Teyyam, one of the popular folk traditions
in North Malabar of Kerala, is famous for
its vividness, and passion of people, and
it is admirable in nature. According to
Kurup, The Teyyam or Teyyattam is a
popular cult in Malabar which has
become an inseparable part of the
religion of the village folk. As a living
cult with centuries-old tradition, ritual
and custom it embraces almost all castes,
classes and divisions of Hindu community
in this region (1977: 5).
And, according to Damodaran, Teyyam is a
magico-riligious observance. It is highly
conditioned by myth (1998: 70).
Such is the nature of teyyam and its powerful
consequences. The very word teyyam brings
forth in the mind of a listener an enchanting and
beautiful picture. Nevertheless, in the case of
the people of North Malabar, the word has more
than one meaning (Damodaran, 1998, 2005). It is
an indispensable part of their religion, and they
observe it as their guide and protector. The
believers who hold its ire bear woes and its
blessing gifts for their well being.
There are male and female teyyams.
According to their nature, and myth in particular,
it is possible to classify teyyams into different
types namely, teyyams of God and Goddess,
Ancestors, Heroes and Heroines, Spirits and
Devils, and Nature or Animals (Damodaran, 1998;
Namboodiri, 1998; Pallath, 1995).
This was once the one and only important
means of worship in this area, and at present,
both the local deities, and some of the Hindu
gods are worshipped and performed as teyyam.
All taravâdu (group of families) worship one, or,
more teyyam as their family god, and perform
teyyam in natural settings, either in specially
designed sacred centres or, in houses. There is
community, as well as village sacred centres.
Some are similar in appearance, and some others
vary in size, shape and structure. Ara, palliyara,
mâdam, kalari, kazhakam, kâvu, kottil, tara etc.,
are some examples for sacred centres. In these
centres, stones or weapons are supposed to be
representing the presence of deities, which is
placed in such a manner under certain trees,
elevated platforms or, peedams. A sacred centre
may have either one sacred spot or, more than
one, in which case the main-deity would be found
at one spot, and the subordinate deities at other
spots. Likewise, each sacred centre may have
either a single deity or, a group of deities with
the chief-deity. A subordinate deity of a sacred
centre may be the chief-deity of another centre.

© Kamla-Raj 2008 Anthropologist, 10(4): 283-287 (2008)Teyyam is the Best Tool for Reconstructing the History ofNorth MalabarM. P. DamodaranDepartment of Anthropology, University of Madras, Chennai 600 005, Tamil Nadu, IndiaTelephone: +91 44 25368778 Ext: 329 Mobile: 9840245078E-mail: damodaran68mp@yahoo.comKEYWORDS Caste. Deity. Jajmani System. Performanc ReconstrutionABSTRACT Teyyam, one of the popular folk traditions in North Malabar, Kerala is famous for its vividness andthe peoples’ passion over it. The gods and goddesses, spirits, heroes and heroines, animals and ancestors areworshipped in the form of teyyam. Such divine powers are worshipped in ‘special kind’ of performance in sacredcenters. The devotees and believers, who worship teyyam as god, certainly include all the four varnas of the Hindus.All the performers are akin to Scheduled Castes, the so-called ‘untouchables’. The magico-religious ritual of NorthMalabar has attracted me more towards it not because of its wonderful world of fantasy but because of its referenceson real life actions. Myths and legends are the backbone of teyyam. Each teyyam tells us about his-story, thehistory of the North Malabar. And all these stories narrate the actions of life. For example, the story andperformances of teyyams like Chonnamma, Iepalliteyyam, Kurikkal teyyam, Kuttychathan, Maruthiyodan kurikkal,Muchilottu bagavathi, Pottan teyyam, Palenthayikannan, Pulimaranja thondachan, Vishakandan, Vishnumurthi,etc, express glimpses of peoples’ life and culture. Some of them point towards social discriminations, purity andpollution, and practice of untouchability. Kathuvanur veeran and Makka pothi narrate the family life. Teyyam likeKuttychathan, Vishnurmuhi, Muchilottubaghavathi, etc, reveal the economic pursuits of the society. So, over all,teyyam provides a real portrait of socio-political, and economic activities of this area.Teyyam, one of the popular folk traditionsin North Malabar of Kerala, is famous forits vividness, and passion of people, andit is admirable in nature. According toKurup, The Teyyam or Teyyattam is apopular cult in Malabar which hasbecome an inseparable part of thereligion of the village folk. As a livingcult with centuries-old tradition, ritualand custom it embraces almost all castes,classes and divisions of Hindu communityin this region (1977: 5).And, according to Damodaran, Teyyam is amagico-riligious observance. It is highlyconditioned by myth (1998: 70).Such is the nature of teyyam and its powerfulconsequences. The very word teyyam bringsforth in the mind of a listener an enchanting andbeautiful picture. Nevertheless, in the case ofthe people of North Malabar, the word has morethan one meaning (Damodaran, 1998, 2005). It isan indispensable part of their religion, and theyobserve it as their guide and protector. Thebelievers who hold its ire bear woes and itsblessing gifts for their well being.There are male and female teyyams.According to their nature, and myth in particular,it is possible to classify teyyams into differenttypes namely, teyyams of God and Goddess,Ancestors, Heroes and Heroines, Spirits andDevils, and Nature or Animals (Damodaran, 1998;Namboodiri, 1998; Pallath, 1995).This was once the one and only importantmeans of worship in this area, and at present,both the local deities, and some of the Hindugods are worshipped and performed as teyyam.All taravâdu (group of families) worship one, or,more teyyam as their family god, and performteyyam in natural settings, either in speciallydesigned sacred centres or, in houses. There iscommunity, as well as village sacred centres.Some are similar in appearance, and some othersvary in size, shape and structure. Ara, palliyara,mâdam, kalari, kazhakam, kâvu, kottil, tara etc.,are some examples for sacred centres. In thesecentres, stones or weapons are supposed to berepresenting the presence of deities, which isplaced in such a manner under certain trees,elevated platforms or, peedams. A sacred centremay have either one sacred spot or, more thanone, in which case the main-deity would be foundat one spot, and the subordinate deities at otherspots. Likewise, each sacred centre may haveeither a single deity or, a group of deities withthe chief-deity. A subordinate deity of a sacredcentre may be the chief-deity of another centre.

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