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Religions of Kerala

Though Kerala has a multi faceted religious outlook, there are mainly three religions prominent in Kerala- Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. According to a recent national census estimates, around 56% of Kerala residents are Hindus, 24% are Muslims, 19% are Christians and the remaining 1% includes people of other religions such as Jainism, Buddhism and Judaism. There are also a considerable number of tribal sects in Kerala who have preserved their religious identity and ancient beliefs.


The history of Hinduism precedes that of any other religion in Kerala. Hinduism in Kerala was largely propagated by the Aryans who migrated from North India. They brought with them their belief and rituals. They advocated the evolution of caste division of the society which is still prevalent. The dominant castes in Kerala include Ezhavas, Nairs, Dalits and Kerala Brahmins. People of Kerala worship different cults of Lord Shiva and Vishnu. They also worship Mother Goddess as the source of eternal power and follow animism (snake worship).


The advent of Islam in Kerala is believed to be during the time of Prophet Muhammad. Islam arrived in Kerala through Arab traders from the Middle East who later settled on the coastal regions of Kerala. These traders and merchants propagated their religion and brought a considerable number of people under their fold. Later, during the invasion of Kerala by Tipu Sultan many Hindus were forcefully converted to Islam. The Muslim community in Kerala even today is actively involved in trade and commerce and continues to thrive here in peace and harmony.


Christianity in Kerala was introduced by St. Thomas, one of the Apostles of Christ in 52 A.D. He is believed to have established 7 different churches of which 4 still exist. The different branches of Christianity prevailing in Kerala at present are Syrian Catholic, Latin Catholic, Malankara Orthodox and Protestants, Malankara Catholic and Jacobite.


Judaism arrived in Kerala along with the spice traders from the Middle East during the 7th Century B.C. The Jews in Kerala suffered at the hands of the Portuguese, however the Dutch and the British were more tolerant and allowed them to prosper and live in peace. Most of the Jewish families migrated to Israel after the formation of the state of Israel and as of today, only a handful of Jewish families still exist in Kerala. There are two synagogues existing in Kerala that are still open for service.


Jainism was never a widely practiced religion in Kerala and as of today only a few followers of Jainism are found around Palakkad and Wayanad district in Kerala. Most of them are from the business community from the North.


Buddhism came to Kerala in 3rd Century B.C. during the reign of the emperor Ashoka, one of the patrons of Buddhism. Today, the presence of Buddhism in Kerala is very scattered. However, the impact of Buddhism can still be clearly seen in the architecture of various Hindu temples and various customs and practices followed by the Hindus which are believed to be inspired from Buddhism.


Even though Kerala has a multi-religious society, these communities have co-existed in peace and harmony over the years.



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