In the dark of the night in North Kerala, ordinary mortals invite the Gods and Goddesses to possess their bodies and descend on Earth. In the mystical world of the ritual art of Theyyam, Gods commune with the faithful directly. This strange universe of Kerala ordered by the most strangest of rituals is least talked about and the best kept secret of Gods Own Country. Kuntil from our Destination Knowledge Centre during his travel in North Kerala had the opportunity to meet Hari Das, an accomplished Theyyam dancer. Hari Das shot to fame after he was featured in William Dalrymples book Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India, where the acclaimed travel writer “explores the worlds of people deeply engaged with the sacred in a fast changing India.
Kuntil and Hari Das chatted about life and times post Nine Lives and more. Excerpts of the interview
In Conversation with Hari Das: The Dancer of Kannur
Kuntil: How is life post Nine Lives?
Hari Das: I am very happy that Nine Lives has put Theyyam on the world map.
Kuntil: In Nine Lives you had talked about the great caste divide in Kerala. You had mentioned about how high caste Hindus touch your feet during Theyyam but once it is over they go back to treating you like they have been treating your community for centuries now – as untouchables Has that changed post Nine Lives?
Hari Das: (Smiles) When I went abroad to perform, the local Kerala community welcomed and embraced me irrespective of their caste and class. But it is different back home. However, post Nine Lives I can feel that there has been a slight change in the way people from high castes now treat me. People now know who Hari Das is. But you see, you don’t expect a thing that has been a part of our social fabric for centuries to change overnight. Isnt it?
Kuntil: What if I tell you I do not believe in this mumbo-jumbo of Gods coming down to earth?
Hari Das: (Pause) In a Theyyam you put forward your case directly before God and get solutions. This has a huge psychological effect on the people and I would say a very positive one. Maybe it gives them the courage and strength to work towards that solution and no matter where they are, people will travel to their family kavus (shrines) whenever there is a Theyyam.