THEYYAM OR BHUTA MASK
Height : 13 in (33 cm)
Width : 14 in (35.5 cm)
Depth : 4 in (10 cm)
The Theyyam and Bhuta traditions, from Kerala and Karnataka, respectively, are part of ritual life rooted in the ancient belief that certain spirits and guardians provided protection against "invaders and robbers, the elements, including fire, storms, flooding, drought, disease and to assure fertility of the soil, livestock and the human population." (Leo S Figiel, Ritual Bronzes of Maharashtra and Karnataka, Including the Bhuta Region, 2007, p. 60) Since the earth is believed to be controlled by these gods, goddesses, spirits and demons, prayers and sacrifices are offered to keep them happy.
Such worship occurs on both, an intimate, family level where the devotee carves out a niche in a tree or inner wall of a house for the bhuta to inhabit, or on a grand scale where the entire community or village is invited to participate. While bhuta ceremonies vary from region to region and on the basis of the spirit invoked, they always involve a highly charged atmosphere. "Singing of folk-epics or ballads (paadannas) depicting the story of the spirit concerned, the spectacular dance by the priest-impersonator possessed by the spirit, wearing gorgeous costumes, masks and high crowns of halo-like structure and making awe-inspiring cries and performing miracles and heroic feats and delivering the message of the divine spirit, curing diseases, and settling village disputes - all these make a festival of grand pageantry leaving a lasting impression on the spectator even if he is a non-believer." (P Upadhyaya and S Upadhyaya eds., Bhuta Worship, Udipi: The Regional Resources Centre for Folk Performing Arts, M G M College, 1984, p. 2)