Wearing colourful costumes and heavy masks, they perform during the whole night. They are considered to be the messengers of gods, who can predict the future of people and bless onlookers.
Several oil lamps are tied around the performer. Fire is said to be a purifier, the power to drive away the evil spirits and cleanse everything.
The performers belong to so called lower castes of the community and spectators belong to higher casts. This is the day, people belonging to both the high and low caste, sit and dine together. The people belonging to high caste like Brahmins bow before these performers, the godsend: for blessings.
The Theyyam is generally performed in front of the village Shrine which is enjoyed by spectators from all over the village. It is also performed in the houses as ancestor-worship with elaborate rites and rituals.
Drummers are an important part of any temple festival of Kerala, to give a rock to the festival. The Catholic Church in Kerala also employee them during feasts to blend the Christian festivals with the local tradition.
There is no stage or curtain or other such arrangements for the performance. The devotees would be standing or some of them would be sitting on a sacred tree in front of the shrine. Sometimes it is performed on school grounds where spectators can sit and watch the performance.
The chief dancer who propitiates the central deity of the shrine has to reside in the rituals. This may be due to the influence of Jainism and Buddhism. Further, after the sun sets, this particular dancer would not eat anything for the remainder of that day (again possibly on account of a legacy of Jainism). His make-up is done by specialists and other dancers. The first part of the performance is usually known as Vellattam or Thottam. It is performed without proper make-up or any decorative costume. Only a small, red headdress is worn on this occasion.
The dancer along with the drummers recites the particular ritual song, which describes the myths and legends, of the deity of the shrine or the folk deity to be propitiated. This is accompanied by the playing of folk musical instruments.
Temple staffs prepare the crafts required to perform the Theyyam at Chittaliparampu, Kanoor District, Kerala. Artists spend several days and nights continuesly to prepare these crafts which are to be mounted/worn on performer.