Theyyam, more commonly known as Kaliyattam in South India, is one of the most significant and elaborately performed folk dance in Kerala. As the name suggests, this is a dance performed to praise and glorify goodess Kali. The word Kali also means ‘safety’ and thus suggesting that the dance is performed in order to bring about well-being and family safety for everyone in the village. This dance form is very popular in North Kerala particularly in Kannur and Kasargod districts.
There are said to be over 350 different types of Theyyams performed in different villages in Kerala. This dance basically represents a mythological character. This dance ritual is only performed by men, and if needed they are only the ones that enact female characters with the help of costumes and makeup. This dance form heavily relies on the make up and costume design as it plays a very important role in depicting certain mythological characters.
In a manner, the costumes and make up is what defines this dance form. A lot of their costumes are made using natural things such as tender coconut leaves. The dancer is covered from top to bottom with costumes like headresses, breast plates, ornaments on the arms, garlands and a lot more. Since these costumes are some times made of natural things, they can only be used once and they have to be discarded. All this make up and designing the costumes requires a great amount of skill and craftsmanship. The face painting is done using only primary and secondary colours. This entire process takes hours of preparation and also requires professionals to execute them effectively.
This entire dance performance is split up into 3 parts. The first part is known as ‘Thottam’ which is the invocation of the goddess. This is performed at night and doesn’t require proper make-up and costume. The second part is performing certain rituals and ceremonies before the final act of the dance. The third part is the most important which involves all the make up and costume work and this is when the elaborate dance is performed. This is the part when that they believe helps in the manifestation of the goddess. This ceremony finally comes to end with the dancers throwing rice on everyone and giving them turmeric powder as a symbol of blessings.