Keralites: Taking roots anywhere

From time immemorial, Keralites have followed a matrilineal tradition, adding mother’s name as an initial in the names. However, as time passed, the tradition faded away, but the sense of equality didn’t. Nikisha Uddagiri speaks to Malayalees of Hyderabad who moved here a century ago, to get an insight into their culture and association with the city

By Author  |  Published: 5th Aug 2018  12:35 amUpdated: 4th Aug 2018  5:06 pm
Keralites

A community that has managed to spread across the world, Malayalees reached Hyderabad more than a century ago. There are about 3.5 lakh Keralites in the city who are scattered in all types of professions. It is said that around 150-200 years ago, three families belonging to North Malabar moved here for their livelihood. M Ramakrishnan, a retired railway employee and an active participant in theatre festivals, says, “They came by train to Warangal, and from there, they travelled on a bullock cart for 10 days to reach Hyderabad. The first Kerala Samajam was formed in the 1950s. After that, we had Kerala Kala Kendram, where, for the first time, we kick-started with the Onam celebrations.”

Soon, many more associations were formed area-wise, and the number of associations increased to 40. However, the members of various associations decided to have one community in common, and formed Confederation of Telugu Region Malayalee Associations (CTRMA). “Actually, these associations were formed to encourage art and culture, but, slowly, they started encompassing many activities,” says Ramakrishnan, who recently performed in a play at Ravindra Bharathi.

Synonymous with the State

Kerala is well-known for its textile tradition. Their saris symbolise their culture and tradition. The elegant off-white saris with golden border lend an extraordinary elegance to the person wearing it.

Traditionally, women in Kerala used to wear a two-piece dress called ‘Mundu-Veshti’ (a garment worn around waist with an upper cloth), also known as ‘Mundum Neriyathum’ in a nude colour with breathtaking shades on the borders. When worn, they closely looked like a navi sari drape. “Every Malayalee woman possesses at least one Kerala sari in her wardrobe and, today, they mostly wear it on festivals and special occasions. However, among the elderly, many prefer wearing this sari over colourful saris,” says Rajeshwari Menon, a teacher at Johnson Grammar School, Mallapur.

There are many reasons behind embracing white in Kerala; one reason that originates from a line in Mahalakshmi Ashtakam which reads, Shwethaambara Dhare Devi Naanaalankaara Bhooshitey, meaning goddess Mahalakshmi is said to be dressed in white clothes, and so Keralites prefer white clothes. Another reason, Rajeshwari shares, could be because of the sultry climate of the State. She says, “White colour reflects light, so it is not converted into heat and the temperature of the wearer does not increase noticeably. This could be one of the reasons why Kerala women wear white colour cotton saris known as Set Mundu or Kasavu sari.”

Beyond caste and creed

Onam is the only festival in India that is celebrated by every Keralite all over the world, irrespective of caste, creed and religion. It’s a harvest festival that comes once a year during the Malayalam month of Chingam, which generally falls in the months of August and September. “Our celebrations start with Pookalam where we arrange colourful flowers in various patterns, visit our holy places, friends and families gather together, exchange gifts. The best part of Onam is sadhya, which means a full meal. Sadhya consists of five varieties of pickles and around 15 kinds of curries, served on a banana leaf,” says Shareena Khadar, who celebrates the festival with much joy and fervour.

Another major festival that Malayalees celebrate is Vishu. It’s a new year for them and celebrated by the Hindus on the first day of the Medam (first month of the year for Malayalees). A significant ritual observed during this time is the Kani Kanal meaning first sight, as it is believed that the fortunes of the upcoming year depend on what object is seen first on the morning of Vishu.

Ritualistic works

Kerala weddings are the simplest weddings in the whole nation. “Their major ceremony is giving a sari. Groom gives the sari to the bride, and when the bride accepts the sari, it is considered that she has accepted the groom as her husband. Here, giving a sari symbolises taking her responsibilities,” says Girija Nair, vice president – sales at Russell’s Institute of Spoken English. However, the rituals also extend to exchanging rings and garlands and bouquet.

Nom nom

Food is extremely important when it comes to their rituals and festivals. Their cuisine comprises multitude of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes prepared using seafood and vegetables from plantations.  Their regular thali consists of minimum of four side dishes. “We use coconut in every other dish since coconut is abundant in the region. However, people everywhere are going for coconut oil over other refined oils due to its health benefits. Now that we are settled here, we also make local dishes and cook traditional foods on festivals,” says Girija Nair. Coconut, jackfruit, tapioca, and banana are the major ingredients of their food.

Akson is a restaurant in Punjagutta which has been serving Kerala cuisine for more than 60 years now. Mohd Sakheesh, along with his two brothers, manages the restaurant which was started by his father. “All our recipes are authentic Kerala recipes. Appam, Idiyappam, Puttu, and Kerala parotta are a few of our famous recipes for which people travel long distances. Our biryani also differs from Hyderabadi biryani, and although it’s Dum biryani, we steam it separately,” says Mohd Sakheesh.

Rejuvenating for ages

Popular for their hospitality, there is a profusion of Keralites in wellness centres and hospitals in the city. Even after moving from their State, they have tried to keep their traditional profession alive. D Akhil, who works at Kairali Ayurvedic Spa and Health Centres in Banjara Hills, says, “I learnt the techniques from my father and grandfather. They taught me the techniques, which aren’t something you learn in spa schools. I worked in various parts of India, and settled here as people here are warm and easy to mingle with.”

Kairali Ayurvedic Spa and Health Centres is the franchise of Kairali – The Ayurvedic Healing Village, which is the ‘world’s first Ayurvedic health farm for perfect health’. “We follow the traditional treatments and believe in Dhanavantri, the God of Ayurveda. The treatments are prescribed by a doctor and done by trained and qualified spa staffers, who hail from Kerala. Also, each and every product is delivered from Kairali and the procedure followed accordingly,” says KTN Prasad of Kairali Ayurvedic Spa and Health Centres, who has been working as general manager here since 10 years.

Dance and theatre

Keeping their culture and traditions alive is a major goal of Malayalees. No matter where they go in the world, every Keralite is aware of their roots. Famous for their dance and theatre, one can learn all the art forms in the city from Kathakali, and Koodiyattam, to Mohiniyattam, and Chakyar Koothu, and even their famous martial art Kalaripayattu.

The Department of Language and Culture organises the festival of Onam with some cultural dance performances for Malayalees at Ravindra Bharathi every year.

Education for all

The roots of Kerala’s literacy culture can be traced back to the Hindu rulers of the 19th century. The Queen of Trivandrum issued a royal decree in 1817 that said, “The state should defray the entire cost of the education of its people so that there might be no backwardness in the spread of enlightenment.” She hoped education would make her people better subjects and public servants. The kings of Cochin also built public schools and promoted elementary education. Christian missionaries gave a further boost by setting up schools for the poor and the oppressed, bypassing traditions that had allowed only high caste people to attend school.

Creating their own paradise

Naveena Samskarika Kala Kendram, popularly known as NSKK, is a socio-cultural organisation founded in 1967 by a small group of enterprising and enthusiastic young Malayalees. The primary aim was to have a common place to share their nostalgia for the paradise they lost by leaving Kerala and to keep in touch with their culture and language. A reading room and library was established in Fateh Nagar. After a decade of ups and downs and struggle to survive, NSKK finally acquired a small piece of land in 1976. As part of its service to the society, it started an English medium primary school in 1978. The organisation is committed to teaching Malayalam language, which has received a good response since its inception. The facility is open to anyone who wants to learn the language, irrespective of age and gender. Another unique feature of NSKK is it imparts training in dance forms like Bharatanatyam and Mohiniyattam, and percussion instruments like chenda and maddalam under the banner NSKK Kalavedi.

Malayalam mission

Abraham MM, advisor for CTRMA, says that the mission endeavours to foster the creative talents of the children of Malayalees and inculcate a passion in them towards language and patriotism. “As part of this, 50 trained female teachers have been appointed in the city to teach Malayalam. They teach voluntarily and at their houses.” Students will be eligible to receive a certificate equivalent to tenth standard. What also surprised them is more than Malayalees, local students have also shown an interest in learning a new language. In Balanagar, out of 47 students, only seven are Keralites. Abraham further adds, “Our youngsters are very enthusiastic; we should encourage and inspire them.”

Famous personalities

The Hyderabadi Malayalees are proud of their schools and Ayyappa temples. Some of the prominent personalities who have made the city their home are Kutti Vellodi, the first chief secretary of the Hyderabad State during the Nizam’s time, OV Vijayan, well-known writer and cartoonist, bureaucrats like Minnie Matthews and Sathi Nair, many IPS officers and academicians like Anantha Krishnan, Dean of Theatre Arts, University of Hyderabad, CG Chandramohan who served as PRO for four Chief Ministers of erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, and those from the entertainment industry like director Ashokan and Rajiv Nair, anchor and host Suma Kanakala.

Suma Kanakala’s association with the city

I was born in Palakkad, Kerala. We shifted to Hyderabad as my father was working for the Railways. I was six months old then, and have been living here ever since. The city has given me everything, from education, name, fame, money, family and friends. It has become my home now.

Basic terms for communication

  • Hello: Namaskaram
  • How are you: Sukhamaano
  • I am not fine: Enikku sukham illa
  • I am fine: Enikku sukhamaanu
  • Yes, thank you: Sheri/Athe, Nanni
  • What is your name: Ningalude peru enthaanu
  • My name is ______: Ente peru ______.
  • Thank you very much: Orupadu nanni or Valare upakaram
  • Welcome: (formal) Swaagatham; (informal) varu varu/varanam varanam.
  • No: Illa