Kerala is known for its communal harmony and it is achieved by Kerala’s interaction with varied cultures and ways of life, both indigenous and foreign. Originally its people followed the Dravidian way of life and religious practice. In due course many indigenous religions and philosophical systems from North India made their appearance on Kerala soil and competed with one another for the loyalties of the people.
The story of the synthesis of Dravidian and Aryan cultures and the rise and fall of religions like Jainism and Buddhism in ancient Kerala is of particular interest to those engaged in the study of the story of cultural synthesis. At the same time Kerala’s commercial contacts with foreign countries, world religions like Christianity, Judaism and Islam were also introduced in the land and they helped considerably in shaping the composite culture of the land. There is yet another aspect of Kerala life and history worth mentioning. The cosmopolitan outlook and character of the Malayalee, which has attracted the attention of many visitors to this region, is because of historical reasons. Kerala appears to have had the largest and longest contacts with the rest of the world, dating back to the millennium preceding the Christian era. There were important trading centres along the Kerala coast viz., Kollam, Kochi, Kodungallor, Kadalundi, Kozhikode, Dharmadom and Kannur. Egypt, Asia Minor, the Assyrian and Babylonian empires at the height of their power, the Greeks, the Romans, the Chinese-all maritime nations, had trade relations with Kerala long before the Christian era. During the early centuries of the Anna Domine, trade relations existed with the Malayan Peninsula, the Philippines, Jawa and Sumatra. Ships from these countries of the East and the West, laden with cargo, sailed into the Kerala waters to return rich with the special produces of this land. Traders from Arabia and elsewhere also came in large numbers. The Kerala kings, the Perumals in particular, and later the Zamorins, gave them all help and facilities and even permitted them to settle down here.
It is believed that the Apostle St. Thomas landed in Kerala during the early period of Christianity. The spread of Christianity in Kerala, more than in any other region in India, is attributed to the advent of St. Thomas. One of the earliest Muslim mosques in India is found near Kodungallor. The history of the advent of Jews to Kerala is also traced back to ancient times. The Jews later established their colony in Kochi and built their synagogue there. The tolerance and the cosmopolitan outlook which characterize the Malayalee is perhaps mainly due to the contacts which Kerala had with the outside world down the centuries.