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Theodore Kaye October 8, 2010

Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in India.

Theyyam ceremony. Kerala, India 2010

Theodore Kaye (b.1981, USA) grew up in China, India and Indonesia. While majoring in Film at Yale, he studied Uzbek and Farsi and then went to work as a newspaper editor and mountain guide in Central Asia before settling on a photo career. As a staff photographer at Rhythms Monthly, a Chinese-language geographic magazine, he has covered stories in India, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Taiwan, Japan, Ireland and Great Britain. His work has been featured by the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, the Asahi Shimbun and the National Film Board of Canada. He is currently pursuing personal projects in the Central Asian ’stans, Greater China and South Asia.

About the Photograph:

“Theyyam” (a rendering of the Sanskrit word for “God”) is a North Kerala rite or art form that dates back thousands of years. There are over 400 Gods – Hindu and animist- in the Theyyam pantheon. Theyyam performers don’t just portray the Gods; they actually become them, via spirit possession. The performers all come from the lowest castes- waiters, butchers, laborers and such- yet, every winter and spring, they are transformed into vehicles for deities ‘visiting’ this world. The months-long rites are sponsored by local top-tier Brahmans who reverently submit to the commands of the visiting Gods, often interlarded with screeds against caste injustice. Such a power-shift is nothing short of revolutionary in this historically caste-ridden corner of Kerala, where forms of ‘untouchability’ still prevail.”

“Although the subject of the photo is so primal and ancient, the means by which I got the image are distinctly modern: a camera allowing for high-ISO quality imagery and a remote-control, digitized “fixer” who guided me from nearly 3,000 km away. My Keralite contact, a Dubai-based Brahman accountant, was so passionate about Theyyam that he recruited, by phone and text message, a posse of on-site neighbors, relatives and local officials to steer me to the remote pre-dawn jungle clearing where I came face-to-face with a channeled God.”

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