Monday, November 12, 2012


A westerner will be bewildered if he witnesses an ottakkolam (fire ablution) performance. For us, payyanurians, it is just a part of our ordinary theyyam experience. But the fact that an ordinary man is throwing himself to burning fires not once but 101 times will be a real shock to others. If you had experienced the trauma ( I had experienced it several times and wondered whether it is a form of art or a cruel punishment imposed by society) you will surely prostrate before the artist in good earnest. The theechanmundi is usually performed in the early hours of the month of makaram (December-January). It will be very cold outside . But inside the palliara(kavu) you could not stand the heat of the meleri(fire) even at a  distance of 100 feet. The meleri is lit ceremoniously by evening using dry chembakom logs. The fire when in full ignition will reach above the tree tops and could be visible from afar. When the fire dies down ambers will remain. The ash is fanned off with mats made from green coconut leaves. Now the red hot fire will be some two metres high and is capable of turning to ash anything within a radius of 20 metres. It is to this firing inferno that the theechamundi has to jump not once but until the koyma( local chief) is satisfied. The theyyam costume is made up of coconut palms and  with aramada and a round head gear. Two ropes are weaved into the body for pulling the artist from the fire.
            The drums will start to beat loudly. The fireworks display outside will culminate in to the climax with deafening sound and intense luminosity. The theechamundi will emerge from nowhere with two aids on either side. After seeking permission from the lord, the chamundi will step into the fire. The devotees will chant a tone and time will stop for several seconds. The chamundi is on the fire which is capable of turning even an elephant into black coal in no time. But the aids will pull the artist up and alas! he has stepped  again into fire. This will continue some 25 times the theyyam circling the fire and jumping into it. After the initial round the theyyam will again go to the koyma and the dialogue will be roughly like this  “ I had fire ablutions several times But still the meleri  is incapable of reducing my chillness “. Can I have 100 more ablutions’? To this the koyma will readily agree and the act will continue until morning (Kaithaprams famous poem theechamundi is the story of one such poor artist who is burned alive in the performance on the insistence of the koyma)
            I had always the feeling that art must be something which should give the performer a satisfaction of communication with the audience. Will the artist be happy after this awful performance? I think never.
            There is one more thing - every artist long for recognition. But here the name of the artist is pronounced nowhere . He is a non entity. In the film industry, even the names of production boys are duly acknowledged. It is very strange that here the artist who have given his life to this art form is never sufficiently acknowledged.
(video courtesy : Ramas, Annur).

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