falls on the first of Medam (March-April), which is the astronomical
New Year's Day. One's good fortune during the year would
depend on his seeing some good thing on Vishu morning. The
heart of the festival is the preparation of the kani (the
lucky sight or gift). The older custom of preparing the
kani is described below. The women of the family take
a large dish made of bell-metal (uruli), arrange in it
a grantha (palm-leaf manuscript), a gold ornament, a new
cloth, some flowers from the konna tree (cassia fistula),
some coins in a silver cup, a split coconut, a cucumber, some
mangoes, and a jack-fruit. On either side of the dish are
two burning lamps with a chair facing it.
these are set in the living room of the house, family members
are taken one by one with their eyes blindfolded or closed shut.
When they are in the living room, the blindfolds are removed so
that they may view the vishu kani. The kani is
then taken from the home to the homes of the poor for their benefit.
The father (Karanavan) of the family gives gifts of money to children,
servants, and tenants. During the rule of the rajas, state
officials used to pay respects to the reigning king to wish him
a Happy New Year, to offer gifts, and receive presents from him.
The day is marked by a grand feast at home for all the members
of the family and dependents.
Teyyam or Teyyattam (cult-dance) is not a national festival popular
all over Kerala. It is found only in Malabar, but it is
an integral part of the religion of the Malabar Tiyas (Ezhavas),
and as such it deserves mention and further study; a closer study
of the different aspects of this cult can enlighten us about the
origin of the Ezhavas, of which ethnologists know very little.
means the "dance of god," as Teyyam seems to be derived from daivam
(god). It is a conscious religious rite aimed at becoming
the god or goddess for a few hours. The dancer exhibits
his achievement of the divine identity by the movements of his
body and by the wearing of the divine mask. The theory behind
this phenomenon is easy to understand. In a play an actor
assumes the role of a character and becomes that character during
the duration of the play and carries the audience with him into
his new world. We have all experienced this feeling while
watching a movie or play. Religious worship is also a play,
a divine play, in which the worshipper enters briefly the divine
is a divine dance in which the dancer transforms himself into
a god or goddess who blesses his/her faithful people who in turn
worship him/ her.
dancer wears different types of headdresses of conic and circular
shapes; the dancer also paints his face and body. The dance,
on the one hand, is the worship of the deity; but, on the other
hand, the dancer is also the deity who bestows blessings on the
faithful. As a form of worship and entertainment, the worshippers
sing songs regarding the origin of the shrine and the deity (Pattu-festival)
and perform the dance (purakkali). A large number of Teyyam-gods
and goddesses are worshipped in Malabar not only by the Tiyas
but also by the Brahmins who have now taken over the religious
cult of Teyyam by Aryanizing it. The Brahmins have their
own Teyyam, like Rakteswari, Bhagavati, and Chamundi, who have
been transformed into different Saktis or incarnations of Parvati.
The priests of Teyyam, however, are still Tiya priests.
celebrates primarily the Mother Goddess, the Bhagavati, who is
very popular in Malabar. There is probably not a single
village in Malabar without a shrine or kavu (grove) dedicated
to the Bhagavati. She is worshipped, as the Virgin Mary
of the Catholics is honored in Lourdes, Fatima, Notre Dame, Velamkanni,
and so on, in diverse forms and under different names. She is
a kuladevata (family deity) for most ruling families of
or the dance is performed to propitiate these goddesses; important
goddesses receive several hours of dance in their honor.
Some of the goddesses are Patakkatti Bhagavati — she is worshipped
as a hermaphrodite or as the ardhanari form of Shiva — Pumala,
Aryakkara Bahgavati, Kuratti, Rekta Chamundi, Kundor Chamundi,
Kollapuri Amma, Huskur Amma, Punnanur Amma, and Hosur Amnia. Many
of these village goddess (gramadevatas) are now identified
as Mahishasura-mardini of the Sakti-cult, under Brahminical influence.
The Brahmins also have introduced Vishnu-cult in Teyyam. Vishnu
is propitiated in all Teyyam cults today; Teyyattam-vishnu
is Vishnumurti or the Narasimha (man-lion) avatara (incarnation)
of the God.
celebrates not only Aryan gods, Dravidian Mother-Goddess, and
ancient Munda gods and goddesses, but also Kutti Chattan. (a primitive
god of black magic now unpopular among all Orthodox Hindus) and
heroes like Tacholi Otenan, Mandappan, Muttappan, Pumarutan, and
Pataviran. Spirits, animals, serpents, and trees also figure
in Teyyam worship. Teyyam is an important, complex cultural
institution of Malabar, which deserves careful study on the part
of historians and anthropologists.