Kerala, also known as Keralam is a state located in the south-west region of India on the Malabar coast. It was formed on 1 November 1956 per the States Reorganisation Act by combining various Malayalam-speaking regions. Spread over with a population of 33,387,677, it is bordered by Karnataka to the north and north east, Tamil Nadu to the east and south, and the Laccadive Sea to the west. Thiruvananthapuram is the state capital among the 14 districts; other major cities include Kochi and Kozhikode.
The region had been a prominent spice exporter from 3000 BCE to 3rd century. The Chera Dynasty was the first powerful kingdom based in Kerala, though it frequently struggled against attacks by the neighbouring Cholas and Pandyas. During the Chera period Kerala remained an international spice trading center. Later, in the 15th century, the lucrative spice trade attracted Portuguese traders to Kerala, and eventually paved the way for the European colonisation of the whole of India. After independence, Travancore and Cochin joined the Republic of India and Travancore-Cochin was given the status of a state. Later, the state was formed in 1956 by merging the Malabar district, Travancore-Cochin (excluding four southern taluks), and the taluk of Kasargod, South Kanara.
At a population of 33,388,000 in 2011, the state has the lowest population growth rate; 3.44% and a density of 819 persons per km2. Kerala has the highest Human Development Index (HDI) in the country with 0.920 according to the Human Development Report 2011. It also has the highest literacy rate; 93.91%, the highest life expectancy; 74 years and the highest sex ratio; 1,083 women per 1000 men among the Indian states. Kerala has the lowest homicide rate among Indian states, for 2011 it was 1.1 per 100,000. . A survey in 2005 by Transparency International ranked it as the least corrupt state in the country. Kerala has witnessed significant emigration of its people, especially to the Persian Gulf countries during the Kerala Gulf boom, and its economy depends significantly on remittances from a large Malayali expatriate community. Hinduism is practised by the half of the population, followed by Islam and Christianity, while majority of over 96% people speak Malayalam. It is considered as the "cleanest state in India", however, the morbidity rate is highest in the state at 118. Culture of the state which traces its roots from 3rd century CE is a synthesis of Aryan and Dravidian cultures, developed and mixed for centuries, under influences from other parts of India and abroad.
Production of pepper and natural rubber constitute prominent output in the total national output, as well as in the agricultural sector, coconut, tea, coffee, cashew, spices are important. As the state has 590 km of coastal belt, around 1.1 million people of the state are dependent on the fishery industry which contribute to 3% income of the state. With of roads, the state constitutes 4.2% of total India's roadways. Waterways are also used as means of transportation while there are also three existing and two proposed international airports. The state has the highest media exposure in India with newspapers publishing in nine different languages; mainly English and Malayalam. Kerala is a tourist destination: the backwaters, beaches, Ayurvedic tourism, and tropical greenery are among its major attractions.
Prehistorical archaeological findings include dolmens of the Neolithic era in the Marayur area in Idukki district. They are locally known as "muniyara", derived from muni (hermit or sage) and ara (dolmen). Rock engravings in the Edakkal Caves (in Wayanad) are thought to date from the early to late Neolithic eras around 5000 BCE. Archaeological studies have identified many Mesolithic, Neolithic and Megalithic sites in Kerala. The studies point to the indigenous development of the ancient Kerala society and its culture beginning from the Paleolithic age, and its continuity through Mesolithic, Neolithic and Megalithic ages. However, foreign cultural contacts have assisted this cultural formation. The studies suggest possible relationship with Indus Valley Civilization during the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age.
Ancient religious texts
According to Hindu mythology, the land of Kerala was recovered from the sea by Parasurama, an avatar of Vishnu; hence Kerala is also called Parasurama Kshetram (The Land of Parasurama). Parasurama was an axe-wielding warrior sage. He threw his axe across the sea, and the water receded as far as it reached. According to legend this new area of land extended from Gokarna to Kanyakumari. Consensus among more scientific geographers agrees that a substantial portion of this area was indeed under the sea in ancient times. The legend later expanded, and found literary expression in the 17th or 18th century with Keralolpathi, which traces the origin of aspects of early Kerala society, such as land tenure and administration, to the story of Parasurama. However, another much earlier Puranic character associated with Kerala is Mahabali, an Asura and a prototypical king of justice, who ruled the earth from Kerala. He won the war against the Devas, driving them into exile. The Devas pleaded before Lord Vishnu, who took his fifth incarnation as Vamana and pushed Mahabali down to Patala (the netherworld) to placate the Devas. There is a belief that, once a year during the Onam festival, Mahabali returns to Kerala.
However, the Matsya Purana, which is among the oldest of the 18 Puranas, makes the Malaya Mountains of Kerala (and Tamil Nadu) the setting for the story of Lord Matsya, the first incarnation of Lord Vishnu, and King Manu, the first man and the king of the region. The earliest Sanskrit text to mention Kerala by name is the Aitareya Aranyaka of the Rigveda. It is also mentioned in both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the two great Hindu epics.
Kerala was a major spice exporter from as early as 3000 BCE, according to Sumerian records. Its fame as the land of spices attracted ancient Babylonians, Assyrians and Egyptians to the Malabar Coast in the 3rd and 2nd millennia BCE. Arabs and Phoenicians were also successful in establishing their prominence in the Kerala trade during this early period. The word Kerala is first recorded (as Keralaputra) in a 3rd-century BCE rock inscription (Rock Edict 2) left by the Maurya emperor Asoka (274–237 BCE). The Land of Keralaputra was one of the four independent kingdoms in southern India during Asoka's time, the others being Chola, Pandya, and Satiyaputra. Scholars hold that Keralaputra is an alternate name of the Cheras, the first powerful dynasty based on Kerala. These territories once shared a common language and culture, within an area known as Tamiḻakam. While the Cheras ruled the major part of modern Kerala, its southern tip was in the kingdom of Pandyas, which had a trading port sometimes identified in ancient Western sources as Nelcynda (or Neacyndi). At later times the region fell under the control of the Pandyas, Cheras, and Cholas. Ays and Mushikas were two other remarkable dynasties of ancient Kerala, whose kingdoms lay to the south and north of Cheras respectively.
In the last centuries BCE the coast became famous among the Greeks and Romans for its spices, especially black pepper. The Cheras had trading links with China, West Asia, Egypt, Greece, and the Roman Empire. In the foreign-trade circles the region was identified by the name Male or Malabar. Muziris, Berkarai, and Nelcynda were among the principal ports at that time. The value of Rome's annual trade with India as a whole was estimated at no less than 50,000,000 sesterces; contemporary Sangam literature describes Roman ships coming to Muziris in Kerala, laden with gold to exchange for pepper. One of the earliest western traders to use the monsoon winds to reach Kerala may have been Eudoxus of Cyzicus, around 118 or 166 BCE, under the patronage of Ptolemy VIII, a king of the Hellenistic Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt. Various Roman establishments in the port cities of the region, such as a temple of Augustus and barracks for garrisoned Roman soldiers, are marked in the Tabula Peutingeriana: the only surviving map of the Roman cursus publicus.
Merchants from West Asia and Southern Europe established coastal posts and settlements in Kerala. Jewish connection with Kerala started as early as 573 BCE. Arabs also had trade links with Kerala, possibly started before the 4th century BCE, as Herodotus (484–413 BCE) noted that goods brought by Arabs from Kerala were sold to the Jews at Eden. They intermarried with local people, and from this mixture the large Muslim Mappila community of Kerala are descended. In the 4th century, some Christians also immigrated from Persia and joined the early Syrian Christian community who trace their origins to the evangelistic activity of Thomas the Apostle in the 1st century. Mappila was an honorific title that had been assigned to respected visitors from abroad; and Jewish, Syrian Christian, and Muslim immigration might account for later names of the respective communities: Juda Mappilas, Nasrani Mappilas, and Muslim Mappilas. According to the legends of these communities, the earliest mosque, synagogue (1568 CE), and Christian churches in India were built in Kerala. The combined number of Muslims, Christians, and Jews was relatively small at this early stage. They co-existed harmoniously with each other and with local Hindu society, aided by the commercial benefit from such association.
Early medieval period
Much of history of the region from the 6th to the 8th century is obscure. A Second Chera Kingdom ( c. 800–1102), also known as Kulasekhara dynasty of Mahodayapuram, was established by Kulasekhara Varman, which at its zenith ruled over a territory comprising the whole of modern Kerala and a smaller part of modern Tamil Nadu. During the early part of Kulasekara period, the southern region from Nagerkovil to Thiruvalla was ruled by Ay kings, who lost their power in 10th century and thus the region became a part of the Kulasekara empire. During Kulasekhara rule, Kerala witnessed a flourishing period of art, literatute, trade and the Bhakti cult of Hinduism. A Keralite identity, distinct from the Tamils, became linguistically separate during this period. For the local administration, the empire was divided into provinces under the rule of Naduvazhis, with each province comprising a number of Desams under the control of chieftains, called as Desavazhis.
The inhibitions, caused by a series of Chera-Chola wars in the 11th century, resulted in the decline of foreign trade in Kerala ports. Buddhism and Jainism disappeared from the land. The social system became fractured with internal divisions on the lines of caste. Finally, the Kulasekhara dynasty was subjugated in 1102 by the combined attack of Later Pandyas and Later Cholas. However, in the 14th century, Ravi Varma Kulashekhara (1299–1314) of the southern Venad kingdom was able to establish a short-lived supremacy over southern India. After his death, in the absence of a strong central power, the state was fractured into about thirty small warring principalities; most powerful of them were the kingdom of Samuthiri in the north, Venad in the south and Kochi in the middle.
The monopoly of maritime spice trade in the Indian Ocean stayed with Arabs during the high and late medieval periods. However, the dominance of Middle East traders got challenged in the European Age of Discovery during which the spice trade, particularly in black pepper, became an influential activity for European traders. Around the 15th century, the Portuguese began to dominate the eastern shipping trade in general, and the spice-trade in particular, culminating in Vasco Da Gama's arrival in Kappad Kozhikode in 1498. The Zamorin of Calicut permitted the new visitors to trade with his subjects. The Portuguese trade in Calicut prospered with the establishment of a factory and fort in his territory. However, Portuguese attacks on Arab properties in his jurisdiction provoked Zamorin and finally it led to conflicts among them. The Portuguese took advantage of the rivalry between Zamorin and king of Kochi; they allied with Kochi and when Francisco de Almeida was appointed as the Viceroy of Portuguese India in 1505, his headquarters was at Kochi. During his reign, Portuguese managed to dominate over the relation with Kochi and established a few fortresses in Malabar coast. Nonetheless, Portuguese suffered severe set back from the attacks of Zamorin forces; especially the naval attacks under the leadership of admirals of Calicut known as Kunjali Marakkars compelled them to seek a treaty. In 1571, Portuguese were defeated by the Zamorin forces in the battle at Chaliyam fort.
In 1766, Hyder Ali, the ruler of Mysore invaded northern Kerala. His son and successor, Tipu Sultan, launched campaigns against the expanding British East India Company, resulting in two of the four Anglo-Mysore Wars. Tipu ultimately ceded Malabar District and South Kanara to the Company in the 1790s; both were annexed to Madras Presidency of British India in 1792. The Company forged tributary alliances with Kochi in 1791 and Travancore in 1795. Thus, by the end of 18th century, the whole of Kerala fell under the control of the British, either administered directly or under suzerainty.
Post colonial period
After British India was partitioned in 1947 into India and Pakistan, Travancore and Cochin joined the Union of India and on 1 July 1949 were merged to form Travancore-Cochin. On 1 November 1956, the state of Kerala was formed by the States Reorganisation Act merging the Malabar district, Travancore-Cochin (excluding four southern taluks, which were merged with Tamil Nadu), and the taluk of Kasargod, South Kanara. In 1957, elections for the new Kerala Legislative Assembly were held, and a reformist, Communist-led government came to power, under E. M. S. Namboodiripad. It was the first time a Communist government was democratically elected to power anywhere in the world.