Kerala Religion The rise and spread of religions in Kerala is an
exciting story. A rich and diverse mix of cultural streams,
Kerala holds a fascinating mosaic of people. They call
themselves Malayalees but yet they have managed to retain
many of the characteristics that make them rugged individuals
within the complex of Kerala.
Buddhism has its roots in Kerala even in the 3rd Century
B.C. But these faiths merged into Hinduism and now it
is very difficult to find people practicing Jainism.
In the beginning of the 5th century A.D. Aryan culture
had spread over a large part of Kerala.
The caste system was interwoven into the social fabric
of Kerala. The Namboodiri Brahmins occupied the topmost
position in the caste ladder followed by the warrior
class and the untouchables. Under the Namboodiris a
curious social practice known as `Sambandham' came into
Under this system ,when the eldest son of a Namboodiri
family married a Namboodiri girl, the younger sons were
permitted to enter into relationships with Nair women.
Ambalavasi is a class of temple attendants who occupied
a position between the Brahmins and Shudras in the caste
The Nairs in Kerala traced their origin from the Dravidians.
Most of the kings of Kerala were of Nair class and so
were the warriors of this land. The Nairs could have
brought this system down with them from the Indus Valley
or it could have developed as a result of their way
of life. There is a legend that says that the Thiyyas
and Ezhavas either by passed Kerala by migrating southwards
or they left Kerala and settled in Sri Lanka and the
island chain of Lakshadweep.
Neither the Nairs nor the Namboodiris has the social
sanction to become traders. This slot has always been
reserved for the outsiders. First it was the Romans
and the Greeks, then came the Semitic Jews and Arabs.
By the lOth century the Jews had established themselves
well enough to earn official recognition which came
in the form of a charter of privileges granted by the
Chera ruler Bhaskara Ravi Varma to Joseph Rabban. leader
of the Jewish community in Kodungalloor. With the arrival
of the Portuguese the Jews were forced to leave Cranganore
for Cochin in 1565. Here they built the famous White
Jew Synagogue in 1567. The Synagogue situated in the
Jew Town, Mattancherri, is one of the land marks of
Cochin even today.
Global developments of the twentieth century had great
impact and diverse cultural influences. According to
tradition, Christianity was introduced in Kerala in
the 1st century A.D by St. Thomas, the Apostle. He is
said to have landed at Maliankara a place adjoining
Muziris - Kodungalloor - in 52 A.D converted several
Brahmin families and founded seven churches on the Kerala
coast. Many modern historians question the authenticity
of the St. Thomas's tradition.
In the background of the extensive trade relations
that existed between Kerala and the Mediterranean countries,
the visit of St. Thomas cannot be brushed aside as an
impossibility. Since St. Thomas had come from Syria,
they called themselves Syrian Christians. The Portuguese
who established their political influence in Kerala
after 1498 A.D introduced Latin rite. The Decrees issued
by the Synod of Diamper (1599) gave an impetus to the
process of Latinisation. In course of time a large community
of Latin Christians sprang up in Kerala particularly
in the coastal area.
The commercial contacts between Kerala and Arabia led
to the advent of Islam into Kerala. As early as 643
AD, Malik Ibn Dinar, a disciple of the Prophet Mohammed
arrived here to preach Islam and built the first mosque
in Kerala. Many of the Arab traders and their local
associates became followers of this path and Islam established
firm roots in the soil of Kerala. The new religion received
royal patronage in some States and a Chera King is said
to have become a Muslim and gone to Mecca.
There was the princely family of Ali Rajas who had
been Hindus before their voluntary conversion. Calicut
and its surroundings have a rich and powerful Muslim
community. In the course of centuries Islam spread to
all parts of Kerala and today next to the Hindus and
Christians they are the most influential community in
Social and cultural consciousness also began to make
itself felt among the hitherto backward sections of
Kerala Society. The teachings of the great Saint Sree
Narayana Guru provided the Ezhavas with the necessary
impetus to form in 1903 the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana
Yogam. Perhaps the earliest such body in a depressed
community. This in due course fostered ia strong sense
of openness. They are now a powerful political force.
Intermarriages between the European colonials and local
people produced the Anglo-Indian community of Cochin
distinguished by their European surnames, Western life
styles and the use of English languages as their mother
tongue. The majority of these people however have migrated
to Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and the
Jews to Israel.
The Hindus of Kerala worship all the major Gods and
Goddesses of the Hindu pantheon as well as several minor
deities. Siva, Vishnu, Bhagavathi Sastha, Subramanya
and Ganapathi are the major deities. The minor deities
include Parasurama, Brahma, Hanuman, Saraswathy, Mariamman,
Madan etc. Apart from the worship of these deities,
the Hindus of Kerala have also evolved through the ages
such practices as Naga worship, Ancestor worship, demon
worship and tree worship which persist to this day.
Centers of worship have sprung up in different parts
of Kerala based on the worship of various deities and
the religious practices mentioned above.
The church plays a very important part in the life
of Christians. It is customary for the entire Christian
community to assemble in their respective parish churches
and attend prayers on Sundays and other festival days.The
Sunnis form the majority of Kerala Muslims. They observe
the five essentials of Islam viz. The recital of the
Shahadat or creed, the five daily prayers. Niskaram,
observing the Ramzan feast, giving alms to the poor
and the pilgrimage to Mecca. Almost all Muslims go to
the mosque for the Juma or Friday prayer.
Of the customs peculiar to Kerala the most important
ones are the Marumakkathayam system and the joint family
system. The Marumakkathayam system determines inheritance
through the female line. The Kshatriyas, the Ambalavasis,
the Samanthars, the Nairs, some of the Ezhavas, the
Nanjinad Vellalas and some Muslims followed this system.
The joint family system where the members live under
same roof without partition with the eldest male member
of the family called `Karnavar' who exercise full powers
over the affairs of the family is also peculiar to Kerala.
Among the Marumakkathayees, it was the custom that the
wife and children of a male member of a joint family
used to reside in the joint family of which his wife
is a member. As a result of intense social pressure,
legislative enactments sanctioned the single family
system and adoption of Makkathayam inheritance through
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