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What You Need to Know about Kerala's Rich Culture and Traditions

Author: Kalyan Jee
by Kalyan Jee
Posted: Jan 22, 2017

Kerala conjures the images of beaches, backwaters, lush mountains, and quaint villages, but the essence of God’s Own Country is its rich culture. Kerala has a rich multi-ethnic heritage. The culture of the state is part Indian and Dravidian, with equal dose of colonial touches, creating a unique mix. The cultural legacy is a treasure of customs, food, clothes, festivals, dance forms, art, martial arts, etc. Kerala will provide a culturally enriching experience.

The rich cultural legacy is reflected in every aspect of Kerala. It is not only the natural beauty that attracts the travelers to Kerala. If you are making plans to visit Kerala, here is all that you need to know about Kerala's rich culture and traditions.

Fairs & Festivals

Events and festivals are an important part of Kerala’s cultural fabric. It is a time when people leave aside their routine work and rejoice in the celebration of age old customs and traditions.

The most important festival of Kerala is Onam. The 10-day occasion to welcome the benevolent king, Mahabali who lost everything to fulfil his promise to Vamana Murti, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. During Onam, an exciting tradition of boat races are held all over the state. These boat races are popularly known as Snake Boat Races. The boat races, each have an individual legend or story attached to them. The race is not merely a competition, rather a celebration of cultural heritage. Theyyam is one of the most popular festivals in Kerala. The 800-year-old festival is a treasure of folk dances and art. There are more than 400 varieties of Theyyam performances, of which the best ones are Kari Chamundi, Raktha Chamundi, Muchilottu Bhagavathi, and Wayanad Kulaven.

Vishu is the major harvest festival in Kerala. It is said to be the New Year for the Malayali people, based on the ancient (astrological) Malayalam calendar.

The most famous temple festival in Kerala is Thrissur Pooram and is held at Vadakkumnada Temple in Thrissur town. It is a visual extravaganza with flag hoisting (Kodiyettam), fireworks, display of caparisons etc. Other major festivals in Kerala are Kuruthola Perunnal, Attukal Ponkala, Bheema Palli Uroosu etc. The grandeur of these festivals are symbolic of the richness of Kerala's cultural heritage.

Dance, Art & Music

Kathakali is a classical art form in Kerala. It is famous all over the world for its elaborate costumes and detailed gestures. Kathakali is also conducted during temple festivals in various parts of Kerala. It is considered to the symbol of Kerala culture. The Kathakali dance basically means storytelling. The scenes that are enacted are with vitality that bring life to the myths and legends. This dance form highlights complex body movements and facial expressions.

Another popular form is Ottam Tullal. It was founded by Kunjan Nambiar and is usually a satire on the prevalent political happenings and prejudices of the region. It is performed by a single actor.

Chakkiar Koothu is a satire form of art and it has everything to entertain everyone. It creates lot of laughter.

Theyyam is a form of worship by dance. There are about 400 types of Theyyam and they are usually conducted in Kaavu.

Pulikali is a colorful art form of Kerala performed by trained artists painted like tiger and hunters. The dance is performed on the beats of instrument like Udukku and Takil.

The major art forms in Kerala are Mohiniyattam, Keralanadanam, Bharathanatyam, Thiruvathira, and Kuravar kali, a tribal art form.

Music of Kerala is a class of its own. The ragas and taals of lyrical and devotional carnatic music dominates Keralite classical musical genres.


Kerala's cuisine is linked in all its richness to the history, geography, demography and definitely the culture of the land. With so many foreign influences, it is but quiet obvious that Kerala's cuisine is a mix of a variety.

Kerala enjoys food items of the sea, river, rice, vegetables, coconut, curry leaves, tamarind, spices and poultry. Ayurvedic herbs are also included. Tea and coffee are also a major part of the diet.

Rice along with coconut form the major ingredients in daily food. They are used in different manners so as to prepare different dishes and snacks. For example, rice is prepared like puttu (pounded and formed into cylindrical shape), vattayappam (round and spongy like a cake), vellappam (lacy edged), kallappam (like a pancacke) and idiappam (like noodles). Similarly, when you set out to find the number of ways coconut is used, you will be left bewildered. Coconut is used as a thickener, flavoring agent, condiment, garnishing agent, dessert and lastly as oil (for both cooking and applying on body & hair).


Kalaripayattu is an ancient form of martial art of Kerala dating back to almost 2000 years. It is from Kerala, kalaripayattu martial art and other forms of martial arts were developed. This martial art derives its name from two words, "kalari" which means arena of the fighters and "payattu" which means practice.

Other martial art forms of Kerala include Parisa Kali, Velakanni, Valeru, Kunderu and Njaninmel Kali.


Ayurveda is a 5000- year- old ancient form of holistic treatment. It is inseparably related to Kerala's culture. The science of health and wellness is achieved by harmony of body with your soul. The indispensable branch of medicine is a complete naturalistic system that depends on the diagnosis of your body's elements, vata, pitta and kapha, to achieve the right balance.

Not only the natives, rather people from all over India and other parts of the world flock to experience the magical effects of Ayurveda. An Ayurvedic treatment is useful in curing as well as instilling a renewed vigor in mind, soul and body.

In Kerala, Ayurveda is not just a healthcare system but it is a part and parcel of every aspect of life, in fact it is a lifestyle in Kerala.


Kerala is well known for its carvings, especially those done on rosewood and sandalwood. Other items that will inspire your imagination include granite idols, coir, silk sarees, and coconut shell articles. A number of these items make for a brilliant buy during your trip to Kerala.


Kerala’s is a traditional state therefor clothes are traditional and modest. A typical Malayali woman drapes herself in a six metre long saree, though the younger generation of girls prefer to put on convenient dresses. Women also abundantly use jasmine flowers and gold jewelry to adorn themselves. Keralite men are mostly seen in trousers and shirt, though the more traditional attire "Kasavu Mundu" is also quiet popular, especially among rural areas. Kasavu Mundu is a three to four meter long cotton twin cloth with silk border.


Kerala’s local language is Malayalam. Though most of the population uses English as fluently.

Other important elements of Cultural Legacy of Kerala

Elephants are an integral part of the culture and daily life in Kerala. Elephants are given a prestigious place in the state's culture. Elephants in Kerala are often referred to as the 'sons of the sahya' and are indispensable for temple festivals.

Kerala is famous for its snake worship also. It is forbidden to hurt the creature. In fact, Sarppakkavu, the Snake forest is one of the revered regions.

Pookalams are traditional rangolis drawn with rice powder and various colors outside homes, at the very entrance. During festivals, these Pookalams are quite extravagant.

Kerala is a very welcoming state. The amiable people open their hearts and homes for tourist. Respect the culture as it is the very fabric of their existence.

Are you interested in planning a tour to Kerala? You may find some attractive Kerala Tour Packages provided by Indian Holiday.

About the Author

Kalyan is a digital marketer and a keen travel writer working at Indian Holiday, one of the reliable destination management company in India.

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Author: Kalyan Jee

Kalyan Jee

Member since: Jan 21, 2017
Published articles: 3

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