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    Kerala History and Folklore

  • Legends   • Folk Arts

Kerala, known as the "land of coconuts", derives its name from the Malayalam word "kera" i.e. coconut. The edicts of the Mauryan Emperor, Ashoka the Great (273-232 BC) mentions Keralaputra (son of Cheras). His land came to be known as Kerala.

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This little state at the southern most tip of the Indian subcontinent has a rich and eventful history to boast of. Ancient seafarers used to take apes and peacocks along with a variety of spices to the courts of distant monarchs like the wise King Solomon.

Once ruled by the mighty Cheras, History And FolkloreHistory and Folklore of Kerala had trade relations with countries ranging from Cordoba to Sumatra. The Cholas of South India took over the territory in the 10th century A.D and continued their reign till the 11th century. Thereafter the Zamorins(samoothiri) of Calicut assumed the throne. With Vasco da Gama discovering the new route to India in 1498, Europeans- including the Portuguese, the Dutch and the French set foot on the land. Signing a strategic treaty in 1723, with King Marthanda Varma, the East India Company established a British base in the south.By 1792, Malabar was also in Britain's hands despite the designs of rulers like Hyder Ali and Tippu Sultan working to make it otherwise.

By the end of the 18th century, tea and coffee plantations started flourishing all over the high ranges. With the industrial revolution of the 1850s going full swing, textiles, tiles and coir industry became thriving sectors.

The influx of missionaries introduced western education in the region. Democratic institutions were formed as early as in 1888, and political activity gained momentum in the following decades. It got intensified during the 1920s when the Indian National Congress spearheaded the national independence movement.

In November 1956, i.e. 9 years after India had gained independence, Travancore, Cochin and Malabar provinces were merged into one state, Kerala, with its capital at Thiruvananthapuram(Trivandrum).

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Legend has it that Kerala History History And Folkloreand Folklore came up from beneath the sea, when the warrior-sage Parashurama threw his axe here. According to Hindu scriptures, Parashurama appealed to the gods to absolve him of his sins. He received two boons, one from Varuna the God of the Oceans, and the other from - Bhumidevi the Goddess of the Earth. According to one legend, he threw his axe northwards, from Kanyakumari and the land that rose from the sea till where the axe fell was called the land of Parashurama. This region is today the State of Kerala one of the twenty-eight states of India.

There is evidence that Kerala was indeed under the sea at one point of time, and it rose due to some seismic activity. Another theory suggests that the enormous amount of silt that the rivers deposit from the Western Ghats and hills to the sea was washed up to the shore forming Kerala.

Kerala has folklore that is unique in richness and variety. Innumerable traditions are observed here. There are traditions about the origin of the state, religion, festivals, temples, etc. The Parashurama legend relating to the origin of Kerala, the Mahabali legend relating to the origin of Onam and the St. Thomas tradition relating to the origin of Christianity are some of the most famous. With each of the hundreds of temples in the state having a Sthalapurana or locale legend throwing light on some aspect or the other of early Kerala culture, a trip to the state definitely promises enlightenment as well as entertainment.

Folk Tales

Folk tales that have been passed down from generation to generation are centered on some interesting people, their intelligence and valour. There are tales about the courage and martial art skills of Naranathu Bhranthan, Kayamkulam Kochunni, Thacholi Othenan, Kadamattathu Kathanar etc. The great raconteur Kottarathil Sankunni, in his Aithihyamala, has preserved many of these tales for posterity.

Folk Songs

These are simple tales and words of advice passed on in the form of short and enjoyable songs. Each religion and community has its own collection of folk songs, drawing their themes from faith and mythology, agricultural operations like sowing and harvesting. Some are sung on occasions like weddings and festivals. Vanchipattukal (sung during boat races), Mappilapattukal (popular songs sung on festivities and marriages in Muslim households),Pallipattukal (Christian songs), and Onapattukal (sung during Onam celebrations) are some of them.

Folk Arts

Kerala has History And FolkloreHistory and Folklore with a vast set of its own beautiful folk arts. Theyyam Thullal of the Malabar area, Bhadrakalipattu (describing the killing of the demon Darika by Goddess Kali), Pamputhullal, and Nagakanni (connected with the snake worship) are famous among them. The Mudiyattom Kali is a kind of folk dance in which the female participants unlock their hair and engage themselves in frenzied dancing to the accomplishment of folk songs. Other forms include Kumbha Nritham, Arjuna Nritham, Kummatti, Padayani, etc. Most of the art forms are conducted with accompaniment of several musical instruments.

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