The state of Kerala is situated in the south-western part of India. Kerala was recognized as a state of the Indian Union on the 1st of November 1956, when the states of India were reorganized based on language. Thus Kerala was created from the erstwhile Travancore-Cochin region, the Kasargode taluk of the Dakshina Kannada region and the Malabar region of the erstwhile state of Madras. This reorganization of states brought together all the Malayalam speaking people of the regions together as one state.Kerala, with the Arabian Sea to its west, the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu to its north and south respectively, covers an area of 38,863 square kilometers. Though Thriuvananthapuram is the capital city of the state Cochin is considered to be the commercial capital of the city.The etymology of the name Kerala is uncertain. It is a combination of the word "Kera" which means coconut and "Alam" which means land. Thus the people of Kerala call their home state Keralam which means the land of coconut trees. According to a legend, the great sage Parashurama threw his axe into the sea and a piece of land rose from it. This land is Kerala. Another legend is connected with the Matsya Puranas according to which the Malaya Mountains is the backdrop for the story of Lord Vishnus Matsya Avatar and King Manu.
Ever since its inception, the human civilization has had a penchant for settling down in close proximity to any water body and in case of Kerala, it happened to be the Arabian Sea. It was owing to this unique geographical location that the state has enjoyed prominence in the world economy not only in terms of trade but along religious and cultural parameters as well. Having been located on the shores of the Arabian Sea meant playing an active role in world trade and being a part of global travel routes and hence enjoying an elevated economic status.As confirmed by inscriptions existing around 269 B.C. when the mighty Mauryan Emperor Ashoka ruled majority of the northern Indian states, Kerala was one of the four southern states which maintained their autonomy. The rulers of the state during that epoch believed that staying at good terms with King Ashoka was the only way in which they could retain their independence and hence went to great lengths to establish amicable relations with him. On his part, Ashoka referred to these rulers as Keralaputras or Cheras and treated them with utmost respect.It was during the Sangam age that followed that Kerala as a state enjoyed the spotlight due to a number of factors. This epoch was witness to the composition and evolution of Sangam literature which is in vogue even today in form of many myths, legends and stories. The importance of Sangam literature could be realized by the fact that many of the works mention the arrival of Roman vessels to trade with the Dravidian Kings gold in exchange for pepper and spices. These works also throw light on an essential aspect of trade during that era namely the Southwest Monsoon winds – depending on the force of the wind, ships sailing from Egypt could reach the coast of Kerala within 14 days.
While the mythological origin of the state revolves around Parasurama, who was the sixth avatar of Mahavishnu, there are a number of variations of this legend the main difference among them being the identity of the main character. However, one basic fact on which all the stories share a common ground is that it was after a weapon – an axe or a spear – having been thrown into the sea that the land of Kerala emerged. Subsequent to its emergence, it was ruled by King Mahabali whose benevolence resulted in the land being an embodiment of prosperity and happiness.When the Sangam literature was being compiled, politically Kerala was ruled by three different powers with each of the clans reigning within their own well defined kingdoms. It was an era of glory for the state which was unfortunately followed by a long period of darkness for the next four centuries. This cultural hiatus, referred to as ‘Kalabhra Interregnum’ represented a time in the history of the state when it was conquered, plundered and superseded by all the other neighboring South Indian kingdoms.
In keeping with the universal rule, what goes up invariably comes down and vice versa and therefore after having been plunged into darkness for the last four centuries, it was time for the state of Kerala to emerge once again and regain its position of glory. The wheels were put into motion through a reform movement led by the renowned sage, Adi Shankaracharya, who was born in Kalady, 25 kilometers to the northeast of Kochi, and ended up traveling extensively throughout the length and breadth of the country in an attempt to revive Hinduism. Unfortunately, the accomplished theologian passed away at a young age of 32 but not before achieving his target of establishing the four mathas of Hinduism in the four corners of the country.It was time for the second Chera Empire to raise its head and once again the state enjoyed trade ties and good diplomatic relations not just with its neighbors but with the visiting Arab merchants as well. However, this was once again followed by a spell of political instability and amidst all the confusion of feuds between the royalty and hostilities with the neighbors emerged the northern seaport of Calicut which came under the reign of the Zamorins. The port of Calicut, located in the northern part of Kerala, enjoyed flourishing trade with the Chinese and the Arabs and thrived in art and cultural aspects as well. Increased dealings with Arabs brought hordes of wealth into the kingdom and helped its rulers consolidate themselves in the area as undisputed monarchs.
Then the Europeans discovered Kerala and the honor of being the first European to set his foot on Indian soil in 1498 goes to Vasco de Gama, a Portuguese whose love of spices drove him to Calicut. While hostilities continued at the local level, the Portuguese followed by the Dutch continued to trade in rising volumes with each passing day and soon became involved in the power struggle.This era was witness to the emergence of Travancore as a parallel commercial and cultural center which had the good fortune of being ruled by a long lineage of elite monarchs. Next, it was the turn of Haider Ali to turn his sight towards Kerala and his battles, although not decisively victorious, were carried forth by his son Tipu Sultan as well. The fighting came to an end with the British forces emerging as supreme winners both while contending with Tipu and e adding Kerala to its already expanding political stronghold in India as well.Like the rest of the country, people in Kerala expressed their discontent against the British rule through numerous revolts and uprisings during the 18th and 19th century and the state takes pride in its freedom fighters Thampi and Achan who sacrificed their lives for their motherland. The patriotic fervor continued with Malabar being the stronghold of political agitation and Cochin and Travancore joining in the fray.
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