kerala.com > Religions

Kerala hailed, as God's own country, by many, deserves this accolade because of many features geographical and sociological. A long coastline in the west and mountains on the east forming clear natural boundaries. Religion has played a crucial role in Kerala's culture. There are mainly three religions in Kerala - Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. As far as the religion of Kerala is concerned, the origins could be traced to Hinduism. 

Then came in the Islamic faith and Christianity with its various sects. The other Indian religions like Buddhism; Jainism had some influence among the Hindus and was found scattered with their migration to Kerala.

According to the 1991 census 57.38% of the population of Kerala are Hindus, 23.33 Muslims and 19.32 Christians. The earliest settlers of Kerala were the Proto-Australoids, the Mediterranean, Dravidians, and the Aryans in 321-297 BC.

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Hinduism
HINDUISM, the world's oldest religion dates back to about 5000 BC. The sacred texts include the Vedas, Epics and Puranas, apart from other philosophical treatises. Hinduism is a way of life and is based on the principle of Sanathana Dharma. The Hindus worship the Supreme Being under three forms, Brahma- the creator, Vishnu- the preservator and Shiva - destroyer.
Hinduism differs from Christianity and other Western religions in that it does not have a single founder, a specific theological system, a single system of morality, or a central religious organization. It consists of "thousands of different religious groups that have evolved in India since 1500 BCE."
This religion is called:
Sanatana Dharma, "eternal religion," and
Vaidika Dharma, "religion of the Vedas," and
Hinduism -- the most commonly used name.
Various origins for the word "Hinduism" have been suggested:
It may be derived from an ancient inscription translated as: "The country lying between the Himalayan mountain and Bindu Sarovara is known as Hindusthan by combination of the first letter 'hi' of 'Himalaya' and the last compound letter 'ndu' of the word `Bindu.'
Bindu Sarovara is called the Cape Comorin sea in modern times.
It may be derived from the Persian word for Indian.
It may be a Persian corruption of the word Sindhu (the river Indus). More...

With time, the religion of the Namboothiris too, had been influenced by the animistic and ancestor worship of the early Dravidians. The Aryan settlers from the north too formed a religious community by assimilating the forms of worship of the Dravidian inhabitants. With time, the religion of the Namboothiris too, had been influenced by the animistic and ancestor worship of the early Dravidians. The Aryan settlers from the north too formed a religious community by assimilating the forms of worship of the Dravidian inhabitants.

The Hindus thus worshipped the Supreme Being under three forms, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva representing the creative, preservative, and the destructive forces. Rama, Krishna and other divinities are the avataras reflecting the later developments of Pauranic Hinduism.
However there was no sharp demarcation of sects in Kerala, unlike the sects in North India. If any preferential adoration was shown by any person, the reason was that, it was the presiding deity in the village temple or his/her Ishta Devata or Kula Daivam (family deity).

The religion of the common people too became an elevated form of the earlier Dravidian religion. The refined gods replaced the rude divinities that once occupied the highest echelons. Later, the various castes like Ezhavas, Nadars, Uralis were formed on the basis of their occupation.
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Muslim
Islam is believed entered into India through Kerala. There are historical records of commercial trading between Kerala and Middle East during 7th Century AD. The Jews and Arabs of the Pre-Islamic period were among the pioneers of spice trade with Kerala. The religion of Islam was also by these traders from Middle East, who later settled in Coastal belt of Kerala. To this day Muslims are very proficient in trade and commerce. Muslims in Kerala, as anywhere else in the world, are close-knit unit clear-cut religious and political agenda.
Historians says that Muslim history in Kerala go back to 7th century AD when the religion originated in Arabia. The numbers increased in the 9th century. In the 8th century there were many centers for religious conversion in the state. Pallibana Perumalís (He was one of the prominent king of Cheraman Perumal dynasty who embraced Islam ) pilgrimage to Mecca was a major influence in this regard. It is believed that Malik Ibn Dinar, a disciple of Prophet Mohammed was the first person who propogated Islam in Kerala. The history of Muslims in Kerala is closely intertwined with the history of Muslims in nearby Laccadives islands.
Mappila Rebellion of 1921 was a great chapter of India's freedom struggle. It was the expression of the built up frustration and rage amongst Muslims against British Government and landlords. Variyankode Kunhahammad Haji, Ali Musliar and Veliyankod Umar Khazi were the prominent Muslim leaders who lead this rebellion. The British tried to split the Hindus and Muslims as part of their 'divide and rule' strategy. Many Muslims were hanged or deported. The British were eventually forced to abandon their scheme to deport large numbers of Muslims to Andamans. Relief organizations came to the aid of widows and orphans. One of the orphanages established of this purpose still exists on Maryhill in Calicut. None of the community in Kerala lost wealth and people compared to Muslims of Kerala, especially from Malabar.
Social, educational and service organizations evolved around Muslim religious institutions. Ponnani was a major center of higher learning. Students from foreign lands came to study there. There were institutes attached to mosques in Ponnani, Thanoor, Thirurangadi, Parappanangadi, Nadapuram, Kodiyathur, Mahi, Vadakara and Payannur some 700 years ago.
From the end of the 19th century to the first three decades of this century those who led the community include Hamadini Sheik, Vakkam Abdul Kadar Maulavi, and K.M. Seethi Sahib. A number of social and political organizations have formed to enhance English and modern education among Muslims.Vakkam Abdul Kadar Moulavi was a leader who made significant contributions in the social arena from 1873 to 1933. He was the founder of the famous newspaper 'Swadeshabhimani' and two other newspapers.
Muslim League the first true political organization came in to being in 1937.Leaders like K. M. Seethi Sahib joined the Muslim League from Congress.In the first elections in Travancore Muslim League and Congress ran under an alliance. Mr. T. A. Abdulla became a minister. In Cochin state Mr. Seethi Sahib was elected unopposed to the state assembly. Both he and Mr. V. K. Kutty Sahib fought for the rights of Muslims in the state. Arabic language played a dominant role in the culture of Kerala Muslims. There were several Kerala writers of worldwide renown in Arabic. Several Kerela Muslim writers have made their impact on Malayalam literature. These works include novels, short stories, poetry, history, and travelogues. Among Kerala Muslim writers one name that stands out is that of late Vaikkam Muhammed Basheer.
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Christians
In the absence of clear historical records, it is believed that Apostle of Jesus, St. Thomas himself, introduced Christianity in India in the year 52 A.D. The early Christians (St. Thomas Christians) were called Syrian Christians because they followed the Syriac liturgy, a dialect of Aramaic, the language of Jesus.With the arrival of Portuguese (1498) and the establishment of their political influence, the Latin rite emerged as an important factor and a large community of Latin Christianssprang up and grew, particularly in the coastal areas. The work of St. Francis Xavier and the synod of Diamper (1599) played an important part in the Latinisation of the church.
In the beginning of 19th century, when the British spread its influence in Kerala, the Church Mission Society (CMS) of London actively associated them in the workings of Syrian Church. After some years of close co-operation, the missionaries broke their connection with Syrian Bishops and church. It was on their initiative the Anglican Church came into existence.Some priests of the Syrian Church under the influence of missionaries advocated reforms, including the replacement of Syriac by Malayalam, which was disfavored by Bishops and Clergy of Syrian Church. Following this the reformers formed a new church known as Marthoma Syrian church as distinct from the Anglican Church and the Roman Catholic Church. 

Now there are five different offshoots of Christianity in Kerala.

  1. The Nestorian Church confined mainly to Thrissur and Ernakulam. 

  2. The Roman Catholic Church, embracing the whole of Kerala and following three
    different languages for their rites (Syriac, Latin and Malayalam).

  3. The Jacobite Syrian Church, also known as Orthodox Syrian Church. 

  4. The Anglican Church, part of Church of South India.

  5. Marthoma Syrian Church.

Apart from these, there are several other Christian denominations deriving inspiration from some foreign Church or other. 
The contribution of Christian religion in the field of education and care of the sick is innumerable. First Malayalam dictionary and grammar by Arnos Pathiri, first printing press, study and classification of Herbs, Hortus Malabaricus, etc. highlight the eminent position of Christianity in Kerala. The Universal education propagated in Kerala along with the churches provided the basic education for the emancipation of the population from various social and cultural evils. The school, colleges, hospitals and other numerous socio-cultural institutions run by the Christians are role models.
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Other Religions

The other Indian religions like Buddhism and Jainism had some impact among the Malayalee Hindus, but with the Aryan migration to the south. There was dissemination of all these religion. 

Jainism
Though there is evidence of practice of Jainism in Kerala before the arrival of Aryans. History is silent about it. The Famous Jainmedu temple in Palakkad is the manifestation of Jainism in Kerala. Today few families of Jain community are found around Palakkad in Kerala.

Judaism
The traders from Middle East bought Judaism into Kerala during 7th Century AD. Later these traders settled in Kochi. Jew Town in Kochi, is the testimony of the Judaism in Kerala. Today it is one of few places in World where Jews are living in peace. There is a Synagogue in Jew Town.  Today, Jew town is one of popular tourist location in Kerala, where one can find many interesting antiquities of Kerala.

Nowhere in India, or may be in the entire world, you can witness such tolerance and co-operation and religious amity as seen in Kerala. Only in Kerala one can find person's of different community come together and celebrate each other's festival with pomp. Onam, the traditional festival of Hindus, Christmas and Ramzan - all these festivals are celebrated by all the community in Kerala.

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