Author – Santhini Koshy
When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an unwarranted comparison between Somalia and Kerala recently, I was among the thousands of Malayalees who took to social media to give our honourable PM a piece of our mind. At the end of the day, it was the Mallu sense of humour that prevailed. So much so that even Somalians joined us in this comical protest. The whole episode turned out to be even funnier due to the political circus going on in the name of Kerala elections.
I thought this would a good time to let the world know that this small sliver of land, christened ‘God’s Own Country’, at the southernmost tip of India, is more than just sandy beaches and backwaters. The pleasant nature of the land also extends to its people, who take extreme pride in their unique identity. Kerala culture is an eclectic mix of south Indian culture, traditions, customs and legends. Within the state itself, individual characteristics stand out from district to district, which is easier to trace when we divide the state into North, Central and South Kerala.
Each region has its own distinct dialect and culture, largely borrowing from the religion that is followed there. Malabar or North Kerala, for example, has a large population of Muslims and the regional cuisine and the language is influenced by early Muslim settlers from other parts of India and the world. Central Kerala, on the other hand, is influenced by the Christian community starting from the time of St.Thomas to Vasco da Gama. South Kerala has a mix of Hindus, Christians and Muslims. To Kerala’s credit, these religious groups have always lived in brotherhood and harmony.
The unity in diversity is also reflected in the various art-forms of the land. Keralites enjoy classical music and dance to an extreme. The land is renowned for its own dance-drama ritual known as Kathakali. This interesting dance form integrates dance, music, poetry and histrionics. Elaborate make-up, headdress and a flamboyant costumes make Kathakali a visual treat, while the story and the music make it intellectually stimulating.
Handicrafts have a special place in Kerala as they reflect the livelihood of people in different parts of the state. From carpentry to weaving handlooms to coir products, artisanal products are much valued by numerous tourists who visit the state. Kerala is also a colourful land of festivals that see the whole region come alive in unison to celebrate legends, beliefs and even superstitions.
Kalaripayattu is a martial art form famous in Kerala. It is training in combat and uses the same body techniques as in Kung-fu and Karate. It is the oldest and most scientific of its kind in the world. Kalaripayattu borrows from another ancient tradition of Kerala – Ayurveda, by using oils and massages that keep the body supple for fast movement.
It is no secret that Kerala is the home of Ayurveda. There is a cure in Ayurveda for every ailment and disease. Ayurvedic doctors of Kerala are known to possess such knowledge of the human body and medicine on par with any modern doctor. The natural herbs and medicinal plants available in the Western Ghats make Kerala an ideal place for this ancient form of medicine.
Of course, no story about Kerala is complete without mentioning its cuisine. A typical Kerala meal known as ‘Sadhya’ serves 20 or more dishes in one sitting. As the land of spices, Kerala dishes are some of the best in the world due to their spicy mouth-watering character. Everything from Appam and Stew for breakfast to sea-food delicacies and beef platters are much sought after by Keralites and non-Keralites. The variety of Kerala cuisine is a result of the different cultures that have influenced the state over the centuries.
One of the fastest developing states, modern advancements blend into the traditional in perfect harmony here. The citizenry of Kerala is highly literate and forward looking due to their access to high quality education, more than any other state in India. As a result, Keralites make their mark wherever they go!
Kerala’s political climate is highly charged due to ideological differences between the two prominent parties Left Democratic Front (LDF) and United Democratic Front (UDF), which constantly keep each other’s supporters on their toes. Politics is close to the heart of Malayalis as the older generations were freedom fighters and communism played a big role in the shaping of this state. However, corruption and lack of transparency in governance have tainted the true values of the Left and Right parties, but politics still play a large role in the state life.
Here is an interesting trivia to take away: Kerala was not a part of India until 1956, as the Malayalam-speaking regions of Malabar and the princely states of Cochin and Travancore were joined together to form a state after the British Raj left India. Surprised?