Gulikan theyyam: Indian Art and Cultural Documentation

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Theyyam is an 800-year old celebration of divinity and devotion in the northern Malabar region of Kerala. There are more than 400 different kinds of Theyyam in Kerala, each being unique in style, music, choreography, make-up, costumes, etc. Pottan, Kari Chamundi, Gulikan, Vishnumurthy, Nagakanni, Veerali, Raktha Chamundi, Bhagavati, and Mutiappan are some of the most popular forms of Theyyam in Kerala.

Gulikan theyyam was the only Theyyam that did not have the traditional theyyam body paint colors of red or orange on body but was covered in white, almost the color of ash. Stripes of black lines ran through his bare body and he wore a waist adornment made of nimble palm strands. His eyes were covered in patches of black color which seemed to speak with wrath and anger.

Gulikan is believed to be an incarnation of Yama, the Hindu god of death and justice. According to Indian mythology, Gulikan was one of the most important warriors of Lord Shiva. None, not even gods, dared to look at him. The dance steps performed by the Gulikan Theyyam are very fascinating. The Gulikan Theyyam is a necessary part of every Kaliyattam. Venganakavu Gulikan temple at Nileshwar is the most famous Gulikan temples in Kerala.

Guligan theyyam is a real frightening one. As high as high, As wide as earth, Round fiery eyes like coconut, teeth resembling chisel, hands as tough as aracnut tree, Legs as strong as coconut tree trunk. These depicts the shape and size of Guligan.

The historic context behind Gulikan Theyyam

The powerful ascetic Shiva defends his devotee Markandeya from Yama, the god of death, First printed by Raja Ravi Varma Press in 1910

Markandeya rishi had only 16 years of life in earth. Knowing this he worshiped Lord Shiva. At the age of 16 Yaman the God of Death came to take the life of Markandeya but he held Shivalinga tightly with him. Yaman with his rope tied shivalinga also with Markandeya. Shiva got angry and to save the life of Markandeya Lord Shiva opend his third eye and Lord Yaman was burned alive. After the death of God Yaman there was no death in Earth and all the devas went to Lord Shiva to complain about this. To solve the problem Lord Shiva pressed the left thumb of his toe to down and from the thumb the Gulikan was born and Shiva send Gulikan to Earth giving his the duties of Lord Yaman to maintain the balance of life and death.  

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