Watch Demons and Deities Face Off at the Theyyam Festival in Kerala | Nat Geo Traveller India

Watch Demons and Deities Face Off at the Theyyam Festival in Kerala

The festival will take place in Kasargod from Dec 28-Jan 1.  
One of the many theyyam gods is Muchilottu Bhagvathy, who is said to be so fierce that her eyes unleash fire. The Theyyam performer wears eye masks of silver with the tiniest pinhole to see through. Photo: Aliyeh Rizvi

Every December, as the year draws to a close, the otherwise sleepy village of Kanathoor in northern Kerala comes alive. Faces are painted, spirits invoked, and costumes as heavy as armour are donned for theyyams: ritual temple performances that blend dance, storytelling, and theatre, turning mortal men into fierce demons and goddesses. Catch a performance at the Kanathoor Nalvar Bhoothasthanam from Wed Dec 28, 2016 to Sun Jan 1, 2017.

Theyyam, a tradition as old as the gods themselves, originated in this part of Kerala but is now performed across the state. Shows are traditionally held in temple courtyards after dark, lit by oil lamps, and often continue until well after midnight. (Read a first-hand account here.) It is said that performers go into a trance and emerge as forest spirits, mythical heroes, and gods who leap through fire and roll on burning coal.

In Kanathoor, performances are spread over five days at the Kanathoor Nalvar temple, which is organising the festival. Locals mostly attend, but all are welcome. The village has bare facilities, so it’s best to stay in the seaside town of Kasargod, 21km/35min away. State buses ply on this route, but the signage is in Malayalam so it maybe may be more convenient to hire a taxi from the hotel.

While in Kasargod, let nature work its magic. Walk along coconut groves on the pristine Valiyaparamba beach in Bekal, visit the distinct pillar-like rock formations at St. Mary’s Island, and wander through the sprawling Bekal Fort. More trip ideas and stay options in our guide to Kasargod.

The Guide

Where Kanathoor Nalvar Bhoothasthanam will take place at the Kanathoor Nalvar temple in the village of Kanathoor, about 20km/35min from the seaside town of Kasargod in Kerala. (On Google Maps, look up Kanathur.)

When From Dec 28, 2016-Jan 1, 2017.

Hours December 28, 6-9p.m.; December 29, 6-9p.m.; December 30, 8a.m.-12p.m.; December 31, 9a.m.-11p.m.; January 1, 9a.m.-11p.m. Confirm timings with the temple closer to the date.

Getting There Mangalore in Karnataka, is the closest airport (60 km) to Kasargod; there are daily flights from Bengaluru and Mumbai. Hire a taxi from the airport to Kasargod. The railway station of Kasargod is connected to most major Indian metros.

Entry Free.

Details Contact the Kanathoor Nalvar temple (04994-252064) or Kasargod’s Tourism Department (04994-230416).

  • Fabiola Monteiro was formerly a member of National Geographic Traveller India's digital team. Since then, her words have featured in The Hindu, Mint Lounge, Roads & Kingdoms, The Goya Journal, and Condé Nast Traveller India. She tweets as @thefabmonteiro and is on Instagram @fabiolamonteiro.

Psst. Want a weekly dose of travel inspiration in your inbox?