Religion in Kerala

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Religion in Kerala (2011)[1]

  Hinduism (54.74%)
  Islam (26.56%)
  Christianity (18.38%)
  Other or none (0.32%)

Religions in Kerala are a mixture of different faiths, most significantly Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. According to 2011 Census of India figures, 54.73% of Kerala's residents are Hindus, 26.56% are Muslims, 18.38% are Christians, and the remaining 0.32% follows other religion or no religion.[2] Various tribal people in Kerala have retained various religious beliefs of their ancestors. Hindus constitute the largest group in all districts except Malappuram where the Muslims are a majority.[3]


Main article: Hinduism in Kerala
Gopuram of the Padmanabhaswamy Temple

The mythological legends regarding origin of Kerala are Hindu in nature. Kerala produced several saints and movements. Adi Shankara was a Brahmin philosopher who contributed to Hinduism and propagated philosophy of Advaita. He was instrumental in establishing four mathas at Sringeri, Dwarka, Puri and Jyotirmath. Melpathur Narayana Bhattathiri was another Brahmin religious figure who composed Narayaniyam, a collection of verses in praise of Krishna.

Hinduism is the largest religion in Kerala and Hindus make up 54.73% population of the state according to the 2011 census.[4] Various practises of Hinduism are unique to Kerala. Different cults of Shiva and Vishnu are popular in Kerala. Malayali Hindus also worship Bhagavathi as a form of Shakti. Almost every village in Kerala has its own local guardian deity, usually a goddess.

Hindus in Kerala also strongly believe in power of snake gods and usually have sacred snake groves known as Sarpa Kavu near to their houses.[5]

Hindus mostly attend these temples: Vadakkunnathan Temple, Guruvayur Temple, Sabarimala, Sree Poornathrayesa Temple, Kodungallur Bhagavathy Temple, Chottanikkara Temple, Rajarajeshwara Temple and Padmanabhaswamy Temple.[citation needed][clarification needed] Temples in Kerala follow elaborate rituals and only priests from the Nambudiri caste can be appointed as priests in major temples. These priests are assisted by a caste known as Ambalavasis.

Sabarimala is a Hindu pilgrimage centre located at the Periyar Tiger Reserve in the Western Ghat mountain ranges of Pathanamthitta District, Perunad grama panchayat in Kerala. It is one of the largest annual pilgrimages in the world, with an estimated over 100 million devotees visiting every year. Malayali Hindus have unique ceremonies such as Chorunu (first feeding of rice to a child) and Vidyāraṃbhaṃ[6]

The caste system in Kerala differed from that found in the rest of India. While the Indian caste system generally modelled the four-fold division of society into Brahmins, Vishwakarmas, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras, in Kerala the Nambudiri Brahmins formed the priestly class.


Islam arrived in Kerala through Arab traders during the time of prophet Muhammad(AD 609 – AD 632). Kerala has a very ancient relation with the middle east even during the Pre-Islamic period. Muslim merchants (Malik Deenar) settled in Kerala by the 8th century AD and introduced Islam. The Cheraman Juma Masjid said to be the very first mosque in India situated in Kodungallur Taluk, in state of Kerala. According to a tradition, Cheraman Perumal, the last of the Chera kings, became Muslim and traveled to visit prophet Muhammad and this event helped the spread of Islam.

The Zamorin of Kozhikode encouraging Muslim traders to settle down in his kingdom to flourish maritime trade perhaps accounts for the relatively high proportion of Muslims in Malabar. The Muslims also manned the Zamorin's navy and were so intensely pro-Zamorin that one of them issued an order to bring up one male member in every fishermen family in his kingdom as a Muslim so as to get sufficient numbers in his navy.[7] There is also a significant Muslim population living in the coastal regions of central and southern Kerala. However it should also be noted that a good number followers of Hinduism and other religions were forcibly converted to Islam by Tipu Sultan during his attempted conquest of Kerala.This is rarely mentioned in Kerala as this can open a Pandoras box of uncomfortable questions.[8] Kerala Muslims are generally referred to as Mappilas in Kerala. They share a common language (Malayalam) with the rest of the population and have a culture commonly regarded as the Malayalam culture of Kerala with an Arabian blend.[9] Muslim population is the fastest growing sect in Kerala.[10] They form 26.56% of the population of Kerala.[11]

The modern theological orientations amongst the Muslims of Kerala are primarily divided into three: Sunnis, Mujahids (Salafis) and Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, though all these belong to the Sunni branch of Islam. The Sunnis referred here are identified by their conventional beliefs and practices and adherence to the Shafi'i madh'hab, while the other two theological orientations, the Mujahids and the Jama'ats, are seen as movements within the Sunni Islam. A minor group of followers may be found with Tablighi Jama'at. Both Sunnis and Salafis again have been split to sub-groups.Some of these groups are of questionable integrity and usually strive to revise history to defame other religions with their vitriolic.[12]


Palayoor St Thomas Church, considered to be the first church built in India
Saint Thomas Christian's - Divisions- History

The history of Christianity in Kerala is one of the most underplayed and underspoken facet of religion in Kerala probably because of the anticolonial hangover. The contributions of Christians have been immense in the field of education and this combined with the advent of Communism helped Kerala emerge as one of the few islands of social development in India. The advent of Islam and the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks led to the decline of Christianity along the silk route, this meant that these Christians(also known as St Thomas Christians) were left stranded without much contact with other Christian communities in Europe and Middle East. Christians who were initially pioneering sea traders had to later play a subservient role to Muslims as the trade routes fell into Islamic hands,hence if the areas of their concentration are scrutinized we will observe that most of them are found in the interior parts of Kerala practising Agriculture.Hence it is very safe to state that most of the Christians along these routes became Muslims either forcefully or vide economic compulsions.In a totally unexpected turn of events,the Portuguese who were Catholics established control over the sea routes in the fifteenth century ,totally disrupting Muslim control over trade routes ,hence most of the coastal Christians originate from intermixing of indigenous people with the Portuguese during this period.

Therefore, to fully appreciate Christian history in Kerala, an understanding of Jewish,Assyrian and Byzantine trade has to be made as these communities along with the indigenous communities created the base for what is today known as the "St Thomas Christians". The works of scholars and Eastern Christian writings say that Thomas the Apostle visited Muziris Kerala in the first century in 52 AD to proselytize amongst Kerala's Jewish settlements and from this came Thomasine Christianity.[13][14] 

The 3rd and 4th centuries saw an influx of Jewish Christians from the Middle East. Knanaya communities arrived during this time.[15] Syriac Christians remained as an independent group, and they got their bishops from Assyrian Church of the East until the advent of Portuguese and British colonialists. The arrival of Europeans in the 15th century and discontent with Portuguese interference in religious matters fomented schism into Catholic and Orthodox communities. Further schism and rearrangements led to the formation of the other Indian Churches. Latin Rite Christians were those baptised by the Portuguese in the 16th and 19th centuries mainly from the fisher folk. Anglo-Indian Christian communities formed around this time as Europeans and local Malayalis intermarried. Protestantism arrived a few centuries later with missionary activity during British rule.


Buddhism probably flourished for 200 years (650-850) in Kerala. The Paliyam Copper Plate of the Ay King, Varaguna (885-925 AD)[16] shows that the Buddhists benefited from royal patronage in the tenth century.

The idol of Buddha at Mavelikara is 4 feet (1.2 m) tall, and is perhaps the biggest such statue in Kerala.[citation needed] The statue is in a seated posture, resembling Padmasana. A feature common to the idol is that hair has not been engraved on the head.[citation needed][clarification needed]


Main article: Jainism in Kerala
Marwari Jain Temple in Kochi

Jainism arrived in Kerala around the 3rd century BC. The Jain religion was brought to the South in the third century BC by Chandragupta Maurya (321-297 BC) and the Jain saint Bhadrabahu, according to Jain traditions. They came to Sravanabelgola in Mysore. The Jains came to Kerala with the rest of the Chera immigrants starting in the sixth century.[citation needed]

Among the existing original Jain temples in Kerala, the most prominent is called Jainmedu, Vadakkanthara village, about 3 km from Palakkad. This temple was reportedly built by Inchanna Satur. This indicates significant population of Jains lived in Palaghat during the 15th century. Later, various members of Marwari business community built the Jain temple in Kochi.[citation needed]

Some historians claim many Hindu temples might have been once Jain temples. Several places in Wyanad have Jain temples -an indication that North Malabar was once a flourishing center of Jainism. Historians believe that the decline of Jainism started about the eighth century. Jainism seems to have completely disappeared from Kerala by the sixteenth century; the foreign visitors from Europe do not mention the Jains at all.[citation needed]

At present, Jainism in Kerala has a small following, mainly among descendants from the original immigrating Jains, and the North Indian business community, settled in and around Trivandrum.[citation needed]

Jainism has a significant population in the Wayanad district bordering the Karnataka state. Amongst the existing original Jain temples in Kerala, the most prominent is called Jainmedu, Vadakkanthara village, about 3 km from Palakkad. The remnants of the Jain temple known as Chathurmukha Basti is a popular destination in Manjeshwaram, Kasaragod.[17]


Judaism arrived in Kerala with spice traders, possibly as early as the 7th century BC.[18] There is no consensus of opinion on the date of the arrival of the first Jews in India. The tradition of the Cochin Jews maintains that after 72 AD, after the destruction of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, 10,000 Jews migrated to Kerala.[18]

The only verifiable historical evidence about the Kerala Jews goes back only to the Jewish Copper Plate Grant of Bhaskara Ravi Varman in 1000 AD.[19] This document records the royal gift of rights and privileges to the Jewish Chief of Anjuvannam Joseph Rabban. According to some historians, St. Thomas found first converts in Kerala to his new religion amongst many of the Cochin Jews. However these Jews who accepted Christianity retained the Aramaic language once spoken by Jews in Middle East. Later in 16th century many Jews from Portugal and Spain settled in Cochin. These Jews were called white Jews as opposed to the native black Jews.

The Portuguese did not look favorably on the Jews. They destroyed the Jewish settlement in Cranganore and sacked the Jewish town in Cochin and partially destroyed the famous Cochin Synagogue in 1661. However, the Dutch were more tolerant and allowed the Jews to pursue their normal life and trade in Cochin. According to the testimony of the Dutch Jew, Mosss Pereya De Paiva, in 1686 there were 10 synagogues and nearly 500 Jewish families in Cochin. Later Britishers too were tolerant. The Jews were protected. After the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, most Jews decided to emigrate to Israel. Most of the emigrants to Israel between 1948 and 1955 were from the community of black Jews and brown Jews; they are known as Cochini in Israel. Since the 1960s only few hundred Jews (mostly white Jews) remained in Kerala with only two synagogues open for service: the Pardesi Synagogue in Matancherry built in 1567 and the synagogue in Parur.[citation needed]

Tribal and other religious faiths

Various groups classified as tribes in Kerala still dominate various remote and hilly areas of Kerala.[20] They have retained various rituals and practices of their ancestors despite influences of mainstream religions.


Kerala's Religious Population Source : Census India 2011
Religion Population % Population below 6 yrs of age % Dist. with highest Population Dist. with lowest Population Decadal Population change (percentage points) Children born per women (TFR)
Hindus 1,82,82,492 54.73 Thiruvananthapuram Malappuram -1.50%
Muslims 88,73,472 26.56 Malappuram Pathanamthitta +2.30%
Christians 61,41,269 18.38 Kottayam Malappuram -0.40%
Kerala's Religious Population Source : Census India 2001
Religion Population % Population below 6 yrs of age[3] % Dist. with highest Population Dist. with lowest Population Decadal Population change (percentage points) Children born per women (TFR)[21]
Hindus 1,78,83,449 56.2 1,932,504 50.78 Thiruvananthapuram Waynad -1.55% 1.66
Muslims 78,63,342 24.3 1,178,880 30.99 Malappuram Pathanamthitta +1.75% 2.97
Christians 60,57,427 19 677,878 17.82 Ernakulam Malappuram -0.32% 1.78
2011 census details (2001 in brackets)[22]
Districts Population Percent Hindus Percent Muslims Percent Christians
Thiruvananthapuram 3,301,427(3,307,284) 66.94% 13.72% 19.10%
Kollam 2,635,375(2,629,703) 64.42% 19.29% 15.99%
Pathanamthitta 1,197,412(1,195,537) 56.93% 4.59% 38.12%
Alappuzha 2,127,789(2,121,943) 68.64% 10.55% 20.45%
Kottayam 1,974,551(1,979,274) 49.81% 6.41% 43.48%
Idukki 1,108,974(1,107,453) 48.86% 7.41% 43.42%
Ernakulam 3,282,388(3,279,860) 45.99% 15.67% 38.03%
Thrissur 3,121,200(3,110,327) 58.42% 17.07% 24.27%
Palakkad 2,809,934(2,810,892) 66.76% 28.93% 4.07%
Malappuram 4,112,920(4,110,956) 27.60% 70.24% 1.98%
Kozhikode 3,086,293(3,089,543) 56.21% 39.24% 4.26%
Waynad 817,420(816,558) 49.48% 28.65% 21.34%
Kannur 2,523,003(2,525,637) 59.83% 29.43% 10.41%
Kasargod 1,307,375(1,302,600) 55.83% 37.24% 6.68%
TOTAL 33,406,061(33,387,567) 54.77% 26.56% 18.38%
Kerala's Percentage Distribution of Live Birth by Religion of the Family[23]
Religion 2014 2014 2013 2013 2012 2012 2011 2011 2010 2010 2009 2009 2008 2008 2007 2007
Hindu 231,031 43.23% 236,420 44.08% 214,591 38.99% 248,610 44.37% 246,297 45.03% 247,707 45.51% 241,305 45.04% 250,094 45.88%
Muslim 218,437 40.87% 214,257 39.96% 175,892 31.96% 214,099 38.21% 209,276 38.26% 204,711 37.61% 194,583 36.32% 183,796 33.71%
Christian 83,616 15.65% 84,660 15.78% 102,546 18.63% 94,664 16.90% 88,936 16.26% 90,451 16.62% 94,175 17.58% 98,220 18.02%
Others 1,178 0.22% 869 0.16% 57,215 10.39% 2,671 0.48% 651 0.12% 704 0.13% 5,151 0.96% 6,108 1.12%
Not Stated 196 0.03% 146 0.02% 167 0.03% 224 0.04% 1,806 0.33% 775 0.14% 524 0.10% 6,936 1.27%
Total 534,458 100% 536,352 100% 550,411 100% 560,268 100% 546,964 100% 544,348 100% 535,738 100% 545,154 100%

Distribution of Live Birth by Religion shows that the Muslim minority which forms only 26.56% of the total population contributes 40.87% of the births while majority Hindus forming 54.77% of the population contribute 43.23% of the births only.

The number of Minority Muslim's births is mere 12594 (2.35%) lower than that of majority Hindus of Kerala in a total recorded state population of 33.4 Crore in the latest data available.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Population by religious community - 2011". 2011 Census of India. Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner. Archived from the original on 25 August 2015. Retrieved 25 August 2015. 
  2. ^ "Population by religious communities – Census of India". Retrieved 26 August 2015. 
  3. ^ a b "Increase in Muslim population in the State". The Hindu. Chennai, India. September 23, 2004. Except Malappuram district, where the Muslims are a majority, Hindus constitute the majority in all other districts 
  4. ^ "Kerala Population Census data 2011". Census 2011 - Census of India. 
  5. ^ [1] Archived December 18, 2002, at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ "Vidyarambham celebrated in Kerala - India News - IBNLive". Retrieved 2011-08-24. 
  7. ^ Pg 112, A short survey of Kerala History, A. Sreedhara Menon, Vishwanathan Publishers 2006
  8. ^
  9. ^ Pg 461, Roland Miller, The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Vol VI, Brill 1988
  10. ^ see Note-19, pg.40
  11. ^ Panikkar, K. N., Against Lord and State: Religion and Peasant Uprisings in Malabar 1836–1921
  12. ^
  13. ^ Medlycott, A E. 1905 "India and the Apostle Thomas"; Gorgias Press LLC; ISBN
  14. ^ Thomas Puthiakunnel, (1973) "Jewish colonies of India paved the way for St. Thomas", The Saint Thomas Christian Encyclopaedia of India, ed. George Menachery, Vol. II.
  15. ^ Mundadan AM (1984). Volume I: From the Beginning up to the Sixteenth Century (up to 1542). History of Christianity in India. Church History Association of India. Bangalore: Theological Publications. 
  16. ^ A social history of India S. N. Sadasivan APH Publishing, 2000
  17. ^ Chathurmukha Basti, Kasaragod Malayala Manorama: Tuesday, November 29, 2005
  18. ^ a b Katz 2000; Koder 1973; Thomas Puthiakunnel 1973; David de Beth Hillel, 1832; Lord, James Henry 1977.
  19. ^ "Sharon delighted with gift from Kochi". The Hindu. Chennai, India. September 11, 2003. 
  20. ^ Idukki - People and culture - Tribes
  21. ^ "Population Research and Policy Review, Volume 22, Numbers 5-6" (PDF). SpringerLink. Retrieved 2011-08-24. 
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^