Kerala has a unique record in India for the harmonious coexistence of diverse religions. Hindus, Christians and Muslims are the major religious communities of the state, although a small population of Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jews and some others are also present.

As per Census 2001,Hindus constitute 56.20 percent, Muslims 24.7 percent and Christians 19 percent of the total population of 3,18,41,374 of the State.

Hinduism in Kerala

Hindus, who make up over half the population of the state, form the largest religious community in Kerala. Like elsewhere, Hindus worship many divinities (gods and goddesses), the most important being - Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara (Siva) - the creator, the preservator and destroyer. Hinduism has a number of sacred writings, such as the Vedas, Upanishads, and Puranas which outline how its followers should conduct their lives.

Kerala templesSree Padmanabhaswami
Temple, Trivandrum

With the arrival of the Aryans, caste system evolved. The caste system as applied to Hindus determines their way of life, often even their occupations. Hindus offer daily worship to family deities at the household shrine. Daily puja in a Hindu temple is conducted by the chief priest and his helpers. Even today snake worship is done in many temples of Kerala.

In 1936, Travancore opened its Hindu temples to all Hindu worshippers regardless of their caste (social status). The city of Cochin followed Travancore's example in 1948. Temples remain closed to non-Hindus. Sabarimala Temple is an improtant pilgrim centre.

Except Malappuram district, where the Muslims are a majority, Hindus constitute the majority in all other districts. The population of Hindus declined by 1.48 percentage points in the State since the last Census in 1991.

Kerala's Religious Population
Religion Population % Dist. with highest Population Dist. with lowest Population Decadal Population Growth
Hindus 1,78,83,449 56.2 Thiruvananthapuram Wayanad - 1.48
Muslims 78,63,342 24.7 Malappuram Pathanamthitta + 1.70
Christians 60,57,427 19.0 Ernakulam Malappuram - 0.32
Jains 4,528 .1 -- -- --
Sikhs 2,762 -- -- -- --
Buddhists 2,027 -- -- -- --
Others 27339 -- -- -- --
Source : Census India 2001

Christianity in Kerala

St. Thomas, the Apostle of Jesus Christ is considered the father of Christianity in India. He landed at Maliankara, near Cranganore (now Kodungallur) in 52 A.D. He preached Christianity first among the Jews and then converted twelve Brahmin families from whom the Syrian Christians trace their genealogy. He also founded seven churches at various places in Kerala. Today, Christians constitute 19% of the total population of the state.
With the arrival of colonialism by the 17th century, many European missionaries reached Kerala. The Church Mission Society of London (CMS) made many converts from among the untouchables and the Syrian Christians. Kerala is greatly indebted to these missionaries for their role in improving the living standard of it's people and relieving them from many social evils.

The Christians of Kerala today are divided into several branches:

  • The Latin Catholic Church
  • The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church
  • The Jacobite Syrian Church
  • The Nestorian Church (Confined mainly to Thrissur and Ernakulam)
  • The Anglican Church which is now part of the Church of South India
  • The Marthoma Syrian Church
  • The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church

Of these, the Marthoma churches are comparatively of younger origin. They are considered as Reformers Church as they are the exponents of introducing the vernacular language in the liturgy. Apart from these major churches, there are also a number of minor Churches and Missions like the Pentecostal churches, Salvation Army, Seventh-Day Adventists etc...

A number of schools, colleges, hospitals and other charitable institutions like old age homes, orphanages etc... are run by these churches and other Christian organisations throughout the state. Malayattoor Church is an improtant pilgrim centre.

Since the last census, Christian population showed a marginal decline of 0.32 percentage points. The Christian population is highest in Ernakulam district and the lowest in Malappuram. Christians enjoy a higher literacy rate (94.15%) than other religious communities.

Islam in Kerala

Kerala had trade relations with many foreign countries, especially those in the middle-east like Assyria and Babylonia, right from the ancient period. Kerala was frequently visited by Arab traders for its spices, Teakwood, Ivory etc... Islam was propagated in Kerala by these traders and it is believed that the religion spread to other parts of India from Kerala. Many of these traders later settled in the coastal areas of Kerala. In 644 A.D., Malikben Dinar reached Kerala, propagated the religion and established mosques at various places.

Today, Muslims form the second largest religious community in Kerala constituting 24.7% of the total population. Majority of the Muslim population is in the northern districts of the state. Malappuram has the largest Muslim population followed by Kannur, Kozhikode and Wayanad. The population of Muslims increased by 1.70 percentage points in the State since the last Census in 1991.

Judaism in Kerala

Jewish synagogue at Cochin,Kerala is the oldest synagogue in IndiaInside a Synagogue

There are two opinions about the arrival of Jews in Kerala. One is that, due to persecution inflicted on them by the Romans, the Jews fled their country and some of them reached Kerala, before the arrival of St. Thomas. Another notion is that they reached Kerala in 68 A.D.

Today, a very small population of Jews live in Kerala. There is a Jewish Town in Kochi. There is also an ancient Synagogue. Built in 1568, this Synagogue is the oldest in India.

Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism

Apart from the three major religions, there is a small population of Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists in Kerala. Buddhism is believed to have reached Kerala between 270 B.C. to 240 B.C. The oldest record about Kerala found in one of the rock edict by Asoka, the Mauryan emperor who later turned to Buddhism, dates back to  257 B.C. By the mid-seventh century Buddhism declined. Today a very small population of Buddhists is present in the state. Likewise, a small population of Jains and Sikhs are also present in the state.  The Jaina population is mainly in the northern districts.

It is a matter of pride that the people of Kerala, in the presence of such diverse religious communities, has a long tradition of religious amity. This is one factor which makes Kerala unique.