Kerala: religion

Unlike other Indian states, in Kerala relations and proportions between different religions are more harmonious. That does not mean that they are free of tensions, but it is a fact that in Kerala coexistence between different religions has been in place for many centuries. Still in the city of Kottai you can see on the same block a Hindu temple next to a mosque, a church and an old synagogue (already deprecated).

Hindus make up 54% of the population (a figure below 79% of the national average), Muslims 25% (compared to 14% nationally), Christians 18% (compared to 2%). Each of these great traditions has its subdivisions (e.g. Christian-Syrians, Anglicans, Catholics, Protestants, etc.). In turn, each has its temples, festivals, food or marital customs. In addition, there are minorities of Jainists, Sikhs or Jews. While their presence is witness today, they have significantly influenced the development of Malayali culture.

In Kerala (and nowhere else in India) can a Vedic ritual (more than 3,000 years old!) be directed by namputiri-brahman caste priests, who have transmitted it with meticulous accuracy – in an archaic Sanskrit already unintelligible for the majority – for more than 120 generations.

At the other end of the socioritual spectrum, in the month of February you can see in certain temples of the north of the state the amazing dancers theyyam, men of very low caste who are possessed by divinity and enter spectacular trances during the festival of the temple.

Kaladi, not far from Ernakulam, is the birthplace of Shankaracharya, the most acclaimed philosopher of Hindu traditions, systematizing of Vedanta Advaita, between the 8th and 9th centuries.

The spiritual richness of the state – in tune with the rest of India – is proverbial; as shown by the massive pilgrimage to Sabarimalai, a shrine in the lush jungle of the Ghats, where millions of Hindu devotees come annually to worship Aiyappam, which is something like the national divinity of the Keralites.

The country is full of temples, ashrams, churches or Sufi shrines where religion is lived with the utmost intensity. And it doesn’t go long without running into a festival, procession or local pilgrimage.