Karkkitaka Theyyams have Arrived!

The month of Karkkitakam (1) has come. In North Malabar, the rhythmic sound of drums (2) can be heard. Theyyams (3) have come. Legend says theyyams visit all houses to expel all terrible diseases.

With the beginning of the month of Karkkitakam, Karkkitaka Theyyams have started visiting homes in North Malabar. Behind all theyyams there are many stories believed and popularised. These stories can be seen clearly in the thottam songs (4) associated with the Theyyams. Karkkitaka Theyyams also fill up in such stories. It is believed that these theyyams save people from terrible diseases in the month of Karkkitakam when such diseases become prominent.

These theyyams are related to the story of Arjuna in the Mahabharata. Arjuna started observing great penance in the deep forest to obtain the Pasupata Arrow from Siva. Great Penance. Even the nature became stand still. At last Siva decided to test the skill of Arjuna. Taking Parvati along for help he proceeded to the earth.

Arjuna woke up from the penance by hearing the sounds emanating from his surroundings. He saw a boar rushing at him. He stopped his vows. He took his bow and arrow and aimed an arrow at the boar. Looking at it, Arjuna saw a hunter taking aim with his bow and arrow. A huntress is also with him. Then a dispute about who shot the arrow first. Both Arjuna and the hunter stood their ground. At last they challenged each other for a fight. Meanwhile, the dead boar disappeared. As Arjuna looked on, the hunter and the huntress transformed into Siva and Parvati. Arjuna who realized that he was being tested bowed to them. Siva, pleased with him, gifted the Pasupata Arrow to Arjun.

It is believed that Siva as Ativeta, Parvati as Marutha and Arjuna as Gulinca visit all houses in the month of Karkkitakam to expel all terrible diseases. Karkkitaka theyyams are different from other theyyams. All castes have their own kazhakams (5) and theyyams. But the karkkitaka theyyams do not have such a distinction.

During other times, when devotees go to the theyyams, in the month of karkkitakam, theyyams go to the devotees. The karkkitaka theyyams are performed by Malayas, Vannans and Kopplars.

When Ativeta reaches a house, the drums are played to announce his arrival. Then permission is sought to perform the theyyam. The theyyam is performed only if the permission is given. The drum is played by one. Another sings the thottam. While the vetan performs on the front side of the house, shaking his anklets and bangles, the women of the house light a lamp and offer gurusi (6). Paddy and coins are offered to the theyyam.

Accepting the offerings, the vetan blesses the house for progress. Afterwards, the vetan and company move on to the next house.

Translation (by A. Purushothaman) of an article on Karkkitaka theyyam by Venugopal Chunnamkulam in the Desabhimani daily, dated July 26, 2004.
(1) karkkitakam - Malayalam month ( approximately from July 15 to August 15 ). This is the season of torrential rain in Kerala
(2) drum - chenda
(3) theyyam - an elaborate ritualistic performance, during which he performer becomes a deity
(4) thottam songs - feelings, epiphany
(5) kazhakam - performance place
(6) gurusi - water coloured crimson used in rituals (prepared by mixing lime and turmeric)