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Religions of Kerala

Posted by mullookkaaran on August 23, 2009

Kerala is a museum of almost all religions in the world. The major religions in the State are Hinduism, Islam and Christianity.

The traditional religion in India was gradually transformed in to Hinduism when Sree Sankara, in the 8th century AD, established four mutts (monasteries) in various part of the country. He also interpreted the scriptures like Upanishads and Bhagavadgita and propagated the principle of Advaita (Monotheism). His birth place is Kalady in Eranakulam district. He died at age of 33.

There are various castes and sub-castes in Hinduism. Brahmins are the highest ranked community. Ambalavasis (Temple based communities), Kshathriyas (Royal communities) and Nairs (formerly Sudras) are also considered Kammalas etc. belong to the backward communities. There are more than 70 communities included in the backward list. The Scheduled Caste includes 68 varieties of communities and the scheduled Tribes 35 communities. The backward and Scheduled Communities were considered as ‘untouchables’ until recently. The reformations introduced by by Sree Narayana Guru, Chattampi Swamikal and Ayyankali helped considerably to minimize the system. Today untouchability is unconstitutional in India. According to the 2001 census there are 1,78,83,449 Hindu in Kerala.

Islam is the second largest religion (24.7%) in Kerala. The Sufi saint Malik Ibin Dinar from Arabia reached Kodungalloor (in Trichur District) in 629 AD and established the first Muslim place of worship in India. This was during the life time of prophet Muhammed. According to legends the last Chera King known as Cheraman Perumal accepting the invitation of the Prophet went to Mecca and embraced Islam. Kerala had long commercial relations with the Arabian countries which also helped the speedy propagation of Islam in Kerala. The Malabar riots from 1836 to 1921were revolts of the muslims against the British rules and Hindu landlords. Even though Muslims are spread all over the State, majority of them are in Malabar. The Muslim League of Kerala is a constituent of the United Front of Kerala lead by Indian national Congress. There was a Muslim royal dynasty known as ‘Arakal’ which existed up to the British rule in Malabar.

Christianity is the third largest religion (19%) in Kerala. It is believed that St. Thomas, one of the Apostles of Jesus Christ, came to Kodungalloor (Trichur District) in AD 521 and propagated Christianity in the region. Hence the traditional Christians in Kerala are one of the oldest Christian folks I the world. In AD 345 a group of Christians consisting of 400 persons, including many priests and a Bishop arrived at Kodungalloor and settled down there. During Portuguese occupation in the state St. Francis Xavier propagated Christanity in the coastal areas of the State and converted thousands of peoples. As a protest to te Latinaisation of the traditional Syrian Christian In Kerala, a major part of the community made an oath at Mattancery (oath of Koonan Kurisu) against the European supremacy in the church and affiliated themselves to the patriarch of the Jacobite Ortadox Church in Antique. Now there are Catholic, Jacobite, Orthadox, and Protestand Churches in Kerala. The Christian community in the State has a prominent role in education, health services and business. There was a Christian royal family known as ‘Villa Vattom’ before the arrival of Portuguese in Kerala.

Jainism and Buddhism
Early in the 3rd BC, Jainism and Buddhism reached Kerala and grew together. It is that believed that the Ayurvedic tradition of Kerala is inherited from the Buddhists. Later many of the Budhist Viharas were converted into Hindu temples. There is a view that ‘Ayyappa’ Temple of Sabarimala was a once Buddhist Vihara. After the 8th century the newly arrived Brahmins strongly opposed Buddhism & Jainism and ultimately there existence in Kerala became nominal. According to the 1991 census, there were only 223 Buddhists and 3641 Jains in Kerala.

Even before the time of Jesus Christ, the Jews had commercial relations with Kerala. During Persian persecutions in 5th and 6th centuries BC many Jewish families migrated to Kerala as a safety measure. Most of them settled in Kochi. But there were other Jewish settlements also in different parts of Kerala, during the visit of St.Thomas in Kerala n the first century AD. With the formation of Israel in 1948, most of the Jews in Kerala opted to migrate to that country. In 1857 there were 1780 Jews in the state, but the latest figure of their population is only 115.


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