Brahmins, Jews, Christians and Others in Kerala

Brahmins, Jews, Christians and Muslims all found in Kerala an environment to prosper.

Brahmins

The original tribal practices of the land were gradually converted into Hindu religion with the arrival of Brahmins.

  • Brahmins had knowledge of the seasons and of effective agricultural practices. With this knowledge they were able to make predictions that impressed the rulers and the common people.
  • With the confidence and support of the rulers, Brahmins became landowners. With the land came laborers, artisans and others, all under the control of the landowners.
  • Under the advice of the Brahmins, rulers of the land also implemented a hierarchial social system based on division of labor. This social structure provided some stability to the society of those times.
With knowledge, wealth and social privileges, Brahmins became the dominant social class able to get their way even with the rulers.A temple to Shiva

The influence of Brahmins led to the construction of many temples in Kerala. The deities in these temples became the new objects of worship for people, replacing natural phenomena and "hero" stones. [Hero stones are memorials erected to honor warriors dying fighting, provided they did not die while retreating.] Most temples retain a rural ambience even to this day.

Jews, Christians and Muslims

In Kerala at least, Jews, Christians and Muslims arrived in trading ships, instead of as conquerors.

Jews

Jews reached Kerala first, reportedly in King Solomon's trading ships. The first Jews in India were these settlers in Kerala. They were followed later by refugees escaping persecution.

Jews became prominent traders and were given land and privileges by local rulers.

There are Jewish Synagogues in Kerala, including the reputed Synagogue at Mattanchery, Cochin.

Christians

Christian Church

St. Thomas, one of the twelve Apostles, arrived in 52 AD in a trading ship from Alexandria. He is reported to have set up seven churches at various places in Kerala. One of these, the church at Malayattoor, is a major pilgrim center and tourist attraction now.

Christians also became major traders and were honored with grant of land and privileges by local rulers.

Christian churches are being renovated into modern structures with the increasing prosperity of the community (see pic of a village church to the right).

Muslims

Kerala had a flourishing trade with Arab lands from ancient times and Islam also reached here soon after Prophet Mohamed preached it. Muslims constitute a major community in Kerala now.

Numerous mosques, both ancient and recent, dot the Kerala landscape.

Budhists and Jains

At one time, Budhists and Jains were major communities in Kerala. However, with the arrival of the Brahmins, their numbers dwindled. Many Hindu temples were reportedly former shrines of these communities.

Scenario in Present Day Kerala

Brahmins have lost their prominence as they lost their lands. They have been replaced by another Hindu community, the Nairs (with other communities like Ezhavas catching up). Christians also retain their power and prominence. Both Christians and Nairs have the common characteristic of high educational achievements.

Muslims constitute a major section of Kerala population. They have also become prosperous by finding work in the oil-rich Arab countries in large numbers.

Jews, Buddhists and Jains are insignificant in numbers, with the Jews mostly having migrated to Israel.


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