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History of Kerala

According to local mythology the land of Kerala was created by Parusurama the avatar of Mahavishnu who claimed the land by throwing his axe into the ocean. People have lived in the region now known as Kerala since ancient times. The Sanskrit epic Aitareya Aranyaka has the earliest specific mention of Kerala. Katyayana (4th century BC) and Patanjali (2nd century BC) show their acquaintance with the geography of Kerala. Pliny the Elder mentions Muziris (modern Kodungallur) as the first port in India (N.H. 6.26); slightly later in time, the unknown author of the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea notes that "both Muziris and Nelkunda (modern Kottayam) are now busy places".

The emergence of the Malayalam language from Tamil sheds light on the ancient past of Kerala. Malayalam (Mala or Mountain + Alam or location) means the 'living/inhabitants in mountain' in Tamil (Malayalam, which earlier implied the geographical location of the region, was replaced by 'Kerala' and now identifies the language spoken in the region). At first, the area was simply another Tamil-speaking region, however, it became linguistically separate from the Tamil region in the early 14th century. The Chera empire ruled the area of Kerala from ancient times with Tamil as their court language. Allied with the Pallavas, they were continually at war with the neighbouring kingdoms of the Cholas and Pandyas. The Chera capital was Vanchi, whose exact location is still a matter of conjecture. A regional identity distinct from the Tamils developed in 8th-14th centuries, with the second Chera empire and with the development of the Malayalam language.

Both Buddhism and Jainism reached Kerala at an early period. Like other parts of ancient India, Buddhism and Jainism co-existed with early Shaivite beliefs and faiths associated with tribal life during the first five centuries. It was only after the "Sangam" Period that large groups of Northern Brahmins started migrating to Kerala, possibly during Kalabhra, Rashtrakuta, Chalukya, Pallava and Hoysala invasions. By the 8th and 9th centuries, 2nd Chera kings inclined to Vaishnavism and some of them wrote great literary works in the stream of Vishnu Bhakthi. When all over India Hinduism was revived by intellectuals like Shankara and by Bhakti movements, and finally Buddhism and Jainism merged into their mother religion.

Jewish settlers avoiding persecution in their homeland migrated to Kerala in the early centuries. Arab merchants founded Kerala's early Muslim community, the Mappilas, in the 8th century. According to some the history of Christianity in Kerala dates back to the arrival of St. Thomas the Apostle at Kodungallur in A.D. 52. For a long time this was disputed. However in 2002 The British researcher, William Dalrymple travelled across the Arabian Sea to Kerala in a boat similar to those mentioned in ancient Jewish and Roman texts and showed how the Nasrani-Jewish people had travelled to Kodungalloor. He followed the same course as mentioned in the Acts of Thomas, a copy of which survives in a monastery on Mount Sinai. A Christian-Jewish community was later established by a contingent of Jewish Nasranis led by Knai Thoma who arrived in 345. Cheraman Perumal, the then king of Malabar issued a proclamation giving land and privileges to the Knanaya Yehudeya(jewish)-Nasranis on copper plates on a Saturday in March (Kumbham 29), 345. This was followed by another round of migration from Syria recorded in the Tharisappally records from around the 8th century. When the Portuguese arrived in the early 1500s, they tried to impose Roman Catholicism on the original Syrian-Christian (Nasrani) people. The Nasranis (also called Syrian-Christians in Kerala) resisted the conversion attempts of the Portuguese to bring them under Romans or the Pope with Latin rite, and instead established a church based on ancient Hebrew-Jewish traditions using original Syriac/Aramaic language for their liturgy.

Vasco da Gama's voyage to Kerala from Portugal in 1498 was largely motivated by Portuguese determination to break the Arabs' control over the trade between local spice producers and the Middle East, which existed even before Islam originated. He established India's first Portuguese fortress at Cochin (Kochi) in 1503 and from there, taking advantage of the rivalry existing between the royal families of Calicut and Cochin, managed to destroy the monopoly. The dispute between Calicut and Cochin, however, provided an opportunity for the Dutch to come in and finally expel the Roman Catholic Portuguese from their forts.

The Dutch would, in turn, be routed by the Travancore (Thiruvithamcoore) ruler Marthanda Varma at the Battle of Kulachal in 1741. The British supported the Raja for a fixed annual payment of money and moved into the Malabar area in the form of the British East India Company and were firmly established by the end of the eighteenth century. Tipu Sultan attempted to encroach on British-held territory in 1792, but was defeated and the British remained in control until independence.

Organised expressions of discontent with British supremacy were relatively infrequent in Kerala. Uprisings of note include the rebellion by Pazhassi Raja, Veluthampi Dalawa, and the Punnapra-Vayalar revolt of 1946. Mass protests were mainly directed at established social evils such as untouchability. The non-violent and largely peaceful Vaikom Satyagraha of 1924 was instrumental in securing entry to the public roads adjacent to the Vaikom temple for people belonging to backward castes. In 1936, Sree Chithira Thirunal Balaramavarma Maharaja, ruler of Travancore issued the Temple Entry Proclamation, declaring the temples of his kingdom open to all Hindu worshippers, irrespective of caste.

Modern Kerala was created in 1956 when Malabar, which had been part of the Madras Presidency, was merged with Travancore and Kochi. The latter two were princely states, distinguished in that they had concerned themselves with the education and provision of basic services to the residents of their Kingdoms. First assembly elections in Kerala took place in 1957 and the first elected communist government of asia came into power headed by E.M.S.Namboothirippadu. The radical reforms introduced by that government in favour of farmers and labourers changed the social order which prevailed in kerala for centuries to a great extent.

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