October marks the beginning of the seven-month long-running Theyyam festival. Hindu temple
theatres (koothambalam), sacred grooves (kaavu), and a few traditional households in the
Malabar region are gearing up to stage the famous ritual dance art form called Theyyam. Tourists
throng especially to Kannur and Kasaragod regions in Kerala, which are the loadstones of this
cultural extravaganza. Besides natives and cultural tourists, professional photographers are
enticed to watch the Theyyam festival for it is color, vibrancy, and action.
The Storytellers of Tyndis Heritage conduct a culture-rich enlightening Theyyam tour for curious
culture enthusiasts and there is the Theyyam Photography tour by Tyndis for the shutterbugs.
This blog is particularly written for the latter group.
Here are some of the basic etiquettes to be followed when you are in Kerala to shoot a
1. Respect the piety of the faithful
Believers see the Theyyam performer as a visible manifestation of God. Someone who is a
channel to communicate with their deity and seek blessings from. Many traditional households
believe, a Theyyam performance conducted in their village shrine, can keep its people safe from
the wrath of nature and bring them prosperity. Respect this sentiment of the natives, when you
are here to watch and photograph a Theyyam performance.
2. Be considerate of other audiences
Devotees earnestly wait for this time of the year when Theyyam performances begin. Be
considerate to them by not causing any hindrance to their view. It is good to be an alert and
swift photographer but remember to stay in your assigned space. Do not shoot over your head
and obstruct the sight of the audience. Remember the performance happens within the temple
premises, so it is best to avoid dressing in shorts or sleeveless tops.
3. Avoid using flash
The swift movements of the artist and the low lighting are the challenges during night
performances. In these moments it’s quite tempting to switch on the flash, but please don’t! It
is quite annoying for the artist if photographers burst flashes on their faces during the
4. Theyyam photography is not akin to fashion or wedding photography
It is a common sight we see at weddings or fashion shows where photographers run around
holding their devices high, make their subjects pose, and get up close to them for that perfect
shot. But photographing a Theyyam performer is not that simple, as moving around to the front
during the performance is strictly not allowed.
5. Maintain a distance from the Theyyam performer
The music of the drums and cymbals builds up a deafening frenzy. The Theyyam performer goes
into trance and the audience turns ecstatic. This mood can be best captured when a
photographer keeps a respectable distance from the stage. But capturing this moment can pose
several challenges to the photographer as they are not allowed to get up close with the artists.
Many times the performance happens in an open arena, and finding space among the crowd is
not easy. This is when being part of Tyndis’s photography tour helps.
6. Take Permission before photography
It takes a few hours for the Theyyam performer to get ready for the show as they do elaborate
face painting and wear heavy costumes, ornaments, and headgear. You may get some
fascinating behind-the-scene close-up shots showing the elaborate make-up and facial
expressions, which is difficult to capture while the show is on. But it is uncouth to sneak around
the chambers backstage, where permission is restricted. Tyndis can arrange for prior
permission from the authorities if you are keen on Theyyam photography but remember
photographing Theyyam is not akin to any photography competition.