Theyyam is a popular ritual art of north Kerala. It is rich in culture and is essentially a dance festival. Theyyam is said to be corrupted form of the word ‘Deivam’ meaning God and ‘Aattam’ means dance. The meaning of Theyyam thus becomes ‘God’s dance’. In Theyyam people worship deity and dancer is also the deity. In this art devotees worship Mother Goddess. Though animals, serpents and trees are also worshiped by many.

Season of Theyyam continues for six months beginning from the Malayalam month of Thullam (October-November) and continues till Edavam (May-June). Most Theyyam festivals are held in the region of Valapattanam River of Kannur and Chandragiri River of Kasargod. Prominent amongst all places is the Theyyam of Malabar region in north Kerala.

Theyyam is performed by male members of particular castes only. Malayan, Pulayan, Vannan, Anjoottan, Munnutton, Velan, Chungathan, Koppalan and Mayilon are some of the castes who perform theyyam.

Theyyam dance has its roots in the ancient tribal culture of Kerala dating back to the Dravidian age. It lays great importance to worship of heroes and ancestral spirits. Theyyam sees a wonderful amalgamation of dance, mime and music. Chenda, veekku chenda, elathalam and kurumkuzhal are the musical instruments used in theyyatom.

There are about 450 known forms of “theyyams” and each has got its own myth and style of costumes, make-up, choreography and songs. Rakthachamundi, Makkappothi, Puliyoru Kannan, Pottan, Kathivanur Veeran, Muchhilottu Bhagavathi, Palothu Daivam, Vishnumurthy, Puthiya Bhagavathi, Vayanattu Kulavan, Ucchitta, Gulikan, Nagakanni, Mutiappan, Veerali, Puliyoru kali, Panchuruli, Kuttissasthav are some of the theyyams performed even now.

Influence of prominent Hindu sects of Shakteyas (followers of Mother Goddess Shakti), Vaishnavites (followers of Lord Vishnu) and Shaivites (followers of Lord Shiva) is apparent on Theyyam cult.Theyyam is supported by a vast literature of folk songs. Besides the theme of worshiping Mother Goddesses and animals, Theyyam also narrates the tales and woes of people who lost their lives in battlefield, pangs of women who committed suicide or persons killed by the local chieftains. Such people are honoured through theyyams performed in front of shrines.

Theyyam is also known as Kaliyattom at some places. Kaliyattom means ‘a sacred dance performance for goddess Kali. Some believe that Kaliyattom is sometimes called Theyyattom because every ‘thera’ or village was duly bound to perform it. There are two stages in theyyattom: Thottam, the preliminary ritual and Theyyam. Some theyyams also has another stage called Vellattom. The myth of the deity is recited by thottam, through songs accompanied by a orchestra. Theyyam is the second stage.