Kannur (Cannanore) has always been a favorite destination of the intrepid foreign traveler. Europeans, Chinese and Arabs have visited our coasts. In his book of travels Marco Polo recounts his visit to the area circa 1250 AD Other visitors included Fahian, the Buddhist pilgrim and Ibn Batuta, writer and historian of Tangiers. The lure of the orient, the quest for spices or just the thirst for adventure attracted these distinguished visitor to Kannur. However, for the modern tourist, while these reasons may still hold good, there is also the added attraction of completely unwinding at some of the most scenic locations in the world.
Kannur has been since olden days, the cradle of ageless folk art and music. Even today, the myriads of Kavus (small shrines) which dot the district are centers of the Theyyam, a ritual dance in which men impersonate supernatural beings and indeed elevate Kannur to a land of fabulous fantasies.
When the monsoon recedes, when the blue skies are clear and skies are clear of dark clouds, and the days hard work is done, drums resound from the villages, far and near. This is the season of Theyyam.
Theyyam is the old ritual dance North Kerala and Kannur can be named as the birth place of Theyyam. It's a religion based ritual dance. Men get into colorful exotic dresses, paint themselves as Gods, Goddesses, devils, evil sprits and even diseases, and dance to drums and music throughout the night. There are about four hundred different kinds of Theyyams. Theyyam offers a fascinating and novel experience for your eyes. The Theyyam performance has an aura of divine splendor as its accompanied by rituals & other devotional hymns.
Kalaripayattu is the ancient martial art of the State. Thalassery is the threshold of the Kalari Payattu. It is considered as the forerunner of Karate & Kung-fu. The Kalari is treated as the temple of learning. Age old traditions and customs are still practiced inside the Kalari religiously till today. The Gurukkal system consists of rigorous physical training besides training in self discipline. The weapons used were the sword, dagger, shield, short sticks, spears etc. The co-ordination of the body and mind is given maximum importance in this art.
A large number of folk plays and dances are prevalent among the scheduled castes and tribes. They believe that dancing and singing make their gods happy. Each tribe has its own glorious collection of folk plays and dances which are performed during festivals. Among the Adiyans there is a folk play in which a senior man plays on a Thundi (drum) and the men sing and dance to the beating of the drum. Though their women do not participate in the dance, they join in the community singing.
The Malayalers had among them an interesting form of mock fighting called Vishanti, in which they used wooden shields supplied by members of other castes and the actual Vishanti or blowing was done with the stems of plantain leaves. This kind of mock fighting has now practically disappeared. The Malayans have the Thiyyattom ceremony which consists of dancing with masks and singing and the Ucchavali ceremony which is symbolic of human sacrifice. The Paniyar have their characteristic devil dance.
Godaveri or Godamuri
Godaveri is an entertaining folk play of a quasi religious nature which is performed in the central parts of Kannur district by the Malayans who are experts in devil dancing. The central figure in the performance is a boy in a girl's makeup, enclosed in a frame work of the spathe of the arecanut tree modelled in the shape of a cow with head and tail. The body is accompanied by a drummer and a number of men who wear fantastic masks and their bodies smeared with ashes. The performers recite a song, the theme of which is the sacredness and the virtues of the cow and its benefits to mankind. The cow is called Godaveri from which this ceremonial play derives its name. The Godaveri group of players confine their visits to agricultural families, thus emphasising the character of the play as a fertility rite.
Vedan Padal or Vedan Pattu
Vedan Padal (Vedan Pattu) is a peculiar ceremony observed in certain parts of the district in the month of Karkidakam (July-August) which coincides with the season of scarcity in Kerala. The Vedan or hunter is impersonated by a boy, in a peculiar makeup, who is armed with bow and arrows and accompanied by an attendant who carries a small drum on his shoulder. The vedan gets a ceremonial welcome in each household. In the course of the welcoming ceremony, the drummer chants a folk song which has for its theme, the precarious life of a hunter in the forest, his attempts to make a living by taking to agriculture, the difficulties of cultivation in the hilly tracts and the wild nature of the country, teeming with animals. He describes particularly the story of the pursuit of a wild boar by the hunter and his triumphant encounter with Arjuna. The performance ends with the disclosure of the vedan as Siva who blesses his devotee Arjuna. The Malayans who figure in the Vedan Padal are given some rice and curry provisions such as salt and chilies from each house. It is the popular belief that the ceremony would avert the evil tendencies of the month and assure happiness and prosperity to the household.
Marathukali is a fusion of two different styles of cultural arts that prevailed in this region. One of them is of arguments and counter arguments of two groups which comprise of scholars in scientific subjects and the other is Poorakkali demonstration of their supporters. It is a competitive "game art" conducted in temple yards. So, naturally it gained ritualistic importance. The game lasts for a long time; at times it extends to even a day or more.
Poorakkali is a temple festival held in the Bhagavathy temples in the month of Meenam. In this festival which lasts for nine days, we find rejoicing on the rebirth of Kama, the god of love, and the enjoyment of people in regaining the feelings of love. It has a dramatic folklore touch and its literature is embellished with glorious deeds of Lord Siva and Lord Vishnu.
Ballads sung in praise of the exploits of local heroes form an important source of inspiration for the community. These ballads are sometimes connected with deities. Some of them are on the miraculous life and deeds of heroes and heroines. The ballads which originated in the northern parts of Kerala, known as "Vadakken Pattukal", are the most popular among them. Almost all Vadakken Pattukals are closely associated with Kalari (martial) and Payattu (fight). Most of the songs in this category are in praise of the members of two families in north Kerala namely Potturam Veedu and Tacholi Manikkottu Veedu', of which the former belonged to Tiyya and the latter to Naiar sub castes of the Hindus.
Evidently, these ballads of Kannur, which belonged to the 16th century AD, portray a social system which demands every youth to undergo martial training.