Dr. Zacharias Thundy, Northern Michigan University
purpose of this work is to reacquaint the Keralites of North America
and elsewhere with their rich cultural heritage and to make second-generation
Keralites in foreign lands become aware of their roots. This work,
of course, is not comprehensive...ZT.
physically and culturally Kerala is part of India, it is one of
the distinctive regions of the area. Historically it has been
isolated from the rest of the Peninsula. It is hard for many Keralites
to admit that once Kerala was more caste-divided than any other
area; it was only here that "untouchability" developed into "unapproachability"
and "unseeability"; on the other hand, today it is one of the
least caste-conscious and communally tranquil areas of India.
Many young Keralites even do not know that the Nair gentry with
its matrilinear organization (Marumakkathayam) once practiced
polygamy and polyandry, Kerala has a high percentage (22%) of
Christians whose traditions go back to St. Thomas the Apostle.
The "white Jews" of Cochin are another cultural rarity. The first
democratically elected Communist Party came to power in Kerala
for the first time in the whole world.
people of Kerala have always considered themselves Indians first,
not only when they live outside India but also when they reside
in Kerala. In this case they are significantly different from
the other Dravidians like the Tamils
who seem to consider themselves Tamils first and Indians next.
There are, of course, many reasons for this unique phenomenon
of Kerala: one with the larger Indian culture and yet distinct
from the mainstream, while receiving much from the rest of India
and contributing much to it. The main reason for it is that this
once distinct ethnic Munda-Dravidian
group of Keralites became Aryanized
or Sanskritized to such a degree
that they became culturally and racially very Aryan and less distinctly
Dravidian like the Tamils who remain more Dravidian and less Aryan.
The evidence for this can be easily seen in the physical features
of Keralites and particularly in the Malayalam.
word Malabar used first by Al-Biruni (973-1048 A.D.)
and the Arab writers seems to be derived from mala (hill) --Cosmas
Indicopleustus (6th century) refers to the Kerala Coast as male--
and varam (country); medieval Tamil writers called
the land malainadu (the land of hills). The term Malayalam,
which is the language of Malabar, is the indigenous word for denoting
the country; it is composed of mala (hill) and alam (land). The
word Keralam is found in the Ashoka inscriptions of the
third century B.C. The word is formed from Chera (the Kera/Chera
people) and alam (land) meaning "the land of Cheras." The
second rock-edict of Ashoka (circa 273-236 B.C.)
refers to "Keralaputra" along with the Cholas, Pandyas, and Satyaputra
as the border kingdoms of the Maurya Empire. In the first century
A.D., the Roman historian Pliny refers to Caelobrothas and the
author of Periplus of the Erithryan Sea mentions it as Cerobothra;
the second-century geographer Ptolemy calls the land Kerobothro.
In certain languages and dialects the ch-sound becomes
k (the Southern English church is spelled and pronounced
as kirk in Scotland), which would explain why Cheralam
became Keralam, for instance, in the Kannada language.