Religions of Kerala: Wikis


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Kerala State

Religions in Kerala are a mixture of different faiths, most significantly Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. Kerala has a reputation of being, communally one of the least sensitive states in India. According to the 2001 Census of India figures, 56% of Kerala residents are Hindus, 24% are Muslims, 19% are Christians, and the remaining follow other religions including Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism, Judaism[1]. Various tribal people in Kerala have retained various religious beliefs of their ancestors.

Kerala's Religious Population Source : Census India 2001
Religion Population % Population below 6 yrs of age[2] % Dist. with highest Population Dist. with lowest Population Population growth since 1991 Children born per women(TFR)[3]
Hindus 17,883,449 56.2 1,932,504 50.78 Thiruvananthapuram Waynad -1.48% 1.66
Muslims 7,863,342 24.3 1,178,880 30.99 Malapuram Pathanamthitta 1.70% 2.97
Christians 6,057,427 19 677,878 17.82 Ernakulam Malappuram -0.32% 1.78


Buddhism in Kerala

Presently no significant population of Buddhists exists in Kerala. The impact of Buddhism in Kerala was not as significant in Kerala as in other parts of India. This maybe due to the fact the Mauryan empire could reach only to outer edges of Kerala. The Buddhists however came to Kerala and established their temples and monasteries. Some historians claim that various Hindu temples in Kerala have been influenced by Buddhism or have been previously been a Buddhist temple. A large number of Buddha-images have been discovered in the coastal districts of Alleppey and Quilon; the most important Buddha-image is the famous Karumati Kuttan near Ambalappuzha[4]. Buddhism probably flourished for 200 years (650-850) in Kerala. The Paliyam Copper Plate of the Ay King, Varaguna (885-925 AD)[5] shows that the Buddhists enjoyed some royal patronage even in the tenth century.

Buddha statue excavated at Mavelikara

The Buddha idol, at Mavelikkara, shows the clear roots and importance of Buddhist religion in Kerala. The idol of Buddha at Mavelikara is four-foot tall and is perhaps, the biggest such statue in Kerala. The statues is in seated posture, resembling Padmasana. A feature common to the idols is that hair has not been engraved on the head.

The decline of Buddhism started in the eighth century with the revival of the Brahminical religion. Buddhism faded away gradually and completely disappeared during the reign of the Vaishnavite Kulasekharas in the eleventh century. What actually happened was that Buddhism was reabsorbed into Hinduism from which it broke away. Many Keralites, like the Ezhavas, who were once supposed to be Buddhists immigrants from Sri Lanka gradually embraced Hinduism.

Buddhism has left its impact on Kerala. Kerala temples show traces of Buddhist art and architecture. Amarasimha, the author of the popular Sanskrit text-book used in Kerala schools until recently, was a Buddhist. Kumaran Asan, the great Kerala poet, was influenced by the great Buddhist religion and wrote the famous, Buddhist poems: Karuna. Chandala Bhikshuki, and Sri Buddha Charitam.

Christianity in Kerala

St.Marys Orthodox Church(Or Kottayam Cheriapalli) Kottayam

Syrian Christians in Kerala are also called Nasranis or Achayans. The works of scholars and Eastern Christian writings say that Thomas the Apostle visited Muziris in Kerala in 52 AD to proselytize amongst Kerala's Jewish settlements and from this came Thomasine Christianity.[6][7] The 3rd and 4th centuries saw an influx of Jewish Christians from the Middle East. Knanaya communities arrived during this time.[8] Syrian Christians remained as an independent group, and they got their bishops from Assyrian Church of the East until the advent of Portuguese and British colonialists. The arrival of Europeans in the 15th century and discontent with Portuguese interference in religious matters fomented schism into Catholic and Orthodox communities. Further schism and rearrangements led to the formation of the other Indian Churches. Latin Rite Christians were converted by the Portuguese in the 16th and 19th centuries from lower castes where fishing was the traditional occupation. Anglo-Indian Christian communities formed around this time as Europeans and local Malayalis intermarried. Protestantism arrived a few centuries later with missionary activity during British rule. It is important to note that despite being a heterogeneous group, Malayali Christians find unity in a common history and faith. Various denominations/Churches exists amongst Christians of Kerala.

Relationship of the Nasrani groups.

Hinduism in Kerala

Vadakkunnathan temple dedicated to Lord Shiva at Trichur

Hinduism has undoubtedly shaped Kerala, and Kerala has in turn left its mark on Hinduism. The legends regarding origin of Kerala are essentially Hindu in nature. The legends of Mahabali, Parasurama shows that Hinduism and its later modifications due to Aryan migration from North India predates arrival of Christianity and Islam in Kerala. Many influential saints and movements hail from Kerala. Adi Shankara was a leading Brahmin philosopher who contributed significantly to Hinduism in India and propagated philosophy of Advaita. He was instrumental in establishing four Maths at Sringeri, Dwaraka, Puri and Jyotirmath. Melpathur Narayana Bhattathiri was the other leading Brahmin religious figure who composed Narayaneeyam, a collection of verses in praise of Lord Krishna. Another notable philosopher and reformer was Shri Narayana Guru. His movement for social reform and eradication of caste based discrimination helped to establish Kerala as one of the most socially progressive states in India. Hindus in Kerala are divided into various castes such as Nambudiris, Nairs, Ezhavas, and Dalits. Kerala was the first region in India which allowed Hindus of any caste to enter and worship in temples (Temple Entry Proclamation).

Various practises of Hinduism is unique to Kerala and some practices are not followed by Hindus in other parts of India. Various cults of Shiva and Vishnu are popular in Kerala. Malayali Hindus also worship Mother Goddess (Bhagavathi) as a form of Shakthi. Almost every village in Kerala has its own local guardian deity (usually a Goddess or Devi). Hindus in Kerala also strongly believe in power of snake gods and usually have sacred snake groves known as Pambu Kavu near to their houses[9].

The most popular temples amongst Hindus in Kerala are Guruvayur, Sabarimala, Padmanabhaswamy Temple. These temples unlike most other temples in India have various restrictions relating to dress code etc. It is prohibited for women between the ages of 12 to 50 years of age to visit Sabarimala. Temples in Kerala follow elaborate rituals and even today only Nambudiris can be appointed as priests in major temples. These priests are assisted by a caste known as Ambalavasis. In Kerala only Christian and Muslim women cover their heads while entering a religious place. In Kerala Hindu women keep their head uncovered in temples.

Malayali Hindus have unique ceremonies such as Chorunu (first feeding of rice to a child) and Vidyarambham[10] (beginning of education of a child). Marriages amongst Hindus in Kerala are a very simple affair as compared to other parts of India. Hindus in Kerala usually cremate their dead at the southern end of their house. Unlike in other parts of India, daughters also take part in various rituals after cremation.

  • Festivals: The major festivals amongst Hindus in Kerala are Onam and Vishu. Onam is no longer restricted to Hindus and has become a pan-Kerala festival. However Hindus also celebrate variuous other festivals such as Guruvayur Ekadasi, Janmashtmi etc.

Islam in Kerala

Muslims are generally referred to as Moplahs in Kerala. Muslims form 24.3% of Malayali population. There are mainly two sects of Muslims in kerala: Kerala sunnis and Salafis.Salafis in kerala is known as Mujahids. The general consensus among historians is that Islam arrived in Kerala through Arab traders either during the time of Prophet Muhammad himself (AD 609 - AD 632) or in the following few decades. Kerala has a very ancient relation with the middle east even during the Pre-Islamic period. Muslim merchants (Malik ibn Dinar) settled in Kerala by the 8th century AD and introduced Islam. Later the Zamorin of Kozhikode allowed the Arab Muslim traders to settle and form a major community in Kozhikode, from where the religion gradually spread in the following centuries. Significant populations of Muslims in Kerala are in Calicut, Malapuram and Malabar region of Kerala. Historians also believe that many people in Malabar region must have converted to Islam during invasion and destruction of North Kerala by Tipu Sultan. There is also a significant Muslim population living in the coastal regions of central and southern Kerala. In Lakshadweep the entire population was converted to Islam. Muslims in Kerala enjoy a better social and financial security when compared to the Muslims living in other part of India. Kerala's Muslim population is the fastest growing sect in Kerala. This is due to an increased fertility rate which is due an early age of marriage and also due to an increased life expectancy rate among the elderly[citation needed]. This increase in population and high fertility rate has been raised as a matter of concern by many Right wing organizations.

Jainism in Kerala

Jainism, which arrived in Kerala around the 3rd century BC, has a significant population in the Wayanad district bordering the Karnataka state. The Jain religion was brought to the South in the third century BC by Chandragupta Maurya (321-297 BC) and the Jain saint Bhadrabahu, according to Jain traditions. They came to Sravanabelgola in Mysore. The Jains came to Kerala with the rest of the Chera immigrants starting in the sixth century. The only existing original Jain temple in Kerala, popularly known as Jainmedu is in Vadakkanthara village, which is about 3 km from Palakkad. This temple was reportedly built by Inchanna Satur. This indicates significant population of Jains lived in Palaghat during the 15th century. Later various members of Marwari business community have built Jain temple in Kochi. Remnants of Jain temple known as Chathurmukha Basti is a popular destination in Manjeshwaram, Kasaragod.[11]

Marwari Jain Temple in Kochi

Some historians claim many Hindu temples might have been once Jain temples. Several places in Wyanad have Jain temples -an indication that North Malabar was once a flourishing center of Jainism. Historians believe that the decline of Jainism started about the eighth century. Jainism seems to have completely disappeared from Kerala by the sixteenth century; the foreign visitors from Europe do not mention the Jains at all. At present, Jainism in Kerala has a very small following, mainly amongst North Indian business community, settled in and around Kochi and Calicut.

Judaism in Kerala

Judaism arrived in Kerala with spice traders, possibly as early as the 7th century BC.[12]. There is no consensus of opinion on the date of the arrival of the first Jews in India. The tradition of the Cochin Jews maintains that after 72 AD, after the destruction of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, 10,000 Jews migrated to Kerala.[12].

The only verifiable historical evidence about the Kerala Jews goes back only to the Jewish Copper Plate Grant of Bhaskara Ravi Varman in 1000 AD [13]. This document records the royal gift of rights and privileges to the Jewish Chief of Anjuvannam Joseph Rabban. According to some historians, St. Thomas found first converts in Kerala to his new religion amongst many of the Cochin Jews. However these Jews who accepted Christianity retained the Aramaic language once spoken by Jews in Middle East. Their descendants form the core of Syrian Christian (Syrian Malabar Nasrani) community in Kerala. Later in 16th century many Jews from Portugal and Spain settled in Cochin. These Jews were called white Jews as opposed to the native black Jews.

The Portuguese did not look favorably on the Jews. They destroyed the Jewish settlement in Cranganore and sacked the Jew town in Cochin and partially destroyed the famous Cochin Synagogue in 1661. However, the Dutch were more tolerant and allowed the Jews to pursue their normal life and trade in Cochin. According to the testimony of the Dutch Jew, Mosss Pereya De Paiva, in 1686 there were 10 synagogues and nearly 500 Jewish families in Cochin. Later Britishers too were tolerant, and the Jews enjoyed peace and protection. After the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, most Jews decided to emigrate to Israel. Most of the emigrants to Israel between 1948 and 1955 were from the community of black Jews and brown Jews; they are known as Cochini in Israel. Since 1960s only few hundred Jews (mostly white Jews) remained in Kerala with only two synagogues open for service: the Pardesi Synagogue in Matancherry built in 1567 and the synagogue in Parur.

Today the number of the Jews in Kerala has dwindled down to few dozens; most of them are elderly people.

Tribal and other religious faiths of Kerala

Various groups classified as tribesin Kerala still dominate various remote and hilly areas of Kerala[14]. They have retained various rituals and practices of their ancestors despite influences of mainstream religions.

Religious tensions in Kerala

Despite Kerala having a reputation of being communally least sensitive states of India, Kerala too has its share of religious conflicts. The worst in recent past was in Marad in Kozhikode district in 2003[15][16], The Ayodhya-Babri Masjid incident also had repercussions in Kerala[17]. In 1983 there was an incident in Nilackal near Sabarimala[18] over discovery of a Cross. However during Nilackal incident no major violence was reported. Lately however various extreme religious groups have become influential in Kerala.[19][20]. In 2008 there was tension in streets of Kerala over introduction of a seventh standard textbook. The controversy was about a chapter in the book called Mathamillaatha Jeevan (Jeevan, without religion). Jeevan refused belonging to any religion or caste[21]. Various groups alleged that this book was atheistic anti-religious propaganda by ruling Left Front government.[22][23].

See also


  1. ^ "Census of India". Retrieved 2009-04-12. 
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  6. ^ Medlycott, A E. 1905 "India and the Apostle Thomas"; Gorgias Press LLC; ISBN
  7. ^ Thomas Puthiakunnel, (1973) "Jewish colonies of India paved the way for St. Thomas", The Saint Thomas Christian Encyclopaedia of India, ed. George Menachery, Vol. II.
  8. ^ Mundadan AM (1984). Volume I: From the Beginning up to the Sixteenth Century (up to 1542). History of Christianity in India. Church History Association of India. Bangalore: Theological Publications. 
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  12. ^ a b Katz 2000; Koder 1973; Thomas Puthiakunnel 1973; David de Beth Hillel, 1832; Lord, James Henry 1977.
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