Kerala Culture

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Kerala has a composite culture enriched through the ages with the contribution of various people and races.
 
Its peculiar geographical position has helped the process of cultural synthesis.  Its history unfolds the romantic and fascinating story of a unique process of culture and social assimilation.  In response to ever challenge, Kerala had demonstrated through the ages, its genius of adaptation and fusion of old traditions and new values in all spheres of human thought and endeavour
 
Among those who have reached Indian cultural heritage and helped the cause of national integration, the people of Kerala have a place of honour.  Kerala culture is in fact, an integral part of Indian culture and like the Indian subcontinent, the state can claim to have a culture, the history of which runs into the dim recesses of antiquity.
 
The culture of Kerala persisted thought the ages precisely of the reasons of antiquity, unity, continuity and universality.  In its widest sense, it embraces the highest achievements of the human spirit in never sphere of life.  Thus, in its totality, it represents the quintessence of the collective achievements of a people in the fields of religion and philosophy, language and literature, art and architecture, education and learning economic and social organization
 
Kerala has a spectacular heritage of cultural expressions across many artforms and customs. The time – honored values lie dormant in the living traditions of these expressions. The feudal chieftains and provincial landlords who patronized these visual and devotional arts for centuries were not only encouraging them as entertainments but were also upholding their moral and ethical messages
 
Vivid visual effects and stunning music are hallmarks of Kerala’s performing arts. In a land, which cannot boast of monumental architectural feats, unlike many other parts of India, the performing arts, both individually and collectively, make up for the lost magnificence. No other state in India can match the grandeur and creativity of Kerala’s performing arts

The crowing jewels of Kerala’s performing arts are Koodiyattam and Kathakali. Koodiyattam, the one thousand year old classical dance drama is regarded as one of the earliest traditions in theatre across the world. UNESCO has named it as a World Heritage describing it as a masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage. Though Koodiyattam is the oldest, Kerala perhaps owes its transnational fame to Kathakali, the classical dance drama combining facets of ballet, opera, masque and the pantomime
 
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
 
The origin of the inhabitants of Kerala is nearly lost in the hoary past. It is beyond doubt that the Malayali culture is the offshoot of the Dravidian culture. There are striking similarities in the languages, customs and other cultural aspects to the Mediterranean civilization, civilization of Egypt and Mesopotamia, to some extent the Indus Valley, and that of Sri Lanka. Anthropologically, the Dravidas are a mixture of Ptoto-Australoids, Mediterranean’s and Negritude’s. Tradition has it that the Dravidas inhabited a land to the west of the Indian peninsula and eventually made Madurai their capital. There is a tradition in the ‘Vadakkan pattukal’ that the Ezhavas arrived in Kerala by sea from Ezham, which is interpreted to be the present day Sri Lanka. However, it is interesting to note that the land to the east of the Tigris in Iran, now called Khuzistan was once known as Elam. A civilization flourished there five thousand years ago with city states having distinctive culture and language. Their language is found similar to the Dravidian language. In any case it appears that the ancestors of the present inhabitants of south India had arrived here by sea rather than by land from the north. It was only at a much later stage that the region now constituting Kerala developed its distinctive culture
 
South India was ruled mainly by the Cheras, the Cholas and the Pandyas. The Cheras held their sway over the whole of Kerala and to some extent to the east of the Western Ghats. There were frequent clashes between the Cheras and the Pandyas and eventually the Cholas succeeded and ruled the whole of Kerala. Gradually several local rulers came up and for a few centuries there was little intercourse between Keralites and outsiders. It is conjectured that Malayalam started developing as a separate language during this period. The influence of Sanskrit was tremendous and Malayalam became a sort of a synthetic language of Sanskrit and Tamil. During this period, Ayurveda also took its roots in Kerala and even today it is practiced mostly in Kerala with the speciality of ‘Panchakarma’ involving medicated oil massages
 
The influence of Adi Sankara who was born at Kalady in Kerala during the seventh or eighth century was also very strong. He revived the Brahminic religion in the whole of India. He was the exponent of the Advaita Philosophy
 
Keralites have always been a maritime people. Kerala perhaps had the strongest navy in India. Early overseas trade started with the export of ivory, peacocks, monkeys, teakwood, sandalwood etc. to the Middle East from the time of King Solomon. Later on foreign trade continued with Rome till the fall of the Roman empire. During this period, Kodungallur was the commercial and political capital of Kerala. With the fall of the Cholas in the second and third centuries, the navy became weak. Yet, Kunhali Marikkar was a terror to the Portuguese in the 1500s. The Portuguese and thereafter the Dutch and then the British came here to rule the seas
 
Though geographically a small strip of land, one could find in Kerala a large number of different streams of cultural heritage