Day 2: Theyyam @ Sree Udayapuram Temple, Paravanthatta

We had enquired our host for the night to guide us to any nearby waterfalls, so that we could take a bath and start our day from there. We heard about Kanayi kanam waterfall. We started for the waterfalls in the morning. The sun was rising and the folks in the village were getting ready for their work when we left Madakkal.

Sunrise as seen from the road from Madakkal island.

We had to spend some time trying to find the location of Kanayi Kanam waterfalls. It looked like it was out of nowhere. It is just about a 100 meters from the road but well hidden under the trees and there was a direction board in Malayalam which we didn’t notice. Kanayi Kanam is a small stream with a waterfall. It would have been really beautiful if the stream wass full on its capacity. There was less water in the waterfalls, but still the place was amazing. We noticed a lot of small fishes in the water and we were able to see through the floor of the stream which means the water is clean to an extent. We took a bath there and went back to Payannur to meet a friend.

Road to Kanayi Kanam waterfall

We had a great breakfast at my friend’s place. We had “Nool Puttu/Idiyappam”, Appam, Pazham porichathu and Banana chips. My friend was kind enough to pack us a packet of Kerala chips for our trip and also showed us the places around Kannur.

One of our main highlights in our trip was watching Theyyam. I had never heard of Theyyam before researching for this trip. Theyyam is a colorful ritual performed in the temples of North Kerala. So to watch Theyyam, one has to be in North Kerala during the months of December to February and know the festival dates of local temples. My friend had enquired about the temples locally and took us to a nearby temple where Theyyam was performed.

Theyyam @ Sree Udayapuram Temple, Paravanthatta

Sree Udayapuram Temple, Paravanthatta was a small temple with very few people. This helped us, because we were able to watch Theyyam very closely. The performance was amazing. Especially with colorful paints all over their face, the eyes became more expressive. I felt like the color over the face made all the face muscles disappear and the expression in the performers eyes stand out.

A scene from Theyyam Performance

When we entered the temple complex we first witnessed the Vishnumoorthy Theyyam. The Vishnumoorthy Theyyam performer had a bow and a set of arrows in one hand and a sword in another. He was seated in a wooden chair and devotees had lined up for blessings and individual advices. One by one the petitions were presented. To each Vishnumoorthy offered a reassuring advice. As we waited, the queue diminished slowly and the drums struck up again.

As the tempo rose, the attendants handed the performer a coconut which he threw down with such force that it exploded. Then he was handed a chicken and I was able to see what is coming next. I have seen similar things in my village too. For some reason all the killings happen as the final leg of the trance.

The chicken was flapping its wings not knowing what is coming next. Seconds later the head of the chicken was thrown away. Then, as the drums reached a climax, the performer placed the severed neck of the chicken in his mouth, drinking the blood for couple of seconds and threw away the carcass. Then the performer raised his hands and the attendants started removing his headgear and once its done, the performer went to his makeshift dressing room.

Meanwhile in the nearby shrine, Chamundi theyyam was happening. Its a female deity. The performer had red face, black eyes and metal breasts. Theyyam performer is considered as God himself when he is performing. There was an old lady crying to the performer about her troubles and the performer comforting her with his words. During Theyyam one can see the God in the flesh and you can speak to him and ask him about your worries. People believe very strongly that in a theyyam the god speaks to them directly. That is why people will travel a long way to see a performance, and once there will patiently queue to have a word with the god. These are scenes which one can find in any small temples in villages across India. Probably that’s how Indian society survived mental problems. When you feel depressed you can go and cry to God himself.

After consoling, the performer gets into the trance state and with the traditional drums playing in the background, he holds a hen in his hand. As he moves around he plucks the feathers of the hen and throws it in air. He gets some rice from the priest and feeds the hen and then the priest cuts the hens head. The performer enacts drinking the fresh blood from it and throws the hen away. I see the reaction in my friends face. It was disgust. Later I asked him how did you feel about the situation and he showed his disgust. I put him one question. The chicken you enjoy for food, “How do you think its killed?”. No answer from him.

One funny thing which happened during the performance is everyone around were given rice and when the performer entered the trance state it was thrown at him. But I thought it was prasadam and ate it. Free food.

After spending some time in the temple we went to Madayipara. Madayipara is a flat stretch of land with the flora dried up due to the season. The dried up flora is beautiful in a way. The whole scene looks like a yellow carpet laid over a huge stretch of land. My friend explained to me how this place will look during the monsoon season. It was kind of unbelievable. The whole yellow color carpet becomes green in a season and violet/blue in another season. It would be an amazing site to visit this place again during monsoon.

Madayipara

Our next destination was the Vayalapara park. It is a beautifully constructed park on top of the Vayalapara lake. This is one example of how Kerala has tapped tourism to its best. We took a boat ride in the lake and spotted jellyfish, cranes and a couple of different fishes and birds too. The boats were also well designed to accommodate a pretty huge gang and was fit with speakers.

A mangroove in the Vayalapara lake.

One sign that you are in Kerala is one can spot Che Guevara everywhere all around you. Being a communist myself and a huge fan of Che I was so excited to spot communist party offices everywhere and Che graffiti all over the place. All over the trip I had stopped in multiple places to take pics with these flags and graffiti. During other trips I have noticed how the political scene of the place changes drastically. For example, last time I visited Uttar Pradesh there were BJP flags everywhere and when one enters Jharkhand, one would see the bow and arrow everywhere. And in Kerala it was Che and red everywhere. This is one place on Earth where communism is still celebrated.

Communism in Kerala

Our next stop was the Sri Rajarajeswara Temple in Taliparamba. This is an ancient temple built with laterite stones. So it has a different texture compared to other temples of the Deccan. Laterite is a material easily available on the western coast and one can see structures built with it from Gokarna to Kannur. The temple is a shiva temple with a very beautiful temple pond, an elephant and a broken gopura. The temple is well maintained but the temple tower is in ruins. When we went to the temple, it was closed with very few people around. We spend time walking around the temple.

Sri Rajarajeswara Temple, Taliparamba

One sad thing, I noticed in the temple is the board which blocks non Hindus to not enter the temple. I have noticed such a board once before in a Kanchipuram temple. Felt like its a pattern in caste Hindu temples. When low caste temples where Theyyam is performed welcomes everyone, high caste temples have these kinds of boards.

The temple pond again was built with laterite and the water was green with lilies floating in them making the sight more beautiful. I had seen these kinds of ponds in a lot of Malayalam movies and I for some reason had a huge liking for these kinds of ponds.

Temple pond.

After visiting the temple, we had lunch at a restaurant. This place was luxurious for our trip and had all kinds of middle eastern dishes. After a heavy lunch, when we moved the car away from the parking lot, we hit a pole in the ground and punctured our car. The tyre was torn with all the air out and it felt like we can’t fix the tyre and have to get a new one. With the help of some people sitting around, we changed the spare tyre and started moving to Kannur. But we had to spend a lot of time fixing the tyres since our tools were not good. That’s something I have to fix before the next trip.

Our plan was to watch the sunset in some beach near Kannur and stay in Kannur for the night. But the light had already started fading away. We found a homestay which had rooms available for the night and followed Google Maps to the location just to find that the homestay is nowhere. Then we had to contact the homestay and get help to navigate to the place. The roads were very narrow and it was stressful to drive to reach the place.

After reaching the homestay, we decided to go next to the nearby Payyambalam Beach. We wanted to reach here for sunset, but due to the car accident we were not able to reach here for sunset. We took a stroll on the beach and found an event on the beach.

We stopped at the festival and some folk dances were being performed there. There were multiple performances before us and when we reached there a group had come to sing the Nadan Pattu. Nadan Pattu literally means folk songs in English. I enjoyed the songs and dance. The performers were so into the act. Watching them in that state was giving more happiness. The girl performing in the group was a beauty and her moves were graceful. She didn’t have any makeup and was dressed up like a very normal girl in any town. But there was something about which attracted me.

When they were performing on the stage there were kids dancing around the stage. This made me wonder, when was the last time I had seen a live performance of any art I have enjoyed. We are so into digital music or videos where someone has enacted or sung a song and that is nowhere close to the live performance on a beach.

So that was the end of day 2 of our trip. Watching Theyyam and listening to the folk songs of Kannur lightened the day even after the unexpected accident which made me spend more unexpected money. Tomorrow I have to buy a new tyre before going forward with the trip. We had a small discussion around if we should go North to watch the once in a 700 year Theyyam performed in some temple near Kasargod or continue south.

This post is part of a series of posts. Do check the whole series here.

Book Recommendation

To read more about Theyyam, do read Nine Lives by William Dalrymple.

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