Manas. Studies into Asia and Africa.

Electronic Journal of the Centre for Eastern Languages and Cultures
Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”

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Manas 2 (2015), 2.

Published on 12.12.2015

ISSN: 2367-6256

Robova, Proletina. Violation and Violence: Transgression of social norms and taboos in the teyyam cult. – In: Manas: Senses and Sensitivity, Vol. 2, 2, 2015.

2015 / Volume 2 / Issue number 2 : Senses and Sensitivity

Violation and Violence: Transgression of social norms and taboos in the teyyam cult

Proletina Robova


The establishment of the caste system in Kerala leaves a deep mark in the life and outlook of the indigenous dravidian population. The strict following of practices like untouchability and unapproachability turns the frequent and inevitable contact between the communities into something unthinkable, often punished with death. It is exactly this “unthinkability” that gives birth to some of the most popular teyyams, who, in one way or another, violate the social norms and pay for it with their lives. These pressing social issues are embeded, through certain motifs, in the structure of the stories about the life and death of the deities. The sensibility of the subject of the myth towards social injustice, found in those stories, transforms into a certain kind of rebellion against the intercaste norms and taboos and in the end is always punished with death. The social aspect of the teyyam cult unfolds on many levels in the ritual practice called teyyattam through  the repetition of the myth by the performer whom the deity embodies and who himself belongs to an untouchable caste. Even though it’s often overshadowed by the visual richness of the performance it is certainly relived by the devotees and often serves as an outlet of the tension caused by the still present intercaste taboos and discrimination in the region.

The main text of the article is in Bulgarian