Neeliyar Bhagavathi Theyyam

Neeliyar Bhagavathi also known as Kottatamma or Ottathara is a Theyyam ritual conducted in the northern part of Kerala, India. The term Neeliyar Bhagavathi refers to the goddess of the Mangattuparamba Neeliyar temple; the ritual is mainly performed in this temple. This Theyyam is usually performed in the evening, during sunset. The goddess Neeliyar Bhagavathi has temples dedicated to her in different parts of Kannur including Cherukunnu, Eranjikkal, Mathamangala, etc. This particular Theyyam is performed by the Vannan caste. Only a few musical instruments, like a single Chenda and other are used during the performance.

Unlike other Theyyams Neeliyar Bhagavathi Theyyam is conducted throughout the year. During Karkidaka month – from the 2nd day to the 16th day – this Theyyam is not performed, as it is believed that during this time the goddess is away in Kottiyoor. This theyyam is performed on every Sankramam day. Families who do not have children, or those awaiting marriage also prey to perform this theyyam as offering.

Families who do not have children, as well as those awaiting marriage, pray at this temple. Once their wishes are fulfilled, or in order for their wishes to be fulfilled, they conduct a Theyyam at the temple.

The Neeliyar Bhagavathi Theyyam is very similar to the Valiya Thampuratty Theyyam, a ritual form that is quite famous in other parts of Kannur. The face-painting and long crown is almost identical in both the Theyyams. People from Vannan caste who have the honour of Karakkaattidam Nayanar typically have the privilege of performing this Theyyam.

The Mangattuparamba neeliyar Kottam is a sacred Groove spread over an area of about 19 acres. No actual temple construction is there in the Kavu. Since there is Theyyam round the year there are small buldings to do the facial makeup and all during rainy season and all. The 20feet long Mudi or crown is also stored in  these building.

Myth or Story

According to legend, in Kottiyoor, Kannur, there was once a lower-caste woman called Neeli who was extremely beautiful and intelligent. She was killed by the local ruler. Upon her death, Neeli became the Goddess Neeliyar Bhagavathi. When she was alive, Neeli lived near a sandbank. After her death, whenever travellers came near the river next to this place, Neeliyar Bhagavathi would ask them whether they needed oil and a thaali leaf (used in the place of soap in ancient time) before their bath. Whoever said yes and went near her was captured, whereupon the Goddess Neeliyar Bhagavathi would suck their blood. No one who went near the river ever returned home. Once, a personal called Kalakkad Namboothiri went there for a bath, and saw Neeliyar Bhagavathi. The Goddess asked him his name; he replied saying he was Kalakkad; and the Goddess told him that she was Kali. She then gave him oil and a thaali leaf. Kalakkad drank the oil and thaali juice saying that it was Amruthu (nectar) given to him by his mother. On seeing this, the Goddess was very happy that he called him mother, and so she spared his life, and furthermore accompanied him on his way to the west. Neeliyar Bhagavathi then revealed that she was a Goddess, and said she would like to reside in a temple where the tiger and cow live together peacefully. On their journey, Kalakkad Nambhoothiri saw a cow and tiger co-existing in Mangattuparambu, and so he put down his umbrella (made from the leaves of a palm tree) and rested there. The Goddess was accompanying him by riding atop the umbrella, and decided to stay at the place. Kalakkad Nambhoothiri subsequently set up a temple for the Goddess at the spot.

However, M. V. Vishnu Nambuthiri, who is a scholar of Kerala folklore in general and the Theyyam ritual in particular, suggests that this story is not an official part of any of the folk songs about Neeliyar Bhagavathi herself.

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