Kerala


Kerala
/kay"reuh leuh, ker"euh-/, n.
a state in SW India: formerly the regions of Travancore and Cochin. 24,380,000; 15,035 sq. mi. (38,940 sq. km). Cap.: Trivandrum.

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State (pop., 2001 prelim.: 31,838,619), southwestern India.

Lying on the Arabian Sea, it is bordered by Karnataka and Tamil Nadu states, and it surrounds the coastal enclave of Mahe (part of Pondicherry union territory). It has an area of 15,005 sq mi (38,863 sq km), and its capital is Trivandrum. During the 3rd century BC, it was an independent Dravidian kingdom known as Keralaputra. The Kulashekhara dynasty ruled the region in the 9th–12th centuries, when the regional Malayalam language took hold; it is still the dominant language. Portuguese intervention from 1498 was followed by Dutch rule in the 17th century. The Dutch were ousted in 1741 by the princely state of Travancore, which itself in the 1790s came under British protectorate status. It was given its present name in 1956. Kerala is one of India's most densely populated states.

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Introduction

      state of India. It has an area of 15,005 square miles (38,863 square kilometres), only about 1 percent of the total area of the country. The state stretches for 360 miles (580 kilometres) along the Malabār Coast on the southwestern side of the Indian peninsula; its width varies from 20 to 75 miles. It is bordered by the states of Karnātaka (formerly Mysore) to the north and Tamil Nādu to the east and by the Arabian Sea to the west. The capital is Trivandrum.

      Isolated from the Indian interior by the mountainous belt of the Western Ghāts, but possessing a long coastline that opens it to foreign influences, Kerala has evolved a unique culture. It is a highly politicized region, but it has a long tradition of religious amity. It is an educationally advanced state with its own language, Malayālam, and it has the highest rate of literacy among Indian states. Owing to the former matrilineal system, women in Kerala enjoy a high social status. Some of India's most isolated tribes persist in Kerala's wilderness areas.

Physical and human geography

The land
 Kerala is a region of great natural beauty. Anai Peak (8,842 feet [2,695 metres]), the highest peak of peninsular India, crowns the Western Ghāts. Between the coastal plain and the rocky highlands is a sequence of plantation crops: rubber in the foothills and above that coffee and then tea (the latter crop being cultivated at some of the highest elevations in India). A linked chain of lagoons and backwaters along the coast, interspersed with vast coconut palm groves, form the so-called Venice of India. Among the rivers that flow to the Arabian Sea, the more important are the Bharatapuzha, Chālakudi, Periyār (Periyar River), and Pamba.

      The climate is equable and varies little from season to season. The temperature normally ranges from 80° to 90° F (27° to 32° C) on the plains but drops to about 70° F (21° C) in the highlands. Kerala is directly exposed to the southwest monsoon but also receives rain from the reverse (northeast) monsoon. Rainfall averages about 118 inches (3,000 millimetres) annually statewide, with some slopes receiving more than 200 inches.

Plant and animal life
      The state's riverine and montane rain forests, tropical deciduous forests, and upland temperate grasslands are inhabited by an extraordinary variety of wildlife, including the sambar deer, gaur (wild bison), Nilgiri tahr, elephant, leopard, tiger, bonnet monkey, the rare lion-tailed macaque, the Hanuman and Nilgiri langurs, spectacled and king cobras, peafowl, and hornbill. The Periyār Tiger Reserve is the largest wildlife sanctuary, and there are two national parks (Eravikulam and Silent Valley) and several other wildlife sanctuaries.

The people
      Kerala is the most densely populated state in India. While only about one-fifth of the population is urban, this low proportion is deceptive because of the close proximity of scattered rural houses, especially in the coastal plain. Thus, in parts of the state there are tropical-rural equivalents of megalopolises. The major urban and industrial complexes are Cannanore, Calicut (Kozhikode), Alwaye, Cochin-Ernakulam, Alleppey, and Quilon.

      Most Malayālis, the Malayālam-speaking people of Kerala, are of Dravidian ancestry, with some Indo-European admixture representing the ancient so-called Aryan influx. The latter element remains strongest among the Nambūdiri caste of orthodox Hindus. A few tribal people in the mountains may exhibit affinities with the Negrito local race of Southeast Asia.

      Kerala has a unique record in India of harmonious coexistence of diverse religions. The majority of the Malayālis are Hindus. There is no conflict between the Dravidian nāga (serpent-god) worship and that of Kālī (the mother goddess) on the one hand and the Hindu pantheon on the other, nor between the rival sects of Śaivism (worship of the god Śiva) and Vaiṣṇavism (worship of the god Vishnu). The small population of Jainas live mainly in the far north. The Jewish community remains a small, exclusive sect; there is an ancient synagogue at Cochin. The Christians, who form more than a third of the population, belong broadly to the Orthodox Syrian, Roman Catholic, and Protestant churches, though each has many sects. While Muslims reside throughout the state, the Mapillas of the Malabār Coast constitute Kerala's largest Islāmic community.

The economy
      Geographic and geologic factors seriously circumscribe the Keralan economy. The amount of arable land is deficient for the needs of the crowded population. The state lacks major deposits of fossil fuels and minerals, except for ilmenite (the principal ore of titanium), rutile (titanium dioxide), and monazite (a mineral consisting of cerium and thorium phosphates), which are found in beach sands. Kerala has great hydroelectric potential, and the Idukki complex is the largest power-generating facility.

      The educational system, a developed banking system, and excellent transportion facilities provide optimum conditions for further economic development.

      Agriculture is the state's main economic activity. Commercial plantings on less than half of the total land under cultivation earn a sizable amount of foreign exchange but have also necessitated the importation of food for local consumption. Kerala's principal cash yielders are perennial areca nut, cardamom, cashew nut, coconut, coffee, ginger, pepper, rubber, and tea; the major food crops are annual rice, pulses (e.g., peas and beans), sorghum, and tapioca. Commercial poultry farming is well developed. The forests yield valuable timbers such as ebony, rosewood, and teak, as well as industrial raw materials such as bamboo (used in the paper and rayon industries), wood pulp, charcoal, gums, and resins. Foreigners regularly attend the tea and timber auctions held in Cochin. Kerala ranks first among Indian states in fish production.

      Most of the population is unaffected by industrialization. Unemployment is acute, and a high level of education among the jobless accentuates the problem. Traditional low-wage cottage industries, such as the processing of coconut fibre and cashews or weaving, employ most workers. More than one-fourth of Kerala's workers provide services. Food processing is the largest industrial employer. Other products include fertilizers, chemicals, electrical equipment, titanium, aluminum, plywood, ceramics, and synthetic fabrics.

      Kerala has well-developed road and railway systems. It is connected with the states of Tamil Nādu and Karnātaka by national highways. A railway coming from the east through the Palghāt Gap meets with a railway running from north to south through the state and on to Kanniyākumari, the southernmost town of India. There are three major ports—Calicut, Cochin-Ernakulam, and Alleppey—that handle both coastal and foreign traffic. Cochin-Ernakulam also has major shipyard and oil refining facilities and serves as the headquarters for Indian coast guard and navy commands. More than 1,100 miles of inland waterways form main arteries for carrying bulk freight to and from the ports. Trivandrum has an international airport, and Calicut and Cochin have airports for domestic flights.

Administration and social conditions
      The administration of Kerala is headed by a governor (appointed by the president of India), a Council of Ministers presided over by a chief minister, and a unicameral Legislative Assembly (Vidhān Sabhā), 140 of whose 141 members are elected. The independent judiciary is hierarchical, with the High Court at the apex headed by a chief justice. Appeals may go to the Supreme Court of India. For provincial administration the state is divided into 14 districts; these in turn are subdivided for revenue purposes into talukas and villages. Kerala's modern political experience has been one of unstable government. The proliferation of political parties has made coalition governments inevitable.

Social issues
      Despite being outlawed by the constitution of India, elements of the caste system still prevail. The matrilineal joint family has given way to nuclear families with paternal inheritance. Both polygamy and polyandry were once widespread but today are illegal, with the exception of Muslim polygamy.

Education and welfare
      Kerala has one of the most advanced educational systems in India. The level of literacy is substantially higher than the national average, roughly four-fifths of the population. Elementary education is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 11. There are primary, middle, and secondary schools, polytechnical and industrial training institutes, arts and science colleges, professional colleges, and five universities. The state maintains a relatively high standard of health service. There is, for example, a comprehensive health insurance plan for factory workers as well as free medical treatment in many hospitals, health centres, and dispensaries.

Cultural life
      Kerala's cultural heritage contains elements of ancient Hindu culture that have been enriched by centuries of contact with both East and West. The state's impressive array of Hindu temples with copper-clad roofs, later Islāmic mosques with “Malabār gables” (triangular projections at the rooftops), and Portuguese colonial Baroque churches attests to this interweaving. Traditional art forms include intricate paintings on wood, thematic murals, and an amazing variety of indoor and outdoor lamps (which has earned Kerala the sobriquet “Land of Lamps.”).

      Literature and learning, in both Tamil and Sanskrit, flourished from the 2nd century AD. The Malayālam language, though an offshoot of Tamil, has absorbed the best in Sanskrit and has a prolific literature. Notable names in Malayālam poetry are Tuñchattu Eḷuttaccan and Kuñcan Nampiyār among classical poets, and Kumaran Asan and Vallathol in the present century. In 1889 Chandu Menon wrote Indulekha, the first outstanding novel in Malayālam, for which he received a certificate from Queen Victoria. The premier modern Malayāli novelist is Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai.

      Most traditional dances pertain to great Indian epics or to the honouring of specific Hindu deities. In kathakali, the classical martial dance form of Kerala, male performers portray both male and female characters. By contrast, the bhārata-nāṭya style, dating to early Tamil times, is practiced exclusively by females.

History
      Kerala is first mentioned (as Keralaputra) in a 3rd-century-BC rock inscription left by the Mauryan emperor Aśoka. In the last centuries BC this region became famous among the Greeks and Romans for its spices (especially pepper). During the first five centuries AD, the region was a part of Tamilākam and thus was sometimes partially controlled by the eastern Pāṇḍya and Coḷa (Chola) dynasties, as well as by the Cēras (Cheras). In the 1st century AD Jewish immigrants arrived, and Syrian Orthodox Christians believe that St. Thomas the Apostle visited Kerala in the same century.

      Much of Kerala's history from the 6th to 8th century AD is obscure, but Arab traders introduced Islām later in the period. Under the Kulaśekhara dynasty (c. 800–1102) Malayālam emerged as a distinct language, and Hinduism became prominent.

      The Coḷas often controlled Kerala during the 11th and 12th centuries. By the beginning of the 14th century, Ravi Varma Kulaśekhara of Venad established a short-lived supremacy over southern India. After his death, Kerala became a conglomeration of warring chieftaincies, among whom the most important were Calicut in the north and Venad in the south.

      The era of foreign intervention began in 1498, when Vasco da Gama landed near Calicut. In the 16th century the Portuguese superseded the Arab traders and dominated the commerce of Malabār. Their attempt to establish sovereignty was thwarted by the zamorin (hereditary ruler) of Calicut. The Dutch ousted the Portuguese in the 17th century. Marṭhanda Varma ascended the Venad throne in 1729 and crushed Dutch expansionist designs at the Battle of Kolachel 12 years later. Marṭhanda Varma then adopted a European mode of martial discipline and expanded the new southern state of Travancore. His alliance in 1757 with the raja of the central state of Cochin, against the zamorin, enabled Cochin to survive. By 1806, however, Cochin and Travancore, as well as Malabār in the north, had become subject states under the British Madras Presidency.

      Two years after India's independence was achieved in 1947, Cochin and Travancore were united as Travancore-Cochin state. The present state of Kerala was constituted on a linguistic basis in 1956 when Malabār and the Kāsargoḍ taluka of South Kanara were added to Travancore-Cochin. The southern portion of the former Travancore-Cochin state was attached to Tamil Nādu.

William A. Noble

Additional Reading
K.V. Joseph, Migration and Economic Development of Kerala (1988), discusses recent economic developments. K.S.S. Nair, R. Ghanaharan, and S. Kedharnath, Ecodevelopment of Western Ghats (1986), presents seminar papers on ecological concerns. Roland E. Miller, Mappila Muslims of Kerala, 2nd rev. ed. (1992), focuses on this Islāmic community. Stella Kramrisch, J.H. Cousins, and R. Vasudeva Poduval, The Arts and Crafts of Kerala (1970), is fully illustrated. Works dealing with history are A. Sreedhara Menon, A Survey of Kerala History (1967), a succinct treatment; William Logan, Malabar, 2 vol. in 3 (1879–87, reissued 1951), an enduring classic; K.K.N. Kurup, The Ali Rajas of Cannanore (1975), an indispensable source of regional history; and Georges Kristoffel Lieten, The First Communist Ministry in Kerala, 1957–9 (1982), covering a remarkable period. William A. Noble

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Universalium. 2010.

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