Malayali

Malayali

The Malayali people (also spelled Malayalee; Malayalam: മലയാളി) are the inhabitants of Kerala or their descendants. They are not a homogenous group; but are defined by their use of Malayalam. While the majority of Malayalis belong to Kerala, significant populations also exist in other parts of India, the Middle East, Europe and North America. According to the Indian census of 1991, there were 28,096,376 speakers of Malayalam in Kerala, making up 96.6% of the total population of that state. Hence the word Keralite is often used in the same context, though a proper definition is ambiguous. The slang Mallu is sometimes used by the media and North Indians to refer to a Malayali in informal contexts.

The Malayali identity is primarily linguistic, although in recent times the definition has been broadened to include emigrants of Malayali descent who maintain Malayali cultural traditions, even if they no longer regularly speak the language.

Malayali non-prehistoric cultural genesis can be traced to their membership (around the 3rd century CE) in a vaguely-defined historical region known as Thamizhakam—a land defined by a common Tamil culture and encompassing the Chera, Chola, and Pandya kingdoms. Malayali culture was later elaborated upon by centuries of contact with overseas lands—yet all through this time, its cultural heritage remained defined by its antiquity and organic continuity.

Geographic distribution and population

According to the Indian census of 2001, there were 30,803,747 speakers of Malayalam in Kerala making up 96.8% of the total population of the state. There were a further 701,673 (2.12%) in Karnataka, 557,705 (1.7%) in Tamil Nadu, and 406358 (1.2%) in Maharashtra. In all, Malayalis made up 3.22% of the total Indian population in 2001. Of the total 33,066,392 Malayalam speakers in India in 2001, 33,015,420 spoke the standard dialects, 19,643 spoke the Yerava dialect and 31,329 spoke non-standard regional variations like Eranadan. As per the 1991 census data, 28.85% of all Malayalam speakers in India spoke another second language and 19.64% of the total knew 3 or more languages.

Large numbers of Malayalis have settled in Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai (Bombay), Pune and Chennai (Madras). A large number of Malayalis have also emigrated to the Middle East, Europe and North America. There were 179,860 speakers of Malayalam in USA, according to the 2000 census though the Keralite Population is thought to be more than 300,000. . The 2001 Canadian census reported 7,070 people who listed Malayalam as their mother tongue. There were 2,968 Malayalam speakers in Australia in 2001. The 2006 New Zealand census reported 2,139 speakers. 134 Malayalam speaking households were reported in 1956 in Fiji. There is also a considerable Malayali population in the Persian Gulf regions, especially in Dubai, where there is the biggest diaspora of Malayali's outside of India. They form the majority of the Indians residing in Dubai.

Communities

The following are the major ethnic communities among Malayalis:

Muslims

Malayali Muslims are members of a Malayalam-speaking Islamic community spread across Kerala, Lakshadweep, Kodagu and across Malayali Diaspora around the world. In North Kerala they are known as Mappilas or Moplahs. The word mappila is derived from the old (pure) Malayalam words Amma and pilla meaning Child of Mother. The Mappilas are believed to be the earliest known Indian Muslim community, having existed since the 8th century CE, when Arab merchants who had long been trading with the Chera kingdom intermarried local women and settled down converting the latter and their families to Islam, based on the preachings of monotheism by Muhammad in Arabia. They propagated their faith along the Malabar Coast. Most Mappila Muslims follow the Shafi'i school of Muslim Jurisprudence (in contrast to the Hanafi school followed by most South Asian Muslims).

Ezhavas

The Ezhavas, also known as Thiyyas, are the largest Hindu community in Kerala. Ezhavas are also found amongst the Malayali diaspora around the world. Ezhavas are today a social group sharing a common history from the pre-social reform era.

Christians

Christians, including Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants form the third largest group in Kerala. Over the centuries, they have blended well with the changing socio-cultural environment of the region. They are a unique faction of Christians who are semi-Hindu by culture, Christians by religion, and Judeo-Syro-Oriental in worship. They have sometimes, even in some official documents, been called Nasranis (followers of Jesus of Nazarene) or Saint Thomas Christians. The community consists of people from many ethnic groups of Kerala including Dravidian converts, the pre-Christian era Jewish diaspora, different trading diaspora of Muziris, Syrian Christian settlers and the Knanayas.

Nairs

Nairs (sometimes spelled Nayar) are a Hindu upper caste. The Nairs were a martial nobility and figure prominently in the history of Kerala. The Nairs form the second largest Hindu community in Kerala.

Nambudiri

The Nambudiri Brahmins are the indigenous Brahmins of Kerala, who are considered the most orthodox Brahmins in India. They perform rituals in temples of Kerala based on Tantra Vidhi, a complex and ancient branch of Tantric traditions found only in Kerala, and some Mahakshetras ("Great Temples") around India (which have a Nambudiri acting as the Head Priest). Namboothiris follow the conservative and ritualistic Śrauta traditions and the ancient Purva Mimamsa, unlike the majority of other Brahmins in India who follow the Vedanta.

Ambalavasis

Ambalavasi is the name of a Kerala community (not to be confused with caste) composed of a number of Hindu castes such as Pushpakas (Unni, Nambeesan, etc.), Chakyars, Moothaths, Ilayaths, Kurukkals, Warriers, Marars, Nambiars, Pisharody, etc. Traditionally, they perform temple related jobs and art forms.

Malayala Kshatriyas

The Malayala Kshatriyas (also known as Samanta Kshatriya) who use the surname- Varma- are a group of people who belonged to the Kshatriya division of the Hindu caste system among Malayalees and their residences were traditionally called Kovilakams or Kottaram or Swaroopams. In traditional texts such as the Keralolpathi they are referred to as "Samantha Kshatriyas".

Cochin Jews

Cochin Jews, also called Malabar Jews (Malabar Yehudan) are the ancient Jews and their descendants of the erstwhile state of Kingdom of Cochin which includes the present day port city of Kochi. They traditionally spoke Judeo-Malayalam, a form of the Malayalam tongue, native to the state of Kerala. The Jews of Cochin did not adhere to the Talmudic prohibition, followed by other Orthodox Jews, against public singing by women, and therefore have a rich tradition of Jewish prayers and narrative songs performed by women in Judeo-Malayalam.

Pulayas

The Pulayas, also known as Pulayar are one of the main social groups found in the Kerala society, who were traditionally engaged in various agriculture-related occupations. Ayyankali (1863 - 1914), one among the great social reformers of India, who was praised by Mahatma Gandhi when he visited Venganoor, was born to a Malayali Pulaya family.

Architecture

Since Kerala receives high annual rainfall, the architecture formed and adopted was suited for this feature. Typical building structures in Kerala are adopted to conserve water received from rain. In the hot season, these structures provide natural air-conditioning as well.

Traditional houses of Kerala are built in accordance with the principles of "Thatchushastra" (Science of carpentry) and "Vastushastra", the ancient Indian science of architecture. Architecture of Kerala is amalgam of influences both from foreign and Indian origin. Influence of Chinese and Japanese architecture is felt strongly. These are clearly evident from the gabled roofs and all wood, coconut frond thatched constructions.

Nalukettu

Nalukettu is a quadrangular building constructed after following the Thatchushastra. In past, Nalukettu was the house in which Malayalis lived. It was a typical house which was flanked by out-houses and utility structures.

Nalukettu is constructed within a large compound. It was called Nalukettu because it consisted of four wings around a central courtyard called Nadumuttom. The four wings contained rooms to house a large joint family. The Vadakkani or the northern block had two rooms which were the kitchen and the dining room. The Padinjath which was the western block had three rooms of which the middle one was the strong room and the others were bedrooms. The middle portion of the eastern and the southern blocks were for visitors. On all four sides of the inner courtyard were verandahs. The entrance to the house was through a gate house called Padippura.

The house has a quadrangle in the center. The quadrangle is in every way the center of life in the house and very useful for the performance of rituals.

The mansion is created using wood and tiles, central open courtyard and wondrous architecture. The interiors of the house are tastefully decorated with a wealth of antiques made from teak, sandalwood, mahogany, etc. The traditional Nalukettu, barring the foundation and floor, is made of carved and slotted wood and has a close resemblance to East Asian gabled and thatched structures. In later years, tiles replaced the coconut fronds.

The enclosed courtyard or "ankanam" is usually sunken and therefore called "kuzhi (pit) ankanam". The protruding roofs formed shady verandas and protected the rooms from direct sunlight, keeping them cool even on the hottest of days. The inner veranda around the ankanam is open. The outer verandas along the four sides of the Nalukettu are enclosed differently. While both the western and eastern verandas are left open, the northern and southern verandas are enclosed or semi-enclosed.

The layout of these homes was simple, and catered to the dwelling of a large number of people, usually part of a tharavaadu. Ettukettu (eight halled with two central courtyards) or Pathinarukettu (sixteen halled with four central courtyards) are the more elaborate forms of the same architecture. Every structure faces the sunlight, and in some well designed nalukettu, there is excellent ventilation. Temperatures, even in the heat of summer, are markedly lower within the nalukettu.

An example of a Nalukettu structure is Mattancherry Palace.

Tharavadu

Tharavadu is a system of joint family practised by Malayalis, especially castes like Namboothris, Nairs and Ezhavas. Each Tharavadu has a unique name. As joint families grew and established independent settlements, the Sakhas (branches) modified the names in a such way that the main Tharavadu names are identifiable, yet Sakha (or "Thavazhi", i.e. Thay Vazhi which means "Through Mother") had a distinct name. For communities like Nairs, the "Tharavad name" is identified through their mother's house ("Thavazhi"), but some other communities like Namboothiris the name is identified by the father's Tharavadu. For Ezhavas, depending upon the social status of the family, the names are identified by the father's or mother's Tharavadu. Some Tharavadus were the protectors and rulers of the Desam (place) that they were in and a reporting relationship emerged over a period to a "Naadu Vaazhi" (Ruler of the land). Naadu is a group of Desams. Since the Tharavadu had a brand name of its own, it had vested upon the members a sense of responsibility to conduct themselves in manner befitting the traditions. The Tharavadu was administered by the Karnavar, the senior most male member of the family. He will be the eldest maternal uncle of the family as well. The members of the Tharavadu consisted of mother, daughters, sons, sisters and brothers. The fathers and husbands had only very minimal role to play in the affairs of the Tharavadu. It was a true matrilineal affair. The Karanavar took all major decisions. He was usually autocratic. However, the consent of the eldest female member of the family was taken before implementing the decisions. This eldest female member would be his maternal grandmother, own mother, mother's sister, his own sister or a sister through his maternal lineage. Since the lineage was through the female members, the birth of a daughter was always welcomed. Each Tharavadu also has a Para Devatha (clan deity) revered by those in the particular Tharavadu. Temples were built to honour these deities. A Kalarideivam/devatha or deity presiding over the practice of Kalaripayattu (martial art form in Kerala) was also honoured.

Kerala's society is less patriarchical than the rest of the Majority World. Certain Hindu communities such as the Nairs, some Ezhava families in Travancore and Cochin, Ezhavas in north Kerala and Muslims around Kannur used to follow a traditional matrilineal system known as marumakkathayam which has in the recent years (post Indian independence) ceased to exist. Christians, Muslims, and some Hindu castes such as the Namboothiris and some Ezhavas follow makkathayam, a patrilineal system. Kerala's gender relations are among the most equitable in India and the Majority World. However, this too is coming under threat, from such forces as patriarchy-enforced oppression of women.

Music

Malayalis have derived their own form of Indian classical music. It is given the name Sopanam. Sopanam is a form of Indian classical music developed in the temples of Kerala in the wake of the increasing popularity of the Jayadeva's 'Gita Govinda' or 'Ashtapathi'. Sopanasangitham is sung by the side of the steps (Sopanam) of Temple, with the accompaniment of the drum called Idakka. The sopanasangitam in its traditional form is seen at its best among the Marars and Poduvals, who were hereditary Ambalavasis engaged to do the same.

Kerala has shared the general musical culture of peninsular India from the earliest times. South Indian music is generally known as Carnatic music because of its common features. Each region of the south has its own culture. Kerala's music is known as Sopanam. Sangeetam (Music) appears to have acquired its name from the Sopanam which means Sanctum Sanctorum of the temple. Its essential features were born out of a blending of the Vedic, the folk and tribal music of the region. Some famous singers are Neralattu Rama Poduval, Janardhanan Nedungadi and Damodara Marar.

Panchari melam

The percussion ensemble panchari melam (or panchari), as part of the chenda melam (or melam) family, is the best-known and most popular kshetram vadyam genre to be performed at virtually every temple festival in central Kerala. Malayalis, especially in the central districts, regard panchari as the most ancient percussion genre in Kerala. Other melams are pandi, chempata, anchatanta, dhruvam, atanta, and chempha. Though there are musical and ritualistic differences between the panchari and other melams, the description of the former is proto-typical for the latter.

Panchari melam is either performed in an elaborated form (bigger ensemble, longer performance time) to accompany the annual temple festivals, or in an abbreviated form for the daily or weekly rituals. Both forms are performed within the walls of the temple. The ensemble starts at the main entrance to the inner part of the temple, slowly circumambulating the shrine clockwise while playing. On either of the eight wind directions or the compass points they stop and perform. Usually a phase or at least a talavattam (tala cycle, see below) is concluded before proceeding; thus paying reference to each divinity located in different parts of the temple. The procession is led by the divine idol of the temple kept on an elephant or carried by a Namboothiri priest. The deity faces the musical ensemble and devotees, the latter surrounding the musicians in a semi-circle eagerly following the musical progress of the melam.

Panchavadyam

Panchavadyam is regarded as one of the most sophisticated art forms in Kerala, and thus the performers are highly respected and usually a huge crowd gathers to watch and listen to the performance. In contrast to the smaller ritualistic panchavadyam, this orchestral form is also called sevanga panchavadyam. Similar to chenda melam, panchavadyam is also characterised by a pyramid rhythmic structure, the ever increasing tempo, and the proportionally decreasing number of beats in a cycles. In contrast to melam it uses different instruments, is not related so closely to the kshetram ritual, contains improvised parts, and its present form was only composed in the 1930s by the maddalam artist Venkichan Swami Bhagavatar and Madhava Warrier. An intelligent mixture of composed and improvised parts creates an amazing sound atmosphere. Similar to panchari, the artists are grouped in two semicircles facing each other. According to the panchavadyam band leader and timila artist Kuttapan Marar (2001), this genre is not performed for any ritual, though it is performed in a small ensemble parallel to the diparadhana evening ritual.

The hallmark of Kerala music lies in the dominance of percussion instruments, its roots in the traditional kavu ritual music and the natural environment. Modern Kerala gives us hints of the sources from which these early musicians had created such a mighty and powerful music: the hammering sound of the woodpecker; the various sounds of falling rain on leaves or thatched roofs in the long rainy season; the croaking of the frogs after heavy rainfall; storm and wind moving the leaves of trees, bushes and grass. Or the man-made sounds: the regular noise of wood cutting and chopping; the washer women beating the dirty clothes onto the stones at the river or temple pond. The Malayalis only distinguish two forms of music: kutuka (to drum) and pattu (to sing). It is interesting that the term pattu is also used for solo instrumental genres kuzhal (oboe) and kombu pattu (horn). Percussion domination means that the musical framework of the pieces is not determined by a melody or raga, but consists of a very sophisticated rhythmical structure and content. The "melody" of a piece is formed through a prominent rhythmic sound. Depending on the ritual this rhythm melody is more or less elaborated, and more or fewer compositional or improvisational elements are employed. A melody or raga, where it is used, is usually subordinated to the rhythm (an exception of this rule is kuzhal pattu). The term percussion-dominated indicates that the main instruments are drums and cymbals and the rhythmic structure is the main feature of the music. The wind instruments have in this sense a subordinated role to play.

Actually, the function and entry of kuzhal and kombu in the big orchestras is very much the same as a rhythm instrument. The wind instruments have to embellish and to prolong the beat of the drums, to give signs for taking up the kalasom (a kind of cadential phrase) and have to play some pattern on the given talam. Common to all percussion items is that each single music genre represents a unique musical piece. Therefore one of the bigger orchestral pieces, like the chenda melam (or melam), is always played with the same rhythmic structure. The beauty of every performance is the result of an intelligent and experienced combination of time and tempo. This combination is mainly responsible for whether the concert develops into a superior or merely an average performance. The main responsibility for this very difficult artistic task lies with the skill of the band leader, who is always a drum player and belongs to the Marar or Pooduval community. He is responsible for guiding the other musicians through the given time frame, to perform a chenda melam in one, two, three or even four hours. The position of the bandleader in melam is to be the most important solo musician, responsible for the pace and progress of the piece, rather than being a conductor guiding the orchestra from the front. The informal and relaxed atmosphere is enhanced by the band playing in front of the elephants, the audience pushing from all sides and punching the air with their fists.

A point of confusion, especially in relationship to Karnatik music, are the terms and descriptions of the many talam (rhythm) cycles used in Kerala music. Though there are a certain distinctive number of talam cycles en vogue (i.e. with distinct numbers of beats and subdivisions) the terms vary by region, genre, and musician groups. We mention the talam cycles and subdivisions as we deal with each genre, using the name most commonly mentioned by the musicians of that genre.

Culture and dance forms

Malayalis have a rich artistic and cultural tradition. These traditions give rise to art forms and festivals that are vibrant and colorful. Dance forms are intricate, gentle, and artistic. Festivals often involve elaborate processions of elephants accompanied by the sounds of drums, cymbals, and firecrackers.

Kathakali

Kathakali originated from Ramanattom (“Rama”= the Hindu god, Sri Rama; “nattom”= enactment) and Krishnanattom ("Krishna"= the Hindu god, Krishna; “nattom”= enactment). History has it that Raja (ruler) of Kottarakkara (a province in Kerala) sculpted Ramanattom when the Zamorin (then ruler of Kozhikode, another province in Kerala) refused to allow a performance of Krishnanattom in the former’s palace. Subsequently, Kottayam Thampuran (ruler of Kottayam, another province in Kerala) composed several plays on Mahabharata thereby making these distinct from stories based on Ramanattom. Thus, Kathakali was born. Kathakali shares a lot of similarities to both Ramanattom and Krishnanattom. But it also incorporated several outside elements, which is thought to have contributed to its popularity. In particular, the increasing use of Malayalam, which is the local language (albeit as a mix of Sanskrit and Malayalam, called Manipravaalam) made it more popular among the masses. During its evolution, Kathakali also imbibed elements from folk and martial arts which existed at the time in Kerala. Characters with vividly painted faces and elaborate costumes re-enact stories from the Hindu epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana. Kathakali is featured in the award-winning Indo-French-German produced film Vaanaprastham. Kathakali is traditionally performed in the Hindu temple, but nowadays may also be seen in theatre performances.

Traditionally there are 101 classical Kathakali stories. Most of them were initially composed to last a whole night. Nowadays there is increasing popularity for concise versions of every story (lasting 2-4 hours instead of a whole night), which has been made by selecting the most dramatic or popular portions of individual stories. In spite of being a classical art form, Kathakali can be appreciated by novices as well as connoisseurs. This is because of the frequent use of “Lokadharmi” (or the elaboration of folk elements) which allows novices to gain a foothold when they start watching Kathakali. In contrast “Natyadharmi” (which is based on the Natyasastra-the science of Natya and is the more classical component of the art form) delights the experience of novices and connoisseurs alike. It is good to have an idea of the story being enacted. This will help the spectators to appreciate the “personalization” of characters by individual actors. In fact one of the major attractions for traditional Kathakali connoisseurs is their ability to distinguish and debate on the "personalizations" that each actor brings about in his depiction of the story. Often this is a challenging task as most the characters and stories are derived from Hindu epics, which are memorized for people from that region. Success/ failure of amateur Kathakali artistes is often decided by their sensibility to successfully personalize characters. The most popular stories enacted are Nala Charitam (a story from the Mahabharata, Duryodhana Vadham (a story from the Mahabharata), Kalyanasowgandhikam (the story of Bhima going to get flowers for Panchali, from the Mahabharata), Keechaka Vadham (another story of Bhima and Panchali, from the Mahabharata), Kiratham (Arjuna and Lord Shiva's fight, from the Mahabharata), Karna Shapadham (another story from Mahabharata).

Recently, as part of an attempt at popularizing the art, stories from other cultures, such as the story of Mary Magdalene from the Bible, and Shakespeare's King Lear have also been adapted into Kathakali scripts.

The language of the songs used for Kathakali is a mix of Malayalam and Sanskrit called Manipravaalam. Even though the songs are set for “ragas” based on South Indian Classical Music (Carnatic music), there is a distinct style of rendition, which is known as the “sopanam” style. The Sopanam style incorporates the moods of temple songs which used to be sung (continues even now at some temples) at the time when Kathakali was born.

It is an interesting fact that though Kathakali is very popular outside Kerala, it is one of the least accepted art forms among Keralites. This art form has a high learning curve and lasts for hours. One of the theories is that in olden times the art form was not open to common man but only for aristocratic 'Raja' families and for Namboodiri casts. It was not open to even all "Nair" families though they belonged to "Savarna" caste. "Ottamthullal" on the other hand is known as "common man's Kathakali".

Theyyam

The Theyyam or Theyyattam is a popular ritual dance of north Kerala, particularly presented in the Kolathunadu (of the present Kannur and Kasargode districts). As a living cult with centuries old traditions, ritual and custom, it embraces almost all castes and classes of Hindu religion in this region. The term Theyyam is a corrupt form of daivam or God. It is a rare combination of dance and music and reflects important features of a tribal culture.The dance or invocation is generally performed in front of the village shrines. It is also performed in the houses as ancestor worship with elaborate rite and rituals. There is no stage or curtain and other arrangements for the performance. The devotees would be standing or some of them would be sitting on a sacred tree in front of the shrine. In brief it is an open theatre. A performance of a particular deity according to its significance and hierarchy in the shrine continues for 12 to 24 hours with intervals. The chief dancer who propitiates the central deity of the shrine has to reside in the rituals. This may be an impact of Jainism and Buddhism. Further after sun set this particular dancer would not eat anything as legacy of Jainism. His make-up is done by specialists and other dancers. First part of the performance is usually known as vellattam or thottam. It is performed without proper make-up or decorative costume. Only a small red headdress is worn on this occasion. The dancer along with drummers recites the particular ritual song, which describes the myths and legends of the particular ritual song, which describes the myths, and legends of the particular deity of the shrine or the folk deity to be propitiated. This is accompanied by the playing of folk musical instruments. After finishing this primary ritualistic part of the invocation the dancer returns to the green room. Again after a short interval he appears with proper make-up and costumes. There are different patterns of face-painting. Some of these patterns are called vairadelam, kattaram, kozhipuspam, kotumpurikam, and prakkezhuthu. Mostly primary and secondary colours are applied with contrast for face painting. It had effected certain stylization also. Then the dancer comes in front of the shrine and gradually “metamorphosises” as the particular deity of the shrine. He, after observation of certain rituals places the head-dress on his head and dances. In the background folk musical instruments like chenda, tuti, kuzhal and veekni are played with rhythm. All dancers take a shield and kadthala (sword) in their hands as continuation of the cult of weapon. Then the dancer circumambulates the shrine, runs in the courtyard dances. The Theyyam dance has different steps known as kalaasams. Each kalaasam is repeated systematically from first to eight step of footwork. A performance is a combination of playing of musical instruments, vocal recitation, dance and strange makeup and costumes. The stage-practices of Theyyam and its ritualistic observations make it one of the fascinating theatrical arts of India.

Mohiniyattam

Mohiniyattam (also spelled as mohiniaattam, mohiniattom or mohiniyattam) is a traditional dance form of Malayalis from Kerala. A very graceful dance meant to be performed as a solo recital by women. The term Mohiniattam comes from the words "Mohini" meaning a woman who enchants onlookers and "aattam" meaning graceful and sensuous body movements. The word "Mohiniattam" literally means "dance of the enchantress".There are two stories of the Lord Vishnu disguised as a Mohini. In one, he appears as Mohini to lure the asuras (demons) away from the amrita (nectar of immortality) obtained during the churning of the palazhi or Ocean of Milk. In the second story Vishnu appears as Mohini to save Lord Shiva from the demon Bhasmasura. The name Mohiniaattam may have been coined after Lord Vishnu, and the main theme of the dance is love and devotion to God, with usually Vishnu or Krishna being the hero. Devadasis used to perform this in temples. But it also has elements of Koothu and Kottiyattom in it. it is a drama in dance and verse.

The dance which has influences and elements from two South Indian dance forms, the Bharatanatyam and Kathakali, was formulated in the court of king Swati Tirunal by Vadivelu, one of the Thanjavur Quartet. The dance involves the swaying of broad hips and the gentle movements of erect torso from side to side. This is reminiscent of the swinging of the palm leaves and the gently flowing rivers which abound Kerala, the land of Mohiniattam. There are approximately 40 different basic movements, known as 'atavukal', in Mohiniyattam.

The costume includes white sari embroidered with bright golden brocade (known as kasavu) at the edges. The dance follows the classical text of Hastha Lakshanadeepika, which has elaborate description of Mudras (gestural expressions by the hand palm and fingers).

The vocal music of Mohiniattam involves variations in rhythmic structure known as chollu. The lyrics are in Manipravala, a mixture of Sanskrit and Malayalam. The mohiniattam dance is performed to this accompaniment by the subtle gestures and footwork of the danseuse. The performer uses the eyes in a very coy yet sensual manner, the purpose being to enchant the mind without enticing the senses.

Other dance forms

Ottamthullal is a type of performing art from Kerala, India. Also known as the "poor man's Kathakali", Ottamthullal was created by the Malayali poet Kunchan Nambiar, as an alternative to the Chakyar koothu, as a protest against the prevalent socio-political structure and prejudices of the region. In Ottamthullal, a single actor wears colorful costumes, while reciting thullal (dance songs), all the while acting and dancing.

Chakyar Koothu is a performing art form from Kerala. It is a kind of mono act and a traditional equivalent of a stand-up comic act. However, unlike the stand-up comic, the performer has a wider leeway in that he can heckle the audience. "Koothu" means dance - which is a misnomer, since there is minimal choreography involved in this art form; facial expressions are important, though. Traditionally, it was performed inside a Hindu temple and the performer begins with a prayer to the deity of the temple. He then goes on to narrate a verse in Sanskrit before explaining it in the vernacular Malayalam. The narration that follows touches upon various current events and societal factors with great wit and humor. Koothu was traditionally performed by the Chakyar community.

Koodiyattam is a traditional performing artform from Kerala. Recognised by UNESCO as a Human Heritage Art, this form of Sanskrit drama is considered to be at least 2000 years old. Kulasekhara Varma Cheraman Perumal, an ancient King of Kerala, is known as the creator of Koodiyattam in the present form, and his Aattaprakaram is considered as the most authoritative publication on the art form.

Velakali is a ritual art (dance) of Kerala, mainly performed at temples in the festival time. The performers, clad in the traditional clothes and colourful headgear of the medieval Nair soldiers, engage in vigorous movements and dexterous sword play, to the accompaniment of an orchestra comprising the maddalam, ilathalam, kombu and kuzhal. Velakali originated in Ambalappuzha where Mathoor Panicker, chief of the Chempakasserri army, promoted it to boost the martial spirit of the people. The dance form is a regular feature of the annual festivities at the Ambalappuzha Sri Krishna temple in Alappuzha district. Extreme dedication and continuous practice are essential for this form of art.

Kolkali is a folk art performed in Kerala. The dance performers move in a circle, striking small sticks and keeping rhythm with special steps. The circle expands and contracts as the dance progress. The accompanying music gradually rises in pitch and the dance reaches its climax.

Many ancient family houses in Kerala have special snake shrines called Kavu. Sarpam Thullal is usually performed in the courtyard of houses having snake shrines. This is a votive offering for family wealth and happiness. The dance is performed by members of a community called Pulluvar. In the first stage the pulluvan draws a kalam (the field) in with two or more twining snakes in the courtyard. An oil lit traditional lamp and one full measure (nirapara) each of paddy and rice are then placed in front of the kalam. In the second stage, the idol of the snake is brought out from the Kavu in a procession called thalapoli to the uproarious tumult of percussion instrument (panchavadyam).

Muslim and Christian art forms

Duff Muttu (also: Dubh Muttu) is an art form prevalent among Muslims in Kerala. Basically Duff or Dubh is a music instrument made of wood and ox skin. It is also called Thappitta. Participants play this and dance. In certain areas, instead of Duff or Dubh, Arabana is used. This was performed in Madina in Saudi Arabia.

Oppana is a popular form of social entertainment among the Muslim community of Kerala, prevalent all over, especially in the northern districts of Kasaragod,Kannur, Calicut and Malappuram. Oppana is generally presented by females, numbering about fifteen including musicians, on a wedding day. The bride dressed in all finery, covered with gold ornaments is the chief spectator who sits on a peetam, around which the singing and dancing take place. While they sing, they clap their hands rhythmically and move around the bride using simple steps. Two or three girls begin the songs and the rest join in chorus. Sometime Oppana is also presented by males to entertain the bridegroom. It usually takes place just before the bridegroom leaves for the bride's residence where the Nikah (marriage) takes place or at the time he enters the Maniyara. Harmonium, Tabla, Ganjira and Elathaalam are the musical instruments employed for this performance. Only the Mappilapaattu will be sung on the occasion.

Kuthu Ratheeb is a religious ritual performed by some sections of the Muslim population in Kerala. Weapons are used in this ritual. Sometimes it spills over and actual injury is inflicted. Common acts in Kuthu Ratheeb include piercing the tongue, the ear and stomach with iron rods. Byths are hymns that are sung during Kuthu Ratheeb. There are more than twenty Byths and each are different.

Mappila Paattukal or Mappila Songs are folklore Muslim devotional songs in the Malayalam language. These are sung by Muslims (Mappilas) of Malabar. The first Gramaphone record in Malayalam Language was a Mappila song. In 1925, Gul Mohammed, father of celebrity artist KG Sathar, recorded his voice in Gramaphone. Even though millions of Mappila songs were released thereafter on records, only few of them are considered as authentic Mappila Songs. Mappila songs are composed in colloquial Malayalam and are sung in a distinctive tune. They are composed in a mixture of Malayalam and Arabic and have a special charm of their own. They deal with diverse themes such as religion, love, satire, heroism, etc.

Maargamkali is an entertainment dance form found among Suriyani Christian (Syrian Christian) folk in central and southern part of Kerala. Margamkali is a slant imitation of Sangamkali and is mostly performed by females. This is performed by a group of ladies dressed in Chatta and Mundu (the traditional attire of Syrian Christian females of Kerala) circling around a big bronze lamp called Nila Vilakku.

The Christian soldiers used to pass time engaged in another art-form called Chavittu Nadakam which can be primarily defined as a dance drama. The subject of this art form usually is the arrival of Mar Thoma (Saint Thomas the Apostle) and his efforts to convert other people to Christianity in Kerala. Another art form is Parichamuttukali performed by christians of central and northern Kerala, which is basically a type of martial arts dance influenced by Kalaripayattu.

Though these Syrian Christian art forms are exclusive to Kerala and were performed even from the early days of Syrian Christian history, it is a pity that the new genaeration is little interested in learning and propagating the same to avoid these traditional and cultural uniquenesses from getting extinct.

Vallam Kali

Vallam Kali, also known as Snake Boat Race literally means boat game (race) in Malayalam. It is the traditional boat race in Kerala. It is mainly conducted during the season of the harvest festival Onam in Autumn. Vallam Kali include races of many kinds of traditional boats of Kerala. The race of Chundan Vallam (snake boat) is the major item. Hence Vallam Kali is also known in English as Snake Boat Race and a major tourist attraction. Other types of boats which do participate in various events in the race are Churulan Vallam, Iruttukuthy Vallam, Odi Vallam, Veppu Vallam (Vaipu Vallam), Vadakkanody Vallam, and Kochu Vallam. Nehru Trophy Boat Race is one the famous Vallam Kali held in Punnamada Lake in Alappuzha district of Kerala. Champakulam Moolam Boat Race is the oldest and most popular Vallam Kali in Kerala. The race is held on river Pamba on the moolam day (according to the Malayalam Era) of the Malayalam month Midhunam, the day of the installation of the deity at the Ambalappuzha Sree Krishna Temple. The Aranmula Boat Race takes place at Aranmula, near a temple dedicated to Lord Krishna and Arjuna. Thousands of people gather on the banks of the river Pamba to watch the snake boat races. Nearly 30 snake boats or chundan vallams participate in the festival. Payippad Jalotsavam is a three day water festival. Its conducted in Payippad Lake which is 35 km from Alappuzha district of Kerala state. There is a close relation between this Payippad boat race and Subramanya Swamy Temple in Haripad. Indira Gandhi Boat Race is a boat race festival celebrated in the last week of December in the backwaters of Kochi, a city in Kerala. This boat race is one of the most popular Vallam Kali in Kerala. This festival is conducted to promote Kerala tourism.

Festivals

Malayalis celebrate a variety of festivals.The three major ones are given below. Other than the three given below Malayalis also celebrate Christmas and Bakrid.

Onam

Onam is an annual harvest festival, celebrated mainly in Kerala, although celebrations also occur among the diaspora. It is the foremost festival among the cultural repertoire of Malayalis, and falls during the month of Chingam (August-September as per the Gregorian calendar), the first month of the Malayalam calendar and lasts for ten days. Though it is essentially a harvest festival of Malayalis, mythologically it is linked to Malayali-Hindu folktales. Like many other religious festivals in India, Onam is celebrated by people across all castes and faiths. Onam has been part of Malayali psyche for centuries. There are records of Onam being celebrated during the Sangam Age. The earliest record of Onam is found during time of Kulasekhara Perumals around AD 800, soon after the Kalabhra Interregnum of Kerala History. Until the eighth century the political history is mostly unknown and is usually known as the Kalabhra Interregnum. Kalabhras were supposed to have been ruling Kerala until at least the sixth century. Kalabhras probably refers to Keralaputras. they are believed to be people of Mahabali.

Onam has two specific significance. First it is the communal memory and celebration of past history as ennunciated in the Mahabali Legend. A story of how paradise was lost. Second it is the celebration of the harvest tied with the memory of the golden age of prosperity. It is believed that during those days the whole of Chingam was celebrated as Onam season. After the rain drenched month of Karkidakam with its privations, Chingam is a welcome month for people in the state of Kerala. The festival is the harbinger of spring — signalling the start of the harvest season. Onam epitomizes the newfound vigour and enthusiasm of the season, and is celebrated with traditional fervour with visit to temples, family get-togethers, gifting each other clothes called Onakkodi and lots of merry making.

Vishu

Vishu is a festival celebrated by Malayalis around the first day in the Malayalam month of Medam (April – May). This occasion signifies the Sun's transit to the zodiac Mesha (Mesha Raasi) as per Indian astrological calculations. Vishu is also considered as the Malayalam New Year day and thus the importance of this day to all Malayalis regardless of their religion or sect. Similarly the day is celebrated in almost all places in India by the Hindus albeit by different names. In Assam this day is called Bihu, in Punjab Baisakhi and in Tamil Nadu Puthandu. The word "Vishu" in Sanskrit means "equal". Therefore Vishu is more probably denoting one of the equinox days.

The festival is marked with offerings to the divine called Vishukkani. The offerings consist of a ritual arrangement in the puja room of auspicious articles like raw rice, fresh linen, golden cucumber, betel leaves, arecanut, metal mirror, the yellow flowers konna (Cassia fistula), and a holy text and coins, in a bell metal vessel called uruli. A lighted bell metal lamp called nilavilakku is also placed alongside. This arrangement is completed the previous night. On the day of Vishu, the custom is to wake up at dawn and go to the puja room with the eyes closed so that the Vishukkani is the first thing one sees. Since the occasion marks the beginning of Malayalam New Year, it is also considered auspicious to read verses from Hindu Holy book Ramayanam after seeing the Vishukkani. It is also believed by some that the page of the Ramayanam to which you open up will have a bearing on your life in the coming year. Devotees also throng the well-known temples like Sabarimala Ayyappan Teample, Guruvayur Sree Krishna temple to have a "Vishukkani Kazhcha" on the early hours of "Vishu" day.

Pooram

Pooram is an annual temple festival held after the summer harvest, celebrated by Malayalis, mainly in central Kerala. The name has its origin in "Poora Kali" which comes from the Malayalam language used by the people of Kerala, India. Most pooram festivals have at least one ornately decorated elephant parading in the procession. However, there are some, such as Aryankavu Pooram, near Shoranur that do not use the decorated elephant. The most famous Pooram is Thrissur Pooram as it has become a tourist destination for Europeans and North Americans. Other well known pooram festivals are Arattupuzha - Peruvanam Pooram, Nenmara vallangi vela, Wadakkancherry pooram and Edakkunni Uthram Vilakku (often called Vela).

Thrissur Pooram is the most colourful temple festival of Kerala. Thrissur Pooram attracts large masses of devotees and spectators from all parts of the State and even outside. Celebrated in Medom (April-May) it consists of processions of richly caparisoned elephants from various neighbouring temples to the Vadakumnathan temple, Thrissur. The most impressive processions are those from the Krishna Temple at Thiruvambadi and the Devi Temple at Paramekkavu which is quite a significant event for its devotees.

Eid al-Adha (Arabic: عيد الأضحى ‘Īd ul-’Aḍḥā) or the Festival of Sacrifice is a religious festival celebrated by Kerala Muslims as a commemoration of God's forgiveness of Ibrahim (Abraham) from his vow to sacrifice his son, as commanded by Allah. (Muslim tradition names Ishmael as the son who was to be sacrificed, whereas the Judeo-Christian tradition names Isaac.) It is one of two Eid festivals celebrated by Muslims, whose basis comes from the Quran.[1] (Muslims in Iran celebrate a third, non-denominational Eid.) Like Eid el-Fitr, Eid ul-Adha begins with a short prayer followed by a sermon (khuṭba).

Eid ul-Adha annually falls on the 10th day of the month of Dhul Hijja (ذو الحجة) of the lunar Islamic calendar. The festivities last for two to three days or more depending on the country. Eid ul-Adha occurs the day after the pilgrims conducting Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia by Muslims worldwide, descend from Mount Arafat. It happens to be approximately 70 days after the end of the month of Ramadan.

Cuisine

The cuisine of Malayalis are linked in all its richness to the history, geography and culture of the land. Most of the non-vegetarian dishes are spicy. The food habits in Travancore and Malabar (southern and northern Kerala) are quite different to each other. Kerala is known for its traditional sadhyas, a vegetarian meal served with boiled rice and a host of side-dishes. The sadhya is complemented by payasam, a sweet milk dessert native to Kerala. The sadhya is, as per custom, served on a banana leaf. The southern Kerala dishes are often spiced with garlic, whereas in North Kerala garlic is generally avoided in all vegetarian dishes. Traditional dishes include sambar, aviyal, kaalan, theeyal, thoran, injipully, pulisherry, appam, kappa (tapioca), puttu (steam cake), and puzhukku. Coconut is an essential ingredient in most of the food items and is liberally used. Malayalis are also acknowledged meat eaters, which include Beef, Pork and Mutton (Goat).

Puttu is a culinary specialty in Kerala. It is a steamed rice cake which is a favourite breakfast of most Malayalis. It is served with either brown chickpeas cooked in a spicy gravy, papadams and boiled small green lentils, or tiny ripe yellow Kerala plantains. In the highlands there is also a variety of puttu served with paani (the boiled-down syrup from sweet palm toddy) and sweet boiled bananas. to steam the puttu, there is a special utensil called "Puttu Kutti". It consists of two sections. The lower bulkier portion is where the water for steaming is stored. The upper detachable leaner portion which is separated from lower portion with peforated lids so as to allow the steam to pass through and bake the rice powder which has been filled. The upper portion of the leaner section is covered with a peforated cup shaped lid once it is filled with rice powder.

Appam is a bread like pancake. It is made up of rice flour, yeast and water. It is made like a pancake using a frying pan. It is served with egg curry, chicken curry, mutton stew, vegetable curry and chick pea curry.

Martial arts

Malayalis have their own lethal form of martial arts called Kalaripayattu. This type of martial arts was used as defensive mechanism against intruders . In ancient times, disputes between (naaduvazhis or Vazhunors)nobles were also settled by the outcome of a Kalaripayattu tournament. This ancient martial art is claimed as the mother of all martial arts – even the Chinese Shaolin chuan from the famous Shaolin temple traces its ancestry to Bodhi Dharma, an Indian Buddhist monk who was a Kalaripayattu expert. The word "kalari" can be traced to ancient Sangam literature. The martial tradition of Kalarippayattu is also dated to ancient Dravidian traditions. Phillip Zarrilli, a professor at the University of Exeter and one of the few Western authorities on kalaripayattu, estimates that kalarippayattu dates back to at least the 12th century CE. The historian Elamkulam Kunjan Pillai attributes the birth of Kalarippayattu to an extended period of warfare between the Cheras and the Cholas in the 11th century CE. What eventually crystallized into this style is thought to have been a product of existing South Indian styles of combat, combined with techniques brought by migration from the north along the western coast. What eventually crystallized as kalarippayattu combined indigenous Dravidian techniques with the martial practices and ethos brought by brahman migrations from Saurastra and Konkan down the west Indian coast into Karnataka and eventually Kerala. Discovery channel notes that Kalarippayattu may be one of the oldest martial arts in existence. The oldest western reference to Kalarippayattu is a 16th century travelogue of Duarte Barbosa, a Portuguese explorer. The Southern style, which places more emphasis on open hand combat has mainly been practiced by the Tamil speaking regions, at least for the last few centuries.

Notable Keralites

List of famous Keralites

See also

References

Kerala
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External links

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