By A Latheef Abbas, Madeenathunnoor college.
Presented in “NATIONAL SEMINAR ON CONTEMPORARY STUDIES IN FOLKLORE” (2-4 January 2018, University of Calicut, Kerala),
Organized by School of Folklore Studies, University of Calicut & Department of Performing Arts, Pondicherry University, Pudhucherry.
Published in ‘SEMINAR ESSAYS on folklore’, Progress Publication Calicut, ISBN: 978-93-84638-69-6


Existence of a community consists of its long traditional life throughout the history. The more flourished tradition generate the more diverse and multi-faceted social life to a community. There is inexorable link between folklore and historical entity of a community, which has to be explored in folklore studies. It would be held in this research paper on the ground of Kerala’s traditional Muslims, indigenously known as Mappilas. The role of ceremonies and faiths which would have engendered the ceremonies, are keenly observed as major factors in embedding the historical root of the Mappila Muslims in the cultural history of Kerala, while examining the cataclysmic situation, engulfed in 21th century a sect of the Kerala Muslims who denigrated the tradition and demonized the ceremonies of common Muslims under the veneer of modernity.

Keywords: Culture and Identity, Faiths and Ceremonies, Modernity, Tradition and historical entity.


The new trend of flourishing folklore academies and folklore studies has been a post-modern phenomenon that alludes the very importance of the studies on tradition. With the tendencies of denigrating the tradition by assimilating the trappings of modernity there had a generally accepted academic predisposition to ignore the ethnic diversities of the culture, even to demonize it all. People belonging to diverse cultures have asymmetric nature of tradition and identity. With the deluge of modernity, the tradition and ceremonies were being rejected.

By the postmodern political ambience, there was a pervasive resurgence of the identity, which resorting to the politics, gave the entity to the identity politics. Identity politics therefore have recently been to have seen holding sway even in the social studies under the section of folklore. The word folklore according to Oxford signification is ‘the tradition and stories of a country or a community.’ What is the role of identity in politics? It has resurrected across the world relying upon the cultures. It was Frantz Fanon who set out the ideas on cultural identity that accounted the post-colonial life of people. That, Of what sort of life they were segregated from, to the retrieval of that life the marginalized people congregated and constituted the fragmented identities of culture, was a post-colonial phenomenon. It consequently had led to the emergence of Arts, Literature and by and large to the expansion of the academic research sphere of folklore studies.

When we seek to trace the Mappila folklore of Kerala, it was seen to have encompassed the diverse facets of growth of Mappila Muslims in Kerala. Mappila arts and Mappila literature have been exposed to myriad of studies in contemporary academic spheres. The Mappila Literature extensively includes the religious oriented spiritual verses. The art- forms like Oppana, Kolkali, etc do not have religious links, albeit are seemingly named Mappila arts, because the Mappilas formulated it and they observed in their cultural life.
There are a few other notable traditions among the Muslims that didn’t come under discussion since that was mostly linked to the religious ceremonies and were observed and kept up with by pious-man and saints of Muslims. Those ceremonies and its social belongings, in embedding the entity of Muslims in Kerala history entangle a vast discussion on.

How the historical root and existence of Muslims have been firmly embedded in the Kerala tradition? The tradition of Muslims is most debatable in the contemporary situation of global terrorism, in other words in the course of spearheaded religious fundamentalism whole over the world. The social entity of traditional Muslims of Kerala might be marked with reference to and by taking into autopsy the ceremonies and beliefs they used to keep up with. The Kerala Muslim folklore studies thus analytically extend to the exploration of historical existence of that global community the Muslims, whome in Kerala naturally called Mappilas.

Here the 21th century conundrum of migrating-Muslims of a particular sect of Kerala Muslims would be examined with observing the divergences in their faith and tradition, often they were called Wahhabis or Salafis regarding to globally promulgated name of them. This migration was not by searching the job or survival but sheltering at the birthplace of Islam, the Arabia. By negating the tradition and ceremonies of the common Muslims, this particular sect of Muslims reckoned their resident earth, Kerala non-accustomed to their faith and life and even they chose to demonize the observances of common Muslims of Kerala labeling as non-Islamic. So the traditional ceremonies and beliefs of the common Muslims as part of the folklore studies have to be hair splittingly studied and marked their role in tracking the believers in traditional path of cultural co-relation.


The cultural identity is a reality, what culture does is to embed the existence of a community to the history. The crisis of Identity is not even of political, albeit it culminated into the identity-politics in contemporary world, rather it largely evolve from the psychology of the mass called community. So the tradition of a society, which is formed with the melding of culture, belief, literature and arts, has umpteen contributions in the contemporary stand of the society.
As folklore of a minority decisively stakes the identity, the psychological inclination of the mass-mentality on the folklores to mark their survival among a multicultural society is an obvious social phenomenon. This self-expression was extensively seen in postcolonial countries of Africa for withstanding the hegemony. Frantz Fanon’s works discuss the cultural impacts on African-black with the dominance of western power. In the postcolonial world, the independent countries of Africa stepped forward resisting the penetration of imperialist political power by creating the ethnic arts and literature and by tracking together the appurtenances of their crumbled and lost indigenous cultures when the west power spearheaded. Mappila literature by and large in Kerala also was seen to have flourished within the resistance of imperialism.


It was Frantz Fanon who ever-first talked about making the language, lifestyle, belief, observances and dress codes apparatus to self-resistance. Turning to Mappilas of Kerala the ceremonies are imperative in folklore studies. We could have recognized the cultural contribution of Theyyam, Thira, Poojagadika and other folk-observances in determining the identity of particular Hindu society. With these perspectives, it can be concluded that “modernity-in other words the colonial modernity-was disproved in postmodern world.

P.K Poker’s polemic on C.N Ahmed Moulavi, concludes  that “the motive behind the contentious argument of C.N Ahmed to put an end not only to MalappuramNercha, rather several observances, Utsavs and ceremonies in the communities, was pursuance of the footprint of modernity which engrossed the indigenous culture and tradition.” “Several regional ceremonies,” Poker adds, “should be protected, there are certain myths and stories behind them, they should be deciphered and interpreted, I am not arguing for resurgence of every folk-celebrations, but the existing ceremonies and celebrations have certain trace to the historically relevant facts, that should have been reminisced.

The Marxist, Poker could have recognized the conclusion of Frantz Fanon in his celebrated work ‘Wretched of Earth,’ that “we should entertain new ideas and hopes in resisting the colonialism.” So, he could have talk about the importance of folklore in this world of globalization. Poker is told to have commended the initiative of EMS-led- government in 1957 to protect the MalappuramNercha because of its historical implication to the struggle against a feudalist might called Paranambhi.


Throughout the world had the work on the relevance of festivals of Mikhail Bakhtin who had sharply approached the subjects of ‘life ideology’ and ‘popular culture,’ been ardently discussed. His reference to the festivals is foremost mention-worthy here that “The multi-dimensional festival is a particular situation in the world, wherein every people congregate for the resurgence and renovation of new world.” The studies and approaches of our folklorist even in the contemporary situation are seen to have lingered around certain spheres and cultures. They couldn’t expand a secular approach and give complete recognition to the cultural studies which also hold studies on tradition of religio-cultural society. In this postmodern situation even the notion that ‘the folklore is a term to the sum of Theyyam, Thira and Padayani’ is prevalent ignoring other different festivals like Nercha,Uroos and other observances among the Muslims.

The folklorists of our periods couldn’t understand the folklore even as a term that evolved from ‘lifestyles’ of people. They were obscured of the observations made by Terrie Eagleton or Frederick Jameson on resistance of the people against the Americanization using lifestyles and cultural identities itself. Muslim folklore is not the gross total of Mappilapattu or Oppana; rather we have to recognize the festivals and Uroos ceremonies conducted by encompassing the Dargahs or Makhams and Masjids. The reality is that Theyyam Thira and Padayani etc. are not pure art forms barring religious flavor; rather their relevance noticeaably transpired encircling at certain art works in the dress codes. This is common with the Nercha and Uroos of Mongam or Malappuram or Veliyamkode. So when we seek to see the folklore as lifestyle and tradition of the people, we could have expanded our folklore studies and observed the changes in the people of different ethnography. Rather than turning to the obsolete studies on Mappila literature or arts as folklore, we have to set out the religious ceremonies as part of folklore. With these studies, we could have examine the cataclysmic changes among certain Muslims notably as mentioned before, the consequences of Wahhabism-perversion and penetration of religious fundamentalism among Kerala Muslims.


In Kerala for the imperialists, the Muslims were arch enemies, because they had political power bestowed by the then rulers of Malabar. When the Muslims underwent slump of existence most commonly by Portugal imperialists who sought to tackle their political power, they felt lacking of survival and even feared the evacuation by the colonialists. Mamburam Sayyid Fazal with 57 his family members was exiled by British Empire in 1852 because he protested imperialism.

It was through the literary works, by flaming the spark of Mappila literature that the Muslims began to indent their identity in Kerala history. This literature, certainly, was creating social concord among the Muslims. It could bind them with mutual understanding and social cooperation. And political empowerment was likely to transpire by these literary works. But as believers, this literary works were not enough to the realization of the soul of believers, as to make them indestructibly abiding in this land Kerala, where survival was at brink of threat during colonialism; further a believer had to consider the identity of his religion which he represents of.  So a believer in God might yearn for a link to God for the self realization. As Arabia was birthplace of the religion Islam, the Muslims might have to find shelter there, but they could achieve that contentment of soul with links to their Prophet through the Sufis, the scholars-turned propagators. These scholars were first point that could be recorded in history as the spiritual shelters of the Muslims, through which they found the passage to God or Prophet. As missionaries, entered into Muslim-social life, many of them became most influential Sufis and other religious leaders, settled in Kondotti, Mamburam and Kozhikode. They had made strong impression of the community. And Mappila Muslims as a community became a reality soon. Thus Islam grew as it began and it grew steadily, so the Mappila Muslims too.

The Arabian links of Sayyids and other scholars or Sufis of Kerala settled there as a diaspora is well researched in Engseng Ho’s book titled ‘The Graves of Tarim: Genealogy and Mobility across the Indian Ocean’ on the voyages of Hadrami diaspora, the Sayyids of Yemen. Ceremonies and beliefs have indeed embedded the entity of Muslims in the history of Kerala. The tradition of Mappila Muslims in Kerala made them living here and reviving with much realization of soul and self propelling of cultural existence. Principal feature of this culture was that it could concur with the co-existence of non-Muslims in Kerala. Beliefs and ceremonies on these grounds would be discussed in following papers.


We could have found the activism of Muslim scholars in history as major stimulus that embedded Muslim entity in history of Kerala. The ceremonies and beliefs are very important to be cogitated here in tracing the social and cultural correlation of a community with others. Moreover, as a link to their representation to religion, and as chief ingredients in embedding the existence of Muslim community in their historical root, they are keenly noteworthy in the history. The negation and consequent debunking of tradition with particular ideas from Arabia -ideas of Wahhabism emerged in 18th centuries- have made a sect of people tradition-less. They are seen in 21th century to have migrated into Arabia sheltering at the birthplace of Islam. We have to trace back how the modernity amplified the ideas of these people for confuting the tradition and gave them access and acceptance in secular society. It was the ideas of so called pure Islam that Ibn Abdul Wahhab propagated in 18th century, engulfed a sector of Muslims of Kerala in 1920s. They with great support and endorsement from the secularists of the time began to propagate their ideas of noble Islam. That was by demonizing the traditions of Kerala Muslims which includes festivals like Uroos, Nercha and observances like Rathib, Moulid and faiths like Isthigaza and commemoration of departed etc, under the veneer of wipe out of superstitiousness in community.

As the trend of sociology was recast in post-modern epoch encompassing the studies on culture and identity by reckoning the faith and culture of a community as methods of resisting the hegemonic culture of elite or west or majority, the significance of Kerala Muslim tradition has to be intensively ventilated. The leading feature of traditional Islam of Kerala was that that followed a religionism that elicited a bio-culturism impressing the soul which seeks shelter of self realization, whereas Salafi or Wahhabi Islam was the transplanting of Arabian Islam of 18th century introduced by Ibn Abdul Wahhab. They called themselves as proponents of real Islam by ascribing infidelity or polytheism to the activities of traditional (common) Muslims.



  1. Uroos

Uroos or Nercha is a festival among the Muslims not only in Kerala but across the world Muslims is seen. Ajmer Uroos is very renowned ceremony in India as religious and cultural simultaneously. How does this festival influence the people? Accustomed Uroos or Nercha, is set in a shrine. A shrine does not evolve naturally, but it has historical relevance, that reaches at the life of a Sufi or Valiyy -as called by Muslims- or Shuhadas, the martyrs of historical struggle. The Sufis were very influential to the society. In Kerala Mamburam Thangal, and CM Valiyullah of Madavoor shrine of Kozhikode were leaders of society, not by any political power but with spirituality. Since these Sufis were spiritual shelter to the people in their life, they were enshrined after their departing away. Neither is it out of the belief nor creative in Kerala alone; the belief of Isthigaza was leading the people to depend on these ceremonies. How Isthigaza determined the life of the people is explicably relevant in the history.


  1. 2. Isthigaza or Thavassul; the bedrock faiths of ceremonies

It is a belief, by which common people approach the God through the Sufis. Meaning of the word is to seek honor or remedy from the God with help of the Sufis, thus God relieve the prayer. There were many Sufis in the world who became mentors to their community. Most of them are in Yemen, Bagdad and other Arabian countries. Someone of them travelled the world; HadramiSadath of Yemen thus reached Kerala. Some of them could transmit their ideas along the world, albeit they didn’t travel along. Abdul Qadir Jeelani-known as MuhiuddinSheikh-of Bagdad was such like person. The Muhiyudheen Mala of Qadhi Muhammed written on AD1607 in Kerala, which includes 156 lines, was about the sainted life of Abdul Kader Jeelani. He was influential among the people of Kerala.

The role of Isthigaza or Thavassul is played at galvanizing the believer to seek the shelter through the pacificators, the saint people by depending upon the ceremonies. People commemorate them through the poems or verses in the ceremonies like Nercha and Uroos. . The Uroos and Nerchas thus were celebrated as byproduct of this mystic belief, the Isthigaza.


  1. 3. Rathib

It is a spiritual congregation of believers, through which they commemorate and praise the God with particular verses given by their mentors, the Sufis. The history of this gathering can also be traced back in Sufi saints like Abdul Qadir Jeelani and Rifayi Sheikh of Iraq. They had given instructions to their disciples known as Mureeds for cleansing their life from evil activities. That spiritual cleansing of life was held by this ceremony, Rathib. In Kerala MuhyadheenRathib and RifayiRathib are prevalent among the traditional Muslims. They become spiritually realizes and feel protected by the God through these verses they recite and by these mentors, who are closely connected with the God. There are many forms to this ceremony by using Duff and other instruments, although, these are seriously linked to the spiritual moulding of life.


  1. Moulids and Prophetic Eulogies

Moulids are very common in traditional Muslim families of Kerala. The grandfather of the author of ‘ThuhfathulMujahideen’- Sheikh ZainuddeenMakhdoom II- Makhdoom, the first created these folk-verses. It comprises the verses of eulogizing the Prophet and commemorating the stories of Prophetic life. Makhdoom wrote it for the people who were suffered with the Plague in Kerala. Now Muslim people pervasively keep and throughout the houses and Masjids it is recited, especially in Meelad days. Prophetic eulogizing poems and Prophetic verses that give the people realization of soul with the love of Prophet are part of the ceremonies that traditional Muslims followed. Burdha is one of the affectionate Prophetic verses written by a scholar called the Boosuri. It has been exposed to several studies for its literary features surpassing any other work of Arabian poets.

In Kerala many scholars have created songs and poems about Prophet that are recited along the Muslim houses even this era.  One of those scholars is recently departed Kundoor Abdul KhaderUsthad whose shrine is one of the pilgrimage centre in Malappuram.


  1. A’and, the Commemoration of Departed

Commemoration is not related with the Sufis or saints alone, on whom the Uroos and Nerchas were held. Traditional Muslims believe that after the death they can make their dear departed realized with atonement by their visits to their tombs and praying for them through the ceremonies as mentioned above the Moulids, Prophetic eulogies and also by Isthigasa. The fathers who were departed are thus commemorated in a year based ceremony known as Aand and thereby the entity of the people is firmly embedded in their born earth.


Believers invariably become inward watchers. Realization of the soul depends on the degrees of their representation to the religion. They could accomplish their representation by evoking spiritual-divine rituals in their life. While living in a multicultural society, they had not a feeling of unprotected by becoming secluded from the religion Islam which emerged in Arabia, because they had Sufis as mentors and guides who are closely linked to the Prophet. Commemoration of the departed ancestors in their country-land, feeling of protection with the ceremonies and the commemoration of Sufis and saints who were enshrined and became pilgrimage centers, etc, are factors that never make people feeling secluded since they could create connection with the Prophet or God by the way of Isthigaza. They could also survive cultural correlation with others, because the Sufis were not mere mentors to the Muslims alone.

MampuramThangal’s life with Konthu Nair is well known in the Kerala history. Uroos and Nerchas have collective features with the Utsavs or other celebrations of Hindus in its designing and colorfulness. Even in the contemporary Uroos celebrations non-Muslims participate. It has capacious scenarios in Uroos celebrations of Malik Deenar of Kasaragod, MampuramDarga and other Dargas elsewhere in Kerala or India as in Ajmer Uroos of Rajasthan. When traditional Islam flourished in Kerala or else in India with the mentorship of saints and Sufis, there were secular picturesque of people of diverse cultures gathering together and strengthening the cultural correlation with mutual understanding.


Many Mappila- ethnic ballads, created rhythmically juxtaposing the Malayalam words, for instance Mavahibul Jaliyya, authored by Thazava KunhiMuhammed Moulavi, have been losing currency, albeit they have close religiousness, due to people have lost the space where they gathered for enjoying and satisfying themselves with religious or instructive verses, the inherited bequest.

Another folk-verse that has been on the brink of erosion is the Dholippattu. Dholippattu is a distinct folk-vocal, widely seen in celebrative occasions among the Muslims of Lakshadweep islands. Similar to the Quawwalis of north India, Dholippattu mark the technical terms of traditional Sufism, Hymns on Prophet Muhammad and Sufi saints. History of Dholippattu can be traced back to more than a century, most probably to the time of Abdul QuadirIchaMasthan of Kannure, presumably because of his ‘Virutham,’ mostly sung in the Dholippattus. Dhol, a double headed drum and crash cymbals are used as instruments of music in Dholippattus, along with the rhythmic hand claps of co-singers. While the songs begin in very slow knots, it accelerates by the end to have a mesmerizing effect to the spectators.

Even though Dholippattu was very popular before a decade in the various celebrative occasions like Marriages and Circumcision ceremonies of male children among the islanders, nowadays it is on the verge of extinction, due to the advent of main land culture to the islands. It is however, a great hope there that they are being promoted in the inter-island arts festivals being held annually.

Malappattus is one of the distinct religio-folk arts that were widely prevalent among Kerala’s traditional Muslim families. Malappattus mainly consists of hymns on the prophet Muhammad or life of any Sufi saints. Usually they consist of two parts: A long panegyric on who is remembered and a prayer known as ‘Iravu.’ Amidst the numerous ‘Malappattus’ of Kerala, the most renowned and oldest of them is ‘Muhyidheen Mala’ by Qadhi Muhammad of Calicut which was first written poem in Arabic-Malayalam in AD 1607, based on the life of 5th century Sufi scholar Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jeelani. Then come ‘Rifayi mala’ on Sheikh Ahmad Kabeer Al Rifayi of Iraq and ‘Nafeesath Mala’ on Beevi Nafeesa of Egypt. The former is widely recited for nuisance from snakes and scorpions and the latter for easiness of child delivery.

Unfortunately it nowadays is on the brink of eclipse since ancestors who kept up these folks have been petering out from family fold. There is hope of revival though, that many traditional Muslim organisations have proceeded to involve these folk celebrations within youth festivals.


The rich cultural tradition of Mappilas, Muslims of the Malabar region is distinct in many ways but not an alien. They have grown out of trends, ethos and traits within the larger community of Malayalees. They forged a bio-culturism that embedded their existence and gave an entity in the history of Kerala. Emerged with political power around the 16-17 centuries, they had to confront the crisis of identity when imperialist rule spearheaded. Over the cultural and the political life, religion was at confounded situation when imperialist understood the role of religion in bringing the Mappilas to the steadfastness of unity. When religion faced challenges, the scholars of Muslims hold them secured by giving them life with ceremonies and rituals.

That tradition was followed till 1920s, when Wahhabism came into being in Kerala. They were reform movements, could get espousal from the secular wings of society as they put forth the ideas of modern education and women education. By increasingly encouraging the use of Malayalam language, they heralded the negation of ethnically relevant Arabi-Malayalam, by which traditional Muslims could display their ideas and literary works. They denounced the prevalent ceremonies among the Mappila Muslims referring to as non-Islamic and also by ascribing the deviation from the faith of theism. These ostensible reform movements of Wahhabism initiated by VakkomMoulavi and involvements of organizations like Aikyasangaham chose to replace the anti-modern consciousness which was an amalgam of Islamic Indian and Malayalee identities, with modern aspirations.

Their faith was introduced as lofty Islam that was implemented by Ibn Abdul Wahhab in 18th century. Their faith was textual and couldn’t evoke a bio-culturism that had embedded historical root of traditional Muslims of Kerala. With the ceremonies and festivals of Mappila Muslims, they feared the contamination of their belief which was purely absorbed from the texts. Belief of traditional Muslims was by bringing the faith that emerged from the texts and quotations of scholars or Sufis, together the ceremonies that was wont in the life of these Sufis who are closely connected with the legacies from their ancestral believers, thus getting in to the ways of Prophet.

How did these ceremonies mould the character of people in their personal, inter personal or cultural life is an immensely striking question. With commemorating the saints or Sufis and eulogizing their individual sanctities of spiritual life, believers emulate their life by

ushering in the great deep depth of humanity that those spiritual leaders kept up with. The prophetic celebrations especially the Meelad ceremonies of eulogizing the prophet and commending his benevolence to the worldly beings are composed by greatly standing upon the theorem of philanthropy and compassion.

Mankind is obvious when relief and charitable activities are taken on regarding the ceremonies. The gatherings for these ceremonies by sermonizing on the ‘life with love and compassion’ to others for aspiring the life of great souls, paves the ways for social collaborative life by sticking the life culture oriented. Cultural fete and inter-religious gatherings are very pervasive in Uroos festivals, since Sufis and Sufi Dargas were spiritual shelter for the asylum seekers from the different spectrum of belief and creed. Muslim ceremonies itself were surviving through galvanizing the essence of humanity in believers minds.

The pervasion of global terrorism rocked even Kerala Muslims, not majority of them marginally a sect of people who denied the tradition with religious fundamentalism that obscured under the cloud of modernity. They found themselves rootless and now seek to explore the shelter in Arabia by fleeing from Kerala with vehement negation of verity of traditional Muslims.

Bio-culturism is not unique to Kerala Muslims alone, whole over the world Muslims are not in uniform code and conduct of culture, albeit are united in the faith of theism. Geographical-spatial involvements determining the culture is undeniable of the nature, itself. Looked to the rich folk-ceremonies of the Muslims of Yemen, where Kerala’s Muslim scholars hailed from, the diversities of believers with indigenously absorbed culture is provable.



  1. P.K Poker; (2012) “Identity Politics” Progress Publication, Kerala.
  2. Frantz Fanon; “The wretched of the Earth,” Trans: Constance Farrington(1963), Richard Philcox(2004), François Masperoéditeur, Paris, France, under the title Les damnés de la terre,
  3. Abdurahiman.K.P; (2004) “Mappila heritage: A study in their social and cultural life” Thesis. Department of History, University of Calicut, Kerala.
  4. VallikkunnuBalakrishnan; (2008), “MappilaLiteraure and Muslim Renaissance,”Yuvatha Books, Kerala.
  5. The rich cultural tradition of Mappilas;
  6. Mappila Muslims of Malabar; chapter 4;
  7. Husain Randathani; (2012) “Mappila Muslims: a study on Society and Anti Colonial Struggle, Other books, Kerala.
  8. Roland E. Miller; (2015), “Mappila Muslim Culture: How a historic Muslim community in India has blended tradition and Modernity,” Albany: State University of New York Press.
  9. Sayyid Hashim Jeelani Lakshadweep; Interview on the traditional ceremonies; Malappattu and Dholippattu.








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