This was coupled at times with the somewhat condescending attitude charac- teristic of other writings of the enlightened colonial elite. An example is his description of a Teyyam dancer after his performance, although he does not morally condemn the ceremonies he describes p. The comment is far from innocuous. This weirdness is attached, in his eyes, not only to the aspect of the divine figures he sees but also more generally to the conduct of the people following irrational religious practices.
As late as , V. There is no art or anything of cultural value in this cult appealing to the modern mind.
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The practices adopted in this cultus are hideous, monstrous, demonic and frightful when compared to the Bhakti cult of popular religion. Fear dominates in this cult and there is no place for love or personal devotion. Psychologically it does more harm than good to the worshippers. The ignorant and the poor are made by this cult to keep themselves in their blindness. This is dehumanization and fla- grant exploitation of human personality. These subhuman practices stunted the growth of personality to have any philosophical outlook. Morality and ethics which are the highest values in religion are not to be found in any of these cults.
Thus these animistic primitive cults act as a break to the forward movement of culture or civilization or religion which become static and stagnant. One, for instance, comes from a Mr. It is a most significant and noteworthy fact that even at this distance of time, even in this budding 20th century, in an age of triumphant intellectual and scientific advance unparallelled in the history of the human race, many things which have been burned to ashes under the all-embracing fire of modern science and thought are still piously retained by the vast major- ity of hindus.
The sacred temple is literally transformed into a slaughter-house.
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Can any man conceive a more horrible and degrading way of worshipping the supreme Father of the Universe? While a Christian influence can be detected in these last words, the overall perspective is informed by ideas about modernity found everywhere at this time. But there is also a regional dimen- sion, as the author implicitly relies on the longstanding Brahmanical aversion to animal sacrifice, which had found historical expression in various Indian religious movements, and was also emphasized in the reformist agenda of socio-religious and caste organizations from the early nineteenth century.
From the s, various caste organizations were founded in Kerala. Damodaran, a source quoted by William, was probably a member of this elite. He wrote in Matrbhumi Weekly of 15 March quoted in William , pp. In English this can be called Devil Dance. The rowdyisms, inhuman and barbarous behaviours and immoral actions that are in and near the Kavus [shrines] and which are prevalent at the time of these festivals are innumerable and beyond description. When we understand that animal sacrifices, immorality and drunkenness are indispensable elements in this cult, this should not be suffered to continue even for a moment.
That he was misled in this particular conclusion is another matter. The fact remains that Teyyam, like other cults using animal sacrifice and alcohol, was the tar- get not only of Christian evangelists but of Hindu reformers as well as new urban elites, including elites from communities practising these cults.
The most important among these reformers, for this chapter, was Sri Narayana Guru — But in spite of the universalist tone of his phi- losophy, and of the general respect which he commanded even in far-away circles he was well known to people like Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi and Romain Rolland , his activity was in fact restricted to uplifting the specific, local community into which he was born, the toddy-tappers.
Toddy-tappers — Izhavas or Tiyyas — were at the time below the untouchabil- ity line, and were divided into many status groups. The role of Sri Narayana Guru was decisive in this shift in public estimation.
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The suppression of animal sacrifice and the cult of deified human beings, such as Teyyam, were among the many reforms he advocated. Suppression was more radically, though never totally, enforced in the south of the State than the north, where Teyyam is practised, but the reform movement was also influential there.
Since the local toddy-tappers, the Tiyyas, were and still are central to the practice of Teyyam, one of the aims of the movement was reform of such cults. Prayer societies were also developed. For missionaries, what was at stake was conversion to the only rational and universal faith, Christianity. For Hindu socio-religious reformers, what was involved was the elaboration of purified forms of Hinduism, thought to correspond to universal values of the time although their language was one of return to the origins.
Members of the new local elite, on the other hand, while genuinely partaking of the ideals of religious reform, had their own, more immediate agenda, and saw universal progress with reference to a localized socio-political arena. What was at stake was the progress of their own community, and ultimately their own position as an elite. Unlike a number of similar rituals in the southern regions of Travancore and Cochin, which disappeared or were conveniently euphemised, Teyyam cults, well entrenched in complex networks of rural power, were able to resist reformist campaigns and adapt at the same time to changing socio-economic conditions.
What is more, from the s onwards, Teyyam began progressively to undergo a complete redefinition in the public eye to the point that their spectacular figures have nowadays become emblematic of Kerala culture in tourist publications —Teyyam photographs make good cover pictures. Let us look at the reasons behind this dramatic change, the seeds of which are to be found in new sensibilities developed at the same period when denun- ciations were at their peak.
Between the s and s, three different kinds of people — Western artists, Indian nationalists and Kerala Communists — all with their respective global attitudes, contributed in different ways and for dif- ferent reasons to these changes in sensibility, leading ultimately to a radical reconsideration of Teyyam and similar rituals. Marxists in Action The specific development of the Communist party in Kerala enabled it to command mass support and eventually, led by its general secretary, the late E. Namboodiripad, it came to power in in the first general elections in the newly formed state of Kerala, following the reorganization of Indian States on a linguistic basis.
Since then, Marxists in coalition with other parties have regularly headed the state government, alternating with Congress-led coalitions. In the s the party was still at a formative stage around a small group of militants, but a new leftist sensibility was rapidly growing in the intel- lectual milieu of Kerala, especially among writers who favoured social engagement and who were to have a far-reaching influence in Kerala beyond Marxist sympathisers. Young writers like Takazhi, Kesava Dev and others were well acquainted with European and Russian literature and personally committed to a kind of social realism.
They were concerned to portray the downtrodden, the destitute, thus creating new heroes who could never have found a place in earlier Malayalam literature. Short stories and novels from this new literature were widely read in a region where literacy was already comparatively high. On the other hand, it was possible to see the stories of past heroes which were at the centre of many Teyyams as epics of resistance against such an exploitative order, and Teyyam costumes, music, songs and dance as the expression of the creativity of the masses.
World War II gave local Marxists the occasion to test some practical consequences of these views. As a consequence, its imprisoned leaders came out of jail and the party was temporarily able to operate freely. Its mil- itants turned towards popular rituals and theatres as media of communication and propaganda in order to reach the widest possible audience.
As Dilip Menon writes Menon —7 : Folk arts were harnessed in the cause of anti-Japanese and anti-hoarding propaganda and the ottan thullal, poorakkali, kolkali, teyyattam [various Kerala rituals], all of these found patronage. In the aftermath of the depression, many of the less prosperous tharavadus [aristocratic houses of comparatively high-status castes, like the Nayars] had stopped spon- soring the teyyattam and other shrine performances. The leadership of the KCP [Kerala Communist Party], coming as they did from branches of the larger tharavadus, were in their element as patrons of the rural arts.
Later in this decade, victims of police action would be lauded as heroes and martyrs, and many individuals incorporated within the teyyattam tra- dition of victims of injustice. Nowadays, instances of politicised Teyyam are still found, although they are certainly not the rule. There is an explicit attempt to strip the ritual of its efficacy by demonstrating that it can be performed outside the temple in a non-consecrated space without priests or offerings.
But the dilemma for Marxists is that liberation should not create unemployment. In their scenario for the future of teyyam its existence will be ensured within an emerging wage labour system. Money will replace birthright, privilege and obligation. Teyyam will no longer function solely as offering but will take another cultural path […]. The stage will dominate over the shrine.
These perspectives, testifying to the complex imbrications between village gods and the proletarian cause a supremely global project , probably could be seen as later developments in Marxist local thinking about Teyyam. In the s, Party workers in Malabar had a more immediately instrumental approach. As a matter of fact, many subsequent Kerala folk- lorists, who have undertaken the patient collection and publication of Teyyam songs or the promotion of Teyyam at large, have been Marxist sympathisers. Folklorists in Action In Western countries, too, decisive changes in aesthetics had taken place since the end of World War I.
As such, local in origin as they were, they became endowed with a strongly affirmed universalist quality, inasmuch as a Western urban elite was able to appropriate them according to its own views. This was to have an important legacy, to which we will return at the end of this chapter. This period correlatively saw a revival in rural cultural studies in Western countries, leading to the organization of international folk dance festivals throughout Europe Vienna , London , Stockholm A young Indian ethnologist studying in Oxford, M. It was also to have direct consequences specifically for Teyyam.
As far as I am aware, Raghavan was the very first to publish in English a eulogistic report about it in his booklet on Folk Plays and Dances in Kerala , paving the way for the arrival of many folklorists. His account p. It is a living art enlivened by appropriate music, the resplendent costume, the make-up and open air carnivals. A page further, his state of mind is still more explicit p. The resplendent costumes and gorgeous colours harmoniously and artistically blended are a feature of the impersonation in North Malabar temples creating a rich pageant which stands supreme among the ritual art of South India, a pageant which is equalled, if not surpassed, only by the splendour of the Kathakali, which it so closely resembles.
Every line and every symbol bespeaks tradition and a profound sense of design and method. The student of folk art and culture has much indeed to interest him in those displays and to ignore them or to dismiss them as of no moment is alto- gether to miss what really is a most alluring factor in the cultural, reli- gious and social life of Kerala, a factor too which acts in some degree as a unifying force amid the diversities of Kerala society for the association between these annual festivals and the community is both sacred and intimate.
Instead of a being a mere particularizing force, folk culture becomes here a bond across parochialisms. The development throughout India of a similar sen- sibility led after independence to the multiplication of folklore studies and the valorisation of rural arts as unifying factors.
This was taken up by nationalist actors who extended its significance beyond the local community. Building the Nation One of the most significant events in the development of politico-cultural pageants in India in the s was probably the introduction of folk dances to the official celebrations of Republic Day in New Delhi. From onwards, nearly every year, folk dances from different parts of India were included in the parade together with shows of military power, technological advancement and economic achievements. Moreover, in , a Folk Dance Festival was instituted. As Prime Minister Nehru put it cited in Vidyarthi 81 : The idea of several hundred folk dancers from different parts of India coming to Delhi brings home to them and to all of us the richness of our cultural heritage and the unifying bond which holds it together.
Nehru, emphasizing the common obligation to build the nation, thus addressed a group of Gond dancers in cited in Ashley —70 : I have seen your folk dances […] and I have found them quite enchant- ing.
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They are not bad. The account and analysis by Ashley ff of a Republic Day parade held much later, in , underlines how such celebrations combined symbols and emblems which instilled a sense of pride in Indian nationhood, diverse but united and therefore strong. As Ashley explains Ashley —6 : Moreover, as government officials, dance critics, and theatre practition- ers elevated the cultural forms of specific groups, especially tribals adi- vasis , to national status, and linked them to a pre-existing primordial national identity, the state increasingly dominated their everyday lives, encroached upon their lands, and rationalized their cultural practices.
Ten years after Delhi, the Kerala government organized similar shows. Typically, the National Festival and Tourist Week includes street parades in the main cities, combining folk dances with decorated floats on various themes, and many Folk Arts Festivals in different venues in the main cities. The first involvement of Teyyam in such public celebrations seems to have been in , when a group of dancers participated in the Republic Day extravaganza in Delhi.
They may have participated in the Kerala State sponsored Onam festival sometime before this latter date. In any case, by they were already so much part of the picture that half the photos in the programme distributed for the Tourist Week Celebration were of Teyyams.
Similar photos were already illustrating the cover of a Folk Arts Directory published by Kerala Sangeet Natak Akademi in , as well as the inside cover and first page of an official Public Relations Department publication about Dances of Kerala issued in This was definitely cultural respectability and recognition, and it has not ceased since. We may note in passing an iteration of the iconic use of Teyyam at different territorial and cultural levels.
Within North Malabar, festivals may gather Teyyams from different lineages, villages or castes, for which they act as their respective representatives. At the level of Kerala state, Teyyam can be an iconic marker of a restricted regional identity i. North Malabar. For instance, Teyyams were used during a political demonstration in , when delegations from different districts congregated in the streets of the capital, each one with a spectacular attraction: Teyyam was the one signalling the northern delegations.
At the national level, in a Delhi parade or festival, the presence of Teyyam dancers represented the Kerala contribution to Indian culture as a whole. In these shifts from village cult to regional or national heritage, and to theatrical performance abroad, drastic changes are operated by these mediators, not only in scale but in the very nature and meaning of what is performed: the power of a particular deity is no more the issue, while traditions of artistry are extolled at the cost of a complete reconfiguration of the practice itself.
This becomes apparent in the aims and role of the actors responsible for bringing Teyyam to public appreciation and enabling its circulation in the international market. What did they have in mind? Scholars in Action M. Adiyodi also in Malayalam. But it was not until the end of the s that studies on Teyyam, both in Malayalam and in English, enjoyed a spectacular boom. Chanthera was probably the first to publish a full-length study of Teyyam in , in Malayalam, which included detailed first-hand observa- tions and a collection of Teyyam songs.
It was followed by a short paper by anthropologist Joan Mencher in English and by papers and books by historian K. Kurup English, Hindi and Malayalam in the early s. All three authors might be said to have had Marxist sympathies. Vishnu Namputiri, the main authority on Teyyam today in Kerala, and the anthropological research and publications of Ashley and J. In this process, as we have already seen, Teyyam was an icon for various imagined communities.
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Kurup, of Kozhikode Calicut University, is one example of a scholar actively promoting knowledge of Teyyam. He wrote two books in English , that were circulated in folkloric and anthropological cir- cles and made Teyyam known to non-Malayalam-speaking audiences in India and abroad. Soon Kurup became the man to meet for foreigners interested in the study of Teyyam together with A. Nambiar, from the Drama School of the same University.
Kurup also publicised Teyyam through a govern- ment-sponsored booklet in English , in which he makes clear his reasons for promoting it, referring to both Marxist analysis and regionalist discourse pp. The dance of Velan had taken new forms and developed into the present-day cult of Teyyam over a period of 1, years. This uninter- rupted continuity of the Sangam tradition makes Teyyam a prominent religious system of north Kerala. These sections belong to the Scheduled Castes and Tribes. They are the sole custodians of Teyyam art and dance. In that way it is the art of the depressed castes. Naturally they belong to poor economic background.
As the artists belong to this particular social class, he [sic] commanded no status and position. The rigid social system of a caste-oriented society did not encourage the all-round growth of personality of the artist. Teyyam, potentially a classical art of ancient Tamil culture, with a universal appeal, was thus nipped in the bud because of the local social system pp. Further, as the artists belonged to the depressed communities the status of the art form was belittled by a caste-ridden society.
The classical arts like Kathakali had borrowed sev- eral aspects from Teyyam. There is a close resemblance between the Teyyam art and the Kathakali in make-up, costume, dance and musical instrument. In this perspective, his cultural mediation is to be understood in connection with a complex work of the imagination, involving, for instance, ideas about progress that call not only for a better appreciation of the artistic heritage of Kerala, but also for the betterment of the socio-economic condition of the performers themselves.
It is dying and in a moribund state. The existing society would spend Rs 10, for a festival, but Rs 10 only for an artist. The social changes and the modernity had adversely affected the art and cult. However, as an art form it is to be preserved and encouraged. As a permanent official and teacher at the Teyyam Institute of Kodakkat which Ashley helped to establish , this performer has encouraged Teyyam studies by foreign students.
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Locally, there have been negative perceptions about all these developments, however, which have provoked social tensions. As he said Ashley —7 : I wanted [Teyyam] to be expanded outside of the temple.
By opening an institute other castes can come and learn and it will be performed on a public stage. I want it to be appreciated on a mass scale. We want people to understand how difficult teyyam is to perform — and thus realize that we are not being paid enough. Meeting the International Public We may discern movement in two directions. In one direction foreigners come to the villages, in the other the villagers go abroad. This can be seen as another discourse on the negative effects of globalization.
Love and Marriage, Globally. Anthropology of this Century , 4 2 , [Article]. New Perspectives on Turkey 46 , pp. Cultural Dynamics , 23 1 , pp. Preview Donner, Henrike and Chari, Sharad. Ethnography and Activism: A Critical Introduction. Cultural Dynamics , 22 2 , pp. Dialectical Anthropology , 33 3 , pp. Modern Asian Studies , 40 2 , pp. Medical Anthropology , 22 4 , pp. South Asia Research , 22 1 , pp. Gender and Urbanisation in a Calcutta Neighbourhood. Journal of the Anthropological Survey of India , 46 1 , pp.
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