The people of Azhinjillam wondered, when they saw the Thirayattam, the ritual dance usually performed in ‘kaavu’, was taken place in front of Thali Temple. There were 33 ‘thirakkolam’ (deities) , dressed up with ceremonial facial paint and loud clothing, but, not in the midst of strident musical instruments like Chenda (Big drums), Ilathalam (cymbals), Thudi (Small drums), Kombu (pipe) and Kurum kuzhal (flute). But they just stood there to face the camera shoot for a documentary and a book by Moorkkanad Peethambaran.
Thirayattam is a ritual dance performed in “Kaavu”(small place of worship) and temples of the Malabar region in Kerala. This art form is performed by the artists of Perumannan (mannan) community. This art is performed during Utsavam (annual temple festival). Clan deities such as Bhagavathi, Shiva, are worshipped in these forms.
It is similar to the Theyyam dance performed in the same region, except that in Theyyam the performer is considered as the god he is representing, while in Thira the performer is considered as to be possessed by god himself. Traditionally the Perumannan community has the inherent right to perform this magnificent art form in Kaavu and temples.
The popular male Kolams (deities) are Karumakan, Kariyathan, Thalachilon, Mundiyan, Peerilan, Khandakarnan, Vettakkoru Makan, Veerabadhran, Kirathan etc. Female deities include Bagavathy, Badhrakaali, Ittikurumbi, Raktheswari, Rakthachamundi, Pulichamundi, Nagakaali, Oodakaali, Neelabhattari etc.
Thira brings the gods to life. Performers dress up with ceremonial facial paint and loud clothing and dance in front of the deity, the bhagavathi. The objective clearly is to bring a sense of awe to the proceedings. Each performer represents a particular deity and is sponsored by devotees as a prayer offering. These dancers are viewed as being possessed by the gods when they are in their act, with devotees queuing up to meet them to share woes and wishes.
“Thirayattam is one of the oldest art forms of Kerala. But never got a good recognition, yet. This is a bitter fact”. Moorkkanad Peethambaran, who belongs to the community, expresses his feelings.
”No book, nothing regarding Thirayattam. No academy or study centre for this art. Thirayattam originated in the kavu of Kozhikkodu in Samootiri’s ruling time. Even though, can not see the name of this art in the official web site of Kozhikkodu”. an emotional Peethambaran says.
He has been trying to uplift this art form by starting a website, named thirayattam.com. As lacking the clarity of the collected photos of Thirayattam from the festivals, he fixed this photo shoot at his own cost.
There are two main variants in Thirayattam, the “Vellatt” and “ Thira”, that depicts the infancy and teenage years of the Moorthy. The Vellatt is enacted in the day time with minimum costumes and little fanfare. It is believed that it got the name Vellatt, since the costumes used are usually white. Another belief, it got the name since it is enacted in the daytime after the dark night. Thira is the deity dance performance at nighttime, illuminated by torches made of clusters of dried coconut fronds.
Based on a myth, the Perumannan community has the inherent right to perform the Thirayattam ritual in the kaavu and temples. The myth goes on, this community was created from the right thigh of Lord Maha Vishnu, on request by Lord Shiva to take care of the laundry activities that were involved with his young wife Sree Parvathy attaining pubertal maturity. Hence Thirayattam is considered a divine ritual that purifies the body and mind.
As Peethambaran hails from such a family, he has had 43 years of association with ‘Thirayattam’ in different roles, different temples. He started to assist his father, Moorkkanattu Velayudhan when he was 10 years of old. Yes, Thirayattam is his inherited profession, passion above all life to him. He has decided to dedicate his rest of life for this art, to purify the mind of all as God’s representative.
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