Of spice forests and theyyam

New Years Eve in small-town Kerala

Text and visuals: Prachi Karnawat


In December 2016, two of my work friends and I took a spontaneous decision that had us welcoming the new year in a quaint town of northern Kerala, named Kasargod. While one friend and I were super excited, the third person in our group, otherwise a hardcore party-boy, had no clue what he had signed up for. This was not at all a luxurious trip, but as it turns out, it became one of the most memorable.  

If you're wondering why the three of us ended up in small-town Kerala, especially given that we didn't even understand the language, the answer is simple: Theyyam. 

The popular dance form that people of the Malayan, Mavilan, Vannan, Velan and various other communities perform, drew us in.  This ritualistic dance-form takes place mostly in northern regions of  Kerala. During our stay in Kasargod, we hired an auto and traveled to a nearby village called Kanathoor, to witness a performance. The ride itself was pretty adventurous, as we crossed lush spice gardens. 

When we think of dance from Kerala, we automatically think of Kathakali. Theyyam however, only now gaining some amount of popularity, and is considered a spiritual path towards the divine. Performers start getting ready right from the wee hours of the morning, taking anywhere up to 2-3 hours to be in full performance-gear.

Witnessing a Theyyam performance is an experience I cannot do justice to with words. On the same trip, as if the forest-like region and the moving performance was not enough, we also found ourselves spending time  at the serene and deserted Kapil beach and Bekal beach nearby. While in Kerala, the three of us couldn’t give the appams and stew a miss. And not to forget, the copious amounts of coconut water that was available almost everywhere. 

It was just three days long, but our trip here was a breath of fresh air, one that lasted us almost through the rest of the year!


Prachi Karnawat is a dreamer and scribbler with a zest to travel the world. She loves Polaroids and low flying planes.

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