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 1 (2014), 1.

Published on 01.09.2014

ISSN: 2367-6256

Robova, Proletina. Transformation and Identification in teyyāṭṭam. – In: Manas: South Asia: Identity and Cultural Diversity, Vol. 1, 1, 2014.

2014 / Volume 1 / Issue number 1 : South Asia: Identity and Cultural Diversity

Transformation and Identification in teyyāṭṭam

Proletina Robova




This work aims to examine the ritual teyyāṭṭam which takes place in North Kerala and contiguous parts of Karnataka. The basis of this ritual is the transformation of the performer teyyakaran from a man to a local deity called teyyam, which most researchers define as a possession or a performaning art. In this article I follow up the structure of the ritual and the means of this transformation in the context of the local epic tradition, the characteristics of the teyyam deities and the sacred groves kavu which they inhabit. In the course of my analysis I investigate the metamorphosis of the performer from the preparation stage, up to painting his face and putting on the mask and ritual costume of the teyyam, as a series of mental and physical identifications between his body and that of the deity. The aim of this transformation is to make the deity visible and present in the ritual for the observing worshippers.

The present-day changes in teyyāṭṭam shed light on the sociocultural changes caused by the processes of globalization and modernization in the region. They raise some important questions on caste discrimination and preservation of the local dravidian traditions and their cultural identity as a whole.

About the author

Proletina Robova graduated in Psychology in Veliko Tarnovo University “St. Cyril and Methodius” as well as in the MA program of the Indology department of Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”, where she’s currently PhD student in Indology, "Classical East" Department. The subject of her thesis is “Deity Embodiement Among the Buddhist Dards of Ladakh: Ethnocultural Analysis”. Her interests are in the field of Tibetan culture, specifically the pre-Buddhist religious traditions of Ladakh and Tibet, the culture of the Dardic communities in North-West India and Pakistan, the shamanic practices of South Asia, etc.

Publications in MANAS magazine:

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

Robova, Proletina. Embodying the Deities Lha in the Context 
of the Religious Beliefs of the Buddhist Dards in Ladakh
. – In: Manas: Cultures and Societies of South, East and Southeast Asia: Traditionalism, Dynamics and Globalization, Vol. 4, 2, 2018.