A Theyyam artist on wearing a Muslim costume

Muslims see me as incarnation of a Muslim magician who has a place at the temple

The ritual art called theyyam has a transfixing effect on the spectator. Among the hundreds of theyyams in Kerala, more than a dozen are known as mappila theyyam (Muslim theyyam). Both Muslims and Hindus pray to mappilla theyyam.

I adorn the mappila theyyam costume in Kumbala in Kasargod. On that day I become Ali Mappila of legend who lived near the Arikkady Bhagavathi temple. Ali Mappila was a powerful black magician who harassed everyone and molested women.

To punish him, the fierce goddess Chamundi took the form of a beautiful woman going to bathe in a pond. As Ali chased her, she cajoled him into discarding his protective amulet and then crushed him. She did not kill him. Instead, she made him repent and gave him a place at the temple.

The incarnation of Ali was bestowed upon my ancestors. I inherited it from my maternal uncle. On theyyam day, I believe, the goddess turns me into Ali. Hindus and Muslims, who come to see the theyyam, look upon me as Ali’s incarnation, and they worship me. They pray with folded hands, and ask for remedies for their sorrows. Some of them weep. I hold them and assure them all is well. I have been doing this for12 years.

On other days of the year, I work in a textile shop. No one, except the temple officials, knows that it is I who wear the Ali theyyam costume.

As told to Anirudha Karindalam