|Culture of Kerala
The predominant language spoken in Kerala is Malayalam. Tamil, Tulu, Kannada and various Adivasi (Tribal) languages are also spoken by ethnic minorities especially in the south-western region. Paremmakkal Thoma Kathanar (1736–1799) is considered to be the father of modern Malayalam prose. He is the author of Varthamanapusthakam (1790), the first ever travelogue in an Indian language.
Religions in Kerala are a mixture of different faiths, most significantly Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. Kerala has a reputation of being, communally one of the least sensitive states in India. According to the 2001 Census of India figures, 56% of Kerala residents are Hindus, 24% are Muslims, 19% are Christians, and the remaining follow other religions including Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism, Judaism. Various tribal people in Kerala have retained various religious beliefs of their ancestors.
The major Hindu castes are Nambudiri, Nairs, Ezhavas and Dalits. Notably, steps taken by many progressive and tolerant Hindu kings over the years and movements like Narayana Guru’s movement for social reform and tolerance helped to establish Kerala as one of the most socially progressive states in India. The Abrahamic religions attest to Kerala’s prominence as a major trade centre. Islam and Judaism arrived in Kerala through Arab traders. A significant Jewish community existed in Kerala until the 20th century when most of them migrated to Israel leaving only a handful of families. The Paradesi Synagogue at Kochi is the oldest synagogue in the Commonwealth. Christianity is believed to have reached the shores of Kerala in 52 AD with the arrival of St Thomas, one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ The major Christian denominations are Catholic, Oriental Orthodox and Protestant.
Malayalam literature is medieval in origin and includes such figures as the 14th century Niranam poets (Madhava Panikkar, Sankara Panikkar and Rama Panikkar), and the 17th century poet Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan whose works mark the dawn of both modern Malayalam language and indigenous Keralite poetry. The “triumvirate of poets” (Kavithrayam), Kumaran Asan, Vallathol Narayana Menon, and Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer, are recognised for moving Keralite poetry away from archaic sophistry and metaphysics, and towards a more lyrical mode.
In the second half of the 20th century, Jnanpith awardees like G. Sankara Kurup, S. K. Pottekkatt, Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai and M. T. Vasudevan Nair have made valuable contributions to the Malayalam literature. Later, such Keralite writers as O. V. Vijayan, Kamaladas, M. Mukundan, and Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy, whose 1996 semi-autobiographical bestseller. The God of Small Things is set in the Kottayam town of Ayemenem, have gained international recognition.
Kerala’s cuisine is typically served as a sadhya (feast) on green banana leaves. Such dishes as idli, payasam, pulisherry, puttukadala, or Puttu Payar Pappadam, puzhukku, rasam, and sambar are typical.
Keralites—both men and women alike—traditionally don flowing and unstitched garments. These include the mundu, a loose piece of cloth wrapped around men’s waists. Women typically wear the sari, a long and elaborately wrapped banner of cloth, wearable in various styles. Presently, North Indian dresses such as Salwar kameez are also popular amongst women in Kerala.
The elephants are an integral part of the daily life in Kerala. These Indian elephants are given a prestigious place in the state’s culture. Elephants in Kerala are often referred to as the ‘sons of the sahya’. The elephant is the state animal of Kerala and is featured on the emblem of the Government of Kerala.
Kerala which is often referred to as ‘God’s Own Country’ has a large number of Hindu temples. Many of the temples have unique traditions and most hold festivals on specific days of the year. Temple festivals usually continue for a number of days. A common characteristic of these festivals is the hoisting of a holy flag which is then brought down only on the final day of the festival. Some festivals include Poorams, the most famous of these being the Thrissur Pooram. Temples that can afford it will usually involve at least one richly caparisoned elephant as part of the festivities. The idol of the God in the temple is taken out on a procession around the country side atop this elephant. When the procession visits homes around the temple, people will usually present rice, coconuts, and other offerings to the God. Processions often include traditional music such as Panchari melam or Panchavadyam.
The major Hindu temple festivals in the state are Makaravilakku at Sabarimala, Thrissur Pooram, Ashtami at Vaikom temple, Kodungalloor Bharani, Chettikulangara Bharani at Mavelikkara, Guruvayoor Anayottam, and Chottanikkara Makam.
Sports and Martial arts
Kerala also has its own indigenous form of martial art — Kalarippayattu, derived from the words kalari (‘place’, ‘threshing floor’, or ‘battlefield’) and payattu (‘exercise’ or ‘practice’). Influenced by both Kerala’s Brahminical past and Ayurvedic medicine, kalaripayattu is attributed by oral tradition to Parasurama. After some two centuries of suppression by British colonial authorities, it is now experiencing strong comeback among Keralites while also steadily gaining worldwide attention. Other popular ritual arts include theyyam and poorakkali — these originate from northern Malabar, which is the northernmost part of Kerala. Nevertheless, these have in modern times been largely supplanted by more popular sports such as cricket, kabaddi, soccer, badminton, and others. Kerala is home of the football clubs Viva Kerala and FC Kochin.
The ragas and talas of lyrical and devotional carnatic music — another native product of South India — dominates Keralite classical musical genres. Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma, a 19th-century king of Travancore and patron and composer of music, was instrumental in popularising carnatic music in early Kerala. Additionally, Kerala has its own native music system, sopanam, which is a lugubrious and step-by-step rendition of raga-based songs. It is sopanam, for example, that provides the background music used in kathakali. The wider traditional music of Kerala also includes melam (including the paandi and panchari variants), as style of percussive music performed at temple-centered festivals using an instrument known as the chenda. Up to 150 musicians may comprise the ensembles staging a given performance; each performance, in turn, may last up to four hours. Panchavadyam is a differing type of percussion ensemble consisting of five types of percussion instruments; these can be utilised by up to one hundred artists in certain major festivals.
Native traditions of classical performing arts include koodiyattom, a form of Sanskrit drama or theatre and a UNESCO-designated Human Heritage Art. Kathakali (from katha (“story”) and kali (“performance”)) is a 500-year-old form of dance-drama that interprets ancient epics; a popularized offshoot of kathakali is Kerala natanam (developed in the 20th century by dancer Guru Gopinath). Meanwhile, koothu is a more light-hearted performance mode, akin to modern stand-up comedy; an ancient art originally confined to temple sanctuaries, it was later popularized by Mani Madhava Chakyar. Other Keralite performing arts include mohiniyaattam (“dance of the enchantress”), which is a type of graceful choreographed dance performed by women and accompanied by musical vocalizations. Thullal, padayani, and theyyam are other important Keralite arts.