Get subscribed to our newsletter
Get interesting updates to your email inbox.
In modern times, many social movements aim to bring reform to the society we live in, on the basis of certain existing patterns. Patriarchy is something that many aim to cleanse our cultures of, to usher in the era of social and gender equality. Despite all these so-called movements, in southern India, certain societies that patronise matriarchy have existed since before India's independence. The Nairs and Ezhavas of Kerala, and Bunts and Billavas of Karnataka are matrilineal societies that continue to thrive in a patriarchal country.
Kerala remains separate from the rest of India in many ways. Be it literacy policy, form of government, or cultural practices, this state does not always conform to the ideal that India is known for. Even so with their social structure. Certain tribes have remained matrilineal, where the decision-making power rests with the eldest female of the family.
The Nairs and Ezhavas of Kerala, and Bunts and Billavas of Karnataka are matrilineal societies that continue to thrive in a patriarchal country. Image source: wikimedia commons
A male member, who is the close confidante of the matriarch is chosen. He plays a crucial role in representing the male members of his family, and his opinion is highly valued. He is called karavanan. The men reside in separate rooms or in separate houses, and do not interfere in the upbringing of children. Property is also passed down along the lineage of the eldest female. Among the Nairs, matriarchy is more prominently adhered to than the Ezhavas, who have some patrilocal connections.
In Karnataka, the Bunts and Billavas belong to the Tuluva ethnic group. They are also a predominantly matriarchal society, founded on the belief in a legend. Their matrilineal descent is known as Aliyasantana.
The story is told of a demon who threatened to destroy a kingdom if the king did not sacrifice his sons, but the king's sister comes forward to offer her children in sacrifice for the sake of the kingdom. The demon is touched and does not destroy the city. Since then, the kingdom, or the property is inherited through female lineage.
In Karnataka, the Bunts and Billavas belong to the Tuluva ethnic group. They are also a predominantly matriarchal society, founded on the belief in a legend. Image source: wikimedia commons
In the recent past, many of these matriarchal societies have been reduced to matrilineal societies by certain governmental laws. They fall under the patriarchal scheme of the rest of the state but have reserved the right to pass on property and heritage through the female line. In the North east of India, matriarchal dominance is far more resilient than the south.
Keywords: Bunts, Billava, Nair, Ezhava, Aliyasantana, Matrilineal, South India, Karnataka, Kerala
Native to Karnataka, Yakshagana is known as a performance celebrating the music of the celestial beings. It is more of a folklore tradition along the Konkan coast, that overlaps a performance of dance and drama.
Yakshagana was traditionally an all-male enterprise. Men would dress up in elaborate costumes, heavy headgear, and perform all night, telling stories inspired by Hindu epics. Instances from the Ramayana and Mahabharata are relayed through the musical. The performers use specific instruments, like the harmonium, metal clappers, and drums. As the heavy titillating music plays, the actors move in motions expressing the situation.
Yakshagana performance on stage Image source: wikimedia commons
The headgear is decorated with metal and beads. It is quite heavy, and to be able to wear it and dance all night, dancers must be healthy, strong, and have a good stamina. These are known as Yakshagana pagade, and are custom-made. The actors paint their faces with natural dyes, and the shades they use distinguish this art form from similar ones like Theyyam and Kathakali that are native to Kerala. Yakshagana actors patronize shades of yellow, red, brown, orange, and white.
There are two types of Yakshagana performances. Moodalapaya is the form that is still inherent to rural culture and is not performed in urban or commercial settings. Paduvalapaya is the form that has evolved to accommodate the knowledge and interests of modern crowds. This is the form that is performed for tourists at the coasts. There is a slight difference in the presentation of the dance form in the north and southern coast. In the north, facial expressions are emphasized, while in the south, the costume, art, and dance is highlighted.
These days, women take part in Yakshagana performances Image source: wikimedia commons
Yakshagana is still performed in temples and temple towns on special occasions. In rural Karnataka, one can see these performances happening regularly. Today's performances feature women as well, and some times the cast is entirely female.
Keywords: Yakshagana, Dance, Coast, Karnataka, Konkan Coast
By Prakhar Patidar
We know Varanasi aka Banaras for its temples, religiosity, and ghats. For ages, the city has been an important Hindu pilgrimage site, one of the holy seven. Many wish to have their final rights done one the ghats of Ganga at Varanasi to attain moksha.
Varanasi is believed to be one of the oldest city in the world. The famous English author Mark Twain has even called it 'older than history'. Just like Varanasi is a city of multiple names: Banaras, Kashi, it is a city of many layers that overlap over one another to give Varanasi its historic cultural identity.
In Hinduism, Kashi is believed to be the place where Lord Shiva and Parvati lived. What is holier than a place known to have been the home of one of the most powerful and worshiped gods of Hinduism? The legend says that this is the place Shiva directed Ganga from the heavens to the Earth.
Not only in Hinduism, Varanasi also holds religious importance in Buddhism. Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath which is only a few kilometers from Varanasi. There is mysticism in the air of the city as it is the hub for religion, spirituality, philosophy, and ancient knowledge.
The earliest records of the place can be found in Hindu religious texts: Upanishads. Originally it was known as Banaras and eventually got the name Varanasi. The city has also been a hub of arts and culture. Many great literary figures have birthed in the city or have been fascinated by its magic. Not only literature, but Varanasi also has had an impact on the course Indian music has taken.
Varanasi hasn't yet been listed in UNESCO'S heritage cities but it is of umpteen value to the Indian consciousness. The city however graces another UNESCO list that recognizes cities that have had an influence on world music. Varanasi has always been a center for education and that legacy is continued through Banaras Hindu University, Asia's largest university.
Keywords: Varanasi, Hindu city, UP, India, Heritage cities, UNESCO
By Prakhar Patidar
Ahmedabad, the capital city of Gujarat, is the only other heritage city of India apart from Jaipur to grab a spot on the UNESCO list of world heritage. It was the first city of India to be included in the list. Set on both sides of the Sabarmati River, Ahmedabad is the largest city in Gujarat.
Ahmedabad is a beautiful cocktail of ancient architecture and masterful urban planning. On the eastern side of the river is the old town that boasts mosques and buildings that were built hundreds of years ago. The neighborhood is marked by pols that signify the ancient system of community-based housing. In the olden times, the city was also guarded by a wall on all sides with 12 points of entry. Today, only these gates remain standing. The foundation of the city was laid in the 11th century by the Solanki dynasty.
Till 1411, the city was ruled by king Karandev I, the Solanki ruler, and was called Karnavati. After it was conquered by Sultan Ahmad Shah, the name was changed to Ahmedabad. It is under Ahmad Shah's rule Ahmedabad adopted a unique artistic style that took inspiration from earlier Indian traditions of art and that of Persian architecture.
The result of this was the development of a unique Indo-Saracenic style that is evident in the architecture from that era. The city expanded and enjoyed the status of being the royal capital for 162 years till the Independent Sultanate of Gujarat was sustained. There was a decline in the city's prosperity under the Mughal rule due to weak kingship. In the 18th century, the city came under the wing of the Maratha kingdom, ruled under the joint jurisdiction of the Peshwas and the Gaekwads.
On the western side is the urban part of the city speedily moving towards metropolitan developments. Because of a highly active port and flourishing textile industry, Ahmedabad also earned the title of 'Manchester of East. During the freedom struggle, the city attained newfound importance as the center point of all Gandhian activities.
Karnavati later named Ahmedabad, has seen the rise and fall of various democracies and has been the heart of India's freedom struggle. From this rich history, the city has weaved for itself a beautiful cultural fabric that vouches for Ahmedabad's heritage status.
Keywords: Ahmedabad, Gujarat, history, heritage cities