Kerala has had an ancient history and a rich repertoire of art and culture. Its religious diversity, ancient art forms, traditional places of worship, stately architecture, conventional herbal medicine etc have all contributed to a wealth of ancient cultural heritage unparalleled in its richness and value. The timeless majestic monuments of Bekal Fort, Dutch Palace, Napier Museum and so on stand tall as State edifices that speak volumes of the glorious cultural traditions that were practiced in this ancient land.
The people of Kerala are particular about upholding their religious beliefs and cultural traditions. The different rituals and traditional customs practiced at the numerous places of worship have been passed down through several generations and reflect the richness of the cultural heritage of the land. These abodes, from time immemorial, also served as art centres facilitating the growth and development of literature, fine arts and the performing arts that included devotional prose and poetry, mural painting, classical and folk music, dance and other art forms. The shrines helped to preserve and promote the local artistic and cultural heritage that plays a crucial role in building the cultural fabric of any society. Kerala’s religious institutions and spiritual centres have essentially been centres of learning, culture and art all along.
The socio-religious fairs and festivals of Kerala also form part of the vast art and cultural repertoire the state is endowed with. The martial art of ‘kalari’, said to be the precursor of all other martial art forms including kung fu, karate etc, originated in Kerala. This ancient art of self-defense was in vogue among the warrior clans and princes during times of royalty. Not only did it entail offence and defence, but it was also a system of holistic physical and mental development that imparted courage, concentration and confidence to the person who took it up.
Similarly, the boat races of Kerala form part of a rich and glorious folk tradition that is manifested during the harvest festival season of Onam. The contests indulged in by the enthusiastic oarsmen, the decorated snake boats, the lively and cheerful songs of the fishermen in praise of the local deity or king – all reflect the glory of the past, the people and their lifestyle. Ancient culture and heritage has left behind many of its customs and traditions in the state which are retained and revived by the common people on relevant occasions.
Elements of heritage can be found in each and every aspect of life in Kerala. In medicine, much before the allopathic system was introduced, ayurveda, siddha, acupuncture and other indigenous forms of medicine used to be practiced successfully. Ayurveda was conventionally practiced as a holistic healing and health system by the sages of yore dating back to thousands of centuries. This medicinal heritage is exclusive to Kerala as it’s the only state patenting and practicing ayurveda on a full-fledged scale. Besides, the state is the home ground of innumerable species of flora of immense medicinal value that are used extensively in the preparation of herbal concoctions.
Kerala architecture based on the principles of Vasthu Vidya or the science of construction boasts of a hoary past and continues to be practised to the present day. The historic museums, monuments and other structures dotting the length and breadth of the state, stand in silent witness and reflect the proud majesty of the times that used to be. The handicrafts of Kerala too are exquisite pieces of art and craft work made from sandalwood, teakwood, metal alloys, coir, coconut shell, handloom etc.meticulously made by the local artisans and marketed by various government and non-governmental outlets. These souvenir and gift items such as royal elephant headgear and paraphernalia, snake boats carrying rowing oarsmen, jute & coir mats and wall hangings, Kerala set sarees with golden border and so on, carry forward the cultural lineage of a bountiful and timeless heritage so unique to god’s own country.