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Kerala

Kerala, situated on the lush and tropical Malabar Coast, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in India. Named as one of the "ten paradises of the world" and "50 places of a lifetime" by the National Geographic Traveler magazine, Kerala is especially known for its ecotourism initiatives. Its unique culture and traditions, coupled with its varied demographics, has made Kerala one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.

Kerala is a union state located in the south western part of India. With an Arabian sea coastline on the west, it is bordered on the north by Karnataka and by Tamil Nadu on the south and east. Major cities are Thiruvananthapuram (the capital), Kochi and Kozhikode. The principal spoken language is Malayalam but many other languages are also spoken.

Kerala is mentioned in the ancient epic Mahabharata (800 BC) at several instances as a tribe, as a region and as a kingdom. The first written mention of Kerala is seen in a 3rd-century-BC rock inscription by emperor Asoka the Great, where it is mentioned as Keralaputra. This region formed part of ancient Tamilakam and was ruled by the Cheras. They had extensive trade relations with the Greeks, Romans and Arabs. Early contact with Europeans later gave way to struggles between colonial and native interests.


HISTORY

It is not certain if the region was inhabited during Neolithic times. However, there is evidence of the emergence of prehistoric pottery and granite burial monuments in the form of megalithic tombs in the 10th century BC; they resemble their counterparts in Western Europe and other parts of Asia. Kerala and Tamil Nadu once shared a common language, ethnicity and culture; this common area was known as Tamilakam.

According to legend, Kerala was an Asura-ruled kingdom under Mahabali. Onam, the national festival of Kerala, is dedicated to Maveli's memory. Another legend has Parasurama, an avatar of Mahavishnu, throwing his battle axe into the sea; from those waters, Kerala arose. Parasurama, surrounded by settlers, commanding Varuna to part the seas and reveal Kerala.

The ancient Cheras, whose mother tongue and court language was Tamil, ruled Kerala from their capital at Vanchi. They were constantly at war with the neighbouring Chola and Pandya kingdoms. Artist's rendition of Vasco da Gama's 1498 landing in Calicut, now Kozhikode.
The Chera kings' dependence on trade meant that merchants from West Asia and Southern Europe could establish coastal posts and settlements in Kerala. The Jewish, Christian, and Muslim immigrants established Nasrani Mappila and Muslim Mappila communities. The Jews first arrived in Kerala in 573 BC. Thomas the Apostle visited Muziris in Kerala in 52 AD to proselytize amongst Kerala's Jewish settlements. However, the first verifiable migration of Jewish-Nasrani families to Kerala is of the arrival of Knai Thoma in 345 AD . Muslim merchants (Malik ibn Dinar) settled in Kerala by the 8th century AD and introduced Islam. After Vasco Da Gama's arrival in 1498, the Portuguese gained control of the lucrative pepper trade by subduing Keralite communities and commerce

Conflicts between Kozhikode (Calicut) and Kochi (Cochin) provided an opportunity for the Dutch to oust the Portuguese. In turn, the Dutch were ousted by Marthanda Varma of the Travancore Royal Family who routed them at the Battle of Colachel in 1741. In 1766, Hyder Ali, the ruler of Mysore invaded northern Kerala, capturing Kozhikode in the process. In the late 18th century, Tipu Sultan, Ali’s son and successor, launched campaigns against the expanding British East India Company; these 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.
Pazhassi Raja, the "Lion of Kerala", who waged a guerilla war against the British in the late 18th
century.

After India gained its independence in 1947, Travancore and Cochin were merged to form Travancore-Cochin on 1 July 1949. On 1 January 1950 (Republic Day), Travancore-Cochin was recognised as a state. A new legislative assembly was also created, for which elections were first held in 1957.


GEOGRAPHY

Kerala is wedged between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats. Lying between north latitudes 8°18' and 12°48' and east longitudes 74°52' and 72°22', Kerala is 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 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. Pre-Cambrian and Pleistocene geological formations compose the bulk of Kerala’s terrain.

Eastern 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, 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 comprising central Kerala, dominated by rolling hills and valleys. 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.

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. As Kerala's rivers which lies below sea level result in the nearly year-round water logging of such western regions.

Lake Vembanad—Kerala’s largest body of water—dominates the Backwaters; it lies between Alappuzha and Kochi and is more than 200 km² 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 (130 km) and the Achankovil (128 km). The average length of the rivers of Kerala is 64 km.


CULTURE

Kerala's culture is derived from both a greater Tamil-heritage region known as Tamilakam and southern coastal Karnataka. Later, Kerala's culture was elaborated upon through centuries of contact with neighboring and overseas cultures. Native performing arts include koodiyattom (a 2000 year old Sanskrit theatre tradition, officially recognised by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, 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.
During Onam, Keralites create floral pookkalam designs in front of their houses.
Other forms of art are more religious or tribal in nature. These include chavittu nadakom, oppana (originally from Malabar), which combines dance, rhythmic hand clapping, and ishal vocalisations.

The elephants are an integral part of the daily life in Kerala. These Indian elephants are loved, revered, groomed and given a prestigious place in the state's culture. Elephants in Kerala are often referred to as the 'sons of the sahya.' Keralite elephants, caparisoned, during the Sree Poornathrayesa Temple festival.

Kerala's music also has ancient roots. Carnatic music dominates Keralite traditional music. 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.

A typical Kerala-style house with a thulasi thara, a platform for tulasi. Kerala's cuisine is typically served as a sadhya on green banana leaves. Such dishes as idli, payasam, pulisherry, puttucuddla, puzhukku, rasam, and sambar are typical. Keralites—both men and women alike—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.


PLACES OF TOURIST INTEREST

Kerala's tourism industry was able to transform the state into one of the niche holiday destinations in India. The tagline Kerala- God's Own Country, originally coined by Vipin Gopal, has been widely used in Kerala's tourism promotions and soon became synonymous with the state. In 2006, Kerala attracted 8.5 million tourist arrivals,

Beaches are the popular attractions in the state include the beaches at Kovalam, Cherai and Varkala.

The hill stations of Munnar, Nelliampathi, Ponmudi and Wayanad.

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 centre on Alleppey, Kollam, Kumarakom, and Punnamada (where the annual Nehru Trophy Boat Race is held in August), also see heavy tourist traffic.

Heritage sites, such as the Padmanabhapuram Palace and the Mattancherry Palace, are also visited. Cities such as Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram are popular centres for their shopping and traditional theatrical performances.

During early summer, the Thrissur Pooram is conducted, attracting foreign tourists who are largely drawn by the festival's elephants and celebrants.