Home India South Indian Culture: Exploring Diversity in Art, Architecture, Language, Food, & More

South Indian Culture: Exploring Diversity in Art, Architecture, Language, Food, & More

South Indian Culture
Source: Freepik

India is a harmonious land of diverse cultures, traditions, languages, and religions, and the most beautiful characteristic of this ancient land is that it stays true to its roots despite its rapidly changing facade with changing times. It is the strong and deep cultural roots that set India apart from the rest of the world, more than anything else. Each Indian state has a distinctive culture, yet the culture of Bharat can be talked about broadly referring to North Indian, Northeast Indian, and South Indian cultures. Let’s delve into the brightly colorful culture of the southern part of India that encompasses the states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu along with the Union territories of Andaman & Nicobar, Lakshadweep, and Puducherry.

Cultural Heritage of South India:

South Indians are said to be the descendants of the Dravidian race (many dismiss this as a mere myth though). Culture in South India has evolved against the backdrop of 5000 years of rich history, during which peninsular India has changed hands several times. Many cultural aspects like art, architecture, music, dance, and literature among others have flourished during the rule of the Cholas, Pandyas, Pallavas, Satavahanas, Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas, Kakatiyas, Hoysalas, Vijayanagara, etc.

You can sense the richness of South Indian culture by witnessing events as simple as the daily routine at a South Indian home to things as elaborate as South India’s vibrant festivals, age-old customs and traditions, mind-boggling architecture, ancient dance forms, classical music, etc. Undoubtedly, the cultural experience turns out to be the highlight of your tour of South India. Grab our exclusive deals on international flights and fly down South for a first-hand experience of South Indian culture.

South Indian Languages:

The four main Dravidian languages widely spoken in the southern part of India are Telugu (Andhra Pradesh and Telangana), Tamil (Tamil Nadu), Kannada (Karnataka), and Malayalam (Kerala). Other languages like Tulu and Kodava are also spoken in some regions. Several dialects and sub-dialects branch out of each language, clearly pointing to South India’s immense contribution to the linguistic diversity of India.

More than 220 million people speak one of these indigenous languages, which have existed for over 4500 years as asserted by various studies. The earliest Dravidian inscriptions discovered on the cave walls in Madurai and Tirunelveli date to the 2nd century BCE.

Religion in South India:

Naturally, more than 80% of South Indians are Hindus, either Shaivites or Vaishnavites. Islam and Christianity are the most practiced religions down South, after Hinduism. Nearly 50% of India’s Christian community lives in South India.

Besides Hindus, Muslims, and Christians, Kerala is home to a sizable Jewish community and is one of the most religiously diverse states in India. The followers of other religions like Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism constitute a minuscule portion of the entire population. Whatever religion and faith they belong to, Indians understand and appreciate cultural differences and live up to the country’s ideal of Unity in Diversity.

Art & Architecture as a Reflection of South Indian Culture:

Art and architecture is a window on the culture of a place. South India boasts a great wealth of art and architecture, thus enticing travelers across the world into booking that flight to India to explore its artistic and architectural wonders.

South India’s Dravidian style of architecture has greatly evolved under the influence of various dynasties and is famed for its exquisite intricacy, which is awe-inspiring, to say the least. Thousands of ancient temples, forts and other monuments dotted all across the five states exemplify the architectural heritage of South India. The temple architecture follows Vastu Shastra principles, and the elaborate carvings and sculptures on the temple walls and rock-cut caves speak volumes of the phenomenal craftsmanship of our artisans. Hampi, Mahabalipuram, Thanjavur, Madurai, Lepakshi, Warangal, Halebidu, Belur, Pattadakal, Aihole, Rameshwaram, Chidambaram, Tirupati, and Kancheepuram are a haven for history, art and architecture enthusiasts.

The influence of South Indian culture is evident on the arts and crafts produced here, of which the most famous ones are Thanjavur paintings, Mysore paintings, Bidri artworks, hand-made wooden toys, Kathakali masks, Budithi brassware, fine embroidery, ivory craft, pottery, stone carvings, silver filigree work, bamboo handicrafts, coconut shell and coir products, bronze castings, and sandalwood carvings. These arts and crafts are indeed among the most sought-after Indian souvenirs. Some of the paintings of Raja Ravi Varma are beautiful depictions of South Indian culture and traditions.

Festivals in South India:

A festival is a vibrant celebration of the culture and tradition of the land. If you truly wish to immerse yourself in South Indian culture, then you must take part in the resplendent celebrations of festivals like Dussehra, Deepavali, Maha Shivaratri, Ugadi, Sankranti, Ganesh Chaturthi, Onam, Vishu, Hampi festival, Thrissur Pooram, Chithirai Thiruvizha, Karthika Poornima, etc. Onam is the biggest festival in Kerala and Tamil Nadu is famous for its 4-day Pongal celebrations. The grand-scale festivities of Mysore Dasara offer you insight into the rich Karnataka culture and tradition.

Music and Dance Forms:

South Indian culture finds vivid expression in music, dance, and other performing arts. The traditional music of South India is termed Carnatic music, which is known for its main focus on vocal music. Much like Hindustani music, swara, sruti, raga, and tala constitute the basic elements of Carnatic music. Most music in Carnatic style is composed such that it can be sung and its common form of composition is Kriti or kirtanam. Carnatic music heavily relies on improvisation which again takes forms. Musical instruments like mridangam, tambura, violin, veena, venu, ghatam, morsing, kanjira are key to the presentation of Carnatic music. The famed music composers of South India include Purandara Dasa,  Kanaka Dasa, Annamacharya, Ramadasa, Sripadaraja, and the Trinity of Carnatic Music – Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar, and Syama Sastri.

Some of the celebrated classical dance forms like Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathakali, and Mohiniyattam have originated in South India. Performed with great devotion to God, the classical dances took birth in temples. The ancient Sanskrit text, Natyashastra, is the source for all classical dance forms. Elaborate costumes, elegant postures, rhythmic movements, subtle expressions, and traditional music complete these arresting performances on mythological themes. Koodiyattam, Perini Thandavam, Oppana, Kerala Natanam, Theyyam, Karakattam, Yakshagana are some of the other dance forms practiced in various parts of South India.

Traditional South Indian Attire:

Clothing is closely associated with cultural identity, and thus the way South Indians dress themselves up reveals a lot about South Indian culture. The traditional attire for women of South India is a saree or langa voni (half-saree) and men can be seen wearing starched dhoti or panche for special occasions and celebrations. Lungi, a type of sarong, is another common item of clothing for men.

Food Culture in South India:

There’s no denying the fact that food is an intrinsic part of the culture. South Indians, in general, have a taste for spicy food, and rice is the staple food in the South. As a peninsular region bounded by water bodies on 3 sides, South India is very much a seafood lover’s paradise. The highly flavorful Hyderabadi biryani from Telangana cuisine and Tamil Nadu’s idli-sambhar, dosa, and filter kaapi need no introduction at all.

The culinary traditions differ in different regions within each state and so does the aroma and flavor of food. Malabar cuisine uses coconut extensively whereas the cuisine of Andhra is known for its high spice quotient.

South India’s food culture is as much about how food is consumed as it is about how it is cooked. Food is traditionally served on a fresh banana leaf and eaten with hands while sitting cross-legged on the floor.

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