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Kerala State
Keralamarker is unique in India for its diverse mix of religions. There is no such thing as Keralite religion. Religions in Kerala are a unique mixture of people following different faiths. Kerala has a reputation of being, communally one of the least sensitive states in India. According to Census of India figures, 56% of Kerala residents are Hindus, 24% are Muslims, 19% are Christians, and the remaining follow other religions including Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism, Judaism. Various tribal people in Kerala have retained various religious beliefs of their ancestors.

Buddhism in Kerala

Presently no significant population of Buddhists exists in Kerala. The impact of Buddhism in Kerala was not as significant in Kerala as in other parts of India. This maybe due to the fact the Mauryan empire could reach only to outer edges of Kerala. The Buddhists however came to Kerala and established their temples and monasteries. Some historians claim that various Hindu temples in Kerala have been influenced by Buddhism or have been previously been a Buddhist temple. A large number of Buddha-images have been discovered in the coastal districts of Alleppeymarker and Quilonmarker; the most important Buddha-image is the famous Karumati Kuttan near Ambalappuzhamarker. Buddhism probably flourished for 200 years (650-850) in Kerala. The Paliyam Copper Plate of the Ay King, Varaguna (885-925 AD) shows that the Buddhists enjoyed some royal patronage even in the tenth century.
Buddha idol, at Mavelikkara, shows the clear roots and importance of Buddhist religion in Kerala. The idol of Buddha at Mavelikaramarker is four-foot tall and is perhaps, the biggest such statue in Kerala. The statues is in seated posture, resembling Padmasana. A feature common to the idols is that hair has not been engraved on the head.

The decline of Buddhism started in the eighth century with the revival of the Brahminical religion. Buddhism faded away gradually and completely disappeared during the reign of the Vaishnavite Kulasekharas in the eleventh century. What actually happened was that Buddhism was reabsorbed into Hinduism from which it broke away. Many Keralites, like the Ezhavas, who were once supposed to be Buddhists immigrants from Sri Lankamarker gradually embraced Hinduism.

Buddhism has left its impact on Kerala. Kerala temples show traces of Buddhist art and architecture. Amarasimha, the author of the popular Sanskrit text-book used in Kerala schools until recently, was a Buddhist. Kumaran Asan, the great Kerala poet, was influenced by the great Buddhist religion and wrote the famous, Buddhist poems: Karuna. Chandala Bhikshuki, and Sri Buddha Charitam.

Christianity in Kerala

Christians in Kerala are also called Nasranis or Christiani or Achayans. The works of scholars and Eastern Christian writings claim that Thomas the Apostle visited Muziris in Kerala in 52 AD to proselytize amongst Kerala's Jewish settlements. However, the first verifiable migration of Jewish-Nasrani families to Kerala is of the arrival of Knanai Thoma in 345 AD .. After converting large number of Jewish immigrants and other immigrants from middle east, an added fillip to the growth of the Christianity in Kerala took place when a group of about 400 people emigrated from Syriamarker in 345 AD and joined the then existing Kerala Church. The leader of this group was Thomas of Kana. They stayed on in the region. The descendants of this group even today maintain their separate identity, and are known as Kananites. Syrian Christians remained as an independent group, and they got their bishops from Eastern Orthodox Church in Antiochmarker in Syria. Significant number of native population took to Christianity after the advent of Portuguese and British colonialists. Christianity became an important religion of Kerala after this. Various denominations exists amongst Christians of Kerala.
Relationship of the Nasrani groups

Roman Catholic

The Portuguesemarker who arrived by sea in 1498, gradually established their power base and were eager to bring all Christians of Kerala in the fold of the Church of Rome. With their superior organizational skill and with the help of Portuguese political power Bishop Alexis De Menezes succeeded in establishing the Roman Catholic Church as the dominant Church of Kerala. Between 1500 and 1650 the Portuguese made an effort to convert local inhabitants to the Roman Catholic faith and also bring some of the existing members of the Syrian Christian Church under Roman Catholic influence. The climax of this was what is known as Synod of Udayamperur . The Portuguese power declined by the 17th century. That weakened the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in Kerala.

Even though the Kerala Catholics follow the religious practices of Roman Catholics world over, they have much in common with other Kerala Christians. They follow Syrian rites as opposed to Latin rites. Roman Catholics along with other Christian groups use Malayalam language for service and follow certain local customs and traditions during weddings funerals etc. A Kerala Catholic, while accepting papal authority and mainstream Roman Catholic practices might be inclined to feel more at home with other Kerala Christian groups socially and culturally.

Syro-Malabar Church

The arrival of the Bishop Mar Gregory of the Syriac Orthodox Church in 1665 marked the beginning of a formal schism among the St. Thomas Christians. Those who accepted the West Syrian theological and liturgical tradition of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioich of Mar Gregory became known as the New Party (Puthankuttukar). The Old Party (Pazhayakuttukar) remained in communion with Rome and they increasingly Latinized their rite and came to be known later as Syro Malabar Church.

After being under Chaldean bishops earlier and under Latin Rite Roman Catholic bishops from 1599, St. Thomas Christians got their own dioceses from 1887. They came to be known as the Syro Malabar Catholics from that point on, to differentiate them from the Latin Rite Catholics in Kerala. The Syro Malabar Hierarchy was restored on 21 December 1923.


Syro-Malankara Catholic Church is one of several groups of Saint Thomas Christians tracing their origin to St. Thomas the Apostle who is supposed to have come to Kerala in AD 52. In the course of time, due to the Latinization policy of the Portuguesemarker, the Church in Kerala was divided in two; the group who rejected the Catholic ecclesiastical authorities eventually became known as the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church. The official name of the church is the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church. In Malayalam the church name translates to Syro-Malankara Catholica Sabha or Malankara Suriani Catholica Sabha.



Although the church is officially named, Jacobite Syrian Christian Church it is commonly called the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church. Other names that are in common use are Syrian Orthodox Church in India, Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church, Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church, Malankara Jacobite Church, Syriac Orthodox Church in India, and Malankara Jacobite Church. The Church is sometimes referred as Patriarchal faction or Bava faction, because of the disputes with the Methran Faction.

In 2000, a Holy Synod ruled that the name of the church in English should be the 'Syriac Orthodox Church. It had been, and often still is today, called the Syrian Orthodox Church. The church in India uses the term Jacobite or 'Bava Faction' as a way to distinguish themselves from the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church or Methran Faction.

Malankara Orthodox Church

The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (also known as the Malankara Orthodox Church, Orthodox Church of India, Orthodox Syrian Church of India,The Indian Orthodox Church, is an autocephalous church and a member of the Oriental Orthodox Church family in Christianity, founded by St. Thomas, the Disciple of Christ in AD 52.

The spiritual regional head of the church is the Catholicos of the East and the supreme temporal head of the Church is the Malankara Metropolitan. Since 1934, both the titles vest in one single person. The official title of the head of the Church thus is the Catholicos of the East and the Malankara Metropolitan. The present Catholicos of the East and Malankara Metropolitan is Baselios Marthoma Didymos I, who was enthroned on October 31, 2005, at Parumala Church by the Holy Synod. Didymos I is the 111th Catholicos of the East and 19th Malankara Metropolitan.

Malabar Independent Syrian

The Malabar Independent Syrian Church also known as Thozhiyur Sabah (Church) is a Christian denomination in Keralamarker, Indiamarker. The term Independent denotes that it is independent from the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate; the term Syrian in its name refers to the Church's use of the West Syrian Rite and the Church's embrace of the West Syriac tradition in general.


Malankara Mar Thoma Suryani Sabha (Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church) is the official name of the Church. Succinct name in Malayalam is Marthoma Sabha and in English, Mar Thoma Church. Mar Thoma or Marthoma is Aramaic, and means Saint Thomas. Members of this church are often referred to as Marthomites.

Malankara is cognate of this name Maliankara, a place near Muziris, where Thomas the Apostle is supposed to have first landed in Kerala. It was the headquarters of the Church from the first century.


  • Church of South India (CSI)

The CSI Church in Kerala had its beginnings mostly from Anglican missionaries who had converted the local population. However later on they united with the Basil Mission, Presbyterians and Baptists and formed the group called Church of South India. As in the case of Catholics, these various groups follow largely the religious practices of their parent groups world over. However linguistically, socially and culturally they have much in common with other Kerala Christian groups.
  • St. Thomas Evangelical Church

St. Thomas Evangelical Church of India (STECI) was formed after a schism in the Mar Thoma Church in 1961. The St. Thomas Evangelical Church of India was formally inaugurated on January 26, 1961.Twenty presbyters who had been ordained in the Mar Thoma Church joined the new Church and declared acceptance of the faith in the Church and pledged allegiance to the new Church and its constitution.
  • Pentecostal Churches

Pastor Cook started the Kerala Pentecostal church in Mulakkuza near Chenganoor in 1925. There are several sub groups like Pentikostu Deiva sabha, Indian Pentikostu sabha, Pentikostu Deiva Samuham, Celyon Pentokostu, Apostolia United Pentikostu, Independent Pentekostu, Adhakrutha Pentikostu, Penticostu Gospel group and Philadelphia Penticostu.

Hinduism in Kerala

Hinduism has undoubtedly shaped Kerala, and Kerala has in turn left its mark on Hinduism. The legends regarding origin of Kerala are essentially Hindu in nature. The legends of Mahabali, Parasurama shows that Hinduism and its later modifications due to Aryan migration from North India predates arrival of Christianity and Islam in Kerala. Many influential saints and movements hail from Kerala. Adi Shankara was a leading Brahmin philosopher who contributed significantly to Hinduism in India and propagated philosophy of Advaita. He was instrumental in establishing four Maths at Sringeri, Dwaraka, Puri and Jyotirmath. Melpathur Narayana Bhattathiri was the other leading Brahmin religious figure who composed Narayaneeyam, a collection of verses in praise of Lord Krishna. Another notable philosopher and reformer was Shri Narayana Guru. His movement for social reform and eradication of caste based discrimination helped to establish Kerala as one of the most socially progressive states in India. Hindus in Kerala are divided into various castes such as Nambudiris, Nairs, Ezhavas, and Dalits. Kerala was the first region in India which allowed Hindus of any caste to enter and worship in temples (Temple Entry Proclamation).

Various practises of Hinduism is unique to Kerala and some practices are not followed by Hindus in other parts of India. Various cults of Shiva and Vishnu are popular in Kerala. Malayali Hindus also worship Mother Goddess (Bhagavathi) as a form of Shakthi. Almost every village in Kerala has its own local guardian deity (usually a Goddess or Devi). Hindus in Kerala also strongly believe in power of snake gods and usually have sacred snake groves known as Pambu Kavu near to their houses.

The most popular temples amongst Hindus in Kerala are Guruvayurmarker, Sabarimalamarker, Padmanabhaswamy Templemarker. These temples unlike most other temples in India have various restrictions relating to dress code etc. It is prohibited for women between the ages of 12 to 50 years of age to visit Sabarimala. Temples in Kerala follow elaborate rituals and even today only Nambudiris can be appointed as priests in major temples. These priests are assisted by a caste known as Ambalavasis. In Kerala only Christian and Muslim women cover their heads while entering a religious place. In Kerala Hindu women keep their head uncovered in temples.

Malayali Hindus have unique ceremonies such as Chorunu (first feeding of rice to a child) and Vidyarambham (beginning of education of a child). Marriages amongst Hindus in Kerala are a very simple affair as compared to other parts of India. Hindus in Kerala usually cremate their dead at the southern end of their house. Unlike in other parts of India, daughters also take part in various rituals after cremation.

  • Festivals: The major festivals amongst Hindus in Kerala are Onam and Vishu. Onam is no longer restricted to Hindus and has become a pan-Kerala festival. However Hindus also celebrate variuous other festivals such as Guruvayur Ekadasi, Janmashtmi etc.

Islam in Kerala

Muslims are generally referred to as Moplahs in Kerala. Muslims form 24.3% of Malayali population. There are mainly two sects of Muslims in kerala: Kerala sunnis and Salafis.Salafis in kerala is known as Mujahids. The general consensus among historians is that Islam arrived in Kerala through Arab traders either during the time of Prophet Muhammad himself (AD 609 - AD 632) or in the following few decades. Kerala has a very ancient relation with the middle east even during the Pre-Islamic period. Muslim merchants (Malik ibn Dinar) settled in Kerala by the 8th century AD and introduced Islam. Later the Zamorin of Kozhikode allowed the Arab Muslim traders to settle and form a major community in Kozhikode, from where the religion gradually spread in the following centuries. Significant populations of Muslims in Kerala are in Calicutmarker, Malapuram and Malabar region of Kerala. Historians also believe that many people in Malabar region must have converted to Islam during invasion of North Kerala by Tipu SultanThere is also a significant Muslim population living in the coastal regions of central and southern Kerala. In Lakshadweepmarker the entire population has embraced Islam. Muslims in Kerala has proved to be a major contributors to Malayali culture and cuisine . Muslims in Kerala enjoy a better social and financial security when compared to the Muslims living in other part of India. Kerala's Muslim population is the fastest growing sect in Kerala. This is due to an increased fertility rate which is due an early age of marriage and also due to an increased life expectancy rate among the elderly . This increase in population has been raised as a matter of concern by many Right wing organizations.

Jainism in Kerala

Jainism, which arrived in Kerala around the 3rd century BC, has a significant population in the Wayanad districtmarker bordering the Karnatakamarker state. The Jain religion was brought to the South in the third century BC by Chandragupta Maurya (321-297 BC) and the Jain saint Bhadrabahu, according to Jain traditions. They came to Sravanabelgola in Mysore. The Jains came to Kerala with the rest of the Chera immigrants starting in the sixth century. The only existing original Jain temple in Kerala, popularly known as Jainmedu is in Vadakkanthara village, which is about 3 km from Palakkadmarker. This temple was reportedly built by Inchanna Satur. This indicates significant population of Jains lived in Palaghat during the 15th century. Later various members of Marwari business community have built Jain temple in Kochi. Remnants of Jain temple known as Chathurmukha Basti is a popular destination in Manjeshwarammarker, Kasaragod.
Some historians claim many Hindu temples might have been once Jain temples. Several places in Wyanadmarker have Jain temples -an indication that North Malabar was once a flourishing center of Jainism. Historians believe that the decline of Jainism started about the eighth century. Jainism seems to have completely disappeared from Kerala by the sixteenth century; the foreign visitors from Europe do not mention the Jains at all.At present, Jainism in Kerala has a very small following, mainly amongst North Indian business community, settled in and around Kochimarker and Calicutmarker.

Judaism in Kerala

Judaism arrived in Kerala with spice traders, possibly as early as the 7th century BC.. There is no consensus of opinion on the date of the arrival of the first Jews in India. The tradition of the Cochin Jews maintains that after 72 AD, after the destruction of the Second Temple of Jerusalemmarker, 10,000 Jews migrated to Kerala..

The only verifiable historical evidence about the Kerala Jews goes back only to the Jewish Copper Plate Grant of Bhaskara Ravi Varman in 1000 AD . This document records the royal gift of rights and privileges to the Jewish Chief of Anjuvannam Joseph Rabban. According to some historians, St. Thomas found first converts in Kerala to his new religion amongst many of the Cochin Jews. However these Jews who accepted Christianity retained the Aramaic language once spoken by Jews in Middle East. Their descendants form the core of Syrian Christian (Syrian Malabar Nasrani) community in Kerala. Later in 16th century many Jews from Portugal and Spain settled in Cochin. These Jews were called white Jews as opposed to the native black Jews.

The Portuguesemarker did not look favorably on the Jews. They destroyed the Jewish settlement in Cranganoremarker and sacked the Jew town in Cochinmarker and partially destroyed the famous Cochin Synagogue in 1661. However, the Dutchmarker were more tolerant and allowed the Jews to pursue their normal life and trade in Cochin. According to the testimony of the Dutch Jew, Mosss Pereya De Paiva, in 1686 there were 10 synagogues and nearly 500 Jewish families in Cochin. Later Britishers too were tolerant, and the Jews enjoyed peace and protection. After the creation of the State of Israelmarker in 1948, most Jews decided to emigrate to Israel. Most of the emigrants to Israel between 1948 and 1955 were from the community of black Jews and brown Jews; they are known as Cochini in Israel. Since 1960s only few hundred Jews (mostly white Jews) remained in Kerala with only two synagogues open for service: the Pardesi Synagoguemarker in Matancherry built in 1567 and the synagogue in Parurmarker.

Today the number of the Jews in Kerala has dwindled down to few dozens; most of them are elderly people.

Tribal and other religious faiths of Kerala

Various groups classified as tribes Kerala still dominate various remote and hilly areas of Kerala. They have retained various rituals and practices of their ancestors despite influences of mainstream religions.

Religious tensions in Kerala

Despite Kerala having a reputation of being communally least sensitive states of India, Kerala too has its share of religious conflicts. The worst in recent past was in Marad in Kozhikodemarker district in 2003, The Ayodhya-Babri Masjid incidentmarker also had repercussions in Kerala. In 1983 there was an incident in Nilackal near Sabarimalamarker over discovery of a Cross. However during Nilackal incident no major violence was reported. Lately however various extreme religious groups have become influential in Kerala.. In 2008 there was tension in streets of Kerala over introduction of a seventh standard textbook. The controversy was about a chapter in the book called Mathamillaatha Jeevan (Jeevan, without religion). Jeevan refused belonging to any religion or caste. Various groups alleged that this book was atheistic anti-religious propaganda by ruling Left Front government..

See also


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