The culture of Kerala is a synthesis of Aryan and Dravidian cultures, developed and mixed for centuries, under influences from other parts of India and abroad. It is defined by its antiquity and the organic continuity sustained by the Malayali people. Modern Kerala society took shape owing to migrations from different parts of India throughout Classical Antiquity.
The culture of Kerala is also a composite and cosmopolitan culture to which several people and races have made their significant contributions. Kerala's population comprises of a large number of the people from the Dravidians race, who also inhibit most of the southern part of India. Hinduism is the principal religion with considerable percentages of Muslims and Christians.
Throughout the ages, Kerala has proved that it can respond to any challenges through its adaptation and combination of old traditions. The people of Kerala have got an honor among those who have achieved Indian cultural heritage. The culture of Kerala is a part of Indian culture. Kerala’s culture has persisted due to the reasons of unity, continuity and universality. It gives importance to the human achievements in any fields like religion, philosophy, language, art, education and social organization.
The cultural heritage of Kerala is also revealed in its varied dance forms, martial arts and cuisine. Kathakali is a 300-year-old dance form developed exclusively in Kerala combining the performing art forms of opera, ballet, masque, and pantomime. Other dance forms of Kerala are Krishnanattom, Mohiniyattom, Thullal, Koodiyattom, Kolkkali, Thiruvathirakali, Kakkarishi Natakom, Oppanna and Chavittunatakom. Panchavadyam, Nadanpattu, Omanathinkal Kidavo and many more music forms have evolved over the centuries in Kerala.
The festivals and art forms of Kerala are intricately beautiful. Every festival, though connected with religious temples and shrines, is more of a socio cultural event in which people of all creeds participate. Today, these festivals are perhaps the only occasions when the classical, folk and ritual arts of the state come alive. In addition, it is interesting to note that no celebration in Kerala is complete without an elephant pageant. In temple festivals, Trissur Pooram at Trissur is the most popular, where 30 caparisoned elephants, exhilarating percussion ensemble, colorful umbrellas atop elephants, magnificent fireworks combine to create a virtual feast for the senses.
Theyyam,Thira,Mudiyettu, Kaduvakali, Velakali, Kakkarissinatakam, Chavittunadakam, Margamkali, Kolkali, Parichamuttukali, Bhadrakalipattu, Pulluvanpattu,Margam Kali, oppana and Thiruvathirakali are a few of Kerala's folk art forms.
Koodiyattam is a form of Sanskrit drama which is associated with temple rituals is perhaps the oldest form of classical arts in Kerala. Koodiyattam literally means "acting together". This is the earliest classical dramatic art form of Kerala. Chakyars enact the male-characters and Nangiars enact the female-characters. Koodiyattam is performed as a votive offering to the deity in the temple.
Kathakali is perhaps the only dance form in which the entire body is used to portray a story. Kathakali was born only in the 17th century. The Kathakali artistes wear elaborate costumes, ornaments and facial make-up. This dance drama has been referred to as 'the first theatre of imagination' in the world. The name Kathakali is derived form the two words "Katha" meaning story and "Kali" for dance.It is a beautiful mix of dance, drama and music that the connoisseurs of art world qualified as 'a total art form of immense sophistication and power'.
Mohiniyattom is a distinct type of dance form which has existed in Kerala for hundreds of years. it depicts emotions in ways which are universally understood. Mohiniyattom falls within the soft, graceful traditions of lasya - the expression of the cosmic feminine creativity. Mohiniyattam flourished in the court of King Swathi Thirunal who ruled Travancore in the 18th century.
Thullal evolved as part of social reformation. Social satire at its best is seen in the Thullal performances where a large dose of humour keeps the audience in a constant state of merriment.Thullal is a solo dance-drama created 200 years ago by Kunjan Nambiar. The basic element of Thullal is satire, through which Nambiar set about correcting the evils that prevailed in the society.
The ragas and talas of lyrical and devotional carnatic music — another native product of South India — dominates Keralite classical musical genres. Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma, a 19th-century king of Travancore and patron and composer of music, was instrumental in popularising carnatic music in early Kerala. Additionally, Kerala has its own native music system, sopanam, which is a lugubrious and step-by-step rendition of raga-based songs. It is sopanam, for example, that provides the background music used in kathakali. The wider traditional music of Kerala also includes melam (including the paandi and panchari variants), as style of percussive music performed at temple-centered festivals using an instrument known as the chenda. Panchavadyam is a differing type of percussion ensemble consisting of five types of percussion instruments; these can be utilised by up to one hundred artists in certain major festivals. In addition to these, percussive music is also associated with various uniquely Keralite folk arts forms. Lastly, the popular music of Kerala — as in the rest of India — is dominated by the filmi music of Indian cinema. The most remembered name in kerala music culture is of Great Indian musician Sri K. J. Yesudas.
Malayalam literature is ancient in origin, and includes such figures as the 14th century Niranam poets (Madhava Panikkar, Sankara Panikkar and Rama Panikkar), whose works mark the dawn of both modern Malayalam language and indigenous Keralite poetry. The Triumvirate of poets (Kavithrayam: Kumaran Asan, Vallathol Narayana Menon and Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer) are recognized for moving Keralite poetry away from archaic sophistry and metaphysics and towards a more lyrical mode. Later, such contemporary writers as Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy (whose 1996 semi-autobiographical bestseller The God of Small Things is set in the Kottayam town of Ayemenem) have garnered international recognition. From 1970 to early 1990s, a lot of Malayalam Novelists and story writers contributed to the Literature of Kerala. The contributions from OV Vijayan, MT Vasudevan Nair, Thakazhi, Basheer, CV Sriraman, T Padmanabhan, Sethu, Perumbatavam Sreedharan, Kovilan have been remarkable. Significant contributions from poets and song writers such as P. Bhaskaran and ONV Kurup have influenced contemporary literature. Critics such as M Krishnan Nair have added value by providing critical analysis on the books written during the recent past.
Kalaripayattu is the comprehensive system of the marital arts of Kerala regarded as one of the oldest and most scientific in the world. Kalarippayattu, derived from the words kalari ("place", "threshing floor", or "battlefield") and payattu ("exercise" or "practice"). Influenced by both Kerala’s Brahminical past and Ayurvedic medicine, kalaripayattu is attributed by oral tradition to Parasurama. Even kung-fu is believed to have originated from Kalaripayattu.