Kerala has a rich tradition of artist rituals associated
with worship of Devi (GodMother) in the form of Bhadrakali. This may be traced to the region's strong Dravidian and Tribal cultural roots. Remarkable similarity of these rituals to those of African and South American Tribal rituals of Sorcery and Black Magic is perhaps not accidental. Recent findings in Anthropology point towards a common heritage of all human races.
All these rituals are performed in places of worship called "Kavu" (roughly translated as grove) or small temples. Besides general welfare of the village, these rituals aim at warding off of such calamities like Small Pox and other epidemic diseases, by the benevolence of the goddess. This belief is stemmed in the story of Bhadrakali defeating and killing Darikasura, whose associates terrorised the entire universe by spreading terrible contagious diseases.
Theeyattu is one of such performing arts, popular in the central part of Kerala. Like most others of similar lines, Theeyattu also is accompanied by a number of mandatory rituals, some of them artistic and others purely ritualistic, often associated with Bhadrakali worship.
Kalamezhuthu & Pattu
The word Kalamezhuthu may be roughly translated as Powder Drawing. This is a magnificent form drawing performed by drawing large figures using coloured powders. No tools like brush are used for the purpose. The powder is spread on the floor in the desired pattern with bare hands, letting it in a thin stream between the thumb and the index finger. These large pictures are drawn on the floor of the temple hall or specially prepared pandal (pavilion) rendered sacred by purifying rituals and decorated elegantly with tender leaves and colourful flowers. The picture (called Kalam) is drawn according to stringent guidelines in respect of pattern, details and dimensions.
The powders are made out of naturally available material. The are of five colours, representing the five elements (Water, Air, Sky, Fire and Earth) called Panchabhootas, which constitute everything created. These materials are Rice (white), Charcoal of husk (black), Turmeric (yellow), a mixture of lime and turmeric (red) and green leaves of certain trees. The process of Kalamezhuthu starts at noon on the day when Theeyattu is to be performed during the night. The ritual starts with singing songs in praise of Ganapathi, Saraswathi, Guru (celestial preceptor) and other gods. The singing is accompanied by drums and gongs.
The figure drawn is that of goddess Bhadrakali, in the fierce mood after killing Darikasura. She is portrayed with eight hands, each bearing a different weapon (like sword, spear, discus, pestle, bow etc..), except two. One of these holds aloft the severed head of Darikasura by the hair. The other hand holds a platter to collect the blood dripping from the severed head.
When the drawing is completed, lighted oil lamps are placed in strategic positions to further brighten the colours.
(Percussion concert at dusk). All the percussion instruments used in the performance join in a concert at sunset. This is a ritual announcing to those staying around that a performance is due that night. This had a particular significance in the old days when modern publicity methods were not available.
This is a ritual in vogue almost in every temple as part of the festivities. The idol designated for the purpose will be taken out in a procession around the temple. It will be preceded by girls bearing decorated platters and percussion concert.
Songs in praise of the goddess are sung near the Kalam. In this she will be narrated from head to foot and vice versa, with the accompaniment of designated percussion instruments.
This is a mandatory ritual performed before Theeyattu to appease the demonic spirits (Bhootha) who assisted the goddess in her ordeal. This is a tantrik ritual resembling a sacrifice.
The performance part of the art is done by a single actor called Theeyattunni. He enters the venue, lighted by a huge oil lamp, with the make up of goddess Bhadrakali, minus the headgear. He chants several hymns invoking the benevolence of various gods for the success of the performance and welfare of the audience. He wears the huge headgear in front of the audience. From that moment onwards he represents the goddess. The performance is presented as if Bhadrakali is reporting the incidents leading to the killing of Darikasura to her father, Lord Siva, represented here by the lighted lamp.
The performance develops through several chants, dances of thandava style, gestures and gesticulations. The gestures are rarely in strict accordance with Hastha Mudras of classical dance. The script, prose or verse, of the goddess is rendered by the actor, whereas all others are rendered by one of the accompanists.
The act is concluded by the enacting of the killing of Darikasura, representing the destruction of evil.