Theodore Kaye

Greater China & Central Asia


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Theyyam” (a rendering of the Sanskrit word for “God”) is a North Kerala rite or art form that dates back thousands of years. There are over 400 Gods — Hindu and animist – in the Theyyam pantheon. Theyyam performers don’t just portray the Gods; they actually become them, via spirit possession. The performers all come from the lowest castes – waiters, butchers, laborers and such – yet, every winter and spring, they are transformed into vehicles for deities ‘visiting’ this world. The often weeks-long rites are sponsored by local top-tier brahmins, who reverently submit to the commands of the visiting Gods, often interlarded with screeds against caste injustice. Such a power-shift is nothing short of revolutionary in this historically caste-ridden corner of Kerala, where “untouchability” still prevails.

Photo feature shot for Rhythms Monthly in April, 2010.

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