TEYYAM of Gods, Heroes and Ancestors
TEYYAM, of Gods, Heroes and Ancestors
Part One (74′) & Part Two (83′)
Shot in Kerala, India between 2016 and 2019
Completed in January 2023
Ranjit K Cheruvichery
Filmed and edited by Patrick Morell
Music courtesy of Laurent Aubert & MEG (Ethnography Museum of Geneva)
A Golden Rabbit Films Production
Sales agent: Bruno Toussaint.
CALABI films (Paris France)
Version 158′ (for streaming)
Part One : 74′ & Part Two: 83′
Synopsis & Trailer:
Cultic and ritualistic arts have always exerted a great influence on the social life in India, especially Kerala, the home of a myriad range of performing traditions.
Prominent, among these, is the ritualistic art form of Teyyam.
During two months of the year, regardless of caste, social function, income, gender and age, devotees attend Teyyam rituals to seek blessings, ward off evil spirits, cure disease, have a healthy child-birth, settle disputes, and gain advice and prosperity from the Gods.
Trailer: 3’46 “
“The deities featured in the rituals are known as teyyams (cognate with the Sanskrit daiva), and the mode of worshipping them is called teyyattam, literally the ’dancing of the gods’.
This worship takes place at shrines specifically dedicated to one or more of these deities. The principal rite, the actual teyyatam entails specialists of the lower castes donning a costume specific to a particular deity, reciting that god’s mythical history in song, becoming possessed by its spirit, dancing through the shrine compound, and then interacting with worshippers, as the god, to receive their offerings and distribute to them blessings and grace.
These shrines called “Kavus” are generally organized and managed on a caste or lineage basis, and are still an integral part of the social organisation of all the traditionally avarnar castes of northern Kerala.
The fully costumed teyyam worship occurs only on an annual basis, though many shrines also have monthly rites, conducted by locally resident caste priests attached to the shrine.
In our usual manner of speaking, teyyattam is a ’possession cult’, since the entire program of worship is predicated on the deity’s taking over the body and mind of the dancer and speaking and acting through his body as the vehicle of expression and interaction with the audience.”
(excerpt from the essay: Formalized possession among the Tantris and Teyyams of Malabar.)
Duke University. 2016
Jayanandan Peruvannan‘s family can claim many generations of low caste actors (Vannan caste)
The weight of that responsibility is evident, as is the studied discipline and intensity in which Jayanandan assumes his role.
We’re allowed to witness his transformation, as his persona rises from an outcaste (untouchable) to the status of a God.
There are between 400 and 600 Teyyam rituals still practiced today. Over 20 of these rituals have been filmed for this documentary.
It was edited between 2017 and 2021 with each year bringing more materials. Over 200 hours of footage in total have been recorded.
The release of the documentary in 2 parts (74′ & 84′) in film festivals, public events and on DVDs and streaming, has been postponed to 2022 and the rituals have been interrupted in 2020 and 2021 because of Covid.
For more on the Malayalees community please go to:
Notes from the director:
At the start of this project in 2016, my partner Christian Germon and I, along with a local crew, spent a month in the jungle of the district of Kannur to film twelve Teyyam rituals. Many took place in the middle of the night and continued for days without pause.
Some resulted in extreme exhaustion and burnt feet, and in my case, severe dehydration.
Filming a Teyyam ritual can seem at times as much a feat of endurance as it is a technical and logistical challenge.
The performances are lengthy, as long as 24 hours or more, and in the dry season night time temperatures can reach 45 degrees Celsius. (90 Fahrenheit).
One of the breakthroughs in the project was the encounter with Jayanandan Peruvannan, a great and respected Teyyam performer who comes from a long lineage of Teyyam actors. I’m pleased to say that our relationship has continued since we met 6 years ago.
Jayanandan, along with many of his devotees, patrons and colleagues was instrumental in providing an indigenous perspective on Teyyam’s rituals.
This afforded me an intimate look at the Teyyam ceremonies, and the complex preparations and rituals that surround them.
In the film, aside from the actors themselves, the narrative is guided by commentators who have written extensively on Teyyam, including local scholars, journalists and Western writers. Their statements have contributed to making Teyyam more appreciated to a wider audience beyond the Malayalam community.
What the critics say about the film:
““Be advised, this film is on fire!
It will ignite your soul and re-awaken its connection to powerful and timeless energies.
Indeed, Morell’s film offers a penetrating look at these sacred performances, along with interviews of the performers and noted scholars in the field.
The film moves in-and-out of a thoroughly immersive experience, where we can feel the euphoria of the actors and the participants who are caught up in the action, to an insightful narrative that explains the significance of the drama.
Morell’s film is a truly memorable work, and in many ways it is emblematic of his other documentaries, which display his unique ability to transcend the camera’s objective lens to bring us a compelling, first-hand experience.
What is perhaps most striking about Teyyam rituals, which include dance, music, chanting and real, scorching fires (as opposed to safe, artificially-controlled pyrotechnics), is the opportunity participants have to commune directly with their Vedic Gods, and thereby seek cures, blessings, insight, health and prosperity, protection from evil spirits, healthy child-bearing, and advice in the settling of disputes.
The costumes are extraordinary.
The physical and emotional preparation that goes into staging a Teyyam is itself intense, even at times spell-binding. Morell captures these moments, too, with an unflinching dedication to communicate the essence of an ancient, yet still vibrant, art.
Thank you Mr. Morell, for fearlessly stepping into the fire and capturing these sparks of dancing light, that we too may experience with humility and awe.”
Michael Urheber, author of Bava’s Gift, Awakening to the Impossible.
“The TEYYAM documentary by Patrick Morell is an extraordinary achievement covering complex themes without making any compromises, yet it stimulates reflections for a western audience which has become estranged from spirituality and discounts often presence of divinities.”
Claus Mueller. (excerpt of article published January 2022 in http://filmfestivals.com
“Why did I embark into the promotion and sales of Patrick Morell documentary TEYYAM ?
Because of the profound allegory that is apparent throughout this immersive cinematic experience which delivers its message with strength, saying that ‘”Once a year Untouchables become Gods’ !”
Its promises of deliverance and hope strongly resonate with me.”
Bruno Toussaint CALABI FILMS
“I must commend you for your effort and hard work you’ve put into this.
I like how you’ve broken it down into 2 parts and explained everything in great detail. A layman and the practitioners would get a holistic understanding from this film.”
Viacom8 Media Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
“I watched the film. It was an amazing experience. I think you present the film with an actual concept of Teyyam and with a real understanding. I really appreciate the comments of Mr. Eric Baret and Mr. Laurent Aubert. They are well studied about Teyyam, especially the Tantric concept of this ritual.
The making (visualization, editing, sound mixing.. etc.) of the film is wonderful.
I hope that the film will be a notable work in all over the world. I think it was my luck to co operate with this work.
After the releasing we can arrange some screenings in Malabar.”
Teyyam Consultant, writer and Teyyam art critic.
PRE RELEASE SCREENING at EXPLORERS CLUB, NYC
Explorers Club. New York City
December 19 th
The Explorers Club is a multidisciplinary, professional society dedicated to the advancement of field research, scientific exploration and resource conservation.
PRE RELEASE SCREENING at THE CIVIL SOCIETY OF MULTIMEDIA AUTHORS,(SCAM) PARIS, France. October 24 2022
Screening of Teyyam, of Gods , Heroes and Ancestors .
at the Civil Society of Multimedia authors. SCAM
The Agnès Varda space
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Teyyam of Gods, Heroes & Ancestors.
Streaming version: 158′