In Kerala each year for two months there is the theyyam. Less known than kathakali, this dance expresses the people back to themselves. Gives them stories that help them understand the world they live in and communicate morality, community and delight that have been transmitted down the centuries straight to the present day.
The dancers themselves – labourers at other times of year – are treated as gods. It is believed for the theyyam season that they actually become gods – communicating divinity to the people, bringing it down from temples and to the side of fires. Costumes and make-up are outlandish and ornate, the performances last the entire night.
One story told at the theyyam (and retold in William Dalrymple’s Nine Lives) is that of Chaitra and Maitra. These two were disciples of a Guru who one day showed each of them a room, placed one in rupee in their hands and told them to use it to fill the the room.
Maitra rushed straight out to the market, searched through blankets and throws, trails of coloured paper, large ornaments and even huge collections of small ornaments but everything was too expensive. Exasperated, he found a man who sold rubbish and for one rupee was able to fill the entire room, in line, he thought, with his master’s request.
Chaitra on the other hand, sat down and meditated deeply. Rising and in deep peace, he went to the market bought a lamp, some ghee and stick of incense and some matches all with one rupee. Lighting these and placing them in the middle of the room, the whole space was filled with light and fragrance.
When the Guru came back he was repulsed by the room of garbage, but walked smiling into the room of Chaitra.
What impressions does this story bring up for you?