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“All organisms alive today trace their ancestry back through time to the origin of life some 3.8 billion years ago. Between then and now millions-if not billions – of branching events have occurred as population split and diverged to become separate species”
- Scott Freeman and John.C.Herron



Man evolved, as a dominant animal on earth and there is a clear broad line of demarcation between mankind and animal kingdom.  Millions of years passed, major and minor civilizations developed and each of them had unique features. This common phenomenon occurred due to the geographic variations, means that the people and their culture in one geographic area are different from its counterparts in somewhere else. Each civilizations developed knowledge and values derived from the experience of their predecessors and the resourcefulness of existing generation. Man continues from age to age, and from years to years, acquiring fresh knowledge, fresh enjoyments, and more values.   

“Cultural heritage of a people refer the social and religious attitudes, beliefs, principles and conventions of behaviour inherited from the traditions stretching back to remote antiquity. It also includes in its connotations intellectual and artistic manifestations in the form of language, literature, art, music and more importantly food habits developed by the society from generation to generation.


“Culture is a complex and dynamic ecology of people, things and world views, activities and settings that fundamentally endures, but is also changed in routine communication and inter-actions. Culture is context. It is how we talk and dress, the food we eat and how we prepare and consume it, the gods we invent and how we worship them, how we divide up time and space, how we dance, the values to which we socialize our children, and all the other details that make up everyday life”


- By James Lull
(Media Communication and Culture: A Global Approach, Polity Press, 1995)


India’s Cultural Legacy…

India is the cradle of one of the earliest civilizations of the world. The archeological excavations at Mohenjedaro and Harappa have reaveled the existence of an urban civilization about 5000 thousand years old. People lived in cities and had access to public baths, wide roads and engaged in maritime trade with other counter parts in the world. India has given to the world two of its most ancient religions, Hinduism and Buddhism. Hinduism is a way of life of the indigenous people and an amalgam of countless cults and beliefs, which is refined through centuries. Hinduism has a vast pantheon of gods besides ten incarnation of lord Vishnu. Polytheism and monotheism exist side by side and Atheists have propounded some schools of thoughts like Kapila’s Sakhya sasthra, which are widely revered by the Hindus. While Sanathana Dharma worships God in Human forms like Lord Rama and Krishna besides many others, an influential section of Hindus, The Aryasamaj, worships the formless, omniscient God and is opposed to idol worship. A very large section of Hindus believe in the aphorism, ‘EKAM SADVIPRA BAHUDHA VADANTHI’ means God is one, but the wise men describe in various ways. Traditionally, tolerance of all faiths and values is a part of our cultural heritage. This attitude is enshrined in the popular Sanskrit phrase “Sarva Dharma Samabhav”- equal respect to all religions. Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, reacted strongly against the multiplicity of rituals. He prescribed the ‘middle path’ characterized by a life of temperance, non-violence and empathy for all living organisms. 

More than the extensiveness of Indian religions, the thoughtfulness and depth of Indian philosophy has included the sense of pride in Indians and inspired many scholars in India and abroad to interpret various strands of Indian thought in the context of modern scientific discoveries. Centuries before the theories of atom were formulated, Saint Kanad had propounded in Vaisheshika sasthra that our world has made of Kanikas (Atoms). The Bhagavat Gita and Upanishads is the repository of Indian philosophy. They proclaim the oneness of man and God (advaitha) and indestructibility, immortality and uninterrupted existence of soul through various bodily existences. India invented ‘zero’ and the international numerals are only a modified form of Indian numerals. It is not accident that Indian students excel in mathematics.

Our cultural heritage encompasses a large body of poetry, drama and treatise on various arts and science written in Sanskrit, Pali, Tamil and many other languages of India.  Epics like Ramayana, Mahabharatha, dramas like Kaalidasas ‘Abhigyana Sakunthala’ and Varahamihira’s ‘Mrichakatikam’, poetic classics like Kalidasa’s ‘Meghasandesa’ and Jayadeva’s ‘Gita Govintam’ is rated highly all over the world for literary excellence as well as vision of life. Samudraguptha, widely acclaimed as ‘Indian Napoleon’ for his wide-ranging conquest, was a Veena player of considerable merit. The Guptha coins were embossed with his picture holding a Veena in his hands. Colour paintings (Frescos) of Ajantha caves; erotic sculptures of Ellora and Khajraho and the magnificent architecture of Tajmahal are living achievements of India’s composite culture. More than two thousand years ago saint Bharatha composed a treatise on Dance and Drama, which vividly explains the nuances of classical dances, like Bharatha Natyam, Kathak, Kuchupudi, Kadhakali and Oddissi. Besides, various Gharanas of Hidustani and Karnatic classical music have preserved and promoted the traditions of music through centuries. Kautilya’s ‘Arthasasthra’ deals with the statecraft with the art and strategy of attaining, maintaining and expanding political power through right and tricky means. Arthasasthra foreshadows Machiavelli’s ‘The prince’ by more than eighteen hundred years. Yoga, the technique of bodily posture, propounded by the sage Patanjali, is the surest means for attaining both bodily health and also for spiritual pursuits through control of breathing. Atharva Veda is a repository of medical sciences and a reference book for the practitioners of Ayurveda School of medicines.   

Indian culture lays equal emphasis on worldly as well as spiritual life. While it is true that our cultural heritage is very substantial, it alone cannot enable us to improve the quality of life and living standards of nearly one billion people of India. We have to energise our attitudes by incorporating the spirit of democracy of Americans, the love of culture of French and the enterprising spirit of Japanese if we have to regain our past glory and extract our teeming millions from the clutches of poverty, backwardness and inertia.

Evolution of Kerala culture…

KathakaliIf we move along a historical path from the period of indigenous people to friends and foes among the invaders who settled in this watery land, we could understand how accomplished our ancestors were at surviving and prospering, even with the limitations of climate, geography and nature. The steep size of this small land strip stretching from mountain in the east to Arabian sea in the west and its dramatically differing regions, have seeded a bountiful legacy of food and beverages. In many regions of Kerala, dedicated authors, cooks, chefs and other interested individuals recorded their own local histories of food, beverages and medicines. How did our ancestors constantly adapt and invent recipes with available ingredients, while trying to feed their family, masters (Kings), co-workers, patients and customers. A great deal of culinary experience have never been recognized nor recorded.

Millions of years back the primitive people in this land were hunter-gatherers. Raw fish, meat, wild fruits and medicinal plants became more important in their diet. To ensure that everyday life was not just a feast or famine depending on the success of the hunters those early became skilled at preserving some of their food by air or sun drying. Eventually, the hunter-gatherers appear to have settled in the extended family or tribes in different geographical location in Kerala. Abundant coastal vegetation and tropical rain forests in the Eastern Ghats provided both food and medicines. Consequently the tribes transformed in to larger society and the state or administrative system was the result of more organised and complex society.

About 3000 years back, almost all of the people in the southern peninsula of the huge Indian subcontinent were enveloped in a common culture. This people used more or less similar language, attire, rituals, food habits, amusements, home, arts, religion, occupation and war techniques etc. The historians and etymologists are ambiguous about the exact name of that language and they name it as Protodravidian language or Pazhanthamizhu. We can substantiate this fact by analysing the glossaries and grammar of Tamil, Telungu, Kannada and Malayalam language. Gradually, variation in pronunciation and difference in slang cropped up in this common proto language. Almost at the end of 1st Century BC the peninsula moved from pre history into history. The glorious triads called Chera, Chola and Pandya –the melting pot of the culture of Tamilakam- ruled the south India in the beginning of 1st BC. Cholas and Pandyas located in the eastern areas, with a Chola concentration in present Andhra and Pandyas in Tamilnadu and Karnataka. The Cheras belonged to the western side of Eastern Ghats (Sahyadri). There was frequent war between Cheras, Cholas and Pandyas; the subsequent intermission between long war periods gave amble opportunity to develop distinctive local languages fragmented from the mother language. All the events succeeded the advent of Aryans, Buddhism and Jainism in to south India and introduced Sanskrit and Pali languages. This acculturation also facilitated the evolution and development of separate culture and traditions with in the south Indian regions. The trade relations with many parts of the world like Romans, Greeks, Arabs and Chinese greased the process much faster. Consecutively the Muslim and Christian missionaries from Middle East and Europe had a noticeable influence.  

The distinctness from Tamilakam to Kerala

Vallam KaliBuddhism and Jainism was a well-rooted cult among the Chera (Kerala) from the very beginning of 4th Century AD. It is evidently depicted in the travelogue of Huan-T-sang, the Chinese traveler in 7th Century AD. The Ayurveda got amazing prominence and prosperity in Kerala compared to other parts of India and the meticulous treatises of Ayurveda like ‘Ashtanga Hridaya of Vagbhada and Amara Kosa of Amarasimha attained utmost consideration. Some scholars and historians believe that both of them were Buddhists.   

The Shaivism and Vaishnavism had very less impact in Kerala compared to Tamilakam. The important characteristic of Vaishnavism and Shaivism that had their roots in the changes of this period, led to a different religious philosophy from that dominated either by Buddhism or Vedic Brahmanism. The Chola and Pandya kings were either Worshipers of Lord Shiva or Lord Vishnu. But there is no historical evidence proving these fanatic practices in Chera (Kerala). Kings as well as his subjects worshiped both Shiva and Vishnu.

The three south Indian regions had trade relations with foreign countries. But Chera’s (Kerala) had prominence and monopoly in trade relations with Arab empire of western Spain, Muslim dynasty ruled in Middle East with Bagdad as capital, China, the Jews, The empire of Cambodia, the Buddhist kingdom of Sumatra, the Hindu kingdom in Java islands etc. The Muziris (Kodungalloor), Thondis (Kollam), Naram (Kandalloor) were the major ports mentioned in Sangam literatures. In which Kollam was the busiest port in south India at that time. In 851 AD, an Arab traveler named Suliman mentioned in his travelogue that 1000 Dinar was levied from the ships anchored in Kollam port.

In the dawn of 8th Century AD, the number of Brahmins in Kerala increased tremendously. It is believed that they migrated from the Kollapuri (Kolhapur) and Vanavasi near the provenance of Krishna and Godavari rivers. The invasion of Arabs in Sind caused the mass migration. Between 8th and 12th Century AD Brahmins achieved dominance in the cultural as well as political field.

Another important milestone in the history of Kerala is the advent of a new religion Christianity by way of trading ships from the west, although its date of arrival remains controversial. The arrival of Christianity is associated with the legend of St.Thomas, who, according to the catholic church of Edessa, came twice on mission to India. St.Thomas is said to have arrived in Malabar in about AD 52, the assumption being that he is the disciple of Jesus. Interestingly, the traditions connect him with the most active areas of trade. A group of Persian Christians led by Thomas Cana migrated to Kerala, where they were given grant of land by king. The 1st coming of Christianity to India is more likely linked to the establishing of Syrian Christian Churches in many parts of Kerala. They used local languages as the medium of propagation of their religious dogmas.

Kerala’s culinary history…

The land of abundant vegetation, sprinkling 44 rivers and placid back-waters (lagoons), Kerala is well known for its pictorial beauty and natural bounty. Between Sahya Mountains decorated by the dense forest maintaining mystic silence in the East, and the Arabian Sea bearing garlands of gleaming waves out of its blue waters in the west. Kerala put across its majestic simplicity from Kasaragod in the north and Kanyakumary (Cape Comorin) in the south.

There is no unanimity among scholars as to the origin of term Kerala or its meaning. Etymologically ‘Keram’ means coconut and ‘alam’ means land, therefore Kerala has come to mean ‘the land of coconut’, which has been widely accepted in view of the fact that the land is evenly and exquisitely populated by the emerald green coconut trees. A Malayalam grammarian and lexicographer D. Herman Gundert, hailed from Germany, opines that Keralam in canarese is pronounced as Cheralam, which is the country between Gokarnam in the north and Kanyakumary in the south. According to the other version, the Arabs who traded with Kerala in the ancient past attracted by its lush green vegetation, thickly wooded forests and sprankling streams and peaceful and tranquil nature, called the land as Ker-Alla (the land dear to god) which eventually became Kerala.    
Kerala is a very diverse, culturally, geographically and from a culinary point of view.  Cooking styles are varying not only from place to place and religion to religion but also from caste to caste. Historically, the Kerala cuisine has had many influences. Buddhist monks came to Kerala around 4th century AD as they faded after the migration of Vedic Brahmins to Kerala by the 8th Century AD. They were particularly successful in converting people in to non-violence and non-vegetarian food habits. Ayurveda got amazing prominence and prosperity in Kerala compared to other parts of India and the meticulous treatises of Ayurveda like ‘Ashtanga Hridaya of Vagbhada and Amara Kosa of Amarasimha attained utmost consideration. Some scholars and historians believe that both of them were Buddhists. The Brahmins who migrated to Kerala in ancient times 8th Century AD influenced in to vegetarianism brought about by Vedic religious rituals. The Brahmins inherited the science of divine healing from the Buddhists and also received in puts from the indigenous methods in that field. Under them Ayurveda attained supreme glory all over the world. When we consider the Kerala cuisine in general in the culinary history point of view, it is, no doubt, closely linked with the development of Ayurveda and richness of natural vegetation of Kerala. The traditional Onam Sadya (Grand meals), even though it is a ritualistic food, clearly conceived from the Ayurvedic approach of diet. The menu on the green and tender banana leaf consist of several items (curries), dry, solid and liquid, with boiled rice served from left to right according to the taste or piquancy (Rasam).

    Main item
  • • Boiled rice (Chemba rise)
    Side dishes
    • Upperi (banana slices fried in coconut oil), 
    • Sarkara varatty (small pieces of banana dried up with sugarcane), 
    • Achar (hot pickles of mango and lime and essentially Ginger) 
    • Thoran (dry dish made of vegetables such as peas, unripe jackfruit, with grated coconut), 
    • Aviyal (It is a thick mixture of a lot vegetables, curd and coconut seasoned with coconut oil and curry leaves, 
    • Pachady (typically made of finely chopped and boiled vegetables with coconut, green or red chillies and tempered in oil with mustard seeds, ginger and curry leaves. Curd based pachadi can be made of any vegetable, although cucumbers, squash, mango, bitter gourd or pineapple are common), 
    • Kichady (made of curd and cucumber in raw or cooked form)
    Ozhichu curries (Liquid items)
    • Parippu ( made of green dal), Use with Pappadam (crispy kerala wafer, typically served as an accompaniment meal with parripu curry) and Ghee. 
    • Sambar (made of toovar dal (pigeon pea) and  a vegetable stew or clear soup based on a broth made with tamarind and toovar dal)
    • Payasam (sweet dish, made by boiling rice with milk and sugar or sugarcane and flavoured with cardamoms, cashewnuts). It is served in between sambar and Moru (buttermilk)  
    • Moru (a diluted buttermilk often flavoured with ginger, lime leaves, green chili peppers etc)
    • Kaalan (made of curd, coconut and one vegetable like Nendran (tender banana) or a tuber like yam. It is very thick and more sour than Aviyal. 
    • Njaalipoovan, Poovan, Kadhali, Chingan and Palayankodan (These are different varieties of plantains)
    • Boiled water (boiled with Coriander or Karingali (Black Cutch)

The preparation, serving and eating of respective curries (dish) that served from left right is based on the Ayurvedic philosophy on diet based on ‘Shad Rasas’ (Six tastes or six feature pertaing to the taste).
Shad Rasas
I. Madhura Rasa (Sweet)
It is a cool, heavy and viscous sweet taste promotes handsomeness and overall growth of the body and tones up vitality. It is good for bettering complexion, for sweetness voice and cheerfulness and also nourishes sensory organs. It stimulates the healing process and is good for breast-feeding mothers. 
II. Amla Rasa (Acidic)
It is viscous and stimulates salivary glands, promotes appetite and digestion. 
III. Lavana Rasa (Saline or Salty)
It is neither heavy nor viscous. Its strong taste causes salivation and enhances the flavour of food. It act as a Carmative and laxative. 
IV. Katu Rasa (Pungent or Acrid) 
Katu it is light and hot. It reveals intestinal dropsy and helps in the elimination of waste products from the body. According to Charka, Katu Rasa stimulates gastric secretion and enhances the clarity of sensory organs. 
V. Tikta Rasa (Bitter)
It is dry and light. It is also a carmative.
VI. Kashaya Rasa (Astringent) 
That taste is astringent and the taste is sedative. It promotes healing of injuries and fractual bones.  
Ayurveda envisions every human being to take this oath.  
It means, proper diet and moderate exercise are like Ashwani Devas (They are Vedic gods symbolising the shining of sunrise and sunset, appearing in the sky before the dawn in a golden chariot, bringing treasures to men and averting misfortune and sickness. They can be compared with the Dioscuri (the twins Castor and Pollux) of Greco-Roman mythology.They are the doctors of gods and are devas of Ayurvedic medicine). I will not consult a doctor except the above two habits.  
Kerala has trade relations with many countries from the time imemmorial. Among which the Arabs had long-standing and substantial hold in social as well as cultural aspects of ancient Kerala. For long centuries, Kerala was called Malanadu (Hill Country), because of its peculiar topography, and Malavaram, the territory fortified by mountains, which under Arab influence, became Malabar. The Arabic “barr” is a vast country, changed in to “varam”. Those ages witnessed lot of convertions in to Islam and the newly converted muslims settled in the Malabar area. If we probe in to the Malabar food cult of kerala, we can see the direct influence of Arabian cuisins in their food habit. The Malabar spicy Biriyanis and non-vegetarian preparation is closely remble to the Arabian style.


A section of people of Kerala have common ethnicity and closer in their physique to the the people of Cylon (Sri Lanka).  In their traditional costumes, culinary art, amusements and cultural activities, they are more common with Cylonese than even with Tamil Nadu. The migrants from Cylone came to know as “Ezhavar”, Ezham in Tamil language means the island near the southern tip of India.

Geographical influnces…

The multiplicity of rivers is mainly responsible for the growth of centers of culture every through out the state and what is available for culture in any other cites and towns of the state. The rivers are the life givers of Kerala. Most charming back waters, fresh water lakes of Kerala interconnected with canals foe smooth water transportation which in the earlier times were largely by country crafts of various kinds manufactured entirely, indigenously and moved manually by oars, paddles and bamboo poles. These water bodies are links of internal transportation and for the movement of goods for trading. The plenty of fish supplied by the different water bodies forms part of the staple diet of the people as well as the men engaged in these activities. The boatmen or workers developed a peculier kind of culinary system with the fish in these water bodies and by using the limited ingredients like chilly, tamerind, curry leaf etc. This easy and tasty method came to known as Valla Curry.

Religion, Festivals, Traditions, Folklore, and myths…
Religious rituals, festivals, folklore and myths have immense influence to the incredibly diverse and unique culinary history of Kerala. Temples are considered not only a place of worship but also a place for providing food for the needy. The Hindu religious philosophy behind the food is 
"Brahmaarpanam Brahma Havih Brahmaagnau Brahmana Hutam, 
Brahmaiva Tena Gantavyam Brahmakarmasamaadhina" 
The accurate meaning of this mantra is: "A practice of offering is Brahman, the oblation is Brahman, the device of offering is Brahman, and the fire (hunger) to which the offering is made, is also Brahman. For such a one, who abides in everything (Brahman), by him alone Brahman is reached".  Brahman refers to God himself. This Shloka suggests that god is everywhere, in the food, inside the devotee and even the hunger is God. So, devotee is taking the food (God) to the hunger (God). To put succinctly, we always thank god for his divine grace.

Ambalapuzha Paalppaayasam

The renowned Paalppaayasam of the Lord Sri.Krishna temple, which is a preparation made of rice, boiled in milk and sugar, is the 'Prasadam (offering) given to devotees. About 100 liters of this Prasadam is prepared daily in this temple. It is believed that Lord Guruvayurappan and the Thiruvaarpu Krishna come here daily to share of this Payasam. This Ambalapuzha Paalppaayasam is so exquisitely sumptuous that anyone fortunate enough to taste it will remember its taste for life. According to the locals, some modern day researchers tried to scientifically replicate this in their laboratory to find out why this Payasam to have such a unique and delicious taste. They concluded that the taste was special on account of the type of firewood used in the kitchen fireplace, and also the atmosphere of the kitchen, where this has been prepared for ages, which gave it a special smoky flavor.

Cherthala Iratti and Thady

There are two very special and peculiar Prasadam offerings at Lord Karthyayani Temple at Cherthala. They are called Iratti and Thady. Iratti is nothing but the Ghee Payasam with double the quantity of jaggery used in its preparation.Thady is made by the following method: Rice flour, Jaggery, and coconut are mixed along with powdered dry ginger and other spices. This is then made in to a paste form and placed in a sheath of areca nut frond and tied at both ends. Then sand in an oven is heated by burning fuels like sticks etc. A small depression is made in the sand and the above bundle is inserted inside and covered with hot sand using fuels such as coconut shells which are burnt over it. This type of baking is peculiar to this temple. This offering is made only if devotees desire for same. 
Aranmula Valla Sadya
Valla Sadya is a famous offering in Aranmula Sri.Krishna Temple. The Karas (Villages), surrounding villages, performs a boat race in the Pampa River and organises a grand feast at the temple. The feast has hundreds of curries (items) and sweets. The Vallasadhya is conducting usually on Onam times ie. August - September. On that day, more than 30 boats from different place gathers in Aranmula temple and take part of the feast. Devotees can also conduct Vallasadhya as an offering. On that day, the Palliyodam (boats) compete and take part of the offering.

Karthika Puzhukku

Thrikkarthika is the festival of lights celebrated in Kerala on the Karthika Nakshatram (star) in the Malayalam month of Vrischikam (November – December). It usually falls on the full moon day in the month and on the day all the houses, streets and temples are well lit with traditional oil lamps. Thrikkarthika festival is not dedicated to any particular God or Goddess in Hindu pantheon. On the Thrikkarthika day after sunset, houses, streets and temples are decorated with special oil lamps. Earlier people used to make use of the shell of Marottikka (a kind of fruit) to light lamps. Special food is prepared using Tapioca, elephant yam and other tubers with lot of grated coconut on the day and is known as Karthika Puzhukku. The full moon night and the Thrikkarthika lamps complement each other giving an awesome feeling to the viewers.

ONV Kurup is a Malayalam poet, lyricist, academician, and cultural and social activist.

Ashtamudi Homes is a new concept developed by a couple, Lekshmi and Venunath who lived abroad for over 15 years.

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