Used to appease and honour Hindu gods or goddesses or even ancestors who have attained a place in folklore, the performer assumes the form of one of those gods, blessing the community with prosperity and harmony. Every year, during the season of Kaliyattam, from December to April, theyyam performances take place in numerous temples in Kannur and Kasargod.
Theyyam performers usually comprise members of the Vannan, Malayan, Mavilan, Velan, Munnoottan, Anjunnoottan, Pulayar, Kopalar and other communities. The art form involves music, mime and dance. There are more than 400 different types of theyyam, each with its own elements. The most well-known of these are Gulikan, Pottan, Wayanadu Kulaven, Raktha Chamundi, Kari Chamundi, Muchilottu Bhagavathi etc. Some types of theyyam have fire in their hair, such as Theechamundi. Each theyyam will have a different facial makeup, outfit or accessories such as hoods, headdresses, face paintings, breastplates, bracelets, garlands and fabrics, all individually and painstakingly made.
The performance begins on a slow note, and in due course, the theyyam is supposedly possessed by the spirit of the deity. The theyyam showers rice grains as a symbol of blessings on onlookers. Over the years, theyyam has caught the imagination of visitors to the state, many of them returning to watch the various theyyam in all their fiery glory over the years.