Kerala, God’s own country is noted for its communal concord, rich culture and heritage. The synthesis of the varied culture took place due to Kerala’s interaction with the native as well as foreign cultures. Kerala’s trade contacts in its past with the foreign countries also led to the introduction of world religions like Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
An appropriate instance of the religious tolerance or secularism is found in Kerala's capital, 'Thiruvananthapuram', where a Hindu temple, a mosque and a church stand adjacently.
This diverse culture of the state has resulted in a colorful mishmash of festivals and fairs. The festivities that continue throughout the year make Kerala more vivacious than any other tourist destination around the world. The spirit of gaiety and jubilation always pervades the ambience of Kerala. Thus Kerala is also known as the land of fairs and festivities.
The major religions of Kerala are Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. However there is a minority population which belongs to Jainism, Buddhism and Judaismas . The festivals of Kerala are-
Christmas - Christmas, celebrated throughout the world as the birthday of the Saviour Jesus Christ, is the festival of universal love. Christianity is no more the religion of the foreigners. It has intermingled with the spirit and culture of Kerala of secular India and has become the very own religion of many Keralites. Now a large number of affluent Christian Communities live in Kerala. So Christmas is celebrated in Kerala with great pomp and vigor. By celebrating the solemn festival of Christmas, the message of unconditional love, brotherhood and compassion is circulated everywhere.
Easter - Easter, the oldest festival of the Christians is celebrated to commemorate the most important tenet of Christianity-The Resurrection of Jesus Christ (the rising of Christ on the third day after the Crucifixion). Easter is celebrated in Kerala with the same zeal and staidness as it is celebrated all over the world. The merry mood sweeps across the entire state where Christians consist of 23 percent of the state's 32 million population. Easter in Kerala is marked by four distinct periods commencing with Lent- the 40 preparatory days of fasting and penance for the Resurrection of Christ. Then the Holy Week consisting of Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday follows. The third period is observed as the Octave of Easter (the period of traditional Baptism) and finally Easter or the paschal season that extends over 40 days more. Hallelujah is the merry word of Easter wish.
Bakrid - Id-ul-Zuha, Idul-Adha or Bakrid, the festival of sacrifice is observed by Muslims all over India as well as the world. This festival is celebrated to memorialize the sacrifice of Hazrat Ibrahim, who voluntarily killed his son at God’s command. To celebrate this event, Muslims sacrifice one animal, e.g. a bakr or goat for each family or a group of families. The sacrifice is followed by prayers at mosques, grand feasts and merry-making. The Muslims wear new garments, visit each other’s places and exchange good wishes.
The dawn of Bakrid in Kerala and other parts of the world reverberates with the sound of Thakhir (Allahu Akbar), asserting that the God is great. In Kerala, Bakrid is celebrated particularly as the occasion for confluence of the notable members of sister communities.
Muharram - Muharram is considered as the opening month of the Hijra year in religion of Islam. The Muslims of Kerala venerate the 10th day of this month. The Muslims observe Muharram to lament the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Mohammed who died in the bloody massacre at Karbala in 680 AD. Fasting is a significant ceremonial ritual of this festival. In Kerala, Muharram is celebrated by performing the `Pulikali' or `Tiger-dance'. Taziyas which are the tombs of bamboo and paper made in replication of Hussain’s tomb are adorned with gilt and mica and are carried out in the streets of the cities. Huge processions follow these taziyas and the lamenters are seen beating their chests mourning and grieving over the slaying of Hussain. The devotees end their fast after the procession and give away apparels, money and food to the poor and the sick people.
Miladi Sheriff - Miladi Sherif or Nabi-Dinam is celebrated all over the world by the Muslims as the birthday of Mohammed, the Prophet of Islam.
In Kerala also Miladi Sherif is celebrated with great enthusiasm. The most important event of the day is the recitation of 'Moulood', a short biography of the Prophet written in Arabic language both in poetry and prose.
Recently in Kerala, a new practice has been associated with the the Miladi Sherif. During the first twelve days of the month, night lectures are arranged where the Muslim Ulemas deliver religious sermons and describes different aspects of the life of Prophet Muhammad and relate many astonishing facts about him. During the celebration of the Miladi Sherif, a large number of poor people are supplied with food and other charitable activities are done by the Muslim Centres in certain parts of Kerala for example in Ponnani and other adjoining areas.
Ramadan - Ramadan is observed in the ninth month of the lunar year and is an important festival of the Muslims. Actually Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic Calendar Year; when the "Holy Koran or Quran" was send as a counsel from heaven by Allah or God for the well being of mortals in 615 AD. The festival of Ramdan gained its name from this month of Ramdan. All over the world, the Muslims observe the Ramadan month by fasting rigorously to attain purification of the soul and body and to become more close to the divine being-God. This religious rite of fasting during Ramadan is known as "Sawm". This entire period is marked by earnest prayers and worship of God. This period of conventional fasting ends when the crescent moon on the western horizon is visible. The end of Ramdan marks the beginning of Id-Ul-Fitr (Feast of Fast-Breaking) which is celebrated for 3 days.
Maha Shivratri- Lord Shiva is worshipped on the day of Krishna Chathurdasi that falls on the 14th night of the new moon. The Hindus offer their prayers to the the third deity of the Hindu trinity or the God of destruction- Lord Shiva. According to the mythological story -Shivratri (literally meaning the night of Shiva) is the night when he performed the Tandava Nritya or the dance of primeval creation, preservation and demolition. In the state of Kerala, the Sivarathri festival is celebrated in the month of Kumbham(February -March.). The devout devotees fast rigorously all day long, intone the holy Panchakshara mantra "Om Namah Shivaya" and sing hymns in praise of the Lord Shiva. Sivarathri is celebrated with great pomp at the Siva Temple at Aluva on the sand bank of the River Periyar. Here, the Lingom (idol) of Siva that emerges out of the sand on the river bank attracts thousands of pilgrims irrespective of caste and creed. The entire celebration is a grand spectacle that is worth watching.
Navaratri - Navaratri literally meaning "nine nights" is one of the greatest Hindu festivals in India. During this period of nine days, the feminine divinity -Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati are worshipped and revered as three different manifestations of cosmic energy i.e. Shakti. The celebration commences after the Mahalaya Amavasya and culminates with Vijaya Dasami or Dassara. On the tenth day of Navratri, also known as Dussehra, an effigy of Ravana is burnt and crackers are burst to celebrate the triumph of good (Rama) over evil.
Navaratri and Vijayadasami are celebrated with mouth watering sweets and cruncy snacks. Chundal, is one of the tasty snacks that is made on all of the ten days.
Vishu - Vishu is one of the most important Hindu Festivals that is celebrated in Kerala and other adjacent regions of Tamil Nadu on the first day of the Malayalum month of Medam (April-May). But Vishu is the only festival that is not linked with any religion but is celebrated with great religious solemness. Vishu is considered as the beginning of the New Year by the Keralites. They commonly believe that the fortunes of the forthcoming year depend on the object first seen by them in the morning of Vishu day. Thus the most significant rite related to Vishu is the Kani Kanal, literary meaning ‘the first sight’.
Another significant event of this Vishu is the Vishu Kaineettam, which implies gifting of money to the children and junior members of the family. After observing these ceremonial rites, the people then spend the day by rejoicing and bursting crackers. All the members of the family together have a grand Vishu feast known as 'sadya'.
Deepavali - The term Deepavali or Diwali means "a row of lights" in Sanskrit and is celebrated as the festival of lights throughout India. In Kerala, Deepavali is observed on the preceding day of the New Moon in the Malayalam month of Thulam i.e. October-November. It is believed that Deepavali is the celebration of God Sree Krishna's triumph over the demon Narakasura . The Tamil communities start celebrating Deepavali right from the early morning by taking a ritual oil bath before sunrise. It is the common custom in South India to eat a preparation of jaggery and dry ginger immediately after taking the oil bath. The festivity starts by distributing special sweets bursting of crackers and a wide assortment of colorful fireworks. The houses are beautifully decorated with clay oil lamps and the city dazzles with these sparkling lights.
Onam - Onam or Thiruvonam, the harvest and national festival of Kerala is celebrated annually in the first Malayalam month of Chingom (August-September) in an outstanding manner for ten days.Onam festival is basically the harvest fiesta of the Malayalees and is mythically related to the Malayalee-Hindu legends.
Onam symbolizes the vitality and exuberance of the spring season. It is observed with conventional fervidness by arranging colorful blossoms for pookalam, visiting temples, gifting new clothes (Onakkodi) to everybody, feasting on 'avial', 'pappadum' and 'payasams' on plantain leaves and indulging in elating boat races such as Vallomkali in the azure backwaters, sports and other cultural activities like Pulikkali (meaning tiger dance),`Oonjalattom, Thiruvathirakali and so on. Onam is the most colourful and the chief festival of Kerala which is celebrated by almost all people irrespective of caste and creed and community. The origin of Onam can be traced back to an interesting and unusual legend of an asura named Mahabali.