Traditional Dress of Kerala for Men & Women (2021)
The state of Kerala is steeped in culture, religion, and history. The culture of Kerala is famous not just in India but all over the world. The costumes of Kerala have today become associated as a symbol of the simple way of life followed by the people of this state. Men and women of each religion in Kerala have their own traditional dress, ornaments, and hairstyles. Typically, these classic costumes are worn in functions and festivals like Onam, Vishu, and others. Marriages and temple festivals also see the people of Kerala come decked up in their traditional wear.
What is the Traditional Dress of Kerala?
The traditional costume of Kerala is known as ‘Mundu.’ It can best be described as a unisex costume that is worn on the lower part of the body and covers a person from the waist to the foot. It is usually white in color and worn by both men and women, especially during traditional ceremonies and festivals. The mundu looks very similar to a dhoti or a long skirt. The garment that is worn on the upper half of the body, though, varies with gender, age, and even religion in Kerala. The mundu is worn tightly at the waist, tied with a knot, and falls down to the feet.
Hindu women tend to wear a blouse with mundu known as the ‘mundu neriyathu.’ Similarly, Christian women tend to wear a blouse known as ‘chatta’ along with a mundu. The difference here is that they prefer to wear the mundu by folding it nicely in the back like a fan with pleats. Muslim women in Kerala can be found wearing a long purdah or veil in black or deep blue color over their dress. This is more commonly observed in the northern and central parts of Kerala.
What Do The People Of Kerala Wear Every Day?
For regular day-to-day wear, salwar kameez, sarees, and salwar with churidar are the usual dresses preferred by Keralite women. Shirts and trousers are the top choices for men.
Why Do Keralites Prefer To Wear All White Costumes?
When you visit Kerala, you will often find men and women wearing all-white costumes. White dresses are very popular in the state, and it stands for elegance and purity.
The warm nature of the people of Kerala and their simple lifestyle is well depicted in these traditional white clothes.
How is a Mundu Worn?
Let us take a closer look at the traditional dress of men in Kerala, known as the mundu or lungi. As mentioned above, mundu is the lower garment worn by most men, and especially during any festival and traditional ceremonies. The mundu is a white cotton cloth that is wrapped around the waist and tied with a knot. One of the distinguishing features of the mundu or lungi available in Kerala is that they have a small border known as Kara, which can be of any color, but it is mostly golden. The kara is the most common styling done on Mundus. While wearing a mundu also, the kara renders a certain sense of style to the draping, as it is usually displayed on the left or right side of the person. The kara can either be embroidered or decorated with various ornaments for special occasions. For example, a wedding mundu is usually made from silk, and you will find different varieties of embroidery done on the kara.
It is also a common sight to see men wearing the mundu by turning it into a half skirt. This is done by tucking in the lower end of the mundu into the waist. Men commonly prefer to wear the mundu in this manner while doing any physical activities.
What Do Men Wear Over A Mundu?
In Kerala, men prefer to wear a ‘Melmundu’ over a mundu. This is draped simply like an open towel on the shoulders. Nowadays, many men choose to wear a simple white shirt over the mundu instead of draping a melmundu.
For Hindu men, wearing a mundu is a common sight, but for special occasions, they prefer to wear a Jubba. A Jubba is usually made out of silk, and the kara is embroidered or adorned with various gemstones. Muslim men also wear a mundu or a Jubba, but they also wear a cap known as Kulla, thus differentiating them from Hindu men. Muslim men may also choose to wear a shirt or a kurta over their mundu. For special occasions, they may swap their shirt for a Sherwani, usually of a white shade to be worn over a Jubba. The sherwani worn by Muslim men is usually very heavily embroidered.
Christian men in Kerala can usually be seen sporting a shirt and mundu, even at their weddings. Many prefer to wear a suit or a blazer for their wedding ceremony. While earlier it was more common to see Christian men getting married in a mundu, nowadays the preference for suits has gone up.
Do Women In Kerala Wear Sarees?
Traditionally, the costume for women is known as ‘Mundum-Neriyathum,’ though over the years, most people have simply started referring to it as a mundu as well. The mundum-neriyathum is made up of a pair of very similar Mundus. One of the Mundus is worn around the hop to cover the lower part of the body. It starts at the waist and reaches the ankles. The other mundu is work on the upper portion of the body, along with a blouse. One end of this mundu is tucked inside the lower mundu at the waist, while the other end is passed over the shoulder like a saree and falls to the ground from the back. The overall look of a mundum-neriyathum is very similar to a saree – it can be considered to be a two-part saree with a blouse.
In Hindus, women wear a mundum-neriyathum or a saree depending on the custom followed in their families and the particular occasion. For weddings, Hindu women prefer to wear a Kanchipuram saree, which is a famous South India silk saree made of silk and having heavy zardosi or kundan work done throughout the body of the saree. For choosing a Kanchipuram silk saree, darker colors are usually preferred, while white and black are avoided.
Muslim women in Kerala opt for wearing a saree or a lehenga at their wedding. These dresses are typically full of heavy embroidery and have golden zari work on the borders. The same type of golden zari embroidery is done on the veil that they wear to cover their face as well. Depending on the family customs, a purdah may also be chosen to cover the face.
Christian women in Kerala are usually seen in a white saree and white blouse. With changing times, many Christian women have started opting for a white gown and veil for their wedding.
Overall, the traditional dresses of Kerala are quite simple. White is the predominantly preferred color as Keralites believe this color keeps them grounded in their simple lifestyle. It also depicts the purity and elegance of this state. Beautiful embroidery on dresses and the different Kara designs set apart the traditional attire for men. The Mundus can be made up of cotton or silk for special occasions. The style of wearing and embroidery varies from religion to religion and throughout the different communities in Kerala.