Unique architectural that sings stories of the past, athletic and mesmerising Kathakali dancing, and the captivating cadences of Carnatic music – experience the richness and variety as we take you on a journey through our top 10 of South India Heritage and Culture.
The silver screen is an ever-growing area of culture in South India, with a film industry worth around $42 billion as well as the highest per capita movie consumption in India.
From the first silent film in 1916, the industry covers all genres, from thrillers and dramas to good old fashioned love stories. South Indian cinema has influenced politics and film personalities like C.N.Annadurai and M.G.Ramachandran have gone on to become Chief Ministers.
Films are produced in the four regional languages - Kannada cinema (Karnataka), Malayalam cinema (Kerala), Tamil cinema (Tamil Nadu) and Telugu cinema (Telangana and Andhra Pradesh).
As South India covers a vast area, it's unsurprising that you'll hear different dialects and accents as you travel from town to town. The majority of people in South India speak one of the four major Dravidian languages. Here's a quick guide, along with some useful translations!
Official in states
Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Yanam
|Tamil||Tamil Nadu, Puducherry||Vaṇakkam||Varukiren||Thayavu Seithu||Naṉdṟi|
Kerala, Lakshadweep, Mahé, Puducherry
South India is home to many people belonging to different religious schools of thought and, refreshingly, there is a very progressive and tolerant culture towards this.
Hinduism is the most popular religion, accounting for about 80% of the population, with both the Shaivite and Vaishnavite branches being practiced. Around 11% follow Islam, mainly in the Malabar Coast and Christianity is popular in the south, making up around 8% of the population.
One of the oldest Jewish communities in the world can be found in Kerala, who are rumoured to have arrived in the Malabar coast during King Solomon’s reign.
You’ll see many celebrations of religion in architecture, sculpture and arts and craft, not to mention the vibrant festivals honouring deities, saints and gods.
Beautiful to behold, South Indian clothing is also a part of cultural identity. You’ll see South Indian women traditionally wearing a saree (or sari), an unstitched draping garment that enhances the shape of the wearer. The stomach and navel are only partially covered to pay homage to Indian philosophy, where the navel of the Supreme Being is believed to be the source of creativity and life.
Unless in a formal or religious situation, South Indian men do not traditionally cover their upper body and wear either a colourful lungi or a white dhoti, types of sarong embroidered with typical batik patterns.
In parts of north Karnataka and in Andhra, men wear kachche panchey, tied at the back, and in the peninsular coastal region, lungis and saris are also tied at the back.
South India is a haven for art and craft, giving you a wide range of exquisitely made souvenirs for friends, family or yourself!
The handicraft sector in India is fiercely protected and promoted by the Ministry of Textiles within the Indian Government, making it a thriving industry producing beautiful pieces of work and that are key exports.
The amazing arts and crafts on offer include wood and stone carving, metalware, dolls, paintings, pottery, handwoven silk and cotton, bamboo work, weaving and embroidery.
Carnatic music is the traditional music of southern India and its sound is diverse, unique and captivating. Evolving from Hindu traditions, it focuses heavily on the idea of song, with instruments imitating the sound of the human voice.
You are unlikely to see any musical scores being used, as Carnatic music relies on improvisation, retelling the thousands of melodies passed down from generation to generation.
The music is made up of melodic structures (râga) and rhythmic patterns (tâla), with each area of South India having their own versions of these. Musicians ‘inherit’ a repertoire from their teacher, which they will then expand, assisted by other tutors, or family and friends.
South Indian dancing is spectacular – a variety of elaborate dance forms that tell stories and convey emotion in a twirl of bright colours accompanied by traditional music.
Here are some of the dances you may see:
Dollu Kunitha - a dance with quick movements, performed in rituals.
Beesu Samsale - dancers produce interesting sounds from hand cymbals.
Padayani - dancers wear massive masks called ‘Kolams’.
Oppana - a wedding dance where dancers circle the bride.
Perini - a dominant, acrobatic war dance performed while worshipping Lord Shiva.
Karagattam - dancers balance pots on their head.
Mayil Attam - known as the ‘peacock dance’, dancers dress and move as peacocks.
Paampu Attam - dancers dress as snakes.
Therukoothu - dancers wear dramatic make-up and clothing to tell stories from Hindu epics.
Garadi - dancers are dressed like monkeys and perform acrobatic moves.
Move over Glastonbury! Experience the fantastic colours, rituals, history and magic of a festival in South India.
Karaga (March/April) - A nine-day event commemorating Hindu mythology with spectacular processions and rituals.
Chithirai Thiruvizha (April) - Officially the world’s longest festival, a month-long celebration of the city of Madurai.
Mysore Dasara (September/October) - Marks the victory of good over evil and sees the Mysore Palace illuminated with 100,000 bulbs.
Thrissur Pooram (April/May) - A festival honouring Shiva, with craft exhibitions, processions and fireworks.
Onam (August/September) - The national festival of Kerala with boat races, marching elephants and carpets made from flowers.
Hampi (November) - Colours, happiness, puppet shows, fireworks and processions fill the streets in this cultural extravaganza.
Pongal (January) - A four-day harvest festival similar to thanksgiving in America.
South Indian food may vary from region to region, but it is primarily made up of plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and spices, creating vibrant colours and authentic flavours balanced by rice and lentils. Don’t be surprised to find your meal served on a plantain leaf rather than a plate, especially at formal events!
Culturally unique, you’ll get the opportunity to experience new taste sensations made from a plethora of local ingredients, including aromatic curries, delicious seafood, coconut, pickles, south Indian coffee, pongal, rice, sambhar, spices and vadai.
South India is a haven for vegetarian food – if you get chance, try Sadya - a vegetarian feast of red rice, side dishes, savouries, pickles and desserts, all served at different times of the meal. Delicious!
South India is famed for its incredible architecture, which you’ll find equally impressive whether you’re visiting one of the seven World Heritage Sites or taking a stroll around towns and villages.
Wherever you visit in South India, you can go on an enthralling journey through the centuries by visiting ancient temples, tall towers, sculptures and early cave temples carved from sandstone. Seeped in history, they tell stories of the culture, heritage and tradition, and show the ways of life in time gone by.
Marvel at the phenomenal craftsmanship on display, with the style differing as you move around, influenced by a variety of ruling dynasties over the years.
With over 30,000 ancient temples and countless other shrines and memorials, it’s a great excuse to visit South India time and time again.
We hope you enjoyed our guide! Need some help finding a tour to incorporate any of these? Get in touch!