Theyyam Dancer Breastplate

Theyyam Dancer Breastplate

Theyyam, a ritual dance art form, has been performed for over a thousand years and it has become, more recently, very popular with tourists. The select group of dancers are men from a particular caste in the villages along the coastal regions of Kerala and Karnataka and are trained into the art form by their fathers (only one dance form is practised by women). These ritualized forms of worship take place in an open air theatre that includes the village shrines. Musicians gather to play drums and other Indian instruments to accompany the dancer/s. According to the traditional form being observed, which could stretch for up to 24 hours, the dancers wear different costumes and makeup. Very elaborate and colorful makeup is applied to the face and other body parts of the dancer who wears a costume of bright color, grass skirts, metal pieces, lots of jewelry on the arms and legs. Theyyam dancers spend days ahead of their dance in preparation to communicate with the deities represented in different dances. Mainly, it is the Mother Goddess in her splendor of fertility, abundance, and nature that is worshipped, and there are over 400 different theyyam rituals for appeasing other spirits and deities.

The breastplate featured here would have been worn in such a ritual dance performance. It brings the abundant features of the Goddess to the male dancer. It is adorned with three necklaces and snakes that travel around the breasts and other symbolic representations. There is no stand which has been custom made for this artifact.

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Cast bronze.


South eastern India, Karnataka or Kerala


Estimated age is late 19th century.


13" (H) x 10" (W) x 5" (D)