In this series, Andrew Harper-recommended destination specialists and tour operators share their insight into what they consider to be some of the most fascinating and culturally diverse populations across the globe.
While many travelers to India first head to the northern part of the country to see the Taj Mahal, the forts of Rajasthan and other iconic sites, one’s impression of India is not complete without a visit to the Dravidian cultures of the south. The term Dravidian generally has been applied to people who speak the Dravidian languages of Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Brahui and Tulu.
“The Dravidian cultures that make up South India differ from those in the north dramatically,” says Jennifer Raines, marketing and public relations coordinator with Asia Transpacific Journeys. “Travelers are often pleasantly surprised by the relaxed, welcoming attitude they encounter in the south.”
Debate regarding the origins of the Dravidian people continues to this day, with some maintaining that the Dravidians, who were peaceful farmers, were pushed from northern India to the south by invading Aryans. Over the years, the indigenous Dravidian culture became overlaid with a veneer of Portuguese, Dutch, French and English colonialism, as southern India was the heart of the lucrative trade in spices and tea.
Modern-day Dravidians remain predominately based in Hindu tradition, and have a distinctive culture and style apart from the Islamic- and Mughal-influenced north. This is reflected in unique architecture and traditions that have been passed down for centuries, present in everything from food to ancient arts, music and dance. One of these traditions is Ayurveda, an ancient holistic healing system practiced by many that is based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance among the mind, body and spirit. Its principles apply to traditional cuisine, which balances the six flavors of sweet, salty, sour, savory, pungent, astringent and bitter. “South Indian cuisine— fiery, herbal and much less rich than in the north—is a revelation for many travelers,” Raines notes.
Dravidian cultural traditions also are tangible in the vibrant festivals of southern India. “Festivals are a smorgasbord of boisterous traditional music and dance, colorful costumes, caparisoned elephants, booming firecrackers, feasts for thousands and ecstatic religious devotion,” Raines says.
Travelers may join the locals of the small town of Wadakkancherry, Kerala, in celebrating the annual Uthralikavu Pooram each winter. This high-spirited, colorful celebration lasts for eight days and takes place at Sree Ruthira Mahakalikavu temple, which is dedicated to the goddess Kali.
Processions of elephants are fitted with gold plated headgear and their riders, carrying silken parasols, sway in rhythm as traditional musicians serenade the crowds. The festival culminates with the reuniting of three sister goddesses, represented by icons atop elephants from Wadakkancherry and two nearby villages.
Even the traditional dress of the locals is colorful, with women almost exclusively in saris, and men frequently in wrapped sarongs. “Dravidian culture is infectiously fascinating and welcoming,” Raines says. “It’s hard not to fall in love with South India.”
Asia Transpacific Journeys has been crafting private custom journeys and small-group trips to Asia and the Pacific based on their insightful cultural interpretation and first-hand regional expertise since 1987.