Rare Theyyam Bronze Image of Mantradevata
Kerala, South India
height: 13.8 cm
Bronze Theyyam statues are rarely seen. They were made as offerings and kept in Theyyam temples. This example is exceptional. It combines visceral ‘folk’ bronze casting with the level of detail normally reserved for traditional, Brahminic imagery. Note the large head-dress, which is held up with a twisted rope, the stylised face, heavy and elaborate earrings, the bracelets and anklets, the traditional ritual bell held in the left hand, the pleated dhoti and the particular elongated body-shape.
Theyyam (or Teyyam) is a ritual possession-oracle dance of the Malabar Coast (north Kerala) that dates back at least a thousand years. It blends dance (Kalaripayattu), music and religious worship. Extraordinarily codified and elaborate, the ritual is a unique mixture of local indigenous customs and Brahminic influences. Nearly all the Theyyams (the name of the dancer as well as the ritual) come from the lowest castes, while the ‘attendants’ come from the Brahminic, priestly, caste.
After hours of preparation and the fastidious application of make-up and costume, the ritual dancer, upon seeing himself in a mirror, ‘becomes’ the Theyyam deity called upon (often, but not exclusively, a Theyyam goddess). The Theyyam, in a state of trance or possession, performs a highly elaborated dance, usually many hours long, culminating in the dancer becoming an oracle for the assembled devotees, answering personal questions, solving problems, and looking into the future.
The Brahmins with their social and caste superiority also patronised the Theyyam gods and goddesses, in an interesting mixing of the two cultures from either end of the caste spectrum. They even established their own shrines and
kavus (groves) for Theyyam deities where non-brahmanical rituals and customs are observed.
See Beltz (2009, p. 84) for a similar example that is now in the Museum Rietberg, Zurich.
Beltz, J., et al, Wenn Masken Tanzen: Rituelles Theater und Bronzekunst aus Sudwestindien, Museum Rietberg, 2009.
Bhuta: Masques & Objets Rituels des Espirits/Masks & Ritual Objects of the Spirits, Karnataka, Inde di Sud, Galerie le Toit du Monde/Indian Heritage, 2011.
Inventory no.: 167