Theyyam, the ritual is very close to my heart and I have been chasing these events for more than 15 years now. [For those who doesn't know, there are 100 of different characters/costumes and may be a 100+ events per year. Some happens yearly and some happens once in many years.] Its difficult to say why I do this and someone whom I met, a performer asked me why I am there & I told him, Perhaps I like these remains of our ancient past where our lives were simple as finding a meal, feeding the children and protecting them from fire, wild animals etc. There were no time for elaborate organized religions and we celebrated a simple man who ventured into the forests and hunted, another man who tried to convert the forest land into a farmland and met his fate in the form of snakes or fire. The women and men became myths and came back visiting the living and blessing them.
The following is set is from a "Kandanar Kelan" Theyyam ritual event which are normally called as "Kaliyattam". Since my objective was never to get the best shot of the performer in fire or something like that but to feel, I ended up standing with the performers, stayed in the make up room during the "chamayam", watched them get ready, warm up to beat the awaiting fire pit and run into it.
In the following photograph, the performer runs through the fire pit - its very hot, obviously and I had to pull the gloves of my t-shirt & after a while lick my fingers to withstand the temperature.
The performer aka "Koladhari" now transformed into "Kelan" the ancestor who had met his fate in a wild fire & resurrected by Gods to become "Kandanar Kelan", the one who has returned and seen the almighty !
The little story behind this Theyyam is very fascinating. Its about a man trying to convert a small patch of forest into agriculture land. He clears the forest and encounters snakes which bites him. As he was meeting his fate, the fire had gotten out of control and engulfed, him and the snakes. Later the God on a hunt passed by and saw this man, named Kelan lying dead and the 2 snakes which had bitten him were also burned and nearly engraved on his chest. The God resurrects him & blesses him. This man returns with the snake marks engraved on his chest & becomes famous as "Kandanar Kelan", the one who has seen the God.
Fire in the eyes.
The last photograph below is a close portrait, lighted up only by the fire pit. He ran through the fire, every time they mostly run into the awaiting helpers and often hitting me in the process. I was clinging the camera with all the strength to avoid it falling down as the helpers were holding the performer and also sprinkling water.
The fire from the pit had went out of control and it had spread to the coconut tree and few of its leaves were also on fire by this time.
The photograph below perhaps summaries everything with the fire pit reflecting in the eyes of the Theyyam & his face lighted by the fire pit and a bit by the burning tree.
I walked to the side, stood there for a while. Talked to people and returned & yes, I will be back soon.