Kerala is as much water as it is land. It is as much forest as it has pockets of habitation. It is as rooted as it seems to be in sync with modern times. You do not have to go too far to see, just see those narrow wooden canoes going up and down on its backwaters or houseboats giving the tourists a taste of life in Kerala. So much so, its major airport runs only on solar power – a true example of living with nature in a true-blue fashion of the living traditions of the land. Can we say it’s inherently Human by Nature?
Human by Nature Video of Kerala Tourism
I remember one of my first visits to Kerala, a couple of decades ago. I took the boat ride through the narrow waterways of Alleppey to land at a village where women were making ropes from the coconut coir. Piles of coir outside the home that was full of spice trees were like witnessing a miniature version of Kerala. The integral elements of a Kerala life were all around the house – the coconut trees, the vines of black pepper wrapped around tall trees, and cardamom shrubs at the bottom.
It was a home, a small-scale industrial unit, a stop for the tourists, and essentially Kerala. It is these spices that brought the world traders to the shores of Kerala. Women in their Kasavu Saris managed the homes as well as business with equal ease & why not. Years later I would ride on the waters of Ashtamudi Lake and it would be one of my most soothing experiences of boat rides ever.
Every time I read about Theyyam, I wanted to visit and see these walking-talking Gods of Kerala who wore such elaborate costumes. Years later, I would see the elaborate ritual of Kalamezhuthum. Where so many myriad art forms and artists of Kerala come together to create the Goddess Bhadrakali, bring her alive, worship her, and then finally let her go. The beautiful painting on the floor, the reverberating music, and the atmosphere of intense energy is something I have seen only in Kerala.
Another day I saw the night-long ritual of Padayani. When the Kerala men wear giant masks made of painted fresh palm leaves, they transform into the ferocious Kali who must be pleased to cool down and become Bhadrakali. What is interesting is that masks are prepared using all the natural and local materials available close by – a perfect example of living in harmony with nature.
A Kathakali performance is as enchanting as watching the Kathakali artists prepare for the performance. Once I had the opportunity to sit and watch them do their detailed and nuanced make-up and wear their elaborate costumes. The natural colors used to paint the face and the eyes carry some meaning. They represent the different characters played by the artist.
Snake Boat Race
At the popular snake boat race, the quiet backwaters of Punnamada Lake in Alleppey become the stage where the beautiful, narrow, and long boats race to win the coveted trophy. They are keeping alive a centuries-old tradition of temple festivals. Where these races originally took place when the deities stepped out for festivals.
Today it is a sport. But once these were the chariot equivalent of Kerala – the vehicles from which wars were fought. Nowhere else do you see the seamless co-existence of water and earth? Boats are parked outside most houses. Not only everyone knows how to row a boat but they take care of their boats as if they are their own family members. What a pleasure it is to watch them polish their boats and coconut wood oars.
Another time I was visiting Kalady, the birthplace of Adi Shankaracharya. The simplicity of his ancestral village on the banks of the Periyar River, and the simple yet elegant temples filled with an air of pure devotion help you get in touch with the spirituality within you. India’s greatest thinker and philosopher started his journey from this place. We can’t thank this land enough for giving us the Shankaracharya.
When it comes to food, I love their banana-based dishes. Especially the steamed banana, which in itself is the most fulfilling meal. The Appams and Idiyappam, full of coconut in every possible form never let you forget that you are in the land of coconut. Bright yellow banana chips are something that always comes back home from a Kerala trip. The hot pink water served everywhere reminds us the Ayurveda traditions are still very much in vogue in this land.
Human By Nature is something that comes naturally to Kerala – indeed it is God’s own country.
This post has been written in collaboration with Kerala Tourism.