Kerala was a major spice exporter as early as 3,000 BCE, according to Sumerian Records. Kerala was identified by the name Malabar in early days. Muziris, Berkarai, Nelcynda etc. were the principle ports of that time. Around 1 BC the region was ruled by the Chera Dynasty, which traded with the Greeks, Romans and Arabs. Merchants from West Asia and Southern Europe established coastal posts and settlements in Kerala. Jewish connection with Kerala started as early as 573 BC. Arabs also had trade links with Kerala, possibly started before 4th century B.C, as Herodotus (B.C. 484-413) noted that the goods brought by Arabs from Kerala were sold to the Jews at Eden. In the 4th century, some Christians also migrated from Persia and joined the early Malabar Christian community here. According to the legends of these communities, the earliest mosque, synagogue (1568 C.E.), and Christian churches in India were built in Kerala. The proportion of Muslims, Christians and Jews were relatively small at this early stage, they co-existed harmoniously with a mutual acceptance between each other and the local Hindu society, aided with the commercial benefit begotten from this relation.
Much of history of the region from the 6th to the 8th century is obscure, a Later Chera Kingdom was established c. 800–1102, primarily with the help of Arab spice merchants.The western spice-trade, especially in pepper, became increasingly lucrative. Around the 15th century, the Portuguese began to dominate the eastern shipping trade in general, and the spice-trade in particular, culminating in Vasco Da Gama’s arrival in Kappad Kozhikode in 1498.Conflicts between Calicut and Cochin, however, provided an opportunity for the Dutch to come in and finally expel the Portuguese from their forts.
The British concluded treaties of subsidiary alliance with the rulers of Cochin (1791) and Travancore (1795), and they became princely states of British India, maintaining local autonomy in return for a fixed annual tribute to the British. Malabar and South Kanara districts were part of British India’s Madras Presidency.
Culture of Kerala is composite and cosmopolitan in nature and it’s an integral part of Indian culture. It has been elaborated upon through centuries of contact with neighboring and overseas cultures. However, the geographical insularity of Kerala from the rest of the country has caused to develop some distinctive outlook in every spheres of culture like lifestyle, art, architecture, language, literature and different social institutions.
Origin of dance and music in Kerala could be traced to the tribal art forms and folk songs which were performed in those early days to propitiate the local deities. With the arrival of Aryan Brahmins in Kerala (8th century CE), who were instrumental in the development of many semi-classical art forms of Kerala, Hindu temples and associated institutions took over the role of development of many ritualistic art forms; emergence of new temple arts like Koodiyattom, Koothu and Kathakali have to be seen in this context. Koodiyattom, which emerged as a popular temple art by 9th century, is a Sanskrit theatre tradition, and is officially recognised by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Kerala natanam, an offshoot of Kathakali, Kaliyattam, Mohiniaattam (dance of the enchantress), Theyyam, Thullal and Padayani are other popular performing arts of Kerala. Of these, Kathakali and Mohiniattam are the most recognized Indian Classical Dance traditions from Kerala.
Some non-Hindu religious dances are also popular in Kerala like Margamkali, Parisamuttu and chavittunadakom of Christians and Oppana of Muslims. Oppana has its roots in the Arab dances and it combines dance, rhythmic hand clapping, and ishal vocalizations.Margam Kali is a traditional group dance form traceable back to 17th century, originally performed during Syrian Christian festivals. Nowadays, many of these art forms are largely performed during marriage ceremonies or at youth festivals only.
Development of classical music in Kerala is attributed to the contributions it received from the traditional performance arts associated with temple culture of Kerala. Development of indigenous classical music form, SopanaSangeetham, illustrates the rich contribution that temple culture has made to the arts of Kerala. Carnatic music dominates Keralite traditional music. This was the result of SwathiThirunal Rama Varma’s popularization of the genre in the 19th century. Raga-based renditions known as sopanam accompany kathakali performances. Melam (including the paandi and panchari variants) is a more percussive style of music; it is performed at Kshetram centered festivals using the chenda. Melam ensembles comprise up to 150 musicians, and performances may last up to four hours. Panchavadyam is a different form of percussion ensemble, in which up to 100 artists use five types of percussion instrument. Kerala’s visual arts range from traditional murals to the works of Raja Ravi Varma, the state’s most renowned painter. Most of the castes and communities in Kerala have rich collection of folk songs and ballads associated with a variety of themes; Vadakkan Pattukal(Northern Ballads), Thekkanpattukal(Southern Ballads), Vanchipattukal(Boat Songs), MappilaPattukal (Muslim songs) and Pallipattukal(Church songs) are a few of them.
Malayalam literature is medieval in origin and includes such figures as the 14th century Niranam poets (MadhavaPanikkar, SankaraPanikkar and Rama Panikkar), and the 17th century poet ThunchaththuEzhuthachan whose works mark the dawn of both modern Malayalam language and indigenous Keralite poetry. Paremmakkal ThomaKathanar and Kerala Varma Valiakoi Thampuran are noted for their contribution to Malayalam prose.
Kerala is also known as the land of spices and its cuisine is known for its spicy ingredients. Main course of food is rice; breakfast, lunch or dinner, its some sort of rice preparation. Popular breakfast dishes are Idli-Vada-Chutney, Puttu-Kadala-Payasam or Puttu-Payar-Pappadam, Appam or Idiyappam with egg masala, Tapioca & fish curry etc. Typical lunch dish is Rice and curry along with rasam,pulisherry and sambar. The vegetarian feast is called sadhya in Kerala where the meal is served on a banana leaf and a cup of Payasam would also be followed. Popular snacks include banana chips, yam crisps, Tapioca chips, Unniyappam, Kuzhalappam etc. Sea food items are also splendid in the diet of Keralites, Karimeen, Prawn, shrimp and crustacean dishes are popular in the state. Keralites—both men and women alike—traditionally don flowing and unstitched garments. These include the mundu, a loose piece of cloth wrapped around men’s waists.