'Aadi Vedan Theyyam' with their ornate red costumes and innocent faces walk along the embankments criss-crossing the lush green paddy fields of North Malabar. This age-old tradition is still avidly followed even in these modern times though its reach has shrunk to a few villages. There, even today, 'Aadi and Vedan Theyyams' appear without fail to cure or alleviate the monsoonal diseases and the ill-effects of the 'Karkidakam' or the monsoonal miseries.
Besides the 'Aadi Vedan Theyyam', other forms of 'Theyyam' such as 'Kothaamoori', 'Uchaar Pottan' and an assortment of 'Maari Theyyam' also will appear for mitigating the monsoonal miseries. These days, mostly the 'Aadi Vedan' is the most commonly seen 'Theyyam' in thevillages of the northern Malabar. Though it is called 'Aadi Vedan Theyyam', the 'Aadi' and 'Vedan' are two different entities. 'Vedan' is Lord Shiva and 'Aadi' is his consort Sree Parvathy Devi. The folklore behind this concept goes back to the 'Mahabharata'. The root of this tradition can be traced back to the 'Vana Parva' of 'Mahabharata'.
As per this myth, Arjuna was going through severe penance. To test Arjuna's resolve, Lord Shiva and Parvathy Devi take the form of a woodsman and his wife respectively and approach the place of Arjuna's penance with their lot of demons. At this moment, a demon named Mookan disguises himself as a wild boar and prepares to attack Arjuna in meditation. Lord Shiva in woodsman's disguise and Arjuna in penance shoot 'Mookaasura’ with their arrows at the same time. The wild boar falls with the two arrows piercing his body. The demon in the wild boar form dies. But Arjuna and the woodsman pick up a fight over the rights to the killed wild boar. In the fight, despite Arjuna’s best efforts, he remains incapable of defeating the woodsman. Failing in the battle, Arjuna erects a mud idol of Lord Shiva and starts praying to it. All the flowers he bestows at the feet of the idol miraculously fall at the feet of the woodsman. The perplexed Arjuna takes a while to realize that the woodsman is actually Lord Shiva in disguise. He immediately withdraws his belligerence towards the woodsman and asks for pardon. Pleased with his valour, Lord Shiva gives Arjuna the boon of a divine arrow named 'Paasupathaasthram' and blesses him. It is this form of Parvathy Devi and Lord Shiva in the disguise of a forest dweller and her man manifested as the 'Aadi' and 'Vedan' in the 'Aadi Vedan Theyyam'.
Two different communities partake in this 'Theyyam'. Children of the 'Vannaan' community appear as 'Aadi' and the children of the 'Malaya' community are presented as 'Vedan'. While the 'Vedan Theyyam' starts going around the villages curing diseases and alleviating miseries from 7th of the 'Karkidaka' month, the ‘Aadi Theyyam’ becomes active only from 17th of the month. The landlords who have the revenue and land rights of each region decide who will don the 'Theyyam'.
With the increasing reluctance among the new generation children to follow the tradition, the appearance of this 'Theyyam' in the village walkways is becoming rarer and rarer.
The beliefs and traditions
The arrival of the 'Vedan' is announced in advance by the accompanying drum (chenda) beats. The households prepare the courtyards with a paste of cow dung and lights a traditional stem lamp. Rice and other grains along with vegetables etc. will be kept in a winnow. The 'Vedan' conducts ritualistic dance movements to the drum beats and to the chanting of the verses associated with the myth. Thereafter, black 'guruthi' kept in a platter is thrown towards the south direction. The black 'guruthi' is charcoal mixed with water while the red 'guruthi' is the watery mixture of turmeric powder and quicklime. It is believed that once the 'Vedan' does the ritual of throwing the 'guruthi', the household is purified of all the evils. 'Vedan' then collects all the grain and other offerings received in the bundle hung around the shoulder and heads for the next household.