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.
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.
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, the capital of 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.
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. Kerala Mural Paintings
The art of colorful mural paintings, done on the walls of temples, churches and palaces in Kerala, dates back to the 9th century. Its roots lie in the ancient Dravidian art of Kalamezhuthu.
Kerala has the second largest collection of mural sites in India, with the largest being in Rajasthan. The oldest murals in Kerala were discovered in the rock-cut cave temple of Thirunandikkara (now in the Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu). Only sketchy outlines remain though. The masterpieces of Kerala mural art are best viewed at the Shiva temple in Ettumanoor, Mattancherry Palace in Kochi, and Vadakkumnatha temple in Thrissur. Other famous mural paintings can be found at the Padmanabha temple in Trivandrum, and Krishnapuram Palace near Kayamkulam.
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. 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, Glenora Homestay in Kerala's Wayanad district, Royal Mist in Kerala's Munnar district, or Bel Home in the Coorg district of Karnataka. It 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!