You’ll often hear Kerala, a state in southern India, described as God’s Own Country. Ever wondered what this nickname means, or where it comes from? A destination that’s steeped in mysticism and mythology, Kerala has some great stories behind it – and listening to these will help you understand how its grand sobriquet came about.
A little about Kerala
With its low levels of corruption and the country’s highest literacy levels, Kerala is, in its way, a very modern state. However, coexisting with this modernism are customs and traditions that stretch back hundreds of years – to the extent where Kerala is commonly regarded as having of Asia’s most traditional cultures.
Below, we’ll talk some more about how you can see elements of this while you’re travelling, but before we do, we’ll tell you the story of how Kerala became known as God’s Own Country.
The myth behind God’s Own Country
Given that the state is known for its traditions, mysticism and religion, it seems only fitting that Kerala should have a suitably dramatic myth behind it. This myth is the story of Parasurama, who was a warrior-sage and said to be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu (a Hindu god).
After waging brutal wars on the Kshathriya kings, Parasurama decided he needed to pay penance for his actions. The learned men who gathered to advise him on a corrective path suggested he hand over his conquered lands to the Brahmins, which he did, before sitting in penance at what was then considered to be land’s end, where he was granted boons by the God of the Oceans and the Goddess of Earth. With a powerful throw, he cast his axe into the ocean, after which the land now known as Kerala emerged from depths and became known as God’s Own Country.
Part of the reason that this myth is so important is that very little is known about ancient Kerala – there are barely any written accounts. But it isn’t really the verity of the story that’s important; the way the tale has been embraced in local culture both in the past and today has played an important part in shaping Kerala’s character.
The importance of custom and tradition in Kerala today
Kerala is still very much a land of customs, and discovering these should be part of any holiday here. If you’re planning to experience an India tour, make sure that Kerala is included because it is a place not to miss. We’ve put together a list of our top recommendations for Kerala below.
Ritual theatre and martial art: A must-see while you’re in Kerala, ritual theatre and martial art is spectacular. Its wildest and, arguably, most moving form is Theyyam. Usually seen in northern Kerala, it involves dancers enacting deities in performances that stretch through the night – and will usually take place on a beach. Mohinattyam, meanwhile, is the state’s classical dance form, while Kathakali is ritual theatre used to stage scenes from great epics.
Temple festivals: These are a mainstay of the Keralan events calendar, with every temple in the state putting on at least one festival per year. While they can vary quite a lot in terms of scale, they all tend to feature a combination of drums, fireworks, ritual theatre and elephants.
Ayurveda spas: The traditional medicine of Ayurveda is a mainstay in Kerala, and you’ll come across plenty of spas and hotels offering it. Common treatments include things you may recognise from modern spas, such as herbal steam baths and oil massages.