From New World Encyclopedia
  കേരളം? · Kēraḷaṁ
Nickname: "God's Own Country"
Map indicating the location of Kerala
Thumbnail map of India with Kerala highlighted
Location of Kerala
Coordinates: 8°28′N 76°57′E / 8.47, 76.95
Time zone IST (UTC+5:30)
Area 38,863 km² (15,005 sq mi)
Capital Thiruvananthapuram
Largest city Thiruvananthapuram
Largest metro Kochi urban agglomeration
District(s) 14
31,838,619 (12th) (2001)
• 819 /km² (2,121 /sq mi)
Language(s) Malayalam
Governor R. L. Bhatia
Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan
Established November 1, 1956
Legislature (seats) Unicameral (141)
ISO abbreviation IN-KL
Kerala Portal: Kerala  
140 elected, 1 nominated

Coordinates: 8°28′N 76°57′E / 8.47, 76.95 Kerala refers to a state on the Malabar Coast of southwestern India. To its east and northeast, Kerala borders Tamil Nadu and Karnataka respectively; to its west and south lie the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean, with the islands of Lakshadweep and the Maldives, respectively. Kerala nearly envelopes Mahé, a coastal exclave of Pondicherry. Kerala is one of the four states of South India.

First settled in the tenth century B.C.E. by speakers of Proto-South Dravidian, the Maurya Empire influenced Kerala. Later, the Cheran kingdom and feudal Namboothiri Brahminical city-states became major powers in the region.[1] Early contact with overseas lands culminated in struggles between colonial and native powers. The States Reorganisation Act of November 1, 1956, elevated Kerala to statehood. Social reforms enacted in the late 19th century by Cochin and post-independence governments expanded upon Travancore, making Kerala among the Third World's longest-lived, healthiest, most gender-equitable, and most literate regions. Paradoxically, Kerala's suicide, alcoholism, and unemployment rates rank among India's highest.[2] A survey conducted in 2005 by Transparency International ranked Kerala as the least corrupt state in the country.[3]

Linguist widely dispute the etymology of Kerala, casting the issue into the realm of conjecture. Common wisdom considers Kerala an imperfect Malayalam portmanteau that fuses kera ('coconut palm tree') and alam ('land' or 'location' or 'abode of'). Another theory with a following states that the name originated from the phrase chera alam (Land of the Chera). Natives of Kerala—Keralites or Malayalees—thus refer to their land as Keralam. Kerala's tourism industry, among others, also use the phrase God's own country.


Myths and legends persist concerning the origin of Kerala. One such myth depicts the creation of Kerala by Parasurama, a warrior sage. Parasurama embodied the incarnation of Maha Vishnu. He was the sixth of the ten avatars (incarnation) of Vishnu. The word Parasu means 'axe' in Sanskrit and therefore the name Parasurama means 'Ram with Axe'. The gods gave birth to him with the intention of delivering the world from the arrogant oppression of the ruling caste, the Kshatriyas. He killed all the male Kshatriyas on earth and filled five lakes with their blood. After destroying the Kshatriya kings, he approached an assembly of learned men to find a way of penitence for his sins. They advised him, to save his soul from damnation, to hand over the lands he had conquered to the Brahmins. He did as they advised and sat in meditation at Gokarnam. There, Varuna—the God of the Oceans and Bhumidevi—Goddess of Earth blessed him. From Gokarnam he reached Kanyakumari and threw his axe northward across the ocean. The place where the axe landed he named Kerala. 160 katam (an old measure) of land lay between Gokarnam and Kanyakumari. Puranas say that Parasuram planted the 64 Brahmin families in Kerala, whom he brought down from the north to expiate his slaughter of the Kshatriyas. According to the puranas, Kerala also went by the name Parasurama Kshetram, i.e., 'The Land of Parasurama', as he reclaimed the land from sea.

During Neolithic times, humans largely avoided Kerala's rain forests and wetlands. Evidence exists that speakers of protoa-Tamil language produced prehistoric pottery and granite burial monuments (dolmen) in the tenth century B.C.E. resembling their counterparts in Western Europe and the rest of Asia.[4] Thus, Kerala and Tamil Nadu once shared a common language, ethnicity and culture; that common area went by the name Tamilakam. Kerala became a linguistically separate region by the early fourteenth century. The ancient Cherans, who spoke Tamil as their mother tongue and court language, ruled Kerala from their capital at Vanchi, the first major recorded kingdom. Allied with the Pallavas, they continually warred against the neighboring Chola and Pandya kingdoms. A Keralite identity—distinct from the Tamils and associated with the second Chera empire—and the development of Malayalam evolved between the eighth and fourteenth centuries. In written records, the Sanskrit epic Aitareya Aranyaka first mentioned Kerala. Later, figures such as Katyayana, Patanjali, Pliny the Elder, and the unknown author of the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea displayed familiarity with Kerala.[5]

Muniyaras (Keralite dolmens or megalithic tombs) in Marayoor, erected by Neolithic tribesmen.

The Chera kings' dependence on trade meant that merchants from West Asia established coastal posts and settlements in Kerala.[6] Many—especially Jews and Christians—also escaped persecution, establishing the Nasrani Mappila[7] and Muslim Mappila communities. According to several scholars, the Jews first arrived in Kerala in 573 B.C.E.[8][9] The works of scholars and Eastern Christian writings state that Thomas the Apostle visited Muziris in Kerala in 52 C.E. to proselytize amongst Kerala's Jewish settlements.[10][11] The first verifiable migration of Jewish-Nasrani families to Kerala occured with the arrival of Knai Thoma in 345 C.E., who brought with him 72 Syrian Christian families.[12] Muslim merchants (Malik ibn Dinar) settled in Kerala by the eighth century C.E. After Vasco Da Gama's arrival in 1498, the Portuguese sought to control the lucrative pepper trade by subduing Keralite communities and commerce.

Conflicts between the cities of Kozhikode (Calicut) and Kochi (Cochin) provided an opportunity for the Dutch to oust the Portuguese. In turn, Marthanda Varma of Travancore (Thiruvathaamkoor) defeated the Dutch at the 1741 Battle of Colachel, ousting them. Hyder Ali, heading the Mysore, conquered northern Kerala, capturing Kozhikode in 1766. In the late eighteenth century, Tipu Sultan, Ali’s son and successor, launched campaigns against the expanding British East India Company; those resulted in two of the four Anglo-Mysore Wars. He ultimately ceded Malabar District and South Kanara to the Company in the 1790s. The Company then forged tributary alliances with Kochi (1791) and Travancore (1795). Malabar and South Kanara became part of the Madras Presidency.

Memorial of Veera Pazhassi Raja (the "Lion of Kerala") in Mananthavady, Wayanad. Pazhassi Raja (known as the Lion of Kerala) launched a guerrilla war against the British in the late eighteenth century in protest against revised taxation laws.

Kerala saw comparatively little defiance of the British Raj—nevertheless, several rebellions occurred, including the 1946 Punnapra-Vayalar revolt,[13] and heroes likeVelayudan Thampi Dalava Pazhassi Raja and Kunjali Marakkar earned their place in history and folklore. Many actions, spurred by such leaders as Sree Narayana Guru and Chattampi Swamikal, instead protested such conditions as untouchability; notably the 1924 Vaikom Satyagraham. In 1936, Chitra Thirunal Bala Rama Varma of Travancore issued the Temple Entry Proclamation that opened Hindu temples to all castes; Cochin and Malabar soon did likewise. The 1921 Moplah Rebellion involved Mappila Muslims battling Hindus and the British Raj.[14]

After India's independence in 1947, Travancore and Cochin merged to form Travancore-Cochin on July 1, 1949. On January 1, 1950 (Republic Day), Travancore-Cochin received recognition as a state. Meanwhile, the Madras Presidency had become Madras State in 1947. Finally, the Government of India's November 1, 1956 States Reorganisation Act inaugurated the state of Kerala, incorporating Malabar district, Travancore-Cochin (excluding four southern taluks that merged with Tamil Nadu), and the taluk of Kasargod, South Kanara.[15] The government also created a new legislative assembly, with the first elections held in 1957. Those resulted in a communist-led government[15]—one of the world's earliest[16]—headed by E. M. S. Namboodiripad. Subsequent social reforms favored tenants and laborers.[17][18] That facilitated, among other things, improvements in living standards, education, and life expectancy.


A temple pond in Palakkad.

Kerala’s 38,863 km² landmass (1.18 percent of India) wedges between the Arabian Sea to the west and the Western Ghats—identified as one of the world's 25 biodiversity hotspots[19]—to the east. Lying between north latitudes 8°18' and 12°48' and east longitudes 74°52' and 72°22',[20] Kerala sits well within the humid equatorial tropics. Kerala’s coast runs for some 580 km (360 miles), while the state itself varies between 35 and 120 km (22–75 miles) in width. Geographically, Kerala divides 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 center of the Indian tectonic plate; as such, most of the state experiences comparatively little seismic and volcanic activity.[21] Geologically, pre-Cambrian and Pleistocene formations compose the bulk of Kerala’s terrain.

Agroecological zones of Kerala.

Eastern Kerala lies immediately west of the Western Ghats' rain shadow; it consists of high mountains, gorges and deep-cut valleys. Forty one of Kerala’s west-flowing rivers, and three of its east-flowing ones originate in this region. Here, the Western Ghats form a wall of mountains interrupted only near Palakkad, where the Palakkad Gap breaks through to provide access to the rest of India. The Western Ghats rises on average to 1,500 m (4920 ft) above sea level, while the highest peaks may reach to 2,500 m (8200 ft). Just west of the mountains lie the midland plains composing central Kerala; rolling hills and valleys dominate.[20] Generally ranging between elevations of 250–1,000 m (820–3300 ft), the eastern portions of the Nilgiri and Palni Hills include such formations as Agastyamalai and Anamalai.

A cheena vala (fishing net) in the Backwaters region of Kollam.

Kerala’s western coastal belt lays relatively flat, 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, expanding more than 200 km² in area. Around 8 percent of India's waterways (measured by length) exist in Kerala.[22] The most important of Kerala’s 44 rivers include the Periyar (244 km), the Bharathapuzha (209 km), the Pamba (176 km), the Chaliyar (169 km), the Kadalundipuzha (130 km) and the Achankovil (128 km). The average length of the rivers of Kerala measures 64 km. Most of the remainder extend short distances depending entirely on monsoon rains.[20] Those conditions result in the nearly year-round water logging of such western regions as Kuttanad, 500 km² of which lies below sea level. Kerala's rivers, small and lacking deltas, find themselves prone to environmental factors. Kerala's rivers face many problems, including summer droughts, the building of large dams, sand mining, and pollution.


With 120–140 rainy days per year, Kerala has a wet and maritime tropical climate influenced by the seasonal heavy rains of the southwest summer monsoon.[23] In eastern Kerala, a drier tropical wet and dry climate prevails. Kerala's rainfall averages 3,107 mm annually. Some of Kerala's drier lowland regions average only 1,250 mm; the mountains of eastern Idukki district receive more than 5,000 mm of orographic precipitation, the highest in the state.

In summers, most of Kerala endures gale force winds, storm surges, cyclone-related torrential downpours, occasional droughts, and rises in sea level and storm activity resulting from global warming.[24][25][26] Kerala’s maximum daily temperature averages 36.7 °C; the minimum measures 19.8 °C.[20] Mean annual temperatures range from 25.0–27.5 °C in the coastal lowlands to 20.0–22.5 °C in the highlands.[27]

Flora and fauna

Pambar river in the Marayoor region of northwestern Idukki district.

Much of Kerala's notable biodiversity concentrates in the Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve in the eastern hills, protected by the Indian government. Almost a fourth of India's 10,000 plant species grow in the state. Among the almost 4,000 flowering plant species (1,272 endemic to Kerala and 159 threatened) 900 species constitute highly sought medicinal plants.[28][29]

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, forests cover 24 percent of Kerala.[30] Kerala hosts two of the world’s Ramsar Convention listed wetlands—Lake Sasthamkotta and the Vembanad-Kol wetlands, as well as 1455.4 km² of the vast Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. Subjected to extensive clearing for cultivation in the twentieth century,[31] much of Kerala's forest cover has been protected from clearfelling. Kerala's fauna has received notice for their diversity and high rates of endemism: 102 species of mammals (56 endemic), 476 species of birds, 202 species of freshwater fishes, 169 species of reptiles (139 of them endemic), and 89 species of amphibians (86 endemic).[29] The fauna has been threatened by extensive habitat destruction (including soil erosion, landslides, desalinization, and resource extraction).[32]

A Grizzled Giant Squirrel in Marayoor, Idukki.

Eastern Kerala’s windward mountains shelter tropical moist forests and tropical dry forests common in the Western Ghats. Here, sonokeling (Indian rosewood), anjili, mullumurikku (Erythrina), and Cassia number among the more than 1000 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).[30] Such fauna as Asian Elephant, Bengal Tiger, Leopard (Panthera pardus), Nilgiri Tahr, Common Palm Civet, and Grizzled Giant Squirrel live among them.[30][33] Reptiles include the king cobra, viper, python, and crocodile. Kerala has an abundance bird species—several emblematic species include Peafowl, the Great Hornbill, Indian Grey Hornbill, Indian Cormorant, and Jungle Myna. In lakes, wetlands, and waterways, fish such as kadu (stinging catfish and Choottachi (Orange chromide—Etroplus maculatus; valued as an aquarium specimen) live.[34]


Kerala's districts, shaded by population per km².

Kerala's 14 districts distribute among Kerala's three historical regions: Malabar (northern Kerala), Kochi (central Kerala), and Travancore (southern Kerala). Kerala's modern-day districts (listed in order from north to south) correspond to them as follows:

  • Malabar: Kasaragod, Kannur, Wayanad, Kozhikode, Malappuram, Palakkad
  • Kochi: Thrissur, Ernakulam
  • Travancore: Kottayam, Idukki, Alappuzha, Pathanamthitta, Kollam, Thiruvananthapuram

Mahé, a part of the Indian union territory of Puducherry (Pondicherry), constitues a coastal exclave surrounded by Kerala on all of its landward approaches. Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) serves as the state capital and most populous city.[35] Kochi counts as the most populous urban agglomeration[36] and the major port city in Kerala. Kozhikode and Thrissur make up the other major commercial centers of the state. The High Court of Kerala convenes at Ernakulam. Kerala's districts, divided into administrative regions for levying taxes, further subdivided into 63 taluks; those have fiscal and administrative powers over settlements within their borders, including maintenance of local land records.


Like other Indian states and most Commonwealth countries, a parliamentary system of representative democracy governs Kerala; state residents receive universal suffrage. The government has three branches. The unicameral legislature, known as the legislative assembly, comprises elected members and special office bearers (the Speaker and Deputy Speaker) elected by assemblymen. The Speaker presides over Assembly meetings while the Deputy Speaker presides whenever in the Speaker's absence. Kerala has 140 Assembly constituencies. The state sends 20 members to the Lok Sabha and nine to the Rajya Sabha, the Indian Parliament's upper house.

The Legislative Assembly Building in Trivandrum.

Like other Indian states, the Governor of Kerala sits as the constitutional head of state, appointed by the President of India. The Chief Minister of Kerala, the de facto head of state vested with most of the executive powers, heads the executive authority; the Governor appoints the Legislative Assembly's majority party leader to that position. The Council of Ministers, which answers to the Legislative Assembly, has its members appointed by the Governor; the appointments receive input from the Chief Minister.

The Kerala High Court in Ernakulam.

The judiciary comprises the Kerala High Court (including a Chief Justice combined with 26 permanent and two additional (pro tempore) justices) and a system of lower courts. The High Court of Kerala constitutes the highest court for the state; it also decides cases from the Union Territory of Lakshadweep. Auxiliary authorities known as panchayats, elected through local body elections, govern local affairs.

The state's 2005–2006 budget reached 219 billion INR.[37] The state government's tax revenues (excluding the shares from Union tax pool) amounted to 111,248 million INR 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 INR in 2005, nearly double the 6,847 million INR revenues of 2000.[38] Kerala's high ratio of taxation to gross state domestic product (GSDP) has failed to alleviate chronic budget deficits and unsustainable levels of government debt, impacting social services.[39]


Kerala hosts two major political alliances: the United Democratic Front (UDF—led by the Indian National Congress) and the Left Democratic Front (LDF—led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) CPI(M). At present, the LDF stands as the ruling coalition in government; V.S. Achuthanandan of the CPI(M) sits as the Chief Minister of Kerala.

Kerala's people often engage in labor strikes, protests, rallies, and marches, as evidenced by a CPI(M) rally in Ernakulam.

Kerala stands as one of the few regions in the world where communist parties have been democratically elected in a parliamentary democracy. Compared with most other Indians, Keralites research issues well and participate vigorously in the political process; razor-thin margins decide many elections.


Tea gardens in eastern Kerala.

Since its incorporation as a state, Kerala's economy largely operated under welfare based democratic socialist principles. Nevertheless, the state has become increasingly liberalizing its economy, thus moving to a more mixed economy with a greater role played by the free market and foreign direct investment. Kerala's nominal gross domestic product (as of 2004–2005) has been calculated at an estimated 89451.99 crore INR,[40] while recent GDP growth (9.2 percent in 2004–2005 and 7.4 percent in 2003–2004) has been robust compared to historical averages (2.3 percent annually in the 1980s and between 5.1 percent[41] and 5.99 percent[42] in the 1990s).[41] Rapid expansion in services like banking, real estate, and tourism (13.8 percent growth in 2004–2005) outpaced growth in both agriculture (2.5 percent in 2004–2005) and the industrial sector (−2 percent in 2004–2005).[40] Nevertheless, relatively few major corporations and manufacturing plants choose to operate in Kerala.[43] Overseas Keralites help mitigated that through remittances sent home,[44] contributing to around 20 percent of state GDP.[45] Kerala's per capita GDP of 11,819 INR[46] ranks significantly higher than the all India average,[41] although it still lies far below the world average. Additionally, Kerala's Human Development Index and standard of living statistics rank as the nation's best.[47] That apparent paradox—high human development and low economic development—has been dubbed the Kerala phenomenon or the Kerala model of development,[48][49] and arises mainly from Kerala's strong service sector.

Waterways bordering a farm in Kerala.

The service sector (including tourism, public administration, banking and finance, transportation, and communications—63.8 percent of statewide GDP in 2002–2003) along with the agricultural and fishing industries (together 17.2 percent of GDP) dominate Kerala's economy.[42][50] Nearly half of Kerala's people are dependent on agriculture alone for income.[51] Some 600 varieties[19] of rice (Kerala's most important staple food and cereal crop[52]) harvest from 3105.21 km² (a decline from 5883.4 km² in 1990[52]) of paddy fields; 688,859  tons per annum.[51] Other key crops include coconut (899,198 ha), tea, coffee (23 percent of Indian production,[53] or 57,000 tonnes[54]), rubber, cashews, and spices—including pepper, cardamom, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Around 10.50 lakh (1.050 million) fishermen haul an annual catch of 6.68 lakh (668,000) tons (1999–2000 estimate); 222 fishing villages line the 590 km coast, while an additional 113 fishing villages spread throughout the hinterland.

The Technopark, located in Thiruvananthapuram.

Traditional industries manufacturing such items as coir, handlooms, and handicrafts employ around ten lakh (one million) people. Around 1.8 lakh (180,000) small-scale industries employ around 909,859 Keralites, while some 511 medium and large scale manufacturing firms headquarter in Kerala. Meanwhile, a small mining sector (0.3 percent of GDP)[50] involves extraction of such minerals and metals as ilmenite (136,908.74 tonnes in 1999–2000), kaolin, bauxite, silica, quartz, rutile, zircon, and sillimanite.[51] Home vegetable gardens and animal husbandry also provide work for hundreds of thousands of people. tourism, manufacturing, and business process outsourcing constitute Other significant economic sectors. Kerala's unemployment rate has been variously estimated at 19.2 percent[55] and 20.77 percent,[56] although underemployment of those classified as "employed," low employability of many job-seeking youths, and a mere 13.5 percent female participation rate comprise significant problems.[57][58][56] Estimates of the statewide poverty rate range from 12.71 percent[59] to as high as 36 percent.[60]


Kovalam beach, Trivandrum

Kerala, situated on the lush and tropical Malabar Coast, was named as one of the "ten paradises of the world" by the National Geographic Traveler magazine, Kerala has become famous for its ecotourism initiatives.[61] Its unique culture and traditions, coupled with its varied demographics, has made Kerala an attractive destination. Growing at a rate of 13.31 percent, the state's tourism industry makes a major contribution to the state's economy.

A procession held before the Kumarakom Boat Race.

Until the early 1980s, Kerala had been a hitherto unknown destination, with most tourism circuits concentrated around the north of the country. 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 transformed the state into one of the niche holiday destinations in India. The tag line God's Own Country, used in its tourism promotions, soon became synonymous with the state. In 2006, Kerala attracted 8.5 million tourists–an increase of 23.68 percent in foreign tourist arrivals compared to the previous year, thus making it one of the fastest growing tourism destination in the world.

Popular attractions in the state include the beaches at Kovalam, Cherai and Varkala; the hill stations of Munnar, Nelliampathi, Ponmudi and Wayanad; and national parks and wildlife sanctuaries at Periyar and Eravikulam National Park. The "backwaters" region, which comprises an extensive network of interlocking rivers, lakes, and canals that center on Alleppey, Kumarakom, and Punnamada (the site of the annual Nehru Trophy Boat Race held every August), also see heavy tourist traffic. Heritage sites, such as the Padmanabhapuram Palace and the Mattancherry Palace, receive heavy tourist traffic. Cities such as Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram have become popular centers for their shopping and traditional theatrical performances. During the summer months the popular temple festival Thrissur pooram attracts many tourists.


Trivandrum Central Railway Station, built in 1931.

Kerala has 145,704 kilometers (90,538.7 mi) of roads (4.2 percent of India's total). That translates to about 4.62 kilometers (2.87 mi) of road per thousand population, compared to an all India average of 2.59 kilometers (1.61 mi). Roads connect virtually all of Kerala's villages. Traffic in Kerala has been growing at a rate of 10–11 percent every year, resulting in high traffic and pressure on the roads. Kerala's road density measures nearly four times the national average, reflecting the state's high population density.

A bridge on the Marine Drive walkway in Kochi.

India's national highway network includes a Kerala wide total of 1,524 km, comprising 2.6 percent of the national total. Eight designated national highways traverse in the state. The Kerala State Transport Project (KSTP), including the GIS-based Road Information and Management Project (RIMS), maintains and expands the 1,600 kilometers (994.2 mi) of roadways that comprise the state highways system; it also oversees major district roads. Two national highways, NH 47, and NH 17, provide access to most of Kerala's west coast.

The state has major international airports at Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi, and Kozhikode that link the state with the rest of the nation and the world. The Cochin International Airport at Kochi represents the first international airport in India built without Central Government funds. The backwaters traversing the state constitute an important mode of inland navigation. The Indian Railways' Southern Railway line runs throughout the state, connecting all major towns and cities except the highland districts of Idukki and Wayanad. Trivandrum Central, Kollam Junction, Ernakulam Junction, Thrissur, Kozhikode, Shoranur Junction, and Palakkad comprise Kerala's major railway stations. Kerala has excellent connections to Coimbatore and Tirupur.


Most Keralites, such as this fisherman, live in rural areas.

The 3.18 crore (31.8 million)[62] of Kerala’s compound population has predominantly Malayali Dravidian ethnicity, while the rest belong mostly to Indo-Aryan, Jewish, and Arab elements in both culture and ancestry (usually mixed). The 321,000 indigenous tribal Adivasis (1.10 percent of the populace) call Kerala home, mostly concentrated in the eastern districts.[63][64] Kerala speaks Malayalam as the official language; Ethnic minorities also speak Tamil and various Adivasi languages.

A Malayali woman wearing a neryathu known as a set sari.

Kerala has 3.44 percent of India's population; at 819 persons per km², it has three times the density as the rest of India.[65] Kerala has the lowest rate of population growth in India,[66] and Kerala's decadal growth (9.42 percent in 2001) numbers less than half the all-India average of 21.34 percent.[67] Whereas Kerala's population more than doubled between 1951 and 1991, adding 156 lakh (15.6 million) people to reach a total of 291 lakh (29.1 million) residents in 1991, the population stood at less than 320 lakh (32 million) by 2001. The coastal regions of Kerala have the highest density, leaving the eastern hills and mountains comparatively sparsely populated.[20]

Women comprise 51.42 percent of the population.[68] The principal religions of Kerala include Hinduism (56.1 percent), Islam (24.7 percent), and Christianity (19 percent).[69] Remnants of a once substantial Cochin Jewish population also practice Judaism. In comparison with the rest of India, Kerala experiences relatively little sectarianism. Nevertheless, there have been signs of increasing influences from religious extremist organizations including the Hindu Aikya Vedi.[70][71]

Kerala's society practices patriarchalism less than the rest of the Third World.[72][73] Certain Hindu communities (such as the Nairs), Travancore Ezhavas and the Muslims around Kannur used to follow a traditional matrilineal system known as marumakkathayam, which ended in the years after Indian independence. Christians, Muslims, and some Hindu castes such as the Namboothiris and the Ezhavas follow makkathayam, a patrilineal system.[74] Gender relations in Kerala have been reputed to be among the most equitable in India and the Third World.[75] Forces such as the patriarchy-enforced oppression of women threatens that status.[76]

Kerala's human development indices—elimination of poverty, primary level education, and health care—rate among the best in India. Kerala's literacy rate (91 percent)[77] and life expectancy (73 years)[77] now stand the highest in India. Kerala's rural poverty rate fell from 69 percent (1970–1971) to 19 percent (1993–1994); the overall (urban and rural) rate fell 36 percent between the 1970s and 1980s.[78] By 1999–2000, the rural and urban poverty rates dropped to 10.0 percent and 9.6 percent respectively.[79] Those changes stem largely from efforts begun in the late nineteenth century by the kingdoms of Cochin and Travancore to boost social welfare.[80][81] Kerala's post-independence government maintained that focus.[47][49]


Rural women processing coir threads.

Kerala's health care system has garnered international acclaim; UNICEF and the World Health Organization designating Kerala the world's first "baby-friendly state." Representative of that condition, more than 95 percent of Keralite births have been hospital-delivered.[82] Aside from ayurveda (both elite and popular forms),[83] siddha, and unani, people practice many endangered and endemic modes of traditional medicine, including kalari, marmachikitsa,[84] and vishavaidyam. Those propagate via gurukula discipleship,[85] and comprise a fusion of both medicinal and supernatural treatments,[86] drawing increasing numbers of medical tourists.

Lakeshore Hospital in Kochi.

A steadily aging population (with 11.2 percent of Keralites over age 60[47]) and low birthrate[72] (18 per 1,000)[82] make Kerala one of the few regions of the Third World to have undergone the "demographic transition" characteristic of such developed nations as Canada, Japan, and Norway.[48] In 1991, Kerala's TFR (children born per women) measured the lowest in India. Hindus had a TFR of 1.66, Christians 1.78, and Muslims 2.97.[87]

Kerala's female-to-male ratio (1.058) numbers significantly higher than that of the rest of India.[77][88] The same holding true for its sub-replacement fertility level and infant mortality rate (estimated at 12[43][82] to 14[89] deaths per 1,000 live births). Kerala's morbidity rate stands higher than that of any other Indian state—118 (rural Keralites) and 88 (urban) per 1000 people. The corresponding all India figures tally 55 and 54 per 1,000, respectively.[89] Kerala's 13.3 percent prevalence of low birth weight has been substantially higher than that of First World nations.[82] Outbreaks of water-borne diseases, including diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis, and typhoid,[90] among the more than 50 percent of Keralites who rely on some 30 lakh (3 million)[91] water wells[92] poses another problem, worsened by the widespread lack of sewers.[92]

The life expectancy of the people of Kerala reached 68 years as per 1991 census.


The University of Kerala's administrative building in Thiruvananthapuram.

The government or private trusts and individuals run schools and colleges in Kerala. The schools affiliate with either the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE), the Central Board for Secondary Education (CBSE), or the Kerala State Education Board. Most private school]s use English as the medium of instruction though government run schools offer both English and Malayalam. After completing their secondary education, which involves ten years of schooling, students typically enroll at Higher Secondary School in one of the three streams—liberal arts, commerce or science. Upon completing the required coursework, the student can enroll in general or professional degree programs.

Thiruvananthapuram serves as one of the state's major academic hubs; it hosts the University of Kerala. The city also has several professional education colleges, including 15 engineering colleges, three medical colleges, three Ayurveda colleges, two colleges of homeopathy, six other medical colleges, and several law colleges.[93] Trivandrum Medical College, Kerala's premier health institute, stands as one of the finest in the country, currently undergoing an upgrade in status to an All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). The College of Engineering, Trivandrum ranks as one of the top engineering institutions in the country. The Asian School of Business and IIITM-K stand as two of the other premier management study institutions in the city, both situated inside Technopark. The Indian Institute of Space Technology, the unique and first of its kind in India, has a campus in the state capital.

Kochi constitutes another major educational hub. The Cochin University of Science and Technology (also known as "Cochin University") operates in the city. Most of the city's colleges offering tertiary education affiliate either with the Mahatma Gandhi University or Cochin University. Other national educational institutes in Kochi include the Central Institute of Fisheries Nautical and Engineering Training, the National University of Advanced Legal Studies, the National Institute of Oceanography and the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute.

Kottayam also acts as a main educational hub; the district has attained near-universal literacy. Mahatma Gandhi University, CMS College(the first institution to start English education in Southern India), Medical College, Kottayam, and the Labour India Educational Research Center number among some of the important educational institutions in the district.

Kozhikode hosts two of the premier institutions in the country; the Indian Institute of Management, IIMK and the National Institute of Technology, NITC.

Kerala's literacy rate of 91 percent ranks the highest among all states in India. Female literacy of Kerala stands at 88 percent with Male literacy at 94 percent as per 2001 census.


A formation of gold-caparisoned Asian elephants at the Thrissur Pooram, Hindu temple-centered festivals popular among both Keralites and tourists.

Kerala's culture blends of Dravidian and Aryan influences, deriving from both a greater Tamil-heritage region known as Tamilakam and southern coastal Karnataka. Kerala's culture developed through centuries of contact with neighboring and overseas cultures.[94] Native performing arts include koodiyattom, kathakali – from katha ("story") and kali ("performance") – and its offshoot Kerala natanam, koothu (akin to stand-up comedy), mohiniaattam ("dance of the enchantress"), thullal, padayani, and theyyam.

A close-up of a kathakali artist.

Other forms of art have a more religious or tribal nature. Those include chavittu nadakom, oppana (originally from Malabar), which combines dance, rhythmic hand clapping, and ishal vocalisations. Many of those art forms largely play to tourists or at youth festivals, they enjoy less popularity with Keralites. They look to more contemporary art and performance styles, including those employing mimicry and parody.

Kerala's music also has ancient roots. Carnatic music dominates Keralite traditional music, the result of Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma's popularization of the genre in the nineteenth century.[95][96] Raga-based renditions known as sopanam accompany kathakali performances. Melam (including the paandi and panchari variants) represents a more percussive style of music performed at Kshetram centered festivals using the chenda. Melam ensembles comprise up to 150 musicians, and performances may last up to four hours. Panchavadyam represents a different form of percussion ensemble; up to 100 artists use five types of percussion instruments. Kerala has various styles of folk and tribal music, the most popular music of Kerala being the filmi music of Indian cinema. Kerala's visual arts range from traditional murals to the works of Raja Ravi Varma, the state's most renowned painter.

A mohiniaattam performance.

Kerala has its own Malayalam calendar, used to plan agricultural and religious activities. Keralan's typically serve cuisine as a sadhya on green banana leaves including such dishes as idli, payasam, pulisherry, puttucuddla, puzhukku, rasam, and sambar. Keralites—both men and women alike—traditionally don flowing and unstitched garments. Those 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.


Malayalam literature, ancient in origin, includes such figures as the fourteenth century Niranam poets (Madhava Panikkar, Sankara Panikkar and Rama Panikkar), whose works mark the dawn of both modern Malayalam language and indigenous Keralite poetry. The "triumvirate of poets" (Kavithrayam), Kumaran Asan, Vallathol Narayana Menon, and Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer, have been recognized for moving Keralite poetry away from archaic sophistry and metaphysics, and towards a more lyrical mode.

In the second half of the twentieth century, Jnanpith awardees like G. Sankara Kurup, S. K. Pottekkatt, and M. T. Vasudevan Nair have added to 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 takes place in the Kottayam town of Ayemenem, have gained international recognition.


Dozens of newspapers publish in Kerala in nine major languages.[97] Malayalam and English constitute the principal languages of publication. The most widely circulating Malayalam-language newspapers include Mathrubhumi, Malayala Manorama, Deepika, Kerala Kaumudi, and Desabhimani. India Today Malayalam, Chithrabhumi, Kanyaka, and Bhashaposhini count among major Malayalam periodicals.

Doordarshan, the state-owned television broadcaster, provides a multi-system mix of Malayalam, English, and international channels via cable television. Manorama News (MM TV) and Asianet number among the Malayalam-language channels that compete with the major national channels. All India Radio, the national radio service, reaches much of Kerala via its Thiruvananthapuram 'A' Malayalam-language broadcaster. BSNL, Reliance Infocomm, Tata Indicom, Hutch and Airtel compete to provide cellular phone services. Selected towns and cities offer broadband internet provided by the state-run Kerala Telecommunications (run by BSNL) and by other private companies. BSNL and other providers provide Dial-up access throughout the state.

A substantial Malayalam film industry effectively competes against both Bollywood and Hollywood. Television (especially "mega serials" and cartoons) and the Internet have affected Keralite culture. Yet Keralites maintain high rates of newspaper and magazine subscriptions; 50 percent spend an average of about seven hours a week reading novels and other books. A sizeable "people's science" movement has taken root in the state, and such activities as writers' cooperatives have become increasingly common.[98][88]


A kalaripayattu trainer practicing meithari sequences.

Several ancient ritualised arts have Keralite roots. Those include kalaripayattukalari ("place," "threshing floor," or "battlefield") and payattu ("exercise" or "practice"). Among the world's oldest martial arts, oral tradition attributes kalaripayattu's emergence to Parasurama. Other ritual arts include theyyam and poorakkali. Growing numbers of Keralites follow sports such as cricket, kabaddi, soccer, and badminton. Dozens of large stadiums, including Kochi's Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium and Thiruvananthapuram's Chandrashekaran Nair Stadium, attest to the mass appeal of such sports among Keralites.

A kalaripayattu practitioner.

Football stands as the most popular sport in the state. Some notable football stars from Kerala include I. M. Vijayan and V. P. Sathyan. Several Keralite athletes have attained world-class status, including Suresh Babu, P. T. Usha, Shiny Wilson, K. M. Beenamol, and Anju Bobby George. Volleyball, another popular sport, often playee on makeshift courts on sandy beaches along the coast. Jimmy George, born in Peravoor, Kannur, arguably the most successful volleyball player ever to represent India. At his prime he rated among the world's ten best players.

Cricket, the most-followed sport in the rest of India and South Asia, enjoys less popularity in Kerala. Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, born in Kothamangalam and often referred to as simply "Sreesanth," has earned fame as a controversial right-arm fast-medium-pace bowler and a right-handed tail-ender batsman whose actions proved pivotal in sealing, among other games, the 2007 ICC World Twenty20. Tinu Yohannan, son of Olympic long jumper T. C. Yohannan, count among less successful Keralite cricketers.


This article contains Indic text. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks or boxes, misplaced vowels or missing conjuncts instead of Indic text.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to::
Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
Portal Kerala Portal
  1. Early history of Kerala. Official Website of the Government of Kerala. accessdate 2007-05-16
  2. The extent of problem of Mental Health in the State. Kerala State Mental Health Authority.
  3. India Corruption Study - 2005. Transparency International. accessdate 2007-05-29
  4. Government of Kerala 2005.
  5. Pliny. Naturalis Historia, Book 6, Chapter 26
  6. P.T. Srinivasa Iyengar. History of the Tamils: from the earliest times to 600 C.E. (Madras, 1929)
  7. Leslie Brown. The Indian Christians of St Thomas: An account of the ancient Syrian Church of Malabar. (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1956), 171
  8. David De Beth Hillel. Travels. (original 1832)republished as Unknown Jews in Unknown Lands; The travels of Rabbi David d'Beth Hillel (from Jerusalem, through Arabia, Koordistan, part of Persia and India to Madras), (1824-1832). (Unknown Jews in unknown lands._ by David d' Beth Hillel and Walter J. Fischel, (ed.) (New York: Ktav Publication House, 1973). .
  9. James Henry Lord. The Jews in India and the Far East. (1907 original), Greenwood Press Reprint, 1977 ISBN 0837126150).
  10. A. E. Medlycott. (1905) India and the Apostle Thomas. (Kessinger Publishing reprint ed., 2007, ISBN 0548181985)
  11. Thomas Puthiakunnel, "Jewish colonies of India paved the way for St. Thomas," The Saint Thomas Christian Encyclopedia of India, ed. George Menachery, Vol. II. (1973)
  12. A. Mathias Mundadan. History of Christianity in India, vol. 1, (Bangalore, India: Church History Association of India, 1984). Around ninth century the Chera kingdom disappeared and several small kingdoms/swaroopams formed under the leadership of Nair chieftains.
  13. Government of Kerala 2002.
  14. M. Naeem Qureshi. Pan-Islam in British Indian Politics: A Study of the Khilafat Movement, 1918–1924. (Brill Academic, 1999. ISBN 9004113711, 445–447.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Plunkett, Cannon & Harding 2001, p. 24.
  16. D. Jose, (1998), "EMS Namboodiripad dead," Rediff accessed 25 February 2007.
  17. Cheriyan 2004, pp. 22–23.
  18. Cheriyan 2004, pp. 43–44.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Sreedharan 2004, p. 5.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 20.4 Government of Kerala 2005b.
  21. United Nations Development Programme 2002
  22. Inland Waterways Authority of India 2005.
  23. Chacko & Renuka 2002, p. 80.
  24. Brenkert & Malone 2003, p. 46.
  25. Brenkert & Malone 2003, p. 26.
  26. Brenkert & Malone 2003, p. 52.
  27. Brenkert & Malone 2003, p. 65.
  28. Sreedharan 2004, p. 11.
  29. 29.0 29.1 Government of Kerala 2004f, p. 141.
  30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 Sreedharan 2004, p. 12.
  31. Jayarajan 2004, pp. 6–7.
  32. Government of Kerala 2004f, pp. 142–145.
  33. Sreedharan 2004, pp. 174–175.
  34. Sreedharan 2004, p. 163–165.
  35. "World Gazetteer:India - largest cities (per geographical entity")
  36. "World Gazetteer: India - largest cities (per geographical entity")
  37. Budget at a Glance
  38. Finance Commission (Ministry of Finance, Government of India)
  39. Memoranda from States: Kerala. fincomindia.
  40. 40.0 40.1 Press Trust of India (2006), "Kerala's GDP hits an all-time high," Rediff accessed 25 February 2007.
  41. 41.0 41.1 41.2 Mohindra 2003, p. 8.
  42. 42.0 42.1 Government of Kerala 2004, p. 2.
  43. 43.0 43.1 Brenkert & Malone 2003, p. 49.
  44. Jobs Abroad Support 'Model' State in India. 2007 September 07 New York Times. accessdate 2007-09-07
  45. K.S. Hari & K.P. Kannan, "Kerala's Gulf Connection: Emigration, Remittances and their Macro Economic Impact (Working Paper 328)," 2002 Centre for Development Studies (Trivandrum).
  46. Raman 2005.
  47. 47.0 47.1 47.2 M. S. Varma, "Nap on HDI scores may land Kerala in an equilibrium trap," The Financial Express 2005, accessed 25 February 2007.
  48. 48.0 48.1 Tharamangalam 2005, p. 1.
  49. 49.0 49.1 Brenkert & Malone 2003, p. 48.
  50. 50.0 50.1 Government of Kerala 2004c, p. 24.
  51. 51.0 51.1 51.2 Government of Kerala 2005c.
  52. 52.0 52.1 Balachandran 2004, p. 5.
  53. Joy 2004, p. 13.
  54. Joy 2004, pp. 6–7.
  55. Rajan & Zachariah 2005, p. 4.
  56. 56.0 56.1 Government of Kerala 2004, p. 4.
  57. Nair 2004, p. 5.
  58. Nair 2004, p. 13.
  59. A. Dhar, "260 million Indians still below poverty line," The Hindu 2006, accessed 22 February 2006.
  60. Government of Kerala 2006, p. 1.
  61. Tourism beckons. The Hindu, 2004-05-11. accessdate 2006-08-09
  62. Office of the Registrar General 2001b.
  63. Kalathil 2004, p. 10.
  64. Kalathil 2004, p. 12.
  65. Office of the Registrar General 2001.
  66. Government of Kerala 2004c, p. 26.
  67. Government of Kerala 2004c, p. 27.
  68. Venkitakrishnan & Kurien 2003, p. 26.
  69. Office of the Registrar General 2004.
  70. Ramakrishnan 2001.
  71. Charles Haviland, May 4, 2003, "Arrests follow India village massacre," BBC News accessed 25 February 2007.
  72. 72.0 72.1 McKibben 2006.
  73. Lindberg 2004, pp. 18–19.
  74. Government of Kerala 2002b.
  75. Government of Kerala 2004r, p. 366.
  76. Lindberg 2004, p. 1.
  77. 77.0 77.1 77.2 United Nations Development Programme 2001, p. 1.
  78. Mohindra 2003, pp. 8–9.
  79. Regional Poverty in India.
  80. UNESCO (2003), "EFA (Education for All) Global Monitoring Report," UNESCO accessed 12 January 2006.
  81. V.R. Kutty, 2000, "Historical analysis of the development of health care facilities in Kerala State, India," Health Policy and Planning 15(1): 103–1049. accessed 25 February 2006
  82. 82.0 82.1 82.2 82.3 V. R. Kutty, "Why Low Birth Weight (LBW) is still a problem in Kerala: A preliminary exploration," Centre for Development Studies, 2004, accessed 25 February 2007.
  83. Unnikrishnan 2004, p. 13.
  84. Unnikrishnan 2004, p. 17.
  85. Unnikrishnan 2004, pp. 5–6.
  86. Unnikrishnan 2004, p. 15.
  87. M. Alagarajan, An analysis of fertility differentials by religion in Kerala: A test of the interaction hypothesis. Population Research and Policy Review (December 2003)Springer Netherlands ISSN 0167-5923. Retrieved May 14, 2009.
  88. 88.0 88.1 Tharamangalam 2005, p. 2.
  89. 89.0 89.1 Krishnaswami 2004, p. 5.
  90. Roy 2004, pp. 5–6.
  91. Roy 2004, p. 6.
  92. 92.0 92.1 Roy 2004, p. 7.
  93. Kerala Government Professional Colleges in Thiruvananthapuram Technical Education in Kerala - Department of Technical education. accessdate 2006-08-25
  94. Bhagyalekshmy 2004, pp. 6–7.
  95. Bhagyalekshmy 2004d, p. 29.
  96. Bhagyalekshmy 2004d, p. 32.
  97. General Review. Registrar of Newspapers for India, accessdate 2006-09-01
  98. K.S. Ranjith, (2004), "Rural Libraries of Kerala," Centre for Development Studies accessed 25 February 2007.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

External links

All links retrieved October 5, 2022.

Emblem of Kerala
State of Kerala
Capital Thiruvananthapuram
Topics History |

Economy | Geography | Flora and Fauna | Culture | Arts | Tourism


Alappuzha |

Ernakulam | Idukki | Kannur | Kasaragod | Kollam | Kottayam | Kozhikode | Malappuram | Palakkad | Pathanamthitta | Thiruvananthapuram | Thrissur | Wayanad

Cities Kochi |

Kollam | Kozhikode | Thiruvananthapuram | Thrissur


New World Encyclopedia writers and editors rewrote and completed the Wikipedia article in accordance with New World Encyclopedia standards. This article abides by terms of the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License (CC-by-sa), which may be used and disseminated with proper attribution. Credit is due under the terms of this license that can reference both the New World Encyclopedia contributors and the selfless volunteer contributors of the Wikimedia Foundation. To cite this article click here for a list of acceptable citing formats.The history of earlier contributions by wikipedians is accessible to researchers here:

The history of this article since it was imported to New World Encyclopedia:

Note: Some restrictions may apply to use of individual images which are separately licensed.