Malayali in India






Largest Religion

Main Language


Introduction / History

Two distinct groups of people from one geographically small area both claim the name "Malayali." One group is from the Indian state of Kerala. They seem to be more modernized, with an emphasis on the fishing industry, trade, and the global diaspora. The second group, and the one that this profile focuses on, is found primarily in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, with smaller populations in the states of Karnataka, Pondicherry, Delhi, Odisha, and Andhra Pradesh. There are about 375,000 Malayalis in India.

These two groups, while fairly close to one another in terms of geographic distance, are separated by the southern end of the Western Ghats mountain range. The climate of Southern India ranges from cool and dry to hot with heavy rainfall, depending on the season. India experiences a monsoon season for a few months of the year. It is typical to expect high winds, very heavy rains, and some flooding during this season.

While the Malayalis are a tribal people, they have only inhabited the southern tip of India for about ten generations. The ancestors of the Malayali slowly immigrated from the Middle East and through South Asia, combining with other peoples along the way, to eventually end up in their current location. It is Malayali tradition that three brothers each settled on separate nearby hills to form the three primary and oldest Malayali villages.

According to legend, the apostle Thomas evangelized and performed miracles throughout Southern India, specifically in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, in the late first century. In later years nearly all of the peoples of South India were introduced to seafaring traders from other locations such as China, South East Asia, Eastern Africa, and Europe. The Malayalis likely interacted to some extent with Vasco de Gama and other European explorers and traders. Some of these Europeans, such as the Dutch, used South India as a major source of slaves for their plantations.
Malayali Life

While globalization is continuing to affect the Malayali people just like it is affecting all people groups on the planet, the Malayalis are still primarily a tribal people. Most of them live in a rural setting with an economic emphasis on farming, herding, and gathering non-timber forest products from the forests around them. Some of the most common crops include rice, millet, and a variety of spices. Many Malayali people live in mud huts or small houses with thatched roofs. Most Malayalis speak Tamil, the primary language of Tamil Nadu and the oldest of the four Dravidian languages that descended from Sanskrit. In 1961, only 2.3% of the Malayali population could read and write, and that number remains low today.

Traditional ways of doing things are very important to the Malayalis. For the process of engagement and marriage, for example, they have elaborate rituals involving almost all of the family, multiple ceremonial visitations, traditional scripts to be recited, and a bridal price to be paid. Many of these ceremonial interactions involve very high context communication, and this type of high context communication is likely to be found in daily life as well.

A social hierarchy rules parts of Malayali life. There is a Govendan, who is the leader of the highest tier, the Mooppan, who is the intermediary between the Govendan and the common people, and then the common people on the lowest tier. Also, elders are generally highly respected. Family is very important to the Malayalis, and they are not afraid of going out of their ways or being inconvenienced for the sake of family.

The average Malayali does not make very much money, but they are content with what they have. More recently, scientists have been working with the Malayali to study the non-timber forest products that they use for traditional medicine. They are adaptable and are able to meet the challenges that an ever-changing world brings.

What Are Their Beliefs?

While the Malayalis’ history has caused many different religions and belief systems to cross their paths, today they are nearly all Hindu. The Malayalis are unreached, with only .08% of the population identifying themselves as Christians. They are pluralistic as far as nationalism is concerned, meaning that they value the diversity found in the country and do not see the people of India as one homogeneous group. Concerning religion, they do not believe that Hinduism is necessarily the only right religion. They are generally open minded and accepting of the beliefs of others. Indians in general also have a high level of respect for the separation of church and state.

The Malayalis have several traditional bad omens, such as crossing the path of a widow during a marriage ceremony, passing by black cats, and hearing the bark of a barking deer. While traditionally women and men have different roles in society, apart from their rituals and ceremonies Malayalis are beginning to value equality between men and women more and more.

What Are Their Needs?

While medical treatment is showing improvement throughout the world in general, there is still work to be done among the peoples of South India. Tuberculosis and Leprosy are still found today among India’s inhabitants. Pray that proper medical treatments would be more readily available to the Malayalis. Since the Malayalis are so accepting of other religions, there is a need for a change in their worldview in order for the gospel to be accepted as the one true way. Pray that the Lord would send more workers to the Malayalis and that they would be effective in explaining the gospel in a way that can be fully understood. Pray that a national church would be planted that the Lord can use to sweep through the Malayali population.

Profile Source:   Thomas Kyle  

Expanded PDF Profile

People Name General Malayali
People Name in Country Malayali
Population in India 386,000
World Population 1,743,000
Countries 13
Progress Scale 1.1
Least-Reached Yes
Indigenous Yes
Alternate Names Cochin Jew, Malai Gounden, Malai Jati, Malaikaran, Male Gounder, Moplah
Affinity Bloc South Asian Peoples
People Cluster Malayali
People Name General Malayali
Ethnic Code CNN23b
People ID 17433
Country India
Region South Asia
Continent Asia
10/40 Window Yes
Persecution Rank 21  (Open Doors top 50 rank, 1 = highest persecution ranking)
Total States on file:  6  (up to 20 largest shown)
Tamil Nadu (374,000) Karnataka (5,900) Pondicherry (5,300) Delhi (400)
Odisha (200) Andhra Pradesh (60)
Total States on file:  6  (up to 20 largest shown)
Tamil Nadu (374,000) Karnataka (5,900)
Pondicherry (5,300) Delhi (400)
Odisha (200) Andhra Pradesh (60)
Languages & Dialects on file:  9  (up to 20 largest shown)
Tamil (365,000) Malayalam (12,000) Kannada (2,100) Hindi (400)
Telugu (200) Urdu (60) Marathi (30) English
Languages & Dialects (speakers if known) - up to 20 shown
Tamil 365,000 Malayalam 12,000
Kannada 2,100 Hindi 400
Telugu 200 Urdu 60
Marathi 30 English 0
Gujarati 0
For Primary Language: Tamil

Bible Translation Status  (Years)
Bible Portions Yes   (1714-1956)
New Testament Yes   (1715-1998)
Complete Bible Yes   (1727-2002)
Audio Bible Online
Resource Format
Audio Bible teaching (GRN) Audio Recordings
Bible Visuals General
Bible-in-Your-Language Text / Printed Matter
Bible: Old Version Bible Text / Printed Matter
Bibles, Bible League Text / Printed Matter
EasyBibles Text / Printed Matter
Fathers Love Letter Audio Recordings
Following Jesus (India, JF Project) Film / Video
General Ministry Resources Audio Recordings
General Ministry Resources Film / Video
God's Story Video Film / Video
Gods Simple Plan General
Got Questions Ministry General
Jesus Film: view in Tamil Film / Video
Magdalena (Jesus Film Project) Film / Video
My Last Day (Jesus Film Project Anime) Film / Video
Online Bible (Bibles India) Text / Printed Matter
Online New Testament (FCBH) Audio Recordings
Online Scripture (Talking Bibles) Audio Recordings
Oral Bible Audio Recordings
Primary Religion: Hinduism

Major Religion Percent
0.00 %
Christianity  (Evangelical 0.00 %)
0.08 %
Ethnic Religions
0.00 %
99.87 %
0.04 %
0.00 %
Other / Small
0.00 %
0.01 %

Christian Segments Percent
0.0 %
0.0 %
0.0 %
Other Christian
0.0 %
0.0 %
Roman Catholic
0.0 %
Photo Source: Southeast Asia Link - SEALINK   Copyrighted ©   Used with permission
Map Source: Omid / Joshua Project / Global Mapping Intl  
Profile Source: Thomas Kyle  
Data Sources: Data is compiled from various sources. Read more

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