Pudhiaramban Theyyam – Udinur, Kannur district, Kerala, India

Theyyam refers to “GOD” and it’s a kind of worship where man take the guise of God, placate the God through possessed dancing and people seek blessing from the Gods. It’s very popular in North Kerala and Thulu region as well.

Theyyam  is a way of reciting stories of the Gods and spirits from Kerala. It’s based on the belief that immortal spirits enter into mortal bodies to perform ritual dance in front of the shrines. There are over 350 Theyyams still showcasing their expertises  in northern Kerala and Pudhiaramban is one of them. Pudhiaramban Theyyam is the name derived from a tribal warrior.

Theyyam has wild classifications in which each Theyyam is very unique and performed in remote villages of Kannur, Kasargod districts in odd hours. It is considered to be a thousand years old ritual and people from hilly regions have a cult of Theyyam.

When I had heard about this festival few years back, I started planning for the past two years to document this festival.
I made myself free this month end and booked the tickets to  Kannur.

This ritual occurs once in a year at Udhinur Bhagavati Temple, Kannur district, Kerala and performance starts from midnight night and it gets over by early morning. .It is just like one street play where they recite stories. Theyyam depicts ancient tribal life by performing their various exquisite dance forms. There are excellent artists who have been practicing for long so that they can participate in this ritual dance performance.

Most of them are from tribal background. The participants are chosen by local shrines and gurus. Here is no specific school for training Theyyam and so people learn from their corresponding ancestors Since most of the performances takes place in tribal areas of Kerala; orange, red and yellow are the most prominent colors used in the show. Since gold and diamond are costly, they use paper made ornaments to wear and so it’s easy for them to dance as well.

After a tedious journey encompassing 15 hours, our train halted at Kannur and my friend from Thrissur welcomed us. Since we did not have enough time to refresh, we decided to put our bag in old bus stand cloak room. We rushed to hit Kadachira by bus to witness one Theyyam till noon.  The weather was not all pleasing because of the humid climate. As we planned to stay at Payyanur, we boarded the bus after a short lunch. A short nap helped us to boost our energy since it was a 45 km journey to reach there.

After inquiring for lodge, our auto driver dropped us at a right place with a cheap ride. I was astonished to see how local auto drivers were treating people from other states. I never imagined the amount of  discipline they were following! Kudos to Malayalis for keeping things in  such structured ways!

We had thought of sleeping in the lodge but time was running out. We hogged South Indian food in Bombay Hotel to suit up our energy since we were heading to Udinur to document the  night Theyyam which lasted till next morning. After boarding the bus towards Kasargod  we were welcomed by a lady conductor with good gesture in night hours that indicated  woman empowerment in Kerala!

Isn’t it great to see this kind of scenario?

We were dropped at a sombre looking bus stop after a 45 minutes’bumpy bus ride and we walked down towards the temple for a while.

Another person from Udinur was introduced as a photographer and it turned into great meet up. Once supper was done at his house, we rushed to the temple to document the backstage of “Pudhiaramban Theyyam” and the event was followed by possessed dancing near Parakara.

I had no idea what was to be captured, how it was to be captured due to the crowd,  and a whole lot of other things were messed up as well.


Preparations leading to the event.
The Transformation.


It was very frighteningly full, fast and crazy which lead to some unpredictable situations and I was not able to make things ready. Some lads were sitting on the compound wall to witness the entire show and some were blocking the pavement to take photographs through mobile.

I felt like we were being harassed by cell phone photographers since they were not following basic ethics. A group of men were carrying choot( bundle of dried leaves with fire on the edge) and hitting the ground on every step which created more sparks.

Meanwhile Pudhiaramban was spurting on parallel to the flame from one end to another and it lasted more than half hour.  I believe that it was the first time for me to witness such kind of rituals since its very unique and old. Seriously it was worth to experience such rituals though we were being roasted in fire like tandoori!.

The clock chimed twice and announced 2 am and we were all set to reach our lodge after a tiresome shoot.

hope you enjoy the photographs. Leave a comment for me.

Painting Faces: One of the primary rituals of Theyyam


The Making of the Spectacle.


Touch of the Ornaments.


Wearing the garb of the God.


Theyyam : The Final Look



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Srivatsan Sankaran

Travel PhotoBlogger at Srivatsaa Photography
Traveller at heart, he is a photographer who undertakes photography projects on travel, wedding and products.
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Srivatsan Sankaran

Traveller at heart, he is a photographer who undertakes photography projects on travel, wedding and products.

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