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AI-1.0 Interview with A.K. Nambiar, School of Drama, Thrissur
AI-1.1 Please explain the social relevance of the myths
behind the different Theyyams. Are they in the form
of different protests by the down-trodden?
Different Theyyams represent different staycs of worship
by man. There had been animal worship, snake worship, hero
worship, goddess in ancient times. The changes that occurred
in the forms of worship, helped in the evolution of this ritual performing art. Many Theyyams like 'Pottan', 'Makkappothi',
'Muchilott Bhagavathy' etc. are in the form of protests. Some
of them like 'Raktachamundi', 'Pallott Devi' etc. have relation
with 'Kali' worship with local variations.
AI-1.2 How is the training in Theyyam received by the
performer? Is it formal or traditional?
Generally, there is no formal training in Theyyam, as
that in other ritual performing arts. The Theyyam-artiste
learns it through observation and imitation while accompanying . the elders during the performances. But in some Theyyams,
special steps like that in 'Kalari ' are learned formally. Before the performance, strict 'Vritha' from 3 to 41 days
should be observed by the performer. The period of 'Vritha'
depends upon the nature of Theyyams. The Theyyam-artistes
usually belong to certain sections of the low castes dike
'Pulaya', 'Malaya' 'Vannan', 'Paraya', 'Urali' etc.
AI-1-3 How is the belief of the performer in hem', what is
the difference with the actor in a Theatre?
Usually in Theyyams, only believers are the performers.
Even if he is a non-believer, when he actually performs
Theyyarn, he will have that aspect of belief in him. Theyyarn is
a ritual art, and if the element of belief is not there, it
will degrade in to a farce.
In theatre, the belief of the actor is self-confidence
(Stanislavski). Here it is make-belief, making the audience
believe that he is the character.
The self-confidence in Theyyam-artisteis acquired through his
belief in God or religion. It is social as well as
psychological. He has to suspend hisown self atleast for the
time of performance and wear a robe of belief.
During performance, they go into trance, some are
pretending that they are in trance. It is a trance related with
religious belief*- (-not as in the actor in a theatre).
Even a performer who enacts a secular Theyyam will have
the element of belief. There is no Theyyam, which are not
connected with religions or beliefs.
AI-1.4 Can we connect some Thevvams to the Theatre or cruelty
The intensity and the fierceness of performance along
with the high spectacular aspects of Theyyam can be connected
with Theatre of cruelty. In 'Pottan- Theyyam', 'Ottakkolan
Theyyam', 'Ummattikkuliyan Theyyam', there are the elements of
'Manthravada'. There is the fierce performance of 'Uchabali;
inf lictuon of self -suf f ering .by cutting the hands and pouring
blood, which is very well akin to theatre of cruelty , It must be remembered here that Artaud derived his ideas of the
Theatre of cruelty from the Balinese theatre.
A1-1.5 How much time is needed for preparation before
Usually about four hours are needed for the preparation
and eight to twelve hours for the performance. (With 'the
costumes already ready). Theyyam have connection with the
timings (Eg. Karimkuttichathan is performed in the early hours
of the morning, Vishnwnoorthi during day time, Theechamundi is
during night). In this respect, theatre does not observe this.
AI-1.6 What about the audience? Their belief? Their
participation? etc. Do they communicate with the
The audience in Theyyam are usually believers. But there
are people who regard Theyyam completly as a visual art .- But traditionally the audience are believers and they come for
participation. When Theyyam was performed, fomerly the audience
had their own separate positions. But now that division has
The audience are always communicating with the
performers from the beginning to the endwvocal communication is
also there between the performer and the audience.
A1-1-7 What is your opinion about taking Theyyam out side the
traditional performing spaces like 'Kavu' or 'temple'
etc? In this case is it moving towards theatre?
When a ritual is taken outside its traditional
performing spaces, it will have its own limitations as a ritual
There are justifications for taking Theyyams outside.
One is, to draw the attention of the outside world to such a
rich performing art. We have taken this is to Russia, Germany
and France. But what we did there was to create an artificial
ritual atmosphere there for a complete communication of
Theyyam. In the festival of India, Theyyam was presented over
the side of Sen river. I made use of the nature's
background, the steps towards the river, for the presentation
which was much appreciated.
When we take the art outside, the art as well as the
artists are known outside. ,. We highlighted the spectacular
aspects there .- We brought out the limitations of the proscenium there.
It is true that in highlighting the spectacular aspects
of Theyyam, the believing aspect as well as the ritual aspect
are lessened. And it moves more towards . theatre than . ritual. But that is the need of the day.
AI-1-8 What about the costumes and deep colours used in
Theyvam? How is it related with Theatre?
The deep colours used in Theyyams express the eternal
f bhavas' of the goddesses. Deepred colour is used in Thnyy_am
which is connected with blood. The design of the costume, as a
whole, expresses the fierceness haudrabhav;) of the art.
Colours would be mixed, usually 'Chayilyam' is used. In
'Muchilott Bhagavathi', a minute design is given on the face.
The peculiarities of the goddesses are expressed through these
portrayals. There would be different Theyyam belonging to the
same category, There will have different portrayal.
The 'Mudi' of Theyyams vary from one feet to 30 feet
This is to establish 'bhavas' that are unworldly . . The ivludi' of 'Muchilott-Bhagavati and Vishnumoorthy is very small.
AI-1-9 Music - The musical instruments like 'Chenda', 'Elathalam',
'Cheenikkuzhal', 'Kurumkuzhal', 'Cheriya maddalam' are used,
These instruments have connection with tribal culture. But we
cannot say that Theyyam is a refinement of tribal arts. In both
we can see goddesses of agriculture. There are Tribal Theyvams.
AI-1-10 Theatrical elements in T h e g y a w .
Some of the Theyyams are rich in Theatrical elements,
like 'Muchilott- Bhaqhavati', 'Makkapothy' 'Daivathar' . . The actions are so mo delled so as to communicate the rituals more
There are comic characters as in 'Mudiyettu' or
'Padayani. , Kuttitheyyams and 'Bhootha theyyam' as '~oolies 'in < 4
Mudiyettu . The dialogues of Boothas are full of comic elements. They are full of fun as well as thought. But we
cannot take this as a general rule in Theyyams.
AI-1.11 Ritual props used.
'~eedom'is an essential object in The~~ams, some of the important
scenes in Theyyams are performed sitting on the 'peedom: In r Karimkuttichathan, a dance performance is given standing on the
peedom'. This is called 'Peedakalasam'. Some rituals are
conducted towards 'Peedom' . This will b e done at the begi$,ing 'as well as at the and of the performance.
The Theyyam may listen to the complaints of the people
sitting on the'peedom'or standing.
The use of 'Yavanika' is very rare in Theyyams. In
certain T,heyyam~, just before the performance, '~avaniki may be
held. There it has got a theatrical function.
(As in 'Padayani., the darkness is also acting as
'~avanika' here. Just before the coming of Theyyam 'Vadyamelal
will be there.)
Usually songs are sung by the 'Thottakaran'. In certain
Thevvams, Theyyam also sings.
AI-1.12 How are the movements of Theyyam? Are the steps varied?
Are they taking liberty during performance?
Each Theyyam - has itsown movement pattern. These
patterns have their own variations -. These fixed patterns are
not at all broken by the performers usually. They may vary the
rhythm but not the basic patterns. The variations are directed
by thervaddyakar: or the Theyyam itself direct the rhythm. Here
he takes liberty.
The performer, moves in a fixed score generally. There
is limited possibility for improvisations. No new steps are
introduced, they are confined within the traditional steps
(Here there is no rehearsal, as in the theatre . In theatre there is no fixed - scores ) . The performer is supposed not to break the score or rituals in Thevy