Professor to exorcise small pox at Mahatma Gandhi University

Theyyam begins with a set of rituals to transfer divine power from an object placed in deity's shrine into the dancer's body.

KOTTAYAM: An academic, in modern parlance, exudes scientific temper. But academics are also given to digressions that keep themselves rooted in culture. Dr Rajesh Komath, 37, assistant professor at the School of Social Sciences at Mahatma Gandhi University, is going to be a ‘Theyyam’ on the premises of the School of Letters on Tuesday, trying to ward off small pox. He will stage the folk art form on ‘Vasoorimala’ and it is a first in the university. Dr Rajesh belongs to the ‘Perumalaya’ caste that traditionally conducts ‘Theyyam,’ in which the local heroes of the bygone era appear as gods, including ‘Kuttichathan,’ ‘Vishnumoorthy’ and ‘Chamundy,’ forming the Dravidian pattern of worship. Its peak season in northern Malabar is from October to March and Dr Rajesh used to take leave for performing it.

In ‘Theyyam,’ the human transcends to the state of God and dances in trance as the artist experiences a dual life of man and God. This state is approved by the villagers of northern Malabar. “The gods are not the Brahminical ones found in Hindu mythology, but modelled on the Dravidian pattern” Dr Rajesh told DC. The Dalit community members who perform the ritual experience a metamorphosis into a God and are reverted to their previous existence when it is completed. Dr Rajesh learned the primary lessons of the art form from his father Swaminathan while he was five and began performing the ‘Kutti Theyyam’ from that age.

The ritual has crossed the cultural boundary of northern Malabar and has been recognised in central Travancore. Last year, it was conducted in two temples of Kottayam. Dr Rajesh says that the temple authorities seek his performance during the festival season. ‘Theyyam’ is a cultural rebellion against the caste prejudices and discriminations and an expression of the anger of the Dalit community against the upper castes. Dr Rajesh said that Dalits experience a kind of purgation and a sense of superiority by performing it before the upper caste audiences as they were subjugated for a long period. In northern Malabar, the upper caste people invite Dalits to conduct ‘Theyyams’ in their houses fearing divine wrath.

The Malaya Samudhaya Sangham, Kannur, has protested against its shows outside ‘Kavus’ and temples without rituals in jathas and other functions. “It is wrong to do it without rituals since there is a godly element in the ritual,” Dr Rajesh added. Dr Rajesh did a doctorate on the ‘political economy of Theyyam,’ an auto ethnographic account derived from his own experience of performing it for more than 30 years. “There are no cultural barriers for staging it which will increase the aesthetic sensibility of the public of the region,” he said.
Dr Rajesh said he has passed the normal levels of consciousness and reached a stage called ‘Tureeyam.’ “I my childhood, I used to accompany my father and mother singing and playing the ‘thudi’ and driving off evil spirits from houses,” Dr Rajesh recollected.

The ‘Theyyam’ festival begins with a set of rituals to transfer divine power from an object placed in the deity’s shrine into the dancer’s body. Accompanying these stages (puja, tuttanal, tottam and vellattam) are the pre-composed songs (tottam pattu) that explain the character, history, places and events of a deity or the ancestors’ life to establish a historical context for devotees and to prepare the dancer mentally for the transformation he has to undergo. In the climactic phase, the singing ceases and rigorous dancing steps begin to the accompaniment of drums (chenda), cymbals (ilathalam), and double-reed instruments (kuzhal). These facilitate the deity or ancestral spirit to become incarnated in a costumed and well-embellished dancer.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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