Monday, 21 April 2014

Theyyam: Incarnate Deities | Maptia

I'm very pleased that Theyyam: Incarnate Deities, one of my most colorful photo essays, is now featured on Maptia.

A beautiful way to tell stories about places, Maptia is a new platform designed for thoughtful, inspiring stories that make us want to get out there and explore the world, and each story has its own unique map.

It's different from the crop of photo/storytelling platforms that have recently appeared, inasmuch as it makes easy for people and story tellers to share long-form stories about the places that matter to them, and by creating unique, visual maps of these stories.

In an interview with WIRED some 6 months ago, Maptia's founders indicated that the platform already had a community of 10,000 bloggers, photographers, and writers.

Theyyam is a popular ritual form of worship of North Malabar in the state of Kerala (India), and is essentially a living cult with several thousand-year-old traditions, rituals and customs. 

In his book, Nine Lives, William Dalrymple wrote about the Theyyam. One of the stories, "The Dancer of Kannur", is of one of the Theyyam performers who's quoted as saying:
"...during the theyyam season, from December to February. We give up our jobs and become theyyam artists. For those months, we become gods. Though we are all Dalits (untouchables) even the most bigoted and casteist Namboodiri Brahmins worship us, and queue up to touch our feet."
The Theyyam prepares for his performance by meditating while his make up is applied, which usually takes a few hours. When it's ready and totally dry, he views himself in a hand mirror, and then enters in a sort of a trance, whereupon he walks (aided by assistants) over to the temple's shrine and gradually morphs into the shrine's deity. The Theyyam dances to the accompanying drum beat,  and goes deeper into his trance. At the appropriate time, the Theyyam is seated on a stool and devotees approach him with donations and solicit advice, which he provides in a raspy voice. I was also told that the Theyyams' advice is provided in a mixture of Sanskrit, Old Malayalam and Tamil. Both Theyyams and Kathakali performers use similar eye movements to convey emotions.