15 ASPECTS OF KERALA CULTURE YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT
However, there are numerous cultural aspects of Kerala. All of them zero in on to the religious beliefs of the locals. We cannot list every single one of them. But here, we have listed 15 such aspects for you. Let’s see how many you already knew!
1. KERALA ‘S CLASSICAL PERFORMING ARTS- an ode to the divine
Kerala inherits a fortune when it comes to performing arts. The theatrical finesse of this state is such that even UNESCO has declared one of its art forms, Koodiyattam, “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”.
These art forms date back to centuries and reflect the outlook of the lives of Kerala’s locals. Some of the famous performing arts of Kerala are:
The basic theme of all these art forms revolve around the stories of the divine, yet what diversify them are the vivid narratives they accord.
Out of which, it is Koodiyattam, an improv theatrical style that is widely popular. A forerunner to the world famous, dance-drama Kathakali, this theatrical style is about two millennia old.
Kathakali, on the other hand, is quintessential Kerala. And, to be honest, if you know anything about the state, then, the chances are, you already know a tidbit about Kathakali. Expressing the deepest emotions without uttering a single word are the highlights of this dance form.
Fun fact: The dancers are not allowed to lip sync with the songs. Moreover, they can’t even touch the costumes with dirty hands. The costumes are sacred to the people and touching them is no less than a sin here.
Then, there is Mohiniyattam, the epitome of a female embodiment. In this dance, a female dancer performs the dance of the enchantress in white and gold costumes.
All these art forms are the apt representation of Malyali culture. Like the people, these arts too are extravagantly simple. Furthermore, their costumes, makeup, and stage scream that it is a treat for the senses.
Grab the opportunity to catch a glimpse of them on your next Kerala adventure!
2. SOUL STIRRING MUSIC
Music is the specialty of Kerala culture. This state is home to the very mesmerizing Carnatic music, which is the heartbeat of Southern India. But little do people know that Kerala has its own native music, Sopanam, which is the background score for many Kerala traditions, like Kathakali.
However, Melam is another widely used traditional music style of Kerala. With an ensemble of over 150 musicians, this temple-centered music style is yet another reason for you to be visiting Kerala next!
Furthermore, Kerala’s music also showcases the brilliance of their instrumental skills. And, Panchvadayam, a symphonic medley of five types of percussion instruments is a real life example of that.
3. KERALA’S SPICE AFFAIR!
If Kerala custom and tradition is centered on something, it has to be on its spices.
Spices epitomize the aroma of Kerala. And, why wouldn’t it? They are an essential part of the food culture here.
From pepper, vanilla, cardamom, clove to cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, turmeric and what not, you just have to name the spice to get it here in Kerala.
Moreover, the flavour in these spices is such that it lingers long in one’s memory. And, that is why explorers flocked to Kerala conquering seas and oceans to seek its treasures.
Kerala without its spices is a bland concoction, just like its food. So, don’t forget to add it to your cultural bucket –list of India.
4. FINGERLICKING CUISINE
For the foodies that we all are, Kerala accords a variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian food. Rich in proteins and profuse with spices, Keralan food is a luxury for all the connoisseurs of food out there.
While gorging on these delicacies you will find that the locals here use a generous amount of chillies, curry leaves, mustard seeds, turmeric powder and asafetida in their dishes. And, if you aren’t drooling already, then, let us tell you that Keralites also incorporate a variety of rice preparations in their meals too!
Another characteristic of Kerala’s cuisine is its steamed foods. Used as a staple for meals, these steamed preparations (mainly of rice) are light and healthy.
Whether it is Kerala Sadya (a banquet meal prepared during functions and festivals) or a simple rice and coconut preparation, falling head over heels for the food here is an understatement. So, how about giving your inner gastronome a little treat on God’s own land? Sounds like a plan!
5. VIBRANT FOLK ART FORMS
Kerala cultural dance has many shades. Sometimes, it tells a story with no words and sometimes it flaunts the tribal treasure of the estate.
Like everything else about Kerala, the folk art forms of this state are magical too. Where on one hand Theyyam is a tribal dance form that differs from village to village, on the other, Kalampattu is a ritual dance performed around the floor painting of a goddess.
It bestows some amazing hues of rural tourism. So, if you would like to have them on your cultural travel journal, welcome on board.
6. FASCINATING FOLKLORES AND RITUALS
Keralites are known for their enthralling folklores that have lived with them since time immemorial.
The folklore of the state, mostly talks about agriculture and temples customs. Right from the state’s origins, the folklores have played an integral part. Everything, from customs to festivals to lifestyle, is centered on Kerala’s folk tales
They have become the foundation of the rituals that make Kerala unique on the Indian travel map.
Talking about customs and rituals, the locals of Kerala have vivid rituals for many different occasions. Although most of the rituals are temple rituals, catching a glimpse of it is what calls for an extravagant experience.
The cultural heritage of Kerala brings you rituals like Poothanu Mathirayum– a ritual for Goddess Kali. In this ritual, dancers dress like the goddess and dance at every shrine in the village to keep the demon out of the village’s boundaries.
Rituals like Kanniyar Kali and rituals on Onam as well provide the widest spectrum of customs this state possesses.
Do you know that one of the rituals in this state actually involves an elephant marching to mark the beginning of a festival? No? Well, now you know.
7. EVERYTHING GOLD
Keralites are obsessed with gold and we aren’t even exaggerating. From their costumes to temples to jewelry to what not, they use gold in almost everything.
But what is the reason behind that? Well, the answer points to the history of Kerala.
Kerala was one of the main hubs for spices. The spices on the shores were so valuable that the Europeans exchanged them for gold. From that time onwards, gold became the symbol of prestige.
Later on, it became a part of the social ceremonies involving marriage, making it a status symbol in the state.
People are so into gold here that you’ll be bombarded with gold commercials on billboards the moment you enter the state’s premises.
Fun fact: The gold and silver holdings of both rural and urban households in Kerala are substantially higher than the national average. WHOA!
8. FIERCE MARTIAL ARTS
Kerala birthed many valiant warriors all thanks to the traditional martial arts of the state.
Have you ever witnessed a combat art? Well with Kalaripayattu your fantasy will come true. Being the oldest and most comprehensive system of martial arts in the world, Kalaripayattu displays top-notch skills of acrobatic and sword fighting. But if you are thinking that it is just a form of sport, then you are highly mistaken.
A training in Kalaripayattu results in absolute co-ordination of the mind and body. Moreover, it also imparts knowledge in indigenous medical practices to overcome the injuries.
Kerala brims with kalaris (gymnasia) where students are trained. The training takes place in three stages. However, the third stage is only taught to level-headed people as in Marmam (final stage), a mere touch can disable or kill their opponents.
Velakali, on the other hand, is a ritual art. Here, fifty or more performers in the traditional attire of soldiers, bearing colourful shields and swords, dance with war like steps rhythmically to traditional music.
9. ELEGANT CLOTHING STYLES
Kerala history and culture takes pride in its traditional clothing.
In the Kerala people widely wear ‘Mundu’. The locals wear it on the lower portion of the body, from the waist to the foot. White in shade with a strip of colour at the end (Kara), this traditional outfit suit both men and women.
Designed keeping in mind the location and climate, Mundu closely resembles a long skirt or a dhoti. However, the upper garment does vary with gender and age.
Fun fact: Men often fold the garment as a short skirt when working. However, it is disrespectful to have a folded Mundu when speaking to women or with someone of higher social status.
There are three major communities in Kerala: Hindu, Muslim and Christian. And, the clothing style for each one of them is slightly different. But despite that, the basic style of the garments stays the same.
Muslim women here wear black or blue purdah, while traditional Christian women wear a two-piece blouse and a pleated “Mundu”.
10. ADDRESSING THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM- Literally!
Elephants are the pride of Kerala. Besides being the state animal, elephants are also a huge part of everything cultural about this beautiful sanctuary.
These mammoth creatures are known as ‘sons of shaya’ and are of religious importance to the Hindu population of the state.
Fun fact: Elephants are on all the important emblems of the state such as the masthead of the Government of Kerala. It is on the logo of government transport buses and in some newspapers too. Isn’t that just amazing?
11. CHARISMATIC CINEMA
The cinematic universe of Kerala is wide and alluring.
Popular by the name Mollywood, Malayalam film industry is the fourth largest film industry in India.
Grabbing many accolades on the name of the country at the international level, Malayali Cinema is a huge part of the culture of Kerala. And, why wouldn’t it be? Its approximately 91 years old and has influenced everything we know about Kerala today.
12. SPIRITED FESTIVITIES
Life is a festival in Kerala and the festivities never end here. However, these festivities hit their zenith during the time of the most revered festivals of the state, Onam.
Onam is a 10-day harvest festival celebrated to pay homage to the state’s most famous folklore. Beside the fairs and contests that take over the state, customs and rituals also enhance this festival. So, get ready for some flower designs on floors, people dancing in fervor and snake boat races.
Vishu is another festival that marks the New Year for the Keralites. It commences somewhere around the month of April. Furthermore, on this day, people of the state have to wake up early and see the face of God first. Children receive gifts and people from all over the state pay homage to Lord Krishna.
Kerala also celebrates a festival that is for the temples of this plush estate. During this time two traditional groups Thiruvambai and Paramekkavu compete against each other. The contest is all about decorating an elephant in beautiful garments and huge umbrellas, and whoever does that well wins.
Craving for more information on the festivals of India? Well, here is everything you need.
13. AYURVEDA AND KERALA
Ayurveda in Kerala dates back 5000 years. This state maintained an unbroken tradition with Ayurveda. Where on the one hand all the country, forgot about it through the ravages of time, Kerala cherished it in whatever way possible. Even today, Ayurveda is the prime option for healing almost every ailment here.
Fun fact: The Vaidyas (traditional practitioners) here have a magical touch that can treat any ailment.
Famous as the ancient science of living, Ayurveda has an age long relationship with this state. People of this estate live by the rules of Ayurveda. It plays such a significant part in their lives that today, even people from around the globe are coming here to relish it.
Ayurveda promotes the marriage of mind and body. It believes in curing the body before any ailments by creating a balance between the five elements of nature. Fancy some more insights? Learn everything about it here.
14. LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE
The natives of Kerala speak the language Malayalam. Meaning “the mountain region”, Malayalam ranks 18 among the major languages of India.
Fun fact: Malayalam has a large vocabulary with over 90,000 words. Moreover, it adopted some of its words and idioms from English, Dutch and Portuguese too.
Speaking of literature, it flourished in the state around the 13th century. Initially, the Malayalam literature consisted of only poems and songs. However, with the passage of time, Manipravalam ( a mixture of Malayalam and Sanskrit ) also flourished in the state. In the gist of which, the cultural history of Kerala adopted it in its performing arts.
Craving for more? Learn more about the cultural aspects of India here.
15. WHIMSICAL CRAFTS
Art and culture of India talk highly about the crafts of Kerala. With a wide variety, the art of this state revolves around majorly on the living conditions of the masses.
As Kerala is the land of coconuts, finding crafts woven or carved around coconuts isn’t that big of a deal. In fact, coconut products like Coir carpets and polished coconut ashtrays are quite popular here.
Moreover, Kerala also aces the metal-work category. With cast bell metalwork and jewelry, it proves to the world what it is capable of.
Here in Kerala, you will also find granite idols, rosewood and sandalwood work, reed mats, carved furniture and snake boat models. But it is mostly the beautiful oil lamp and Aranmula metal mirror that grabs the entire spotlight.
Woo! These are 15 more reasons to visit Kerala, aren’t they? So what are you waiting for, plan your Kerala trip here.