Capital : Thiruvananthapuram
Largest city : Thiruvananthapuram
Largest metro : Kochi metropolitan area
District(s) : 14
Population : 31,838,619 (12th) (2001)
Density : 819/km² (2,121/sq mi)
Language(s) : Malayalam
Established : November 1, 1956
Kerala is a state on the tropical Malabar Coast of southwestern
India. To its east and northeast, Kerala borders Tamil Nadu
and Karnataka; to its west and south lie the Indian Ocean islands
of Lakshadweep and the Maldives, respectively. Kerala nearly
envelops Mahé, a coastal exclave of Pondicherry. Kerala
is one of four states that compose the linguistic-cultural region
known as South India.
First settled in the 10th century BCE by speakers of Proto-South
Dravidian, Kerala was influenced by the Mauryan Empire. Later,
the Cheran kingdom and feudal Namboothiri Brahminical city-states
became major powers in the region. Early contact with overseas
lands culminated in struggles between colonial and native powers.
The States Reorganisation Act of 1 November 1956 elevated Kerala
Social reforms enacted in the late 19th century by Cochin and
Travancore were expanded upon by post-independence governments,
making Kerala among the Third World's longest-lived, healthiest,
most gender-equitable, and most literate regions. Though the
state's basic human development indices are roughly equivalent
to those in the developed world, the state is substantially
more environmentally sustainable than Europe and North America.
Nevertheless, Kerala's suicide, alcoholism, and unemployment
rates rank among India's highest. A survey conducted in 2005
by Transparency International ranked Kerala as the least corrupt
state in the country.
The widely disputed etymology of Kerala is a matter of conjecture.
In the prevailing theory, Kerala is an imperfect Malayalam portmanteau
that fuses kera ("coconut palm tree") and alam ("land"
or "location"). Another theory is that the name originated
from the phrase chera alam ("Land of the Chera").
Natives of Kerala, known as Keralites or Malayalees, thus refer
to their land as Keralam. Kerala's tourism industry, among others,
also use the phrase God's Own Country.
Muniyaras (Keralite dolmens or megalithic tombs) in Marayoor,
erected by Neolithic tribesmen.According to a Brahminical myth,
Parasurama, an avatar of Mahavishnu, threw his battle axe into
the sea. As a result, the land of Kerala arose and was reclaimed
from the waters. During Neolithic times, humans largely avoided
Kerala's rainforests and wetlands. There is evidence of the
emergence of prehistoric pottery and granite burial monuments
in the 10th century BCE that resemble their counterparts in
Western Europe and the rest of Asia. These were produced by
speakers of a proto-Tamil language. Thus, Kerala and Tamil Nadu
once shared a common language, ethnicity and culture; this common
area was known as Tamilakam. Kerala became a linguistically
separate region by the early 14th century. The ancient Cherans,
whose mother tongue and court language was Tamil, ruled Kerala
from their capital at Vanchi and was the first major recorded
kingdom. Allied with the Pallavas, they continually warred against
the neighbouring Chola and Pandya kingdoms. A Keralite identity—distinct
from the Tamils and associated with the second Chera empire—and
the development of Malayalam evolved between the 8th and 14th
centuries. In written records, Kerala was first mentioned in
the Sanskrit epic Aitareya Aranyaka. Later, figures such as
Katyayana, Patanjali, Pliny the Elder, and the unknown author
of the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea displayed familiarity
Knanaya Syrian Orthodox Valia Palli (St. Mary’s Church)
in Thazhathangadi, Kottayam. Built in 1550 CE, it hosts an 8th-century
Persian cross and Sassanid Pahlavi inscriptions.The Chera kings'
dependence on trade meant that merchants from West Asia and
Southern Europe established coastal posts and settlements in
Kerala. Many, especially Jews and Christians, escaped persecution
and established the Nasrani Mappila and Muslim Mappila communities.
According to several scholars, the Jews first arrived in Kerala
in 573 BC. The works of scholars and Eastern Christian writings
state that Thomas the Apostle visited Muziris in Kerala in 52
CE to proselytize amongst Kerala's Jewish settlements. However,
the first verifiable migration of Jewish-Nasrani families to
Kerala is of the arrival of Knai Thoma in 345 CE. A Muslim merchants
(Malik ibn Dinar) settled in Kerala by the 8th century CE. After
Vasco Da Gama's arrival in 1498, the Portuguese gained control
of the lucrative pepper trade by subduing Keralite communities
Conflicts between the cities of Kozhikode (Calicut) and Kochi
(Cochin) provided an opportunity for the Dutch to oust the Portuguese.
In turn, the Dutch were ousted at the 1741 Battle of Colachel
by Marthanda Varma of Travancore (Thiruvathaamkoor). Hyder Ali,
heading the Mysore, conquered northern Kerala, capturing Kozhikode
in 1766. In the late 18th century, Tipu Sultan, Ali’s
son and successor, launched campaigns against the expanding
British East India Company; these resulted in two of the four
Anglo-Mysore Wars. He ultimately ceded Malabar District and
South Kanara to the Company in the 1790s. The Company then forged
tributary alliances with Kochi (1791) and Travancore (1795).
Malabar and South Kanara became part of the Madras Presidency.
Memorial of Veera Pazhassi Raja (the "Lion of Kerala")
in Mananthavady, Wayanad. Pazhassi Raja launched a guerilla
war against the British in the late 18th century.Kerala saw
comparatively little defiance of the British Raj. Nevertheless,
several rebellions occurred, including the 1946 Punnapra-Vayalar
revolt, and leaders like Velayudan Thampi Dalava, Kunjali Marakkar,
and Pazhassi Raja earned their place in history and folklore.
Many actions, spurred by such leaders as Sree Narayana Guru
and Chattampi Swamikal, instead protested such conditions as
untouchability; notable was the 1924 Vaikom Satyagraham. In
1936, Chitra Thirunal Bala Rama Varma of Travancore issued the
Temple Entry Proclamation that opened Hindu temples to all castes;
Cochin and Malabar soon did likewise. The 1921 Moplah Rebellion
involved Mappila Muslims battling Hindus and the British Raj.
After India gained its independence in 1947, Travancore and
Cochin were merged to form Travancore-Cochin on July 1, 1949.
On January 1, 1950 (Republic Day), Travancore-Cochin was recognised
as a state. The Madras Presidency was organised to form Madras
State several years prior, in 1947. Finally, the Government
of India's November 1, 1956 States Reorganisation Act inaugurated
the state of Kerala, incorporating Malabar district, Travancore-Cochin
(excluding four southern taluks, which were merged with Tamil
Nadu), and the taluk of Kasargod, South Kanara. A new legislative
assembly was also created, for which elections were first held
in 1957. These resulted in a communist-led government—one
of the world's earliest—headed by E.M.S. Namboodiripad.[
Subsequent social reforms favoured tenants and labourers. As
a result, living standards, education, and life expectancy improved
Landscape near Thekkady, Iddukki.Kerala’s 38,863 km²
landmass (1.18% of India) is wedged between the Arabian Sea
to the west and the Western Ghats—identified as one of
the world's twenty-five biodiversity hotspots—to the east.
Lying between north latitudes 8°18' and 12°48' and east
longitudes 74°52' and 72°22', Kerala is well within
the humid equatorial tropics. Kerala’s coast runs for
some 580 km (360 miles), while the state itself varies between
35 and 120 km (22–75 miles) in width. Geographically,
Kerala can be divided into three climatically distinct regions:
the eastern highlands (rugged and cool mountainous terrain),
the central midlands (rolling hills), and the western lowlands
(coastal plains). Located at the extreme southern tip of the
Indian subcontinent, Kerala lies near the centre of the Indian
tectonic plate; as such, most of the state is subject to comparatively
little seismic and volcanic activity. Pre-Cambrian and Pleistocene
geological formations compose the bulk of Kerala’s terrain.
Kerala lies immediately west of the Western Ghats's rain shadow;
it consists of high mountains, gorges and deep-cut valleys.
41 of Kerala’s west-flowing rivers, and 3 of its east-flowing
ones originate in this region. Here, the Western Ghats form
a wall of mountains interrupted only near Palakkad, where the
Palakkad Gap breaks through to provide access to the rest of
India. The Western Ghats rises on average to 1,500 m (4920 ft)
above sea level, while the highest peaks may reach to 2,500
m (8200 ft). Just west of the mountains lie the midland plains
composing central Kerala; rolling hills and valleys dominate.
Generally ranging between elevations of 250–1,000 m (820–3300
ft), the eastern portions of the Nilgiri and Palni Hills include
such formations as Agastyamalai and Anamalai.
Sunrise over the Backwaters near Alappuzha.Kerala’s western
coastal belt is relatively flat, and is criss-crossed by a network
of interconnected brackish canals, lakes, estuaries, and rivers
known as the Kerala Backwaters. Lake Vembanad—Kerala’s
largest body of water—dominates the Backwaters; it lies
between Alappuzha and Kochi and is more than 200 km² in
area. Around 8% of India's waterways (measured by length) are
found in Kerala. The most important of Kerala’s forty
four rivers include the Periyar (244 km), the Bharathapuzha
(209 km), the Pamba (176 km), the Chaliyar (169 km), the Kadalundipuzha
(130 km) and the Achankovil (128 km). The average length of
the rivers of Kerala is 64 km. Most of the remainder are small
and entirely fed by monsoon rains. These conditions result in
the nearly year-round water logging of such western regions
as Kuttanad, 500 km² of which lies below sea level. As
Kerala's rivers are small and lack deltas, they are more prone
to environmental factors. Kerala's rivers face many problems,
including summer droughts, the building of large dams, sand
mining, and pollution.
With 120–140 rainy days per year, Kerala has a wet and
maritime tropical climate influenced by the seasonal heavy rains
of the southwest summer monsoon. In eastern Kerala, a drier
tropical wet and dry climate prevails. Kerala's rainfall averages
3,107 mm annually. Some of Kerala's drier lowland regions average
only 1,250 mm; the mountains of eastern Idukki district receive
more than 5,000 mm of orographic precipitation, the highest
in the state.
In summers, most of Kerala is prone to gale force winds, storm
surges, cyclone-related torrential downpours, occasional droughts,
and rises in sea level and storm activity resulting from global
warming. Kerala’s maximum daily temperature averages 36.7
°C; the minimum is 19.8 °C. Mean annual temperatures
range from 25.0–27.5 °C in the coastal lowlands to
20.0–22.5 °C in the highlands.
Flora and fauna
A blue tiger (Tirumala limniace) butterfly.Much of
Kerala's notable biodiversity is concentrated and protected
in the Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve in the eastern hills.
Almost a fourth of India's 10,000 plant species are found in
the state. Among the almost 4,000 flowering plant species (1,272
of which are endemic to Kerala and 159 threatened) are 900 species
of highly sought medicinal plants.
Petals of the gloriosa lily (Gloriosa superba) flower curve
upward into a claw-like shape; below, its stamens grow radially
outwards.Its 9,400 km² of forests include tropical wet
evergreen and semi-evergreen forests (lower and middle elevations—3,470
km²), tropical moist and dry deciduous forests (mid-elevations—4,100
km² and 100 km², respectively), and montane subtropical
and temperate (shola) forests (highest elevations—100
km²). Altogether, 24% of Kerala is forested. Two of the
world’s Ramsar Convention listed wetlands—Lake Sasthamkotta
and the Vembanad-Kol wetlands—are in Kerala, as well as
1455.4 km² of the vast Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. Subjected
to extensive clearing for cultivation in the 20th century, much
of Kerala's forest cover is now protected from clearfelling.
Kerala's fauna are notable for their diversity and high rates
of endemism: 102 species of mammals (56 of which are endemic),
476 species of birds, 202 species of freshwater fishes, 169
species of reptiles (139 of them endemic), and 89 species of
amphibians (86 endemic). These are threatened by extensive habitat
destruction, including soil erosion, landslides, salinization,
and resource extraction.
Bengal Tiger inhabits Kerala's eastern forests.Eastern Kerala’s
windward mountains shelter tropical moist forests and tropical
dry forests, which are common in the Western Ghats. Here, sonokeling
(Indian rosewood), anjili, mullumurikku (Erythrina), and Cassia
number among the more than 1,000 species of trees in Kerala.
Other plants include bamboo, wild black pepper, wild cardamom,
the calamus rattan palm (a type of climbing palm), and aromatic
vetiver grass (Vetiveria zizanioides). Living among them are
such fauna as Asian Elephant, Bengal Tiger, Leopard (Panthera
pardus), Nilgiri Tahr, Common Palm Civet, and Grizzled Giant
Squirrel. Reptiles include the king cobra, viper, python, and
crocodile. Kerala's birds are legion—Peafowl, the Great
Hornbill, Indian Grey Hornbill, Indian Cormorant, and Jungle
Myna are several emblematic species. In lakes, wetlands, and
waterways, fish such as kadu (stinging catfish and Choottachi
(Orange chromide—Etroplus maculatus; valued as an aquarium
specimen) are found.
Most Keralites, such as this fisherman, live in rural areas.The
31.8 million of Kerala’s compound population is predominantly
of Malayali Dravidian ethnicity, while the rest is mostly made
up of Indo-Aryan, Jewish, and Arab elements in both culture
and ancestry (both of which are usually mixed). Kerala is also
home to 321,000 indigenous tribal Adivasis (1.10% of the populace),
who are mostly concentrated in the eastern districts. Malayalam
is Kerala's official language; Tamil and various Adivasi languages
are also spoken by ethnic minorities.
A Malayali woman wearing a neryathu known as a set sari.Kerala
is home to 3.44% of India's people; at 819 persons per km²,
its land is three times as densely settled as the rest of India.
Kerala's rate of population growth is India's lowest, and Kerala's
decadal growth (9.42% in 2001) is less than half the all-India
average of 21.34%. Whereas Kerala's population more than doubled
between 1951 and 1991 by adding 15.6 million people to reach
29.1 million residents in 1991, the population stood at less
than 32 million by 2001. Kerala's coastal regions are the most
densely settled, leaving the eastern hills and mountains comparatively
Women compose 51.42% of the population. Kerala's principal religions
are Hinduism (56.1%), Islam (24.7%), and Christianity (19%).
Remnants of a once substantial Cochin Jewish population also
practice Judaism. In comparison with the rest of India, Kerala
experiences relatively little sectarianism. Nevertheless, there
have been signs of increasing influences from religious extremist
organisations such as the Hindu Aikya Vedi.
Rural women processing coir threads.Kerala's society is less
patriarchical than the rest of the Third World. Certain Hindu
communities (such as the Nairs), Travancore Ezhavas and the
Muslims around Kannur used to follow a traditional matrilineal
system known as marumakkathayam, which ended in the years after
Indian independence. Christians, Muslims, and some Hindu castes
such as the Namboothiris and the Ezhavas follow makkathayam,
a patrilineal system. Kerala's gender relations are among the
most equitable in India and the Third World. Forces such as
the patriarchy-enforced oppression of women threatens this status.
Kerala's human development indices—elimination of poverty,
primary level education, and health care—are among the
best in India. Kerala's literacy rate (91%) and life expectancy
(73 years) are now the highest in India. Literacy is 88% among
females and 94% among males according to the 2001 census. Kerala's
rural poverty rate fell from 69% (1970–1971) to 19% (1993–1994);
the overall (urban and rural) rate fell 36% between the 1970s
and 1980s. By 1999–2000, the rural and urban poverty rates
dropped to 10.0% and 9.6% respectively. These changes stem largely
from efforts begun in the late 19th century by the kingdoms
of Cochin and Travancore to boost social welfare. This focus
was maintained by Kerala's post-independence government.
formation of gold-caparisoned elephants at the Thrissur Pooram.
Poorams are Hindu temple-centered festivals popular among both
Keralites and tourists.Kerala's culture is a blend of Dravidian
and Aryan influences, deriving from both a greater Tamil-heritage
region known as Tamilakam and southern coastal Karnataka. Later,
Kerala's culture was elaborated upon through centuries of contact
with neighboring and overseas cultures. Native performing
arts include koodiyattom, kathakali—from katha ("story")
and kali ("performance")—and its offshoot Kerala
natanam, koothu (akin to stand-up comedy), mohiniaattam ("dance
of the enchantress"), thullal, padayani, and theyyam.
A close-up of a kathakali artist.Other forms of art are more
religious or tribal in nature. These include chavittu nadakom,
oppana (originally from Malabar), which combines dance, rhythmic
hand clapping, and ishal vocalisations. However, many of these
art forms largely play to tourists or at youth festivals, and
are not as popular among most ordinary Keralites. These people
look to more contemporary art and performance styles, including
those employing mimicry and parody.
Kerala's music also has ancient roots. Carnatic music dominates
Keralite traditional music. This was the result of Swathi Thirunal
Rama Varma's popularisation of the genre in the 19th century.
Raga-based renditions known as sopanam accompany kathakali performances.
Melam (including the paandi and panchari variants) is a more
percussive style of music; it is performed at Kshetram centered
festivals using the chenda. Melam ensembles comprise up to 150
musicians, and performances may last up to four hours. Panchavadyam
is a different form of percussion ensemble, in which up to 100
artists use five types of percussion instrument. Kerala has
various styles of folk and tribal music. The popular music of
Kerala is dominated by the filmi music of Indian cinema. Kerala's
visual arts range from traditional murals to the works of Raja
Ravi Varma, the state's most renowned painter.
During Onam, Keralites create floral pookkalam designs in front
of their houses.Kerala has its own Malayalam calendar, which
is used to plan agricultural and religious activities. Kerala's
cuisine is typically served as a sadhya on green banana leaves.
Such dishes as idli, payasam, pulisherry, puttucuddla, puzhukku,
rasam, and sambar are typical. Keralites—both men and
women alike—traditionally don flowing and unstitched garments.
These include the mundu, a loose piece of cloth wrapped around
men's waists. Women typically wear the sari, a long and elaborately
wrapped banner of cloth, wearable in various styles.
Malayalam literature is ancient in origin, and includes such
figures as the 14th century Niranam poets (Madhava Panikkar,
Sankara Panikkar and Rama Panikkar), whose works mark the dawn
of both modern Malayalam language and indigenous Keralite poetry.
The "triumvirate of poets" (Kavithrayam), Kumaran
Asan, Vallathol Narayana Menon, and Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer,
are recognised for moving Keralite poetry away from archaic
sophistry and metaphysics, and towards a more lyrical mode.
In the second half of the 20th century, Jnanpith awardees like
G Sankara Kurup, S. K. Pottekkatt, and M. T. Vasudevan Nair
have added to Malayalam literature. Later, such Keralite writers
as O. V. Vijayan, Kamaladas, M. Mukundan, and Booker Prize winner
Arundhati Roy, whose 1996 semi-autobiographical bestseller The
God of Small Things is set in the Kottayam town of Ayemenem,
have gained international recognition.
Kalari puttara shrines are seven-tiered platform-alters where
kalaripayattu practitioners pray to the guardian deity.Several
ancient ritualised arts are Keralite in origin. These include
kalaripayattu—kalari ("place", "threshing
floor", or "battlefield") and payattu ("exercise"
or "practice"). Among the world's oldest martial arts,
oral tradition attributes kalaripayattu's emergence to Parasurama.
Other ritual arts include theyyam and poorakkali. However, larger
numbers of Keralites follow sports such as cricket, kabaddi,
soccer, and badminton. Dozens of large stadiums, including Kochi's
Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium and Thiruvananthapuram's Chandrashekaran
Nair Stadium, attest to the mass appeal of such sports among
Football is the most popular sport in the state. Some notable
football stars from Kerala include I. M. Vijayan and V. P. Sathyan.
Several Keralite athletes have attained world-class status,
including Suresh Babu, P. T. Usha, Shiny Wilson, K. M. Beenamol,
and Anju Bobby George. Volleyball, another popular sport, is
often played on makeshift courts on sandy beaches along the
coast. Jimmy George, born in Peravoor, Kannur, was arguably
the most successful volleyball player ever to represent India.
At his prime he was regarded as among the world's ten best players.
Cricket, which is the most-followed sport in the rest of India
and South Asia, is less popular in Kerala. Shanthakumaran Sreesanth,
who was born in Kothamangalam and often referred to as simply
"Sreesanth", is a controversial right-arm fast-medium-pace
bowler and a right-handed tail-ender batsman whose actions were
pivotal in sealing, among other games, the 2007 ICC World Twenty20.
Among less successful Keralite cricketers is Tinu Yohannan,
son of Olympic long jumper T. C. Yohannan.
Sunset at Varkala Beach, one of the state's most popular attractions.Kerala,
situated on the lush and tropical Malabar Coast, is one of the
most popular tourist destinations in India. Named as one of
the "ten paradises of the world" and "50 places
of a lifetime" by the National Geographic Traveler magazine,
Kerala is especially known for its ecotourism initiatives. Its
unique culture and traditions, coupled with its varied demographics,
has made Kerala one of the most popular tourist destinations
in the world. Growing at a rate of 13.31%, the state's tourism
industry is a major contributor to the state's economy.
A mohiniaattam performance.Until the early 1980s, Kerala was
a relatively unknown destination; most tourist circuits focused
on North India. Aggressive marketing campaigns launched by the
Kerala Tourism Development Corporation, the government agency
that oversees tourism prospects of the state, laid the foundation
for the growth of the tourism industry. In the decades that
followed, Kerala's tourism industry was able to transform the
state into one of the niche holiday destinations in India. The
tagline God's Own Country, which was used in its tourism promotions,
soon became synonymous with the state. In 2006, Kerala attracted
8.5 million tourist arrivals, an increase of 23.68% over the
previous year, making the state one of the fastest-growing destinations
in the world.
Kovalam beach, TrivandrumPopular attractions in the state include
the beaches at Kovalam, Cherai and Varkala; the hill stations
of Munnar, Nelliampathi, Ponmudi and Wayanad; and national parks
and wildlife sanctuaries at Periyar and Eravikulam National
Park. The "backwaters" region, which comprises an
extensive network of interlocking rivers, lakes, and canals
that centre on Alleppey, Kumarakom, and Punnamada (where the
annual Nehru Trophy Boat Race is held in August), also see heavy
tourist traffic. Heritage sites, such as the Padmanabhapuram
Palace and the Mattancherry Palace, are also visited. Cities
such as Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram are popular centres for
their shopping and traditional theatrical performances. During
early summer, the Thrissur Pooram is conducted, attracting foreign
tourists who are largely drawn by the festival's elephants and