Kozhikode town itself has many temples, the most important of which are the Tali Temple, the Tiruvannur temple, Azhakodi temple, Varakkal temple, Bilathikulam temple amd Bhairagimadom temple. Some of these temples contain sculptures and paintings of very high artistic merit. During temple festivals and important social functions, entertainments like Koothu, Kathakali, Ottanthullal and Kaikottikali are performed. Ritual dances such as Mudiyettu, Theeyaattu, Thidambu Nrittham, Thira and Theyyam are also conducted as part of the religious fairs and festivals.
These performances portray the richness and vibrancy of folk art forms which have been conducted in the rural areas as religious rituals associated with temple fairs and functions. These local performing arts have been preserved by being handed down from one generation to the next. Earlier they used to be performed only in the villages. With increasing awareness on their significance by travelers, researchers, art lovers and the public, nowadays they are being brought under the limelight as stage shows conducted in the metros with the help of govt agencies as well as private sponsorships.
These ritual folk dances such as theyyam, thira, theeyattu, mudiyettu etc are supported by a vast literature of folk songs based on ancient epics extolling the heroic deeds of men and women of courage and valour. The term ‘theyyam’ (deivam) or ‘theyyaattam’ means the dance of god.
The ‘Thira’ or ‘thirayaattam’ performance is conducted on a masonry stage called ‘thara’ and it is likely that the initial term ‘tharayaattam’ changed to ‘thirayaattam in course of time. There are innumerable modified versions of theyyams being practised in Kerala. These colourful and artistic displays of costumes, resonating music and vibrant dance patterns offer some fascinating moments and would be a novel experience to visitors who travel to this part of the state.
The person who plays and personifies the deity is generally called ‘kolam’. The term ‘kolam’ means figure or shape or make-up in the local language. In some parts of Kerala, the custom of Kolam dance is widely prevalent as a form of worship of the ‘bhoothas’ or spirits who, it is believed, reside in their allocated positions within the precincts of the temples.
The Velan, Mavilan, Vettuvan, Pulayan, Vannaan, Malayan and Koppalan communities traditionally perform the theyyams and are noted authorities of the dance form. ‘Vellaattam’ or ‘velan aattam’ denotes the introductory performance of the deity in the evening without ceremonial make-up and dress.
Theyyattams, which were once performed by tribals in memory of their deceased ancestors, remain good examples of the spirit worship done by the tribal folk. The player prays for the appearance of the particular deity. The prayer or murmuring is called ‘orayal’. He chants a few lines and requests for the presence of the deity, which is called ‘varavili’. Each theyyam has its own separate varavili or praising and invoking the deity. Upon conclusion of the prayer, the player begins the dance of rhythm ending with its several attractive ‘kalaasams’.
At the end of the performance the devotees donate coins to the shrine. Finally the musical instruments are played once again and the devotees throw rice towards the theyyam and he casts off the crown in front of the shrine.
One of the favourite pastimes of the Muslims of Malabar area is the singing of Mappillapattu by the males and Oppana sung by the females on the eve of the wedding. The hand clapping, foot tapping music is set in a slow rhythm in the initial stages, gradually increasing its speed towards the finale. These songs are sung in a distinctive tune and cover a wide range of themes from romance to patriotism.
Three main Jalotsavams or water fiestas are held every year as part of the Onam festival celebrations in Malabar. They are conducted by the sports clubs at Korappuzha, Moorad and Pongilodippara.
Thidambu Nrittham (dance with the replica of the deity) is a ritual dance performed in the temples of north Malabar. This is one among the many rich art traditions of north Malabar. North Malabar is renowned for its deep rooted culture and tradition and is home to several religious and ritual art forms including the famous and popular Theyyam. Thidambu Nrittham is one such ritual art form.
Thidambu nrittham, as the name conveys, is an elegant dance carrying the decorated image of the deity referred to as ‘thidambu’ on the head.This art form is commonly performed by the ‘namboodhiris’ or upper caste Hindus. Thidambu nrittham is staged both inside and outside the temple.
Ten persons are needed for staging this dance. The dance is performed with the decorated deity of the Devi carried on the head. Foot work is most important and this is executed to the rhythms of the drums.
The dancer wears a striking costume - a skirt of pleated cloth, a silk vest, earrings, bangles, necklaces and a decorated turban called ‘ushnipeetam’. The performance unfolds in various stages like ‘urayal’ie invoking the deity, ‘thakiladi adantha’, ‘chembada’, ‘pamchan’ etc. The dancer is usually accompanied by a group of artistes, five of whom play the percussions and two hold aloft the lamps.
This ritual art form is believed to be over 600–700 years old and follows the principles of dance laid down in Natyasasthra, the ancient treatise on performing arts compiled by Sage Bharatha in the second century B.C.
The origin of Thitambu Nrittham cannot be easily traced. Tulu brahmins who had migrated to the north Malabar during Kolathiri reign might have introduced this dance from Karnataka where a form of ‘nritham’ called "Darsana Bali" was in vogue. Replicas are made of bamboo with which a beautiful frame with intricate designs is created. The priestly dancer, clad in the traditional style after performing the usual rituals, comes out of the sanctorum, and standing under the flag, holds aloft the replica weighing about 10 kg on his head and starts the divine dance.
Thidambu Nrittham begins with ‘Kotti Urayikkal’, drumming in different rhythmic patterns, which coaxes both the performer and the viewer alike. The performer adjusts his footwork in tune with the rhythm, holding the ‘thidambu’ on his head, the scene creating a holy atmosphere. This unique ritual art form has undergone modifications over the years, although its basic concepts have been retained. These changes have lent novelty and variety to the art.
There is no scope for emotional expressions in this art. An exception is the famous ‘Kootippiriyal’ ritual (parting of lord Krishna and Balarama) in connection with the festival at Trichambaram temple. The occasion is very touching, with thousands watching with tearful joy, Krishna and Balarama playing about wildly until the former runs after the milkman carrying milk, and the latter returns to his dwelling some distance away.
There is a legend woven round the Thitambu nrittham of Thrichambaram. There was once an ardent devotee of lord Krishna - a namboothiri. He visited the temple everyday, seeking Krishna's blessings. Time flew. He grew old and weak, and he could no more walk up to the temple half a kilometer away. Inwardly crushed at his physical incapacity, he prayed : "Krishna, my dear, I cannot come to you; forgive me". Legend has it that, that very night, lord Krishna ran up to him with his brother Balarama and danced along what is called ‘Pookkottu nada’ just in front of the priest’s house. The wonder and delight of the man can well be imagined.
The famous festival at Trichambaram which goes on from 22nd Kumbham to 6th Meenam (middle March) is in celebration of that event. During the festival, the chief priests of Trichambaram and Mazhoor (Balarama's temple) hold aloft the replicas of the two deities and dance to the scintillating rhythm of percussion instruments.