Dr. Jolly Puthussery, Faculty at the Centre for Folk Culture Studies, University of Hyderabad delivered a lecture on the topic “Myth and Politics of Textualization in the Theyyam Performance” on 24 February, 2020 at ASIHSS Hall in the Department of English. It was the fifth lecture in the UGC-DSA sponsored Bricolage lecture series organized by the research scholars of the Department of English.
Dr. Puthussery began his lecture with a general introduction to myth, its definition and functions. He alluded to several critics of myth like Joseph Campbell, James Frazer, Bronislaw Malinowski etc. to call myths narratives about phenomena, rituals and religion, and as answers to the questions of human existence. He also mentioned Joseph Campbell’s categorization of functions of myth into four, namely the mystical, sociological, cosmological and pedagogical.
According to Dr. Puthussery, “myth is put to performance to legitimize caste hierarchy”. He brought in these ideas to explain the socio-cultural and political significance of the “Pottan Theyyam”, an art form famous in the Northern part of Kerala performed mainly by the Pulaya community who were considered as untouchables by the elite upper caste “Janmi” (landlords). In his general overview of Theyyams, he said that the deification is nothing but transmigration which occludes the rigidity of religious norms. For instance, in the Pottan Theyyam, the performer is a talking god who comments on contemporary issues of caste.
Dr. Puthussery concluded his talk with his observation that the political and ideological interventions have resulted in making myths and rituals subservient to power which in turn have affected the Theyyam performances – like the Hindutva influence on the Pottan Theyyam that has converted it to a “Hindu” myth of God Shiva and Goddess Parvati different from the original story of the rebellious Pulaya who was put to death for questioning the Janmi.
Contributed by Sreekutty TJ, Department of English