Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Theyyam | Tewfic El-Sawy

Being stuck indoors because of a 'monstrous' snowstorm in NYC has some advantages, after all. I pulled some of my photographs made in 2009 at various Theyyam performances in the region of Kasargode in northern Kerala, picked those that appealed to me and published "Theyyam: When Men Become Gods" on Exposure .

These performances were some of the most unusual I've ever witnessed...not in terms of violence (real or manufactured) because there was none of that (except for chicken sacrifices), but because of the sudden metamorphose of essentially what are human actors into weird creatures that adopt eerie mannerisms and surreal voices. These were not trances...just a morphing into weird beings.

The term Theyyam is derived from the Malayalam “daivam”, or deity. It is a religious event practiced only in India’s North Kerala, observed by its rural inhabitants, and follows a cult consisting of several thousand-year-old traditions, rituals, and customs. Virtually all castes and classes of Hindus in the region are involved in the cult, and its adherents consider Theyyam performers as incarnations of local deities. During these performances, they are granted the power to foretell the future, to give counsel, and to resolve minor communal disputes.

The amount of care and meticulous artistry that produces the face-painting, the costumes and the building of the headdresses are nothing short of breathtaking...mostly everything is made at the location of the performances a few hours before.

Theyam performances are only held during the early months of the year, and are indigenous to the rural regions of north Malabar.