Kerala, often referred to as Keralam, is a state in the south-west region of India on the Malabar coast. It was formed on 1 November 1956 as per the States Reorganisation Act by combining various Malayalam-speaking regions. Spread over it is bordered by Karnataka to the north and north east, Tamil Nadu to the east and south, and the Lakshadweep Sea to the west. With 33,387,677 inhabitants as per the 2011 census, Kerala is the thirteenth largest state by population and is divided into 14 districts with the state capital being Thiruvananthapuram. Malayalam is the most widely spoken and official language of the state.
The region was 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 from 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 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.
Kerala is the state with the lowest positive population growth rate in India (3.44%) and has a density of 860 people per km2. The state has the highest Human Development Index (HDI) (0.790) in the country according to the Human Development Report 2011. It also has the highest literacy rate 93.91%, the highest life expectancy (almost 77 years) and the highest sex ratio (as defined by number of women per 1000 men: 1,084 women per 1000 men) among all 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 Gulf states during the Gulf Boom of the 1970s and early 1980s, and its economy depends significantly on remittances from a large Malayali expatriate community. Hinduism is practised by more than half of the population, followed by Islam and Christianity. The culture of the state is a synthesis of Aryan and Dravidian cultures, developed over millennia, under influences from other parts of India and abroad.
Production of pepper and natural rubber contributes to a significant portion of the total national output. In the agricultural sector, coconut, tea, coffee, cashew and spices are important. The state's coastline extends for , and around 1.1 million people of the state are dependent on the fishery industry which contributes 3% of the state's income. The state's of roads, constitute 4.2% of all Indian roadways. There are three existing and two proposed international airports. Waterways are also used for transportation. The state has the highest media exposure in India with newspapers publishing in nine different languages; mainly English and Malayalam. Kerala is an important tourist destination, with backwaters, beaches, Ayurvedic tourism, and tropical greenery 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 6000 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.
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 Ashoka (274–237 BCE). The Land of Keralaputra was one of the four independent kingdoms in southern India during Ashoka'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 Christian churches, mosque, and synagogue (1568 CE) in India were built in Kerala. The combined number of Jews, Christians, and Muslims 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 unknown. 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 the 10th century and thus the region became a part of the Kulasekara empire. During Kulasekhara rule, Kerala witnessed a flourishing period of art, literature, 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. Later in the 18th Century, Travancore King Sree Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma annexed all kingdoms up to Kochi through military conquests, resulting in the rise of Travancore to a position of pre-eminence in Kerala.
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. Later in the 18th Century, Travancore King Sree Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma annexed all kingdoms up to Northern Kerala through military conquests, resulting in the rise of Travancore to a position of pre-eminence in Kerala. The Kochi ruler sued for peace with Anizham Thirunal, Malabar came under direct British rule till Independence.
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 Kozhikode permitted the new visitors to trade with his subjects. The Portuguese trade in Kozhikode 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 led to conflicts between 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 Fort Kochi (Fort Emmanuel). During his reign, the Portuguese managed to dominate relations with Kochi and established a few fortresses in Malabar coast. Nonetheless, the Portuguese suffered severe setbacks from the attacks of Zamorin forces; especially from naval attacks under the leadership of admirals of Kozhikode known as Kunjali Marakkars, which compelled them to seek a treaty. In 1571, Portuguese were defeated by the Zamorin forces in the battle at Chaliyam fort.
The weakened Portuguese were ousted by the Dutch East India Company, who took advantage of continuing conflicts between Kozhikode and Kochi to gain control of the trade. The Dutch in turn were weakened by constant battles with Marthanda Varma of the Travancore Royal Family, and were defeated at the Battle of Colachel in 1741. An agreement, known as "Treaty of Mavelikkara", was signed by the Dutch and Travancore in 1753, according to which the Dutch were compelled to detach from all political involvements in the region. In the meantime, Marthanda Varma annexed many northern kingdoms through military conquests, resulting in the rise of Travancore to a position of preeminence in Kerala.
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 the 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 Kochi, both part of the Union of India were merged on 1July 1949 to form Travancore-Cochin. On 1November 1956, the taluk of Kasargod in the South Kanara district of Madras, the Malabar district of Madras, and Travancore-Cochin, minus four southern taluks (which joined Tamil Nadu), merged to form the state of Kerala under the States Reorganisation Act.
A Communist-led government under E. M. S. Namboodiripad resulted from the first elections for the new Kerala Legislative Assembly in 1957. It was one of the earliest elected Communist governments, after Communist success in the 1945 elections in the Republic of San Marino (a city-state surrounded by Italy).