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Unearthing the Yore of Kerala and its Culture

Kerala is referenced for the first time by the name Keralaputra in a rock epitaph left by the Mauryan ruler Ashoka. Later, the Greeks and Romans made this region popular for its spices, particularly pepper. During the time of the Mauryan Emperor, Ashoka’s reign, Kerala was a part of four autonomous kingdoms in South India. The other kingdoms that were part of this ruling group were the Cholas, the Pandya and the Satyaputras. After which, the land was under the control of the Cheras who made their mark in Kerala’s history by establishing trade relations with the important Mediterranean and Red Sea ports, along with other ports all along the Arabian Sea. Furthermore, they didn’t just stop there, they extended trade relations with East Africa and the Far East as well. In doing so, the Cheras reformed Kerala, making it an important global trade center. Cheras' empire was situated on one of the old Indian Ocean trade pathways. After relentless attacks from the neighboring Cholas and Rashtrakutas, the early Cheras crumbled.

Namboodiri settlers entered the state of Kerala during the early Middle Ages and influenced societal norms, particularly, the caste hierarchy. Adi Shankara, a well-known Hindu philosopher, journeyed across the Indian subcontinent, establishing establishments of the highly influential Hindu philosophical school - Advaita Vedanta. The Cheras reclaimed power of Kerala until the dynasty disintegrated, at which point small-scale independent clans emerged, with the Kingdom of Kozhikode taking precedence over others. Several foreign corporations used the docks of Kozhikode and Kochi as major gateways to the coastal belt of medieval South-Western India.

Malayalam evolved as an important dialect during the reign of the Kulashekhara monarchy, and Hinduism gained prominence. During the 11th and 12th centuries, the Cholas ruled Kerala frequently. The early 14th century witnessed the succession of Ravi Varma Kulashekhara who belonged to the Venad empire. His death resulted in the formation of a cluster of chieftains who were constantly at war with each other. 

When Vasco da Gama stopped near Calicut in 1498, the emergence of international mediation started. The Portuguese surpassed the Arab exporters and monopolized the Malabar Coast's commercial activity in the 16th century. The Zamorin (dynastic leader) of Calicut foiled their opportunity to form sovereignty. The Dutch then overthrew the Portuguese governments in the 17th century. Marthanda Varma climbed up the Venad throne in 1729 and destroyed Dutch imperialistic plans 12 years down the line at the Battle of Kolache. Marthanda Varma then accepted a European martial practice and continued to expand the Venad realm to include what is now Travancore in the south. In 1757, he formed a partnership with the Raja of the centralized government of Cochin (Kochi) against the zamorin, allowing Cochin to stay afloat.

Cochin and Travancore were combined as Travancore-Cochin states 2 years after India gained independence in 1947. Kerala’s formation was based on linguistic features when the Malabar Coast and the Kasargod taluka of South Kanara were brought under the Travancore-Cochin state. The southern part of the former Travancore-Cochin state was annexed to Tamil Nadu.


Q1. According to Hindu folklore, who formed the state of Kerala?

The legend in Hindu Mythology is the rescue of Kerala from the sea by Parasurama, a fighter sage. After reaching Gokuram from Kanyakumari, Parasurama, one of Lord Vishnu's manifestations, ended up throwing his battle axe into the sea. As a result, the land of Kerala emerged, salvaged from the sea.

Q2. Who were the first rulers of the region, Kerala?

During Ashoka's reign, the Territory of Keralaputra was among the four autonomous kingdoms in South India, the others being Chola, Pandya, and Satiyaputra. Scholars believe that Keralaputra is another name for the Cheras, Kerala's first powerful kingdom, whose capital was Karur.