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Kerala is a land of many good things. It has an abundance of nature, culture, art, and food. It is also a place of legend and myth, and is known for its popular folklore, the legend of Yakshi. This is not a popular tale outside the state, but it is common knowledge for travellers, especially those who fare through forests at night.
The legend of the yakshi is believed to be India's equivalent of the Romanian Dracula, except of course, the Yakshi is a female. Many Malayalis believe that the Yakshi wears a white saree and had long hair. She has a particular fragrance, which is believed to be the fragrance of the Indian devil-tree flowers. She seduces travellers with her beauty, and kills them brutally.
Yakshi idol in Veroor, Sri Dharamashastha temple Image source: wikimedia commons
The Yakshi is believed to live in a palm tree which can appear like a palace. Victims are taken here before they are killed. Travellers on highways are often advised not to stop near heavily forested areas, or speak to anyone who closely resembles a Yakshi. Some believe she can change form, while other hold to the belief that she doesn't. after securing her victim, the only trace left behind is body parts like hair, nails, and teeth.
They say, like other ghosts, a Yakshi's feet will not touch the ground. This is something to look out for. Mysterious deaths have been reported across the rural areas in Kerala, and all these have been attributed to the legend.
Keywords: Legends, Yakshi, Urban legend, Ghost, Kerala, Myth, Vampire
Every part of South India changes colour on Onam and Vishu when Malayalis begin their celebrations. They cannot be missed for they decorate themselves in subtle shades of gold and white, and dot the streets in their traditional attire.
The white kerala saree, known as kasavu, has a rather interesting history. It grew to prominence when the Portuguese reached India, and began trade. Gold was exchanged for spices, and women began to incorporate gold into their sarees. The white part of the kasavu is believed to be inspired by the Greco-Roman one-piece, also known as 'toga' or 'palmyrene'.In Ravi Verma's paintings, the Malayali woman is visibly very similar to the European contemporary when she is decked in her adornments.
A classical dancer dressed in gold and white kasavu Image source: wikimedia commons
The traditional malayalis used to wear what is called a mundu, or a settu-mundu, which consisted of a rectangular piece of cloth tied around the waist. They did not cover their upper bodies. Later, women began to wear a blouse or place a cloth to cover their upper body, and the mundu became a two-piece affair. Today, women wear three different pieces. The blouse is worn with one cloth wrapped around the waist, and another wrapped around the chest. Colours are also incorporated according to each one's taste.
The kasavu yarn is spun and dyed in the required colours, and stretched, ideally in the early hours of the morning. It is also soaked and stamped to make it soft. It is then mounted on the loom and woven. The stretching allows the fabric to become resilient, and it does not break easily. Once woven, it is immediately turned into sarees or mundus. Since it is a relatively plain weave, it does not require a post-weave process.
The kasavu saree is very simple and common among the malayalis, and with added colours, even among other south Indians. The luxury of this saree lies in the fact that it is woven with real gold in the borders.
Keywords: Kasavu, mundu, Kerala, Gold, White
Sabrimala Temple is a famous Hindu temple situated on a hilltop in the Pathanamthitta district of Kerala. The temple is surrounded by almost eighteen hills in the Periyar Tiger Reserve, one of the well-known reserves of India. The temple is said to be dedicated to Lord Ayyappa, who is the God of growth. From all around the world, the temple attracts Hindu pilgrims in the days of Mandalapooja in November-December, Makara Sankranti on January 14, Maha Vishuva Sankranti on April 14, and the first five days of each Malayalam month.
Origin of Sabrimala Temple
The temple is said to be of ancient origin. In fact, for almost three centuries, reaching Sabrimala temple was almost impossible because there was no way. But, then in the 12th century, a prince of the Pandalam Dynasty named, Manikandan, rediscovered the original path to reach Sabarimala Temple. Interestingly, this Prince is considered an Avatar of Lord Ayyappa. It is also believed that Prince Manikandan meditated at Sabarimala Temple and became one with the most divine.
Beliefs Followed in the Sabrimala Temple
It is believed that the pilgrims have to observe celibacy for forty-one days before going to Sabrimala Temple. At the same time, they are also required to follow a strict Lacto-vegetarian diet, refrain from consuming alcohol, let their hairs and nails grow and not cut them. Apart from doing all this, the pilgrims are also required to bathe twice a day and visit local temples daily before en routing to Sabrimala Temple. Once the pilgrims have reached Sabrimala Temple, they only wear black or blue clothes and do not shave until the completion of their pilgrimage. Also, all the pilgrims smear vibhuti or sandal paste on their foreheads.
Entrance of Women in the Sabrimala Temple
For centuries, there has been a strict ban on the entrance of women in the premises of Sabrimala Temple. This is because it is believed that Lord Ayyappa, who is the main deity, was celibate. In fact, in 1991, the Kerala High Court restricted entry of women above the age of 10 and below the age of 50 saying that this is the menstruating age. But, in 2018, the Supreme Court lifted the ban saying that discrimination against women on any grounds, even religious is unconstitutional. To this, the head priest of Sabrimala temple showed his disappointment. Moreover, this took a political turn when Shiv Sena, a political party of India, warned of "mass suicides" if women set foot inside the Sabarimala temple. Following this, protests intensified near the date of opening gates for women as hundreds of women devotees set their way to reach the temple.
Keywords: Sabrimala Temple, Shiv Sena, Supreme Court of India, Beliefs, Women, Hindu Temple
The world of martial arts has been dominated by the Far Eastern nations, and words like kung fu and karate, immediately create a mental image of Asian men with long hair, white robes, and flexible bodies flying through the air. These arts, although completely assimilated by the Asian cultures, originated in India. Like Buddhism, which is the foundational religion that the principles of martial arts are derived from, the actual art form itself made its way from South India, where it was practiced for many years.
Kerala is known predominantly for coconuts, toddy, boats, and communism. It is also the house of Ayurveda, and Kalaripayattu. Kalaripayattu has become a dance form that is performed at festivals and in cultural programmes, but it began as a medieval fighting technique that was kept a secret among the warrior caste of Kerala, the Nairs.
Kalaripayattu trainees must learn to jump through fire hoops without getting burned. Image source: wikimedia commons
Kalaripayattu deals with bodily, mental, and emotional strength. Before the fighting begins, the warriors are required to practice meditation. They must learn to harness strength from the mind, in order to move in a way that acts as self-defence against the enemy, and serves as healing from temptation and waywardness. According to scholars, this art form is considered the most lethal, as the same hand can deliver a life-taking blow, and restore mobility in a single move.
The word kalarippayattu is an amalgam that means "training ground combat". It teaches the use of psychology in discipling the body and the mind. It was developed nearly six thousand years ago, and is deeply rooted in religion. Its five inter-related parts are fighting, Ayurveda (healing), spiritual practice, astrology, and yoga. Kalaripayattu warriors are taught to harness self-control, and develop their human spirit before they learn to fight. It is an art form that does not involve motive to kill, only to defend. The technique of imitating animal postures originated in Kalaripayattu, the eight animals being the lion, boar, cobra, rooster, buffalo, elephant, tiger and horse.
Young trainees learning to combat with fire Image source: wikimedia commons
In the 6th century, a monk from China came to India and learned the art. His name was Bodhidharma, and he is responsible for propagating martial arts across Asia. China and Japan developed kung fu and karate from the original kalarippayattu. Today, kalarippayattu is regarded more of a dance than a martial art, and it still is a very indigenous craft that has not been shared with the western world.
Keywords: Kalaripayattu, Bodhidharma, kung fu, karate, martial arts