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Kerala

CAPITAL THIRUVANANTHAPURAM
AREA IN Sq. km 39,000
PRINCIPAL LANGUAGE MALAYALAM
 

Kerala is a small state tucked away in the southwest corner of India. It represents only 1.18 per cent of the total area of India but 3.43 percent of the population of the country.

Though Kerala has a chequered history dating back to the Christian era, the modern Kerala was created in 1956 when all the states were reorganized along linguistic lines.

Kerala is different from the rest of the India in many ways. History was created in 1957 when Kerala became the first state in the world to democratically elect a Marxist government. The state has a strong presence of left ideology. It has the highest literacy rate in the country, lowest infant mortality rate and the highest female to male population ratio. These facts speak volume of the state which is often compared to the society of the developed western countries.

Kerala consists of 14 districts. Each of them has a distinct character. Thiruvananthapuram (also known as Trivandrum) is the capital of Kerala, famous for it's Kovalam beach (rated one of the top ten beaches of the world). Geography is destiny in Kerala with the monsoon winds bringing the gift of life annually. Its monsoons are likened to a battalion of wild elephants.

Agriculture contributes most to the state's income in the primary sector. Kerala's major sources of exports are agro-based and traditional like coir and cashew as well as marine products and manpower. In spices, pepper is the single most important product, with Kerala being the largest producer and exporter of black pepper. Cardamom and ginger are also exported.

SOCIETY

With its 29 million people, Kerala is India's most advanced society in terms of education, literacy and health. In fact, Kerala has the highest physical Quality of Life Index too. The age old wanderlust of the people of Kerala has taken them to virtually every nation on the face of this earth.
The culture of Malayalis has a flavor of its own, though it is a part of an Indian and the Dravidian culture. This has been the product of the peculiar geographical feature of Kerala. Bounded on the east by the Western Ghats and the west by the Arabian sea, it had long periods of insular existence. This has resulted in the distinctiveness of their language, dress, culture and institutions.

Religious Tolerance

Kerala is a melting pot where several ethnic and religious groups mingles. In spite of the rigidity of the caste system, Kerala seems to have been exceptionally hospitable to people of different beliefs. It has a rare record of having welcomed with open arms migrants of all religious convictions. The kings of Travavncore and Kochi and the Zamorin of Malabar have all extended their hospitality and acceptance. In the heart of Kerala’s capital, Thiruvananthapuram, one could see a Hindu temple next to a mosque and a cathedral. Religious discrimination was never practiced by the ancient rulers of Kerala. Patronage was distributed not only to the Hindus, but also to the Christians, the Jews and the Muslims.

The Muslims of Kerala are the descendents of the Arab traders who came to Kerala and married locally and finally settled down here. The Arabs who landed here after the Jewish men, brought the first wave of Muslims settlers. They were the first peoples to build the first Mosque in this sub-continent at Kodungallur. They concentrated in the Malabar area and up to the 18th century they were mostly agricultural labourers, petty traders and soldiers in the Zamorin’s army. The agriculturists in Malabar were oppressed under a system of land tenure in which the landlord had a strangle hold on them. They were accused of throwing their lot with Hyder Ali and Tippu during their invasions. There were forced conversions and selective liquidations also. After the British restored peace, the Hindus who suffered started taking it out on the Muslims. Since the land mostly belonged to the Hindus, there were peasant uprisings, which gradually got a communal tinge, which was later termed as Mopilah rebellion of 1921. Subsequently, It gained momentum and developed into a peasant revolt- the peasants were Muslims and the land lords were Hindus, among whom the Namboodiris were predominant. The British ruthlessly put down the revolt.

After the British take over in the late 18th century, English language assumed importance. This brought about a tremendous impact upon the life and culture of the Keralites. In this respect, Kerala owes a great deal to the Christian Missionaries. They not only educated the people but also introduced health-care programmes. They were careful not to disturb the majority community and easily blended into the Kerala culture. Latin was replaced by Malayalm for Church services, and the traditional Kerala ‘nilavilakku’ was brought in replacing candles and they wholeheartedly participated in the Hindu festivities. Thus they enriched Kerala’s ethnic culture.

Intermingling with the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British has had its fall out in the creation of a ‘Eurasian’ community. Most of them are Latin Christians and their culture is distinctly different from the traditional Kerala culture. There were infiltrations from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka too and so also Gujaratis and Marwaris, Konkanis, the Gowda Saraswat Brahmins, Shenoys, Parsis, Kudumbis etc. No wonder Swamy Vivekananda called Kerala a ‘lunatic asylum of castes’. Historians poit out that even during the Sangam period, there were no strict divisions based on castes. Caste consciousness and untouchability came much later and it is also difficult to pin point the antiquity of any of the original races now in Kerala. The transformation into a cosmopolitan and egalitarian society was comparatively quick. The inherent tolerence and resillience of all original classes ensured a peaceful reformation. The gradual fusion of various groups have brought about a superficial uniformity.

ARTS, CULTURE AND FESTIVALS

Kathakali  is the most refined, most scientific and elaborately defined dance form of Kerala. It is a very exciting art form demanding not only complete control of practically every fibre of the artiste’s body, but also intense sensitivity of emotion. It had its origin in the courts of the Kings of Kerala. It is considered to be a synthetic art form combining in itself the rudiments of its earlier forms like ‘Krshnanattam’ and ‘Ramanattam’ with a highly scientific dance drama form. It is not folk, but highly classical.

Kalaripayattu  is the traditional 11th century martial art form of Kerala. It is said to be the forerunner of oriental martial arts like kung-fu and karate. It follows a system as specialised and as intricate as the Ju-jitsu of the Japanese.

Kalaripayattu training aims at the ultimate co-ordination of mind and body. The traditional training in a Kalari includes specialisation in indigenous medical practices too. Kalaris are also centres of religious worship. The general guidelines to be followed in Kalaripayattu demand that once the course is complete, a person should undergo oil massage and engage in the practice of the feats at least once a year. This will help him to keep in shape and to easily overcome enemy attacks.

Pooram is the great elephant pageant typical of certain temples in Kerala. Bejewelled tuskers numbering ten to hundred, line up for this exotic spectacle with mahouts sitting atop them carrying muthukuda(tinse covered silk parasols) and swaying the venchamaram (white tufts). The pageant is accompanied by the panchavadyam which gradually works up to a crescendo. The most fascinating aspect of the pooram is the Kudamattom ritual, the ceremonial synchronised changing of the colourful parasols held aloft the elephants.

Theyyam is one of the most outstanding ancient dance form of Kerala. It has its origin in the northern parts of the state. It is a very fascinating ritual practised for centuries by the tribal people and the villagers of Northern Kerala. This folk art form is also called Thirayattam, because every thira or village performed this ritualistic art at the village temple. The Theyyam or Kolam (a form or shape), represents a mythological, divine or heroic character. There are over 350 Theyyams in northern Kerala.

It is a dance form glorifying the Theyyam, the local deity, who is believed to bless and arbitrate between the farmers and their landlords. This primitive ritualistic art demands long hours of preparation before the performance. The bizarre head dresses, costumes and body painting and trance like performances are very extraordinary. Each one has a distinguishing headgear and costume made out of natural materials like leaves and bark. Musical accompaniments are chenda and veekuchenda (drums), elathalam and kuzhal (horn). Theyyam is always performed by men. Female roles are also enacted by men wearing suitable makeup and colourful costumes.
During the festival season between January and April, Theyyam performances can be seen in the villages in the erst-while Malabar region, especially in the Kannur District. There are regular Theyyam performances at Sri Muthappan Temple in Parassinikadavu, which is some 20 km north-east of Kannur town.

Bharathanatyam Centuries old dance form performed throughout India, enriched by Kerala's own legendary dance performers. This dance form was first conceived and authored by the great sage Bharatha.So is called Bharathanatya. 'Natya' means dance.

Christmas, December 25, is also a major festival in Kerala. Streamers, bunting and bright lights adorn shops but, most typical, are the illuminated stars that distinguish the many Christian houses in Kerala. These, twinkling against the dark groves and reflected in its flowing waters, make for an unusual, but very warm, Christmas image.

In the last week of February, the river town of Aluva plays host to the great Maha Sivarathri festival. Devotees gather on the sand-banks of the Pamba River and, illuminated by hundreds of little oil lamps, spend the whole night in fasting and meditation. In the small hours of the morning they plunge into the river, accompanied by full-throated chants, and then emerge to offer prayers and sacrifices in memory of the dead. The fair which grows around this festival is popular with people of all persuasions.

When the monsoon ends in Kerala, it celebrates its post harvest festival of Onam : laden tables, floral decorations, folk dances, gift giving and new clothes.
According to legend it also marks the annual return of the benign King Mahabali form his exile in the underworld.

A part of the Onam celebrations is the great boat pageants and races. Once upon a time these races were post-harvest water-wars between the backwater flotillas of rival princes. The most famous of these boat races is held in a backwater off the canal town of Alleppey on the second Saturday of August.

It is called the Nehru Trophy Boat Race because the Cambridge-educated Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister, offered a trophy if such a race was organised. The races start in the afternoon, but by late forenoon the rows of seats under the palms are packed and other spectators have scaled up the overhanging palms and, the richer ones, have even come here in their own cabin cruises and motor boats. There is an air of tense expectation. When the starter's flag falls a roar tears out of thousands of throats. The row boats cleave through the water and race after race is accompanied by frenzied cheering, some of the palm-straddling spectators even tumbling off their perches.

The greatest roar, however, is reserved for the battle of the hundred-oared chundan vall0oms: those great ram-snouted battlewagons of another age, with high flaring tails on which their straining helmsmen lean on their great steering oars. You haven't seen water-sports if you've not seen the battle of the Chundan Valloms off Alappuzha.

Happily, visitors can now see the highlights of many of the festivals of Kerala in four days at the Great Elephant March from January 17 to 20. Starting with a ceremonial welcome in Cochin, now called Kochi; to elephant rides, an assembly of 101 elephant, a Chundan Vallom race, a replication of the Thrissur Pooram Festival and even a ceremonial feeding of the elephants by visitors.

Tourism

Tourism is notified as an industry. Thiruvananthapuram, the capital city is an abode of temples, mosques and churches. Kovalam beacg resort is just 12 kilometers away.Veli(8 km), Neyyar Dam(19km), and Ponmudi(61 km) are places of interest.

Periyar wildlife Sanctuary at Thekkadi in Idukki District as another attraction. Sabarimala, abode of lord Ayyappan is a famous pilgrim center in Pathanamthitta District.

Kochi- the major port of Kerala- is known as the “queen of the Arabian sea”. The beautiful Willingdon Island with the adjoining port is a great attraction. Kalady is the birthplace of Shri Sankaracharya. Guruvayur has the famous Lord Krishna Shrine. Kalamandalam, the renowned Kathakali centre is in Thrissur Distruct. Calicut is historically important as the capital of the Zamorins. Edakal cave in the Wyanad district centuries old.

A National Geographic Society publication has listed Kerala among the “world’s 50 greatest places of a lifetime”, the only other Indian name in the list being Taj Mahal.