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Top 5 South India Cultural Attractions

Popular Attractions for Experiencing South Indian Culture


The distinctive culture of south India lends itself to a number of unique and fascinating attractions. These south India cultural attractions will provide you with an unforgettable glimpse into the south Indian way of life.

1. Carnatic Music

Indian musician Bombay Jayshri (aka Bombay Jayshri Ramnath) (center) signs with her ensemble during a concert of Carnatic music at Carnegie Hall, New York, New York, October 20, 2013.
Jack Vartoogian/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Carnatac music is south India's classical style of music, dating back to the 15th century. Its most common form is the kriti -- a composition based on a fixed raga (melody) and tala (rhythm), which involves a great deal of improvisation.

The greatest concentration of Carnatic musicians are found in the city of Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu.  If you're a fan of Carnatic music, you shouldn't miss the Chennai Music Festival (also known as the Madras Music Season), held annually in Chennai from mid December to mid January. Over 1,000 performances take place during the festival. The Thyagaraja Carnatic Music Festival, held every January in Thiruvariyar (in the Tanjavur district of Tamil Nadu), is also excellent.

2. Kathakali

www.flickr.com user Matthieu A.

Kathakali is a very unusual and ancient form of dance-drama that's traditional to Kerala. You won't get to see performers dressed up like this every day, that's for sure! The look, with its red bloodshot eyes, borders on grotesque. The movements of the dance are subtle, yet they tell a meaningful mythological story. Performers are required to undergo intense training, including hours of eye exercises, when learning the art of Kathakali.

Kathakali performances can be seen in many tourist areas of Kerala. However, Cochin has the most theaters, with daily performances. Try the Cochin Cultural Center or the Kerala Kathakali Center. Classes are also offered in Kathakali and other art forms.

3. Festivals

Rajendra Prasad Ravuri.

Festivals are an excellent way to immerse yourself in south India's culture. The two prominent festivals that take place in south India are Onam in Kerala, and Pongal in Tamil Nadu.  In the town of Thrissur, a rather quirky part of the Onam festival involves the art of Pulikkali -- where men dress up as tigers and parade around!

Kerala is also renowned for its elephant festivals. The festivals, which are part of annual temple celebrations, take place all over the state from February to April, with each festival running for around 10 days.  See photos of a temple festival with elephants in Kerala's beach town of Varkala.

4. Temples

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When it comes to south India temples, the state of Tamil Nadu dominates with its many ancient, towering Dravidian masterpieces. These temples, which display some of India's greatest temple architecture, are the backbone of Tamil culture. As if the temples aren't captivating enough, many of them are located in spectacular surroundings including an island, perched high on a rock, and in the remote mountains. Here are five places to find magnificent south India temples. Many of these places have more than just the one temple, so do look around!

5. South Indian Food

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If you love seafood, you'll find dining in Kerala and other coastal parts of south India a real treat. The food in Kerala is coconut-based, however the fiery dishes of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh might be too much for some unaccustomed western palates. Many travelers do love Tamil Nadu's idlis though. Food is traditionally eaten off a banana leaf with your hands.

The best way of sampling south Indian food is by staying at a homestay, such as Vembanad House in Kerala's Alleppey district or Glenora Homestay in Kerala's Wayanad district and Royal Mist in Kerala's Munnar district. Also take a look at these 12 Top Homestays in Coorg for All Budgets. The food will be cooked fresh in real home style (and most likely with recipes handed down from generation to generation). You can even participate in the process!

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