Kerala is an Indian state located on the Malabar coast of south-west India. It was formed on 1 November 1956 by the States Reorganisation Act by combining various Malayalam-speaking regions. The state has an area of 38,863 km2 (15,005 sq mi) and is bordered by Karnataka to the north and north-east, Tamil Nadu to the east and south, and the Arabian Sea to the west. Thiruvananthapuram is the state capital; other major cities are Kochi (the financial and industrial hub) and Kozhikode. According to a survey by economics research firm Indicus Analytics, five of the ten most livable cities in India are in Kerala.
Kerala has the highest Human Development Index of all Indian states; its literacy rate of 93.91% is the highest of any Indian state, and a survey in 2005 by Transparency International ranked it as the least corrupt state. It is also ranked as India's cleanest state. Kerala has witnessed significant migration 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.
Kerala is an important international and internal tourist destination; the backwaters, beaches, Ayurvedic tourism, and tropical greenery are among its major attractions. National Geographic's Traveler magazine named Kerala as one of the "ten paradises of the world" and "50 must-see destinations of a lifetime"; Travel + Leisure listed it as "one of the 100 great trips for the 21st century".
The name Kerala takes the form Keralam in Malayalam, the main language of the state. Two thousand years ago, one of three states in the region was called Cheralam in Classical Tamil. K. M. George, a leading native Malayali linguist and historian of the language, has confirmed the widespread belief that Chera and Kera are variants of the same word. A 3rd-century BCE rock inscription by north Indian emperor Asoka the Great refers to the local ruler as Keralaputra (Sanskrit for "son of Kerala"; or "son of Chera[s]", with some semantic connection to coconuts). The Graeco-Roman trade map Periplus Maris Erythraei refers to this Keralaputra as Celobotra.
Evidence of Kerala's early human occupation includes dolmens of the Neolithic era, in the Marayur area. 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. The use of a specific Indus script pictogram in these caves suggests some relationship with the Indus Valley Civilization during the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age.
Kerala and ancient religious texts
Parasurama, surrounded by settlers, commanding Varuna to part the seas and reveal Kerala. According to Hindu mythology, the land of Kerala was recovered from the seabed 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.
Another 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.
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.
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.
Kerala was a major spice exporter as early as 3000 BCE, according to Sumerian records.
The word Kerala is first recorded (as Keralaputra) in a 3rd-century BCE rock inscription 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. These territories once shared a common language and culture, within an area known as Tamilakam. In the 1st century BCE, Tamil-speaking Dravidians established the Chera Dynasty, which ruled northern Kerala and western Tamil Nadu from a capital at Vanchi. Southern Kerala was ruled by the Pandya kings, with 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.
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. Mappila was an honorific title that had been assigned to respected visitors from abroad; and Jewish, 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.
Kerala is wedged between the Lakshadweep Sea and the Western Ghats. Lying between north latitudes 8°18' and 12°48' and east longitudes 74°52' and 77°22', Kerala experiences the humid equatorial tropic climate. The state has a coast of length 590 km (370 mi) and the width of the state varies between 11 and 121 km (22–75 miles). 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; hence, 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.
The eastern region of Kerala consists of high mountains, gorges and deep-cut valleys immediately west of the Western Ghats' rain shadow. Forty-one of Kerala’s west-flowing rivers, and three of its east-flowing ones originate in this region. The Western Ghats form a wall of mountains interrupted only near Palakkad (hence also known Palghat), where the Palakkad Gap breaks through to provide access to the rest of India. The Western Ghats rise on average to 1,500 m (4920 ft) above sea level, while the highest peaks reach above 2,500 m (8200 ft). Anamudi, the highest peak in South India, is at an elevation of 2,695 metres (8,842 ft). Just west of the mountains lie the midland plains comprising central Kerala, dominated by rolling hills and valleys. Generally ranging between elevations of 250 and 1,000 m (820 and 3300 ft), the eastern portions of the Nilgiri and Palni Hills include such formations as Agastya Mala and Anamala.
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 (77 sq mi) 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 River (130 km), the Valapattanam (129 km) and the Achankovil (128 km). The average length of the rivers of Kerala is 64 km. Many of the rivers are small and entirely fed by monsoon rains. These conditions result in the nearly year-round waterlogging 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. The rivers also face problems such as sand mining and pollution. The state experiences several natural hazards such as landslides, floods, lightning and droughts. The state was also affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.
A catastrophic flood in Kerala in 1341 CE drastically modified its terrain and consequently affected its history. The course of the river Periyar was changed, and the Arabian Sea receded several miles. The Kuttanad region became cultivable, and the Muziris (Kodungalloor) harbour became defunct. A new harbour was developed at Kochi.
With around 120–140 rainy days per year:80, Kerala has a wet and maritime tropical climate influenced by the seasonal heavy rains of the southwest summer monsoon and northeast winter monsoon. About 65 percent of the rainfall occurs during the first season (June to August), corresponding to the southwest monsoon, and the rest during the second season (September to December), corresponding to northeast monsoon. Southwest monsoon: The moisture-laden winds, on reaching the southernmost point of the Indian Peninsula, because of its topography, become divided into two parts: the Arabian Sea Branch and the Bay of Bengal Branch. The Arabian Sea Branch of the Southwest Monsoon first hits the Western Ghats in Kerala, thus making the area the first state in India to receive rain from the Southwest Monsoon. Northeast monsoon: The distribution of pressure patterns is reversed during this season and the cold winds from North India pick up moisture from the Bay of Bengal and precipitate it in the east coast of peninsular India. In Kerala, the influence of the northeast monsoon is seen towards southern districts only. Kerala's rainfall averages 3,107 mm (122 in.) annually. Some of Kerala's drier lowland regions average only 1,250 mm (49 in.); the mountains of eastern Idukki district receive more than 5,000 mm (197 in.) of orographic precipitation, the highest in the state. In eastern Kerala, a drier tropical wet and dry climate prevails.
During summer, Kerala is prone to gale force winds, storm surges, cyclone-related torrential downpours, occasional droughts, and rises in sea level. The mean daily temperatures range from 19.8 °C to 36.7 °C. Mean annual temperatures range from 25.0–27.5 °C in the coastal lowlands to 20.0–22.5 °C in the eastern highlands.
Flora and Fauna
Much of Kerala's notable biodiversity is concentrated and protected in the Western Ghats. Almost one 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 medicinal plants.
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 the remaining 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), 453 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.
Eastern Kerala’s windward mountains shelter tropical moist forests and tropical dry forests, which are common in the Western Ghats. Here, sonokeling (Dalbergia latifolia), 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 Indian Elephant (Elephas maximus indicus), Bengal Tiger, Indian Leopard (Panthera pardus fusca), Nilgiri Tahr, Common Palm Civet, and Grizzled Giant Squirrel. Reptiles include the King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah), viper, python, and Mugger Crocodile (Crocodylus palustris). Kerala's birds are legion—Malabar Trogon, the Great Hornbill, Kerala Laughingthrush, Darter, and Southern Hill Myna are several emblematic species. In lakes, wetlands, and waterways, fish such as kadu (stinging catfish) and Choottachi (Orange chromide—Etroplus maculatus) are found.
Since independence, Kerala was managed as a democratic socialist welfare economy. Since the 1990s, liberalisation of the mixed economy allowed onerous Licence Raj restrictions against capitalism and foreign direct investment to be lightened, leading to economic expansion and job creation. In fiscal year 2007–2008, the nominal gross state domestic product (GSDP) was 162,414.79 crore (US$29.4 billion). Recent GSDP growth (9.2% in 2004–2005 and 7.4% in 2003–2004) has been robust compared to historical averages (2.3% annually in the 1980s and between 5.1% and 5.99% in the 1990s). The state recorded 8.93% growth in enterprises from 1998 to 2005 compared with 4.80% nationally. Relatively few such enterprises are major corporations or manufacturers. Kerala's Human Development Index rating is the highest in India. This apparently paradoxical "Kerala phenomenon" or "Kerala model of development" of very high human development and not much high economic development results from the strong service sector.
Kerala's economy depends on emigrants working in foreign countries (mainly in the Persian Gulf countries such as United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia), and remittances annually contribute more than a fifth of GSDP. As of 2008, the Gulf countries altogether have a Keralite population of more than 2.5 million, who send home annually a sum of USD 6.81 billion, which is more than 15.13% of Remittance to India in 2008, the highest among Indian States.
The service sector (including tourism, public administration, banking and finance, transportation, and communications—63.8% of GSDP in 2002–2003) and the agricultural and fishing industries (together 17.2% of GSDP) dominate the economy. Nearly half of Kerala's people are dependent on agriculture alone for income. Some 600 varieties of rice (Kerala's most important staple food and cereal crop) are harvested from 3105.21 km2 (a decline from 5883.4 km2 in 1990) of paddy fields; 688,859 tonnes are produced per annum. Other key crops include coconut (899,198 ha), tea, coffee (23% of Indian production,:13 or 57,000 tonnes, rubber, cashews, and spices—including pepper, cardamom, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Around 1.050 million fishermen haul an annual catch of 668,000 tonnes (1999–2000 estimate); 222 fishing villages are strung along the 590 km coast. Another 113 fishing villages dot the hinterland.
Kerala's coastal belt of Karunagappally is known for high background radiation from thorium-containing monazite sand. In coastal panchayats, median outdoor radiation levels are more than 4 mGy/yr and, in certain locations on the coast, it is as high as 70 mGy/yr.
Traditional industries manufacturing such items as coir, handlooms, and handicrafts employ around one million people. Around 180,000 small-scale industries employ around 909,859 Keralites; 511 medium and large scale manufacturing firms are located in Kerala. A small mining sector (0.3% of GSDP) involves extraction of ilmenite, kaolin, bauxite, silica, quartz, rutile, zircon, and sillimanite. Home gardens and animal husbandry also provide work for hundreds of thousands of people. Other major sectors are tourism, manufacturing, and business process outsourcing. As of March 2002, Kerala's banking sector comprised 3341 local branches; each branch served 10,000 persons, lower than the national average of 16,000; the state has the third-highest bank penetration among Indian states. On 1 October 2011, Kerala became the first state in the country to have a banking facility in every village. Unemployment in 2007 was estimated at 9.4%; underemployment, low employability of youths, and a 13.5% female participation rate are chronic issues, as is the practice of Nokku kooli, 'wages for looking on'. By 1999–2000, the rural and urban poverty rates dropped to 10.0% and 9.6% respectively.
The state's 2005–2006 budget was 219 billion. The state government's tax revenues (excluding the shares from Union tax pool) amounted to 111,248 million in 2005, up from 63,599 million in 2000. Its non-tax revenues (excluding the shares from Union tax pool) of the Government of Kerala as assessed by the Indian Finance Commissions reached 10,809 million in 2005, nearly double the 6,847 million revenues of 2000. However, Kerala's high ratio of taxation to gross state domestic product (GSDP) has not alleviated chronic budget deficits and unsustainable levels of government debt, which have impacted social services.
The state treasury has suffered a loss of thousands of millions of rupees thanks to the state staging over 100 hartals annually in recent times. A record total of 223 hartals were observed in 2006, resulting in a revenue loss of over 2000 crore.
Agriculture in Kerala has passed through many changing phases. The major change occurred in the 1970s, when rice production became less attractive because of increased availability of rice supply all over India and decreased availability of labour supply. Consequently, investment in rice production decreased significantly and a major portion of the land was shifted for the cultivation of perennial tree crops and seasonal crops. Profitability of crops in Kerala is reducing because of a shortage of farm labourers, the high price of land and the uneconomic size of operational holding areas.
Kerala produces 97% of the national output of pepper and accounts for 85% of the area under natural rubber in the country. Coconut, tea, coffee, cashew, and spices—including cardamom, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg—comprise a critical agricultural sector. The key agricultural staple is rice, with some six hundred varieties grown in Kerala's extensive paddy fields. Nevertheless, home gardens comprise a significant portion of the agricultural sector. Related animal husbandry is also important, and is touted by proponents as a means of alleviating rural poverty and unemployment among women, the marginalized, and the landless. Feeding, milking, breeding, management, health care, and concomitant micro-enterprises provide work for around 32 lakh (3.2 million) of Kerala's 55 lakh (5.5 million) households. The state government seeks to promote such activity via educational campaigns and the development of new cattle breeds such as the "Sunandini".
With 590 km of coastal belt, 400,000 hectares of inland water resources and about 220,000 active fishermen, Kerala is the leading producer of fish among the states of India. According to 2003–04 reports, about 1.1 million people earn their livelihood from fishing and allied activities such as drying, processing, packaging, exporting and transporting fisheries. The annual yield of the sector was estimated as 608,000 tons in 2003–04. This contributes to about 3% of the total economy of the state. In 2006, about 22% of the total Indian marine fishery yield was from Kerala industry.
The output of the sector is highly seasonal in nature and the major season is during the southwest monsoon. During this season, a suspended mud bank would be developed along the shore, which in turn leads to calm ocean water and hence peak output for the fishermen. This unique phenomenon is locally called chakara. The fish landings consist of a large variety: pelagic species (59%), demersal species (23%), crustaceans and molluscs.
Kerala has 145,704 kilometres (90,536 mi) of roads (4.2% of India's total). This translates to about 4.62 kilometres (2.87 mi) of road per thousand population, compared to an average of 2.59 kilometres (1.61 mi) in all India. Virtually all of Kerala's villages are connected by road.
Roads in Kerala include 1,524 km of national highway (2.6% of the nation's total), 4341.6 km of state highway and 18900 km of district roads. Most of Kerala's west coast is accessible through two national highways, NH 47 and NH 17, and the eastern side is accessible through various State Highways. There is also a Hill Highway (Kerala) proposed, to make easy access to eastern hills.
NH 17 connects Edapally (Kochi) to Panvel (Maharashtra) and is the longest stretch of national highway through the state. The other major national highway passing through the state is National Highway 47, which connects Salem to Kanyakumari and passes through the major towns and cities like Palakkad, Thrissur, Kochi, Alappuzha, Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram. The Salem-Kochi stretch of this highway is a part of North-South Corridor of the Indian highway system. The length of the National Highway 47 (India) through Kerala is 416.8 km. NH 49 (Kochi – Dhanushkodi), NH 208 (Kollam – Thirumangalam), NH 212 (Kozhikode – Mysore), NH 213 (Kozhikode – Palakkad), NH 220 (Kollam – theni) are the other national highways serving the state of Kerala.
The Department of Public Works is responsible for maintaining and expanding the state highways system and major district roads.The Kerala State Transport Project (KSTP), which includes the GIS-based Road Information and Management Project (RIMS), is responsible for maintaining and expanding the state highways in Kerala; it also oversees a few major district roads.
Traffic in Kerala has been growing at a rate of 10–11% every year, resulting in high traffic and pressure on the roads. Kerala's road density is nearly four times the national average, reflecting the state's high population density. Kerala's annual total of road accidents is among the nation's highest. The accidents are mainly the result of the narrow roads and irresponsible driving.
The Indian Railways' Southern Railway line runs through the state, connecting most major towns and cities except those in the highland districts of Idukki and Wayanad.
Dates of beginning of railway transport in various sections of the state are given below:
Beypore–Tirur (12 March 1861); Shoranur–Ernakulam (1902); Shenkottai–Punalur (26 November 1904); Punalur–Thiruvananthapuram (4 November 1931); Ernakulam–Kottayam (1956); Kottayam–Kollam (1958); Thiruvananthapuram–Kanyakumari (1979); Thrissur–Guruvayur (1994).
The railway network in the state is controlled by three divisions of Southern Railway, namely Trivandrum Railway Division, Palakkad Railway Division and Madurai Railway Division. Thiruvananthapuram Central is the busiest railway station in the state and second busiest in the Southern Railway Zone after Chennai Central. Kerala's major railway stations are Kannur, Kozhikode, Tirur, Shornur Junction, Palakkad Junction, Thrissur, Angamaly For Kalady, Ernakulam Town, Ernakulam Junction, Alappuzha, Kottayam, Tiruvalla, Chengannur, Kayamkulam Junction, Kollam Junction and Thiruvananthapuram Central.
Kerala has three major international airports, at Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Kozhikode. Two more international airports are proposed, at Kannur and Pathanamthitta. Trivandrum International Airport is the first international airport in an Indian non-metro city. The Cochin International Airport is the busiest and largest in the state, and was the first Indian airport to be incorporated as a public limited company; it was funded by nearly 10,000 non-resident Indians from 30 countries.
Inland water transport
Kerala, with numerous backwaters, is one of the few states in India where waterways are successfully used for commercial inland navigation. The transportation is mainly done with country craft and passenger vessels. There are 67 navigable rivers in Kerala. The total length of the inland waterways in the state is 1687 km. The main constraints to the expansion of inland navigation are lack of depth in the waterway caused by silting, lack of maintenance of navigation system and bank protection, accelerated growth of the water hyacinth, lack of modern inland craft terminals, and lack of a cargo handling system. A 205 km canal, National Waterway 3, runs between Kottapuram and Kollam.
Kerala's principal religions are Hinduism (56.2%), Islam (24.7%), and Christianity (19.0%). In comparison with the rest of India, Kerala experiences relatively little sectarianism.
According to 2001 Census of India figures, 56.2% of Kerala's residents are Hindus, 24.7% are Muslims, 19% are Christians, and the remaining 1.1% follows other religions. The major Hindu castes are Ezhavas, Nairs, Nambudiri and Dalits. The rest of the Hindu castes, including those in the list of Other Backward Class (OBC), are minority communities. Islam and Judaism arrived in Kerala through Arab traders. Muslims of Kerala, generally referred to as Moplahs, mostly follow the Shafi'i Madh'hab under Sunni Islam. The major Muslim organizations are Sunni, Mujahid and Jama'at-e-Islami. Christianity is believed to have reached the shores of Kerala in 52 CE with the arrival of St Thomas, one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ. Saint Thomas Christians (also known as Syrian Christians or Nasrani) include Syro-Malabar Catholic, Syro-Malankara Catholic, Malankara Orthodox, Jacobite and Marthoma. Latin Rite Christians were converted by the Portuguese in the 16th and 19th centuries, mainly from communities where fishing was the traditional occupation. A significant Jewish community existed in Kerala until the 20th century, when most of them migrated to Israel, leaving only a handful of families. The Paradesi Synagogue at Kochi is the oldest synagogue in the Commonwealth. Jainism has a considerable following in the Wayanad district. Buddhism was dominant at the time of Ashoka the Great but vanished by the 8th century CE.
Adi Sankara, born in Kaladi, Kerala, propounded Advaita Vedanta, which is one of the most important influential doctrines in Hindu philosophy. Historically, steps taken by many progressive and tolerant Hindu kings and movements like that of Vaikunda Swami and Narayana Guru for social reform and tolerance helped to establish Kerala as one of the most socially progressive states in India. Certain Hindu communities such as the Nairs, some Ezhavas and the Muslims around North Malabar used to follow a traditional matrilineal system known as marumakkathayam, although this practice ended in the years after Indian independence. Other Muslims, Christians, and some Hindu castes such as the Namboothiris and the Ezhavas follow makkathayam, a patrilineal system. Owing to the former matrilineal system, women in Kerala enjoy a high social status. However, gender inequality among low caste men and women is reportedly higher compared to that in other castes.
Following the instructions of the Wood's despatch of 1854, both the princely states, Travancore and Cochin, launched mass education drives with the support from different agencies mainly based on castes and communities and introduced a system of grant-in-aid to attract more private initiatives. The commendable works of social leaders, such as Narayana Guru and Ayyankali, among the socially discriminated castes in Kerala, in tandem with the initiatives of community-based organizations like Nair Service Society, SNDP, Muslim Mahajana Sabha, Yoga Kshema Sabha (of Nambudiris) and different congregations of Christian churches, led to considerable progress in the mass education of Kerala.
In 1991, Kerala became the first state in India to be recognized as a totally literate state, though the effective literacy rate at that time was only 90 percent. The net enrollment in elementary education is almost 100 per cent and is almost balanced among different sexes, social groups and regions, unlike other states of India. The state topped the Education Development Index (EDI) among 21 major states in India in the year 2006–2007. According to the first Economic Census, conducted in 1977, 99.7 per cent of the villages in Kerala had a primary school within 2 km, 98.6 had a middle school within 2 km and 96.7 per cent had a high school or higher secondary school within 5 km, far ahead of national averages.
The educational system prevailing in the state schooling is for 10 years, which are streamlined into lower primary, upper primary and secondary school stages with a 4+3+3 pattern. After 10 years of secondary schooling, students typically enroll in Higher Secondary Schooling in one of the three major streams—liberal arts, commerce or science. Upon completing the required coursework, students can enroll in general or professional under-graduate (UG) programmes.
The majority of the public schools are affiliated with the Kerala State Education Board. Other familiar educational boards are the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE), the Central Board for Secondary Education (CBSE), and the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS). English is the language of instruction in most self-financing schools, while government and government-aided schools offer English or Malayalam. Though the education cost is generally considered low in Kerala, according to the 61st round of the National Sample Survey (2004–2005), per capita spending on education by the rural households in Kerala was reported to be 41 for Kerala, more than twice the national average. The survey also reveals that the rural-urban difference in the household expenditure on education was much less in Kerala than in the rest of India.
A few universities in Kerala are Kannur University, Mahatma Gandhi University, University of Calicut, University of Kerala, Cochin University of Science and Technology, Kerala Agricultural University, and Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit. Premiere educational institutions in Kerala are the Indian Institute of Management Kozhikode (one of the thirteen Indian Institutes of Management), the National Institute of Technology Calicut (NITC), Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Thiruvananthapuram and the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST). Kerala also has a national law school, which is known as the National University of Advanced Legal Studies. Center for Development Studies offers M Phil and PhD level courses of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.
The Kerala school of astronomy and mathematics flourished between the 14th and 16th centuries. In attempting to solve astronomical problems, the Kerala school independently created a number of important mathematics concepts including results—series expansion for trigonometric functions.
The culture of Kerala is composite and cosmopolitan in nature and it's an integral part of Indian culture. It has been elaborated upon through centuries of contact with neighboring and overseas cultures. However, the geographical insularity of Kerala from the rest of the country has caused to develop a distinctive outlook in every sphere of culture such as lifestyle, art, architecture, language, literature and social institutions. The Malayalam calendar (also known as Kollavarsham), a solar calendar started from 825 CE in Kerala, serves as the official calendar of Kerala and finds common usage in planning agricultural and religious activities.
The origin of dance and music in Kerala can be traced to the tribal art forms and folk songs which were performed in those early days to propitiate the local deities. With the arrival of Aryan Brahmins in Kerala (8th century CE), who were instrumental in the development of many semi-classical art forms of Kerala, Hindu temples and associated institutions took over the role of development of many ritualistic art forms; emergence of new temple arts like Koodiyattom, Koothu and Kathakali have to be seen in this context. Koodiyattom, which emerged as a popular temple art by 9th century, is a Sanskrit theatre tradition, and is officially recognised by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Kerala natanam (an offshoot of Kathakali), Kaliyattam, Mohiniaattam (dance of the enchantress), Theyyam, Thullal and Padayani are other popular performing arts of Kerala. Of these, Kathakali and Mohiniattam are the most recognized Indian Classical Dance traditions from Kerala.
Popular dances in Kerala also include some non-Hindu religious dances like Margamkali, Parisamuttu and chavittu nadakom of Christians and Oppana of Muslims. Oppana has its roots in the Arab dances and it combines dance, rhythmic hand clapping, and ishal vocalizations. Margam Kali is a traditional group dance form traceable back to the 17th century, originally performed during Syrian Christian festivals. Nowadays, many of these art forms are largely performed only during marriage ceremonies or at youth festivals.
Development of classical music in Kerala is attributed to the contributions it received from the traditional performance arts associated with the temple culture of Kerala. Development of the indigenous classical music form, Sopana Sangeetham, illustrates the rich contribution that temple culture has made to the arts of Kerala. Carnatic music dominates Keralite traditional music. This was the result of Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma's popularization 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's visual arts range from traditional murals to the works of Raja Ravi Varma, the state's most renowned painter. Most of the castes and communities in Kerala have rich collections of folk songs and ballads associated with a variety of themes; Vadakkan Pattukal (Northern Ballads), Thekkan pattukal (Southern Ballads), Vanchi pattukal (Boat Songs), Mappila Pattukal (Muslim songs) and Pallipattukal (Church songs) are a few of them.
Culinary spices have been cultivated in Kerala for millennia and they are characteristic of its cuisine. Rice is a dominant staple that is eaten at all times of day.
Breakfast dishes are frequently based on the rice preparations idli, puttu Idiyappam, or pulse-based vada or tapioca. These may be accompanied by chutney, kadala, payasam, payar pappadam, Appam, egg masala and fish curry.
Lunch dishes include rice and curry along with rasam, pulisherry and sambar. Sadhya is a vegetarian dish, often served on a banana leaf and followed with a cup of payasam.
Popular snacks include banana chips, yam crisps, tapioca chips, unniyappam and kuzhalappam.
Sea food specialities include karimeen, prawn, shrimp and other crustacean dishes.
Both men and women 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. Presently, North Indian dresses such as Salwar kameez are also popular among women in Kerala.
Malayalam literature is medieval in origin and includes such figures as the 14th-century Niranam poets (Madhava Panikkar, Sankara Panikkar and Rama Panikkar), and the 17th-century poet Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan, whose works mark the dawn of both modern Malayalam language and indigenous Keralite poetry. Paremmakkal Thoma Kathanar and Kerala Varma Valiakoi Thampuran are noted for their contribution to Malayalam prose. 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, Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, M. T. Vasudevan Nair and O. N. V. Kurup have made valuable contributions to the 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.
Elephants have been an integral part of culture of Kerala. Kerala is home to the largest domesticated elephant population in India—about 700 Indian elephants, owned by temples as well as individuals. These elephants are mainly employed for the processions and displays associated with festivals celebrated all around the state. About 10,000 festivals are celebrated in the state annually and some animal lovers have sometimes raised concerns regarding the overwork of domesticated elephants. In Malayalam literature, elephants are referred to as the 'sons of the sahya. The elephant is the state animal of Kerala and is featured on the emblem of the Government of Kerala.
Almost all traditional sports and games of Keralites failed to stand the test of time; they either disappeared from the land or have become just an art form performed during festivals. These include Poorakkali, Padayani, Thalappandukali, Onathallu, Parichamuttukali, Velakali, Kilithattukali etc. However, Kalaripayattu, the mother of all martial arts in the world, is an exception and many people enthusiastically practice this indigenous martial sport. It has also attracted interest from foreign countries and found place in global media like BBC. Another traditional sport of Kerala is the boat race, especially the race of Snake boats.
Now, cricket and football have become the most popular sports in the state; both were introduced in Malabar during the British colonial period in the 19th century. A few cricketers, like Tinu Yohannan, Shanthakumaran Sreesanth and Abey Kuruvilla, found places in the national cricket team. In spite of the popularity of cricket in the state, the Kerala cricket team has not yet been able to make good performance in the Ranji Trophy, the premier first-class cricket tournament in India, which leads to a conclusion that the standard of the Kerala cricket team is yet to match that of many other state teams. A cricket club from Kerala, the Kochi Tuskers, played for Kochi in the Indian Premier League (IPL) in 2011. Nonetheless, the team was disbanded after one season because of conflict of interests among its promoters. Kerala is one of the very few states in India where football fan fervor exceeds that of cricket. Kerala has made many recognized achievements in national football, and has also contributed many notable footballers, like I. M. Vijayan, C. V. Pappachan, V. P. Sathyan, and Jo Paul Ancheri. The Kerala state football team has won the Santhosh Trophy five times, in 1973, 1992, 1993, 2001 and 2004. Also, they were the runner-ups for seven times, a record they share with the state team of Goa.
In sports, most admired achievements for Kerala come from athletics. Among the prominent athletes hailing from the state, P. T. Usha, Shiny Wilson and M.D. Valsamma are both Padma Shri as well as Arjuna Award winners while K. M. Beenamol and Anju Bobby George are Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna as well as Arjuna Award winners. T. C. Yohannan, Suresh Babu, Sinimol Paulose, Angel Mary Joseph, Mercy Kuttan, K. Saramma, K. C. Rosakutty and Padmini Selvan are the other Arjuna Award winners from Kerala. Volleyball is another popular sport and is often played on makeshift courts on sandy beaches along the coast. Jimmy George was a notable Indian volleyball player, rated in his prime as among the world's ten best players. Other popular sports include badminton, basketball and kabaddi.
Kerala is situated on the lush and tropical Malabar Coast. Kerala is one of the popular tourist destinations in India. Its culture and traditions, coupled with its varied demographics, have made Kerala one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. National Geographic's Traveller magazine names Kerala as one of the "ten paradises of the world" and "50 must see destinations of a lifetime". Travel and Leisure names Kerala as "One of the 100 great trips for the 21st century". Kerala's beaches, backwaters, mountain ranges and wildlife sanctuaries are the major attractions for both domestic and international tourists. The city of Kochi ranks first in the total number of international and domestic tourists in Kerala.
Until the early 1980s, Kerala was a relatively unknown destination. But in 1986 the government of Kerala declared tourism as an industry and it was the first state in India to do so. 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. Many innovative marketing strategies were used and the advertisements branded Kerala with a catchy tagline Kerala, God's Own Country. Today, Kerala tourism is a global brand and regarded as one of the destinations with highest recall. 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. In 2011, tourist inflow to Kerala crossed the 10-million mark.
Kerala has also pioneered health and medical tourism in India and has attained international attention in this segment. Though the idea of health tourism in Kerala is heavily concentrated on Ayurveda, it is also a good destination for other forms of treatment, including allopathy and homeopathy. Ayurvedic tourism became very popular since the 1990s, and private agencies like Kottakkal Arya Vydyasala played a notable role in tandem with the initiatives of Tourism Department. Kerala is known for its ecotourism initiatives and in this segment it promotes mountaineering, trekking and bird-watching programmes in the Western Ghats as the major products.
The state's tourism industry is a major contributor to the state's economy, which is currently growing at a rate of 13.31%. The revenue from tourism increased fivefold between 2001 and 2011 and crossed the 190 billion mark in 2011. Moreover, the industry provides employment opportunity to 1.2 million people.
The most popular tourist attractions in the state are beaches, backwaters and hill stations. Major beaches are at Kovalam, Varkala, Kappad, Muzhappilangad and Bekal. Popular hill stations are at Munnar, Wayanad, Wagamon, Peermade, Nelliampathi and Ponmudi. Kerala's ecotourism destinations include 12 wildlife sanctuaries and two national parks: Periyar Tiger Reserve, Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary, Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, Thattekad Bird Sanctuary, Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary, and Eravikulam National Park are the most popular among them. The "backwaters" are an extensive network of interlocking rivers (41 west-flowing rivers), lakes, and canals that center around Alleppey, Kumarakom, Kollam and Punnamada (where the annual Nehru Trophy Boat Race is held in August). Cities such as Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Kozhikode are popular centres for their shopping and traditional theatrical performances.
Kerala is also a center of heritage and religious tourism sites. Padmanabhapuram Palace and the Mattancherry Palace are two notable heritage sites. The state is also famous for the large number of festivals (about 10,000 per year) it celebrates; of these, Onam and Thrissur Pooram attract a large inflow of foreign tourists. According to a survey conducted among foreign tourists, Elephants, fireworks display and huge crowd are the major attractions of Thrissur Pooram. The main pilgrim tourist spots of Kerala are Sabarimala Temple, Aranmula Temple, Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Guruvayoor Temple, Chettikulangara Temple, Vadakumnathan Temple, Sarkara Devi Temple, Padanilam Parabrahma Temple, Beemapally mosque, Saint Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, Malayattoor, Parumala Church (Pathanamthitta) and St. Francis Church, Kochi. Saint Alphonsa Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, Bharananganam is also a destination of pilgrimage tourism.