Kerala occupies a narrow strip of land, not more than 555 km in length, on western seaboard of peninsular India, roughly between the latitudes of 8° 17' and 12° 47' N. Washed by the Arabian Sea on the west and flanked by the hill ranges of the Western Ghats on the east, it has the maximum width of only 120 km. Geographically, its length covers most of the Malabar coast; and the name Malabar seems to have some association with Malainadu (land of hills) of the medieval Tamil writers. The term Malayalam, the indigenous word for denoting the country, appears to be the compound of two words malai (`mountain') and alam (`depth').
The region lies between the Sahyadris and the Arabian Sea. It is a lowland interspersed by hills having in its landscape alluvial tracts along the rivers, sandy beaches, mud flats and sand-dunes, teris, lateritic platforms, lagoons and back waters having swift flowing rivulets. It has patches of tropical evergreen forest, coconut groves and cashurina plantations.
In ancient times, the country was known as Kerala or alternatively, the land of Cheras. The second rock-edict of Asoka (circa 273-36 B. C.) refers to Keralaputras along with the Cholas, Pandyas and Satiyaputras (perhaps the Atiyamans of Kongu region) as the border kingdoms of the Mauryan empire. In the first century A. D., Pliny, the Roman historian, refers to the rulers of Kerala as Caelogbothras, while the unknown author of the Periplus of the erythraean sea, of the same period, mentions it as Cerobothra. During this period, Muziris generally identified with Cranganur (Kodungallur), District Thrissur, was most important of the several ports of the west coast, frequented by foreign ships, laden with merchandise. Ptolemy, the geographer of the second century, mentions the country as Kerobothros. In the contemporary Tamil literature, Kerala is invariably referred to as the Chera country, and there is ample evidence to show that the Cheras rose to prominence along with the Cholas and the Pandyas during the first three centuries of the Christian era. The Cheras continued to wield power, with short interregnums, till the beginning of the twelfth century and the unification of Kerala under the second Chera dynasty constituted a short-lived episode. The later history of Kerala is marked by a few landmarks, the first being the arrival of the Portuguese in 1498 when Kerala was ruled by the Venadu ruler in the south, the powerful Zamorin of Calicut (now Kozhikode) in the central part and the Kolatiri chief on the north. The interests of the Zamorin who controlled the spice-trade and the shipping of the west coast were bound to clash with the rising power of the Portuguese until the Dutch arrived on the scene in circa 1604 A.D., intent on their share of the loaf, followed shortly by the British. Thereafter, Martanda Varma rose as a new star on the firmament of Kerala and inflicted in 1741 a humiliating defeat on the Dutch. There followed the invasions of Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan, which devastated the land. Later, the British brought Kerala, divided into the princely states of Travancore and Kochi as vassals under their control. The final unification of the Malaylalam country was brought about in 1956 when the Kerala state was formed as part of the Indian Union.
There are thirty-six monuments under the Thrissur Circle also including ten monuments of adjoining districts of the state of Tamil Nadu which date from the Megalithic to the British period. The most remarkable monuments protected under Archaeological Survey of India are Megalithic burial caves, early rock-cut Jaina shrines with beds at Chitral, Siva temple-complex at Thiruvanchikulam, Siva temple at Peruvanam, Ten Kailasanatha temple at Thrissur, Parthasarathi and Krishna temples at Parthivapuram, St. Francis Church, Mattancherry palace having excellent Ramayana and Krishna -lila paintings, Bekal fort, Palghat fort and the Jaina temple at Kidanganad.
Of the variety of monuments mentioned above, the temples are notable as constituting the pivot of the social and religious life of Kerala. The regional temples reveal a distinctive style forming a local adaptation of the Dravida or South Indian tradition, influenced by several geographical factors like heavy rainfall, availability of laterite formation and dense forests. This style differs from the main Dravida tradition in having sloping roofs with gable ends and abundant use of laterite in walls and timber in superstructure, besides a preference for circular plan.
While Kerala shares many features with Tamil Nadu in respect of the art of stone and bronze sculpture, it excels all schools of painting which adorned the interior of many a temple, besides the famous Mattancherry palace. During the nineteenth century, Ravi Varma, a prince of the house of Travancore, departed from the traditional method and became known as a painter of portraits and classical themes in the western oil medium.
From sixteenth century onwards, many dynasts of the princely states of Kochi and Travancore were also noted for their patronage of arts and letters. Some princes were themselves distinguished poets and scholars of Sanskrit. Under their patronage were produced many works on religion, philosophy, poetics and other subjects. Among the treatises on architecture composed in Kerala may be mentioned Tantra Samuchchaya, Manushyalayachandrika during the fifteenth century A. D. and Silparatna during the sixteenth century.
Kerala is also famous for its individual styles of dance drama known as Krishna-attam and Mohini-attam which generally enact classical themes.
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