Kerala boasts of a peaceful coexistence among the diverse religious faiths and communities. The state stands testimony to the concept of communal harmony and religious tolerance from the very beginning. About 60% of the population of Kerala are Hindus, more than 20% follow Islam and the rest belong to the Christian community. The state is also home to the clan of the Jewish Diaspora whose stronghold lies in the Jewish town of Fort Kochi. Jain and Buddhist families, although insignificant in number, also reside in Kerala. Correspondingly, the places of worship in Kerala comprise temples (Hindu, Jain & Buddhist), mosques, churches, synagogues and gurudwaras.
The original inhabitants of the land and the Dravidians were not known to practice any form of organized religion. The tribal communities that included Kadars, Paniyans, Ullatans, Malayans and others were engaged in nature worship, tree worship, animal worship and spirit worship. Tribal ancestors in the form of hill gods and forest guardians were worshipped by the indigenous folk to cure terminal illnesses, save them from natural calamities, safeguard them during hazardous journeys etc. The several festivals were marked by deity worship followed by a lot of singing, dancing and merrymaking.
Religion became more organized with the influx of the Aryans. Elaborate rites, rituals and ceremonies were conducted as part of the ancient Vedic tradition. Hinduism was the dominant religion and its missionaries, the priestly class reigned supreme by introducing the four-fold caste system in society. Numerous gods and idols of the Hindu pantheon began to be worshipped. Study of the Vedas, Upanishads and acceptance of Hindu metaphysical ideologies was common. Worship of the female goddess was also practiced, signifying the relevance of the matrilineal type of society prevalent in those times.
During the 8th century AD, the caste system introduced by the Aryan Brahmins gradually gave way to severe oppression of the lower or backward castes by the high class Namboodiris who owned a lot of land, possessed intellectual superiority and were able to command respect in society owing to their pedigree. This was a time when active overseas trade was going on between Kerala and the Middle East. Arab and Jew traders brought with them their religion and conversions including forceful ones made by Tipu’s army saw the flourish of Islam in the state.
Another alternative religion was formed when in AD 52, St.Thomas landed in Kerala and began preaching Christianity. This was also the religion practiced by the Portuguese, the Dutch and finally the British who set base in Kerala between the early 17th and mid 19th centuries. A number of the so-called ‘forward caste’ Hindu families converted to other religions out of necessity or for better conveniences like education and healthcare. As an outcome of the religious diversity prevailing in the state, we have today numerous religious sects and sub sects found in all the religions - the rituals, traditions and customs of which are steadfastly followed by the respective believers.
Main Religious Centers in Kerala......
|| St. Alphonsa's Tomb
|| Beema Palli