Everything about Kerala culture, tradition, and heritage is unique that everyone must experience. It is a state of cultural diversity, which means a complete blend of various religions, communities, and language variations.
Kerala is a culturally diverse state of India that was created by its unique geographic features as it is in between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats.
The state is well known for its scenic locations, rain forests, agricultural tradition, Kerala architecture, its ancient trade relations with foreign lands, festivals like Onam, its variety of cuisine, and also its vast tradition of art and Malayalam literature.
History of Kerala
Kerala was first mentioned as Keralaputra in 300 BC based on rock inscriptions by the emperor Ashoka of Mauryan. It was one of the four independent kingdoms in southern India during the rule of emperor Ashoka, other being Pandyas, Satyaputras, and Cholas. During his rule, Kerala was transformed into an international trade center by establishing trade relations through the Arabian Sea.
During the 1st century, the Jewish immigrants arrived in Kerala and started Christianity tradition, and in the same century, St.Thomas Apostles visited Kerala.
After that, when Adi Shankaracharya started living in the Kerala state during 788-820AD he propagated the Advaida philosophy.
Then the era of foreign intervention commenced on the landing of Vasco Da Gama in 1498 near Calicut. He established a sea route to Kozhikode resulting in the influx of Portuguese population in the area. This period was marked as the beginning of the Colonial era of India.
After independence, Kochi and Travancore were united and the present state of Kerala was constituted.
Kerala Food Culture
Kerala is popular for its delicious and tastiest food. Keralites cuisine is characterized by the use of coconut in the form of either chopped, garnishing, or edible oil which is used for cooking. The food also has many other spices such as chilies, curry leaves, mustard seeds, and various other spices. Seafood is quite popular amongst Keralites. Various kinds of fishes, prawns, crabs, oysters, etc are popular in Kerala. People also love to eat chicken and meat dishes.
Sadya a Vegetarian meal is served on a plantain leaf consisting of boiled rice, vegetable curries, side dishes, chutneys, pickles, and deserts. The other food delicacies like Puttu and Kadala (Pounded Rice with Black Gram Curry), Idiappam (Rice Noodles), Tapioca, Fish Curry Chemeen (Prawns), and Nandu (Crab), are few of the mouth-watering dishes served in Kerala.
Religion in Kerala
People in Kerala are mainly of three religions – Hinduism, Christianity, and Muslim. Hinduism is the oldest religion in the state followed by Islam and Christianity. All traditional festivals of Hinduism, Christianity, and Muslim are celebrated by all the communities in Kerala.
Traditional Dresses of Kerala
The traditional dress in Kerala for women is a saree and blouse. During festivals, women wear Kasavu saree. The saree is of white and gold color. Kasavu saree is different from all other sarees because of its natural color, texture, and gold border.
The traditional dress for men is Mundu. It is a long piece of a garment wrapped around their waist. It is similar to a lungi and a dhoti.
Festivals of Kerala
Onam festival is one of the biggest festivals celebrated by Malayalis in Kerala. It is a 10-day harvest festival which is celebrated from August to September. It is celebrated to honour the mythical King Mahabali. The festival is celebrated on a huge scale with flowers decorated at the entrance of the house. The celebration also includes traditional dances and a snake boat race competition known as Vallamkali.
Vishu festival is celebrated on the first day of Medam, it is the Malayalam month which comes around April. It is celebrated as a Harvest festival during which farmers begin the plowing of land.
It signifies the beginning of the Spring season. This time is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and is celebrated by worshipping Lord Vishnu and Lord Krishna.
Thrissur Pooram Festival
Thrissur Pooram festival in Kerala is celebrated in the month of Medam. The festival is celebrated in the temples in which two different groups called Thiruvambai and Paramekkavu compete against each other. The contest is on clothing their elephants in beautiful garments and on having different types of huge umbrellas.
Dance and Music of Kerala
Kerala is known for its different art & dance forms like Kathakali, Mohiniattam, Kolkali, classical music, and Kalaripayattu.
Kathakali dance has been recognized as a Cultural Heritage of Kerala. It is a dance-drama that depicts a story of Indian mythologies. Kathakali dance has the most elaborate colourful costumes consisting of headdresses, face masks, and vividly painted faces. During the Kathakali performance, a traditional drum known as Chenda is played.
Mohiniattam or Mohiniyattam is another classical dance art form of Kerala that adheres to feminine grace which is to be soft, graceful, and gentle in dance with elegant eye movements. This classical dance is performed by a solo women dancer. The dance is performed in the honour of Hindu God Lord Vishnu. It was earlier performed by Devadasis. This classical dance is a blend of Bharatanatyam and Kathakali.
Kolkali is a folk dance popular in the Malabar region of Kerala. The dance performers, generally around 16-20 move in a circle by striking small sticks and maintaining rhythm. They expand and contract the circle during the dance. Every dancer moves in a close pattern without touching each other.
Kalaripayattu is also known as Kalari, is an age-old martial arts form in Kerala. It is a type of swordplay in which men use swords and move around gracefully by synchronizing their minds and body together.
Kalari training starts with an oil massage of the body. The massage helps in making the artist agile and flexible. After massage training is followed by teaching basic moves such as chaattom (jumping), ottam (running), marichil (somersault), adi (strike), idi (punch), thada (defense), and payattu (assault).
Music in Kerala is influenced by Malayalam literature. Kerala is known for its Carnatic classical music and also for its very famous Sopanam music. Sopanam music is a form of classical music that involves folk singing which is performed inside the temple. Kerala is also famous for its Kathakali music.
Art and Craft of Kerala
Kerala is famous for its art and craft. It is the land of artistic people. The various art and crafts that are made in Kerala are lively and vibrant in color. The handicrafts in Kerala are so much popular that there is a festival just for handicrafts.
We can shop for various forms of wood carvings, bamboo reed weaving, palmyra leaf weaving, cane work, and coconut shell carvings.
Kerala is also famous for Keralite jewelry as it is unique in its design and is mostly made up of gold.
Architecture of Kerala
Kerala architecture is a kind of architecture that is only found in Kerala. It is very different from the Dravidian style of architecture which is usually found in other parts of the south. The architecture of Kerala follows Vedic architectural science and part of the Dravidian architecture in the temples.
Kerala has a different architecture style from other states. The architectural style is mainly based on Vastu Shastra and Thachu Shastra. Vastu Shastra is the science of construction and Thachu Shastra is the science of carpentry.
The most unique feature in the style of Kerala home is the long steep roof in different shapes to withstand the heavy monsoon of the state. The normal Keralite house would have gable windows, tall pillars, and an airy courtyard.
Occupation of Kerala
Agriculture is the main occupation in Kerala. Fishing, Construction, Handicrafts made with lime shells are other major occupations of the people in the state.
Kerala is the most literate state in the country. A sizable force of skilled workers goes to Gulf countries for occupation.
Tourism of Kerala
Kerala is famous for its temples, backwaters, culture, beaches, Ayurveda, and many other things. It is named God’s Own Country because of its scenic beauty.
Kerala is been listed as one of the ten paradises of the world. Being located in a coastal region state is rich in greenery and unique culture. Kerala attracts tourists from across the globe. The state provides a package for every age of individuals like adventure, wildlife tourism, health tourism-Ayurveda Treatment, pilgrimage, beaches, house boating, dance/culture, and Kerala’s special mouth-watering cuisines.
Another main attraction for travelers to Kerala is home stays. These home stays allow travelers to stay with the host family and enjoy the first-hand experience of the local culture, lifestyle, and cuisines of Kerala.
For planning a trip to Kerala you may visit my other blog ‘How to plan Kerala trip’.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What is the importance of elephants in Kerala culture?
Elephants are an integral part of the Kerala culture. It is known as the state animal and is also found on the emblem of the Kerala Government. Also during all religious festivals, elephants are found outside the temples.
What languages are spoken in Kerala?
The Malayalam language is the official language of Kerala. It is also spoken in the union territories of Lakshadweep and Puducherry by the Malayali people.