Kerala’s art culture is abundant with numerous art forms. These art forms can be classified under various heads based on their origin and way of presentation. Theyyam is one such traditional art form that is performed in the temples in Northern Kerala. Theyyam, as an art form, is centuries old and is usually performed by artists from particular communities in Northern Kerala. The performance is associated with the temple rituals and customs. As costumes and makeup play a significant role in Theyyam, its making is a time-consuming process that needs skilled craftsmen. This is where the artisans of the village of Payyanur in the Kannur district come into the limelight. They are known for their Theyyam Koppu (ornaments and headgears used in a Theyyam performance).
The artisans of Payyanur have been engaged in the art of making Theyyam Koppu for ages. The ancient craft has been passed on from one generation to the next. The most integral part of Theyyam is the headgear known as “Mudi”. After hours of makeup and preparations, a Theyyam performance begins when the performer wears the Mudi (headgear). Some performers wear headgear that is 20 feet high. The headgears are peculiar for their detailing, finishing, and size.
The headgear for Theyyam is made from the wood of Kumizh, areca nut palm and bamboo that are relatively lightweight. The base made from the wood is painted and decorated with silk clothes, glitters, and adornments made of silver or bronze, tender leaves of coconut, areca nut spathe, peacock feathers, etc. The ornaments worn on the chest, hip, and hands and legs are the other pieces included in Theyyam Koppu. These are also made from wood and decorated with various materials. Theyyam performers also wear a face mask, artificial ears, and eyes, which are made using wood, bronze, or areca nut spathe.
Each piece of ornament used in Theyyam is manually made by the artisans, who put in a lot of time and effort. This painstaking effort leads to products that lend authenticity to the performance and help keep the tradition alive. The artisans of Payyanur are among the many artisans from different corners of Kerala who retain their traditional art and help keep Kerala’s heritage alive.