THE WORLD OF TEYYAM : MYTH AND THE MESSAGE
Central Institute of Indian Languages, Mysore
Teyyam is a living folk cult, widespread in northern Kerala State of India, particularly the two northern-most Districts of Cannanore and Kozhikode (known also as Calicut). In the southern parts of Kerala, the cult is, by and large, absent, although in central Kerala some scattered versions are reported. Similar (and sometimes identical) cults have been reported in other parts of South Asia. For instance, recent studies have shown that thecult existed in pre-Buddhist Ceylon (Paranavitana, 1929), ancient Tamilnadu (Vanamamalai, 1969)1 and is still quite common in modern Sri Lanka (Wirtz, 1954; Yalman, 1964; Obeyesekere, 1966; Seligmann, 1909). Existence of a similar cult has been recently reported from Rayalasima area of Andhra Pradesh (Roghair, 1978). Another interesting example of a cult to teyyam has been reported recently from the coastal South Kanara cult (Claus, 1973; 1975; 1978). This area is geographically very close to northern Cananore District of Kerala where teyyam flourishes even today2.
Scholars (Kurup, 1973; Vanamamalai, 1969; Claus, 1978) who have studied various aspects of folk cults have labeled it as a "hero cult" and "possession cult". It is true that heroic deeds and possession sometimes form important aspects of this cult, but on closer examination of oral traditions and ethnographic evidence, these do seem to be as cental to the overall phenomenon of the clt as to justify the label. For instance, the aspect of "possession" seems to vary. In bhuta it is very intense and overwhelming, and in teyyam it seems causual and peripheral3.
Similarly, the concept of hero-worship historically might have formed an integral component of the overall religious pattern of ancient Dravidian culture, as is sometimes evidence of scattered references available in ancient Tamil literature and equally scattered and scanty archaeological evidences found particularly on "hero-stones" in Tamilnadu (see Vanamamalai, 1969; Kurup, 1973; Hart, 1979). However, a synchronic study of oral traditions related to teyyam and even bhuta clts, does not entirely support this view. For instance, more than 70% of the narrative materials connected with teyyam are in no way concerned either with wars, battles or so-called heroic deeds. Similarly in 30% of the narratives, women are the main characters performing deeds other than the ones which generally are considered heroic in nature. Teyyams of these female characters are performed by males. Females are traditionally forbidden to perform ritualistic dances.
The Dravidian "hero" is not always what we think of as heroic. On the basis of a local Tamil epic (Brother's story), Beck (1978) tried without clear success to apply Raglan's (1936) Indo-European heroic life pattern as resketched by Jan de Vries (1963) to the hero of the Tamil epic. Blackburn (1970) also worked on Tamil epics to define or redefine the concept of hero. Consider his following remarks: "More important is the astonishing fact that none of the 22 biographical motifs which define the courtly hero in Raglan's scale is found in this ballad (p.136)". These and other remarks of Blackburn are self-explanatory and advise caution on the subject of hero pattern in Dravidian cltures.
Sometimes certain metallic objects such as swords, bows, knives, etc., which are worshipped in little shrines at the time of the annual festivals and wielded ritualistically by the performers on these occasions, are interpreted by scholars as an additional symbolic evidence to prove the heroic nature of the cult. Such scholars fail to link these objects, even symbolically, to the deed the characters, male or female, perform in the narratives. They also fail to explain the deeper religious and totemic significance these objects might have possessed andwhich might be ultimately explainable in terms of various levels of Dravidian religious thought and cultural categories.
Lévi-Strauss, as early as 1966 commented on this phenomenon. According to him:
"It is towards the south (India) that the reversal in the relation of natural species and objects or manufactured goods becomes particularly conspicuous few plants and scarcely any animals figure in the names of the clans On the other hand the following names are found: knife, scissors, silver, flint, bangle, gold ring, picaxe, stick, bamboo tree" " This heterogeneity is most apparent in India where a high proportion of totemic names are names of manufactured objects, that is, of products or symbols of functional activities which -- because they are clearly differentiated in the caste system - can serve to express distinction between social groups within the tribe or caste itself" (1968 : 120-121).
DESCRIPTION OF TEYYAM
What Teyyam9 is, is a comlex religious system, and a highly structured ritual folk performance of dance, song and narrative, all rolled into one. Each deity has its own variety of teyyam and t°am (narrative song) which is usually performed in the kavu (Shrine) meant for that particular deity. The number of such shrines, and their location, is usually mentioned in the mythical narrative, as we shall see later. A number of such deities and their shrines are located in Kolathna·5. Every village has at least one such shrine. Many deities have more than one shrine. These deities are worshipped periodically, usually annually, in these small shrines, which do not share any architectural features either with the north Indian towns. On the occasion of worship, the performer is called Kolakkaren ("the man who takes the form of god") (See Ashley, 1979 : 100), and wears a special dress and mask peculiar to the deity he is going to perform6. After some ritual,s the performer begins his teyyaam (dance) and delivers thenarrative. In the background high-pitch music is provided by instruments such as cenda, takilu (drums) Ko½al (mouth-pipe) and Ceramangalam (bells). These narratives of varying duration, and by and large etiological in character, are sung along with the performance before a spellbound audience. The narrator, who is the performer and personifies the deity, becomes possessed7. The audience is formed mostly of those low-castes whose deity is being worshipped. Some high-caste members may also join the audience, but they watch the performance on a separate platform (Patipura). Some members of the audience may also become possessed, depending on their personal circumstances8. The performance usually takes place during nights. Almost all teyyams are offered sacrifices on this occasion9. Only a few deities are worshipped in the vegetarian manner. Mucl°t Bagavati happens to be one such deity, who, I am told, is worshipped in satvika (vegetarian) tradition.
Teyyam is not an isolated phenomenon, but a complex which has continued to incorporate different deities, rituals, and symbols over the past several centuries. These include thefold and greater traditions of Kerala and wider Indian Hindu traditions. There has been and still is, continual interchange among the three. "Thus", writes Ashley, "one is able to find spirits and family anestor worshipped alongside "Hinduized" Teyyam like Visumurthi and the Ramayana deities, Rama and Sita; meat-eating gods next to vegetarian gods; Sanskrit rituals and prayers next to folk rituals and beliefs" (1979 : 100-101).
The most important and significant aspect of the teyyam cult is t°am10 or the narrative songs. In fact these are mythic narratives, resembling ballads, and are usually sung at the time of ritualistic festivals. These t°ams usually tell the stories of the gods -- their origins, deeds, heroic or other exploits, inner conflicts, contradictions, etc. -- in whose honour the rituals are performed. T°ams are of varying length and seem to have preserved the most ancient elements of Malayalam language (Kurup, 1973 : 38). At the same time, these also have been influenced to some extent by Sanskrit language. People generally complain the t°ams are hard to understand unless sung repeatedly, with all the internal repetitions. Although there is no linguistic research available on this aspect of t°ams, it does indicate that the variety of Malayalam used in these narratives is much older. In spite of these difficulties, people enjoy watching t°am performances and participate actively I the narrative event. I was told, that since people already remember the "story" of the t°am, the music11 and the performance invoke that story, and the narrative event takes place. Of course much depends on the performer's ability to deliver the item in terms of his actions and performance. A successful performer is "not supposed to simply enact the character of the spirit (deity), but rather he becomes the spirit. The ballad [t°am] enables him to merge his personality with that of the spirit" (Claus, 1978 : 7). This explains why some of the performers (or performing castes like va¸¸ans)12 are considered "efficient" or "experienced".
Having outlined some of the major aspects of teyyam, qwe would now like to examine two narratives (pudiya bagavati and muttappan) in the light of these aspects of the cult, and the information we were able to gather from the interview with the narrator (performer). This should enable us to delineate some of the structural correlations which exist between the narrative, the narrator and the cult. Our objective will be to show that these narratives, which are central to the cult and direct the ritual, are conscious or unconscious manifestations of the mental andsocial activities of the communities involved in this cult. Although we shall not strictly follow any "school" in our line of analysis, the approach is certainly inspired by Lévi-Strauss (1966, 1969, 1975)13.
Siva created a woman: Srikurumba. She asked him:
"Why did you create me? What am I spposed to do for you?
Siva replies by saying that why should she bother about such questions. He has to do something with her. Saying thus he gives her one irinnavuri (1 kg. Measure) of rice to be sown during aswati and barani days. Srikurumba expresses doubts whether the rice will grow:
"The rice you gave me na½½acin (father) will grow or not who knows? Even if it grows it might be ruined".
Saying thus she throws thre gains of rice on the face and twelve thousand on the chest of Siva. With the result he gets trukurupu (small pox) on his face and vas£ri (?) on his chest. She inflicts similar disease on other devas (male gods) particularly those who were pattilattu baatira (Brahmins). The disease spreads like wild fire and people are separated from people, so much so that the parents discard their children. The devas overcome with worry and frustration gather to meet Siva (mahadeva) and request him for rmedy. Siva orders for a h°maku¸da (ritual fire) and after forty days of worship and offerings (naupari devata ("one who saves this and the other world")15 emerges out of the fire. She puts the same question Srikurumba had put to Siva, when she was created. However, Siva explains the tasks to the newly created goddess. Says he:
"Srikurumba is spreading disease andruining thewhole world. We have to stop it".
Then he gives her an irinnavuri of golden powder and charges her with the responsibility of curing the disease and resurrecting those who have been effected by it. Naupari devata first tests the device on Siva himself. Heis cured. Soon after devas are also cured. Thus ends the segregation of the diseased and the non-diseased.
Both naupari devata and Srikurumba meet Siva again and receives gifts from him. Srikurumba is given pandara ponnu (gold treasure) and Naupari devata, pa·i ponnu (silver-treasure) and six ladies to assist her. Both goddesses bury their hatchet and decide to be friends. They also agree to share things in equal measure in the near future. While departing Naupari devata, asks Srikurumba if they should go towards ka·alarige (see-side) or malayarige (hill-side). They, however, decide that Naupari devata will go towards the hill-side and Srikurumba towards the sea-side. Srikurumba, accordingly goes towards the sea-side and is given a place of honour in the "central room" (pa·i-nnaa)16 in the house of a fisherman called Sankupala (protector of conch shells)17.
Naupari devata, takes towards the hill-side, puts a fortress on fire, arrives in k°akk°½am and kills all the fisherman. She next meets a Brahmin who was on his way to ambalam (high-caste temple) and asks him if she could join him. The Brahman agrees. Both reach a place called pa·arku½am. The Brahman and the new goddess take a ritualistic bath before entering the high temple. She attacks the Brahman unawares and kills him and changes him into a viran. Soon thereafter the goddess meets a woman who questions her powers. Naupari devata, at this point, turns the bright day into a dark night and makes her extraordinary powers known. The goddess continues her journey and wakes Mallaceri Kurapa, a Nambiar (high-caste), at midnight and asks him to offer sacrifice and perform her ritual. The Nambiar agrees. In gratitude she presents him with some golden dust she was given by Siva. Henceforth the goddess becomes pudiya Bagavati. She expresses her last wish to her companions:
"Now we must settle down and cure people".
"They visit many places ("one can find shrines at these places even now") such as Kapp°ttu, Kouvoppuram, Muil, Cer?upar?as, Edamanna, Valturi, and Paipurti. All these seven places are north of Va ½apaa¸am river.
There lives once a rich Namb£dari(Brahman) couple. They are childless and hence spend most of their time in worshipping the gods and praying for a child. One day Namb£dari's wife goes bathing in a nearby stream. Suddenly she hears some noise, looks around, but finds nothing. She continues bathing and hears the noise again. This time she looks around and sees a wooden plank afloat. The plank comes ashore on its own. She is surprised to find a male child on it. Accepting the child as a gift from god, the Namb£dari woman carries the child home and the couple adopt him as their son.
As time passes, the child grows as a youthful boy; but he is unhappy and disinterested in the rituals of Brahmin household where he was being raised. Instead he likes to go to the forest with his low-caste friends and hunt birds, animals and eat them. He also starts drinking toddy (an alcoholic drink). Since all such habits are against the Brahman custom, his father scolds him and threatens him, but the boy ignores him and continues hunting, meat-eating and drinking.
One day while returning home late, he finds his father and mother quarreling, obviously over the misdeeds of their son. He soon locks himself in to a room and refuses to open the door to his father, but opens immediately when the mother knocks at the door. The mother is bewildered to see the young boy's divine appearance, particularly his fierce eyes shining like a sun. The boy promises to do as advised and leaves is home.
The boy goes to malayarige (hill-side) called perlimala and leads the life of a hunter. He hunts birds and animals, roasts and eats them. He also collects toddy and drinks it. Since he needs more toddy he decides to steal it from a Tiyya named Candan. Finding his stocks of toddy missing regularly Candan's anger increases, he keeps a strict watch and discovers the boy-hunter's theft. He scolds him. The boy-hunter react by cursing Candan, changing him into a stone. Candan's wife reaches the place in search of her husband. She recognizes her husband in the shape of the stone; and also finds the boy-hunter sitting on the top of a tree enjoying his drink. She weeps and wails and addresses the boy-hunter as Muttappan ("mother's elder brother") for help. Muttappan comes down, revives Candan and assures the couple that no longer would he steal their toddy as he was going to Kunnatpa·i. However, before leaving he asks them to worship him by offering toddy, dry-fish and green gram. A shrine stands at the place now.
After recording the texts the texts of these two narratives, I posed some general questions to the informant, particularly concerning the narrative of Pudiya Bagavati, the narrator's own past, his caste, his relations with other castes, etc. Here are some ofhis answers, which I thought are more relevant to the present study:
What is the caste of the goddesses in the pudiya Bagavati story?
It is nottold in the story they were created by Siva, they had no caste. Caste is a later development. Deeds make castes.
How does the goddess die?
Goddess cannot die. They (Goddeses) cannot be destroyed.
Why do you like Pudiya Bagavati?
For all things I like her. She can grant anything. She can do things which we, men can never do. She has powers
Why did Srikurumba go to the sea-side and the other towards the hill-side?
Because shebelonged to sea-side. Pudiya Bagavati belongs to hill-side. She is our goddess and shehas to live in the hill-side.
Why did the goddess kill the Brahman before he became vīran?
Because the goddess wanted to make hm a god lke her. He had to leave his old self to have a new one. This change was necessary to make him non-human.
Has this story something to do with caste system?
I dont know may be. I like it because of tradition. My father, grand-father performed the teyyam and I also do it.
Which castes perform the teyyam of Pudiya Bagavati?
Only my caste va¸¸ās perform it.
Who performs the teyyam of Srikurumba?
Nobody performs (it). She has no kāvụ, ¶o¶¶am. No one can do her teyyam. It is not possible.
Why did the goddess go to nāmbiār at the end?
Because he was not a Brahman.
Tell me something about the hierarchy of caste system of your village.
Brahmans Nambūdaris are on the top, then Nāmbiārs; then Māryars (temple musicians); then Ambavilās (garland markers in temples); then Vannattāns (washermen of the above castes). Then Nāyars they have many groups: Calian Nāyars (cloth weavers), Velut°dan Nāyars (I do not know what they do), Maniyani Nāyars (they do stone-work) Murari Nāyars(they also do stone-work) they came with a goddess. Then Tiyyas (toddy tappers) and the Kavutiyyens (barbers of (Tiyyas). Then us Va¸¸ans (washermen and performers) we give mā¶¶u to the women folk of high castes for menstrual purification. We also give cloth for kāvu. Then Viswakarmas (craftsmen). They too have groups: Asāri (carpenters), Musāri (brass makers), kollan (black smith) and To¶¶an (gold-smith). Then Malayans (musicians of shrines and exorcists), then Vēlans (basket makers), Mu¸¶āuns (perfotrmers), A¸u¶ān (performers). Then there are Pulluvas (medicine men their women are midwives, [who] clean houses and make baskets). That is all I dont think I forgot any.
Do you believe in the caste-system?
Yes I never accept food from low-caste people such as Polayan. I dislike them Brahmans are good sātika (pious) people.
Do you believe in the goddess?
Yes. Everything related to goddess is true. It has happened in the past, we dont know when. You see the places everything is all true. See the water-pool in Bayyanur where the goddess killed the Brahmin still becomes red during night. I have seen it with my own eyes.
What is the meaning of this story?
The meaning is not kown to me. I know the story andthat is the meaning for me. Some power is there that protects, fulfils desires, drives of evils
Besides the goddess, do you believe in other gods and goddesses of highcaste Hindus?
I believe in Siva but not Vi À ¸u . I also believe in other gods like Rāma, kr,À¸a but they are different gods their temples are different. Our gods need sacrifices.
From whom did you learn the story of Pudiya Bagavati?
From my father he learned it from his father and so on.
Did you ever make any changes in the story you learned from your father?
No, the story is sacred and pure sometimes the words or music change then people dont like changes. They remember the story and want the same story.
It seems the language of the ¶o¶¶amiss very old and stiff. How do people enjoy them then?
They enjoy the story which they remember. They also enjoy music and dance.
Tell me something about yur own family?19
My name is Odayana Va¸¸ān (age 56). My wifes name is Va¸¸ati (age 42). She cooks, washes we are washermen besides performers we have children. More than me, my wife believes in teyyam. I lost my eye in the recent performance. I know it goddess appeared to me in the dream I will continue performing. We are non-vegetarians. Like our gods we enjoy meat eating.
Syntagmatically (see Handoo, 1978 : 61) the narrative of Pudiya Bagavati can be reduced to three main episodes: (i) the creation of Srikurumba and Naupari Devata, fulfillment of their respective tasks and settling down on sea-side and hil-side respectively (here ends the role of Srikurumba); (ii) emergence of Naupari Devata as a fierce goodess, and killing of the Brahman (viran); (iii) goddess' meeting with Nambiar, destruction of temple walls, further killings, and the final journey to various places.
One of the striking qualities of this narrative is that in spite of a somewhat weak syntagmatic chain that holds these three segments together, paradigmatically they seem to be related very closely to each other. In other words, some sort of a unity at the thematic level is maintained across these loose segments. Conflicts or "contradictions" of caste and group identity seem the dominant theme of this narrative. For instance, high caste, along with its deeds, actions and attitudes towards other caste groups, is symbolically represented by Srikurumba and the smallpox disease - which is contagious and segregates people otherwise equal in all respects; one important aspect of their equality is their common source (Siva). That Srikurumba is a metamorphical expression of high-caste identification is supported, more than once, by the information provided by my informant (see answers 4 and 8). She has no °am, no teyyam; she cannot be worshipped by low-castes. That is why she decides to settle on the seaside - the realm of the high-caste. She also has the right to call Siva (source of all humans?) na ½½acin ("father") and the right to inflict disease or cause segregation. These rights, in terms of high-caste philosophy. These rights, in terms of high-caste philosophy, are her birth rights.
The fisherman is ironically called sankupala meaning the protector of conch shells (which have tremendous ritualistic significance in high-caste temples known as ambalams); he recognizes Srikurumba as a goddess by offering her a place in the "central room". He has to suffer for his action of violating the social norm. He is not where he belongs; this is substantiated by the gfact that he is found in the realm of the high-caste (sea-side) although his social status identifies him with the low-caste (hill-side). Again he recognizes, and attempts to worship, a goddess who is not the goddess of his social group; and instead of being called fisherman (a non-vegetarian profession) he is, in accordance with his actions, rightly called "protector of conch shells" or protector of others' norms and vegetarian substances (conch shells). Therefore, for violating the social norms he deserves to be punished. The oppositions of high-caste Vs. low-caste, sea-side Vs. hill-side, vegetarian Vs. non-vegetarian, etc., available in the first part of this narrative are represented by various characters and their actions. If there are any "mediation efforts" that satisfy the structuralist usage of the term (see Lévi-Strauss, 1969 : 210; Maranda and Maranda, 1971 : 37), they seem to be unsuccessful (or "zero mediation") as is clear from the fllowing diagram :
Let us now look at the second segment of the narrative. Interestingly, it seems that here also we are dealing with a similar phenomenon, although in an "inverted" form, expressed in the same narrative logic as we saw in the first segment. The main event in this part of the narrative is thehigh-caste Brahmin's agreeing to Naupari Devata suggestions of visiting ambalam (high-caste temple) and suffering (he is killed) as a reslt of this action. In other words what the fisherman tried to do in the first part of the story, Brahman tries to repeat in the second part, in an inverted form. If a fisherman, who is a low-caste, non-vegetarian and hill-side dweller, attempts to enter the realm of the high caste, which is quite opposite to his own realm, he is rejected, loses his own identity and becomes "dead". Just so, a Brahman who is high-caste, vegetarian and a sea-side dweller would lose his own identity and become "dead" by making an attempt to enter the realm of the low-caste. In both cases, crossing the socially accepted boundaries results in social "death"20. Thus, fisherman: low caste: hill-side: non-vegetarian:: Brahman: high-caste: sea-side: vegetarian.
Before commenting upon some of the problems revealed by the above analysis, it is worthwhile to cover the third and final part of the narrative, and then sum up the results. In the third segment, the goddess mets with the Nambiar; a non-Brahman member of the high-caste, directs him to worship her and offer sacrifices. This is the crucial event. Pudiya Bagavati's final journey, along wither companions, towards thehill-side beyond the Va½apaaam river, should be treated as additional information regarding the sea-side/hill-side dichotomy already discussed.
In the caste hierarchy of northern Kerala, particularly Cannanore, the Nambiars seem to occupy a middle position. Like Nayars, they possess the attributes of both the high-caste and the low-caste. This becomes more readily evident when we look into their kinship pattern and food habits (see Gough, 1959). This "middle" position of the Nambiar, expressed less clearly in day-to-day social activities, seems rather more clearly expressed through the medium of folk narrative.
In Cannanore and its surrounding areas in north Kerala, three types of worship-places are identifiable: ambalam, kavu and madapura. While ambalams are usually huge stone structures closely resembling the temples one notices in other major towns of South India (where gods of the classical Hindu pantheon are worshipped), kavus are small wooden structures with no parallels elsewhere; they are intended solely for theworship ofindigenous gods and goddesses. Another clear distinction is that kavus are generally located on the hill-side (there are some on the coastal belt also; but, I am told, this is a recent development) and ambalams on the side of the sea. Moreover ambalam is a vegetarian complex, while kavu is a non-vegetarian complex, essentially a place of sacrifice. Madapura is, in a way, a "big" kavu and seems quite recent. It retains all the essential characteristics of kavu, even the architectural qualities. Only one madapura exists in the area. This is dedicated to muttappan. Therefore the distinctiveness of these two realms, identifiable by the low- and high-caste dichotomy, and formulated into the basic mental conflicts expressed in the narrative, seems logically very close to the social activities and the order they have been given.
This is further substantiated by the role of Va¸¸an, the caste which performs teyam, Va¸¸ans occupy a very low position in the caste hierarchy, but some of the roles assigned to a Va¸¸an in the overall caste net-work suggest his important mediating position not only between the highcaste and low-caste, but also between the realm of divine and human within his own low-caste world. He seems to fulfil these roles at this conceptual level, both vertically and horizontally, each supporting the other.
A Va¸¸an, though low-caste, has powers to "purify" high-caste women by providing them the menstrual cloth (mau) (see informants answer 18). He also provides the special purifying "cloth" to the kavu for use on annual festival. It is rather tempting to compare this dual role of Va¸¸an with that of Brahman. This places Va¸¸an parallel, if not very close, to Brahman in the society as shown in the following diagram:
In addition to his role as a "purifier" in the usual ritualistic sense, the Brahman possesses the power of purifying other castes; this is due to his role as mediator between the human and the divine kingdoms. For instance, in Kerala, Brahmans marry their sons (barring the eldest) among other caste as Nambiars, Nayars etc. (who, it would seem, are elevated to this high-caste status as a result of this "relation" or act of "purification"; otherwise they are traditionally considered low-castes). In other words, Brahmans perform this act of purification through their sons; the purification of a low-caste woman (vagina) is doenthrough a Brahman's son (penis). Reciprocally, the purification21 of a Brahman woman (considering her vagina as the menstrual path) is doneby a low-caste Va¸¸an's cloth, since (as we have shown above) Va¸¸ans also "purify" kavu with "cloth", it seems, then, that in the Brahmans, case, the power to purify is assigned to hispenis (resulting in a new kinship order); while in the Va¸¸ans case, power to purify an equally polluted substance, is assigned to his cloth (resulting in no change in the kinship order). Moreover, Va¸¸an being a washerman, he could not be symbolized more appropriately than by a piece of clean cloth. To sum up:
Brahman/penis: purification/non-Brahman (vagina) ::
Va¸¸an/cloth: purification/Brahman (vagina)
One can also look at these oppositions and their respective relations from a totally different viewpoint. Va¸¸ans are much inferior in caste rank, notonly to Brahmans and other high-castes, but even to Tiyas who are themselves low-castes. There are other "untouchable" castes such as Malayan, polayan etc., who are inferior to Va¸¸an and who he "does not like" and "does not like to eat or sit with"; unlike Brahmans, they are "not pious" (see informants answer 11 and 18). This suggests Va¸¸ans are caste-conscious and that they suffer from an ambiguity of social identity due to their special position in the complex hierarchical system. The Va¸¸an's ideal is the pious Brahmin (see informants answer 11) and the high-caste; he can overcome the frustration this ideal inspires, despite his own position in the hierarchy, by virtue of the specific roles, of purifier and mediator. These parallel the roles of Brahman and are therefore the source of his powers. At this conceptual level, he becomes the "Brahman" of low castes, and thus mediates between the realms of the divine and the human. Therefore, it is not without reson, that Va¸¸ans are both washerman and teyyam performers functions which have no obvious connection in the real life, but which are closely connected at the conceptual level:
Let us now look at the other narrative, i.e., of Muttappan. This narrative also can be reduced to three syntagmatic parts: (i) the "origin" of non-vegetarian (low-caste) Mttappan in a vegetarian (high-caste, Brahmin) family, (ii) his quarrel with the "parents" and departure toward the hill-side and (iii) encounter with Candan and his wife and final journey. In another version22, the narrative has a fourth segment as well. We shall come to it later.
In the first segment, the narrative clearly reveals that Muttappan possesses all the attributes of a hill-side dweller or a low caste. His actions (drinking toddy, hunting) indicate that he might be a Tiyya. Thus contradictions and conflicts of caste seem to stem from the first segment of the narrative itself. Moreover these oppositions become apparent in sets quite similar to the ones we notice in the narrative analyzed above. These oppositions, as we shall see, direct the narrative development to its logical conclusion. It needs to be emphasized, however, that unlike the first narrative, a new opposition - i.e., male/female - seems to emerge in this narrative, within the main oppositions. Thus:
In the final segment, the caste-Vs.-kinship opposition is augmented with a tension between the male and the female system; this emerges andbecomes very clear in the second segment of the narrative: the woman (Brahmin's wife) attempts to mediate these opposite realms of caste, sea-side, hill-side andabove all the kinship systems.
It is interesting to ntoe that high-caste, particularly Brahmans, in northern Kerala, follow the makkatayam (patrilineal) kin order, while the low-caste, including those who seem to have been elevated to "high-caste" ranks by virtue of their matrimonial alliances with the Bramans, follow marumakkantayam23 (matrilineal) system of kinship. These two systems of kinship should be viewed in the wider context of a pan-India patrilineal kinship order which forms the basis of law, social rights, and obligations of the land24. Under such circumstances, it is quite reasonable to believe that socially inferior groups, following the matrilineal system (most of the Dravidian groups of South India are patrilineal) - a system of the Brahmans, thesuperior caste. Thenarrative, then, does not only reflect this thrust and thethreat it causes, but also reaffirms the institution of matrilineality.
This is symbolically expressed and can be see in various elements of the narative. For instance, thevery name Muttappan means mother's elder brother25, who is the matrilineal kinship order. While Muttappan in all segments of the narrative refuses to yield to the commands of the male (who represent patrilineal order) he easily accepts the orders and fulfils the wishes of the female kin (representing matrilineal order). These relations become very clear when we examine the fourth part of the narrative, as recorded in another versions:
" After worshipping Muttappa a Tiya Kaaranavar (head of the family) was sleeping on the king's arayaltara (stone stage beneath a Peepul tree). The king considered this act as polluting and hence killed the Tiya by his silver sword. Muttappa rushed to this place and killed the king and his family " (Brouwer and Payyanad, 1978 : 3).
Among the Tiyyas and other communities, when mother's elder brother (Muttappan) also becomes the head of the family. He is known as karanarvar, meaning "mother's elder brother and the head of the family". The king, a descendant of the patrilineal system, kills a Tiyya with his silver sword26. This is his response to the social threat posed when the matrilineal family tries to usurp his stone (firm) stage. But since Tiyya is a caste which Muttappan belongs to, the god must (and does) act in retribution. Therefore, this part of the narrative also confirms the conflict between two kinship systems.
As is caste, kinship also is itself "deeply imbued with the hierarchical principle expressed by the opposition of purity and pollution" (Claus, 1975 : 52) and it provides much of the raw material for the narratives concerning s, 1975 : 52) and it provides much of the raw material for the narratives concerning teyyam. Not all such materials establish a justification of matrilineality as does the story of Muttappan; some actually reveals the system's potential pitfalls and tragedies. An excellent example of the latter would be the narrative of Makkam (see Kurup, 1973 : 60), which is structurally close to the story of Siri of Tulunad, which, according to Claus, "is a charter for the institution of matrilineality [and] its tragedy" (1975 : 53).
This cursory, and to some extent fragmentary examination of a few narrative samples suggests that the cult of teyyam need be studied in its entirety. Historical and ethnographic studies of the cult have not recognized the importance of the narrative materials which are so central to the cult of teyyam. Furthermore, by studying teyyam narrative data structurally, as we attempted in this brief study, we believe that the entire narrative material can be reduced to narrative set or sets and the messages underlying these sets deciphered. There are more chances of these messages being limited in number although the number of narratives seems unlimited. This line of analysis should be useful to know more about the thought patterns underlying these narratives which are so important to understand the cult and the communities who follow it. This should also help in discovering some meaning in these narratives which otherwise look chaotic and illogical as do most of the narratives of this type generally.
Another important aspect which we hinted as but did not elaborate upon in the first section of this paper, is that scholars seem to have ignored the deeper aspects of narrative phenomenon, while labeling the cult as "hero cult". Little attention, if any, has been given to relate the narrative structures to the overall phenomenon of the cult, in a holistic manner. Ethnographers, who have worked on various aspects of Dravidian studies have by and large ignored oral narratives and even other forms of folklore as an important evidence for cultural inquiry. Oral traditions cannot be isolated from other culture phenomena. They share the logical devices and thought patterns of the entire culture. It is imperative then that scholars try to extrapolate such thought patterns from other equally important cultural forms as a whole in an attempt to reveal more facts about the mode of thinking of the culture.
Moe narrative forms of a similar nature from other related Dravidian cultures need to be examined on similar lines to substantiate the sort of oppositions we delineated in the above samples. Oral as well as written narrative forms, proverbs and even riddles of many Indian tribal cultures are loaded with similar (if not identical) opposition based on clear historical truths sometimes. To cite an example Meiteis in the State of Manipur are traditionally known as "People of the valley" and other tribal groups as "People of the hills". One need not dig the "unconscious" to find this opposition as it is available on the surface of mythology, songs, literature, art and the entire cultural phenomenon.
As I said earlier, the cult of teyyam is a highly complex phenomenon and as such demands simultaneous study from various view points - folkloristic, linguistic ethnographic, religions, etc. For instance a religious study of the cult may tell us something more about the theory and practice of the Dravidian religious model. In view of recently published interesting research findings on South Indian (particularly Tamil) religious and devotional aspects (See Hart, 1979), it would be interesting and academically useful to extend the scope of this research to the cult of teyyam so that we might be able to trace some of the missing elements in reconstructing the outline of the picture of indigenous Dravidian religious thought.