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Kerala

Population:    29 million
Languages:   Malayalam
Capitol:           Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum)

Kerala occupies a narrow strip of land at the southwest tip of India.

KeralaFacing the Arabian Sea and separated from the rest of South India by the Western Ghat mountains, Kerala's orientation towards foreign places goes back more than two thousand years.  The arrival of a Jewish group more than 500 years before the time of Christ, of Christianity before the end of the first century AD (Christianity arrived in Kerala at the same time as it arrived in Europe), trade with the the Roman Empire, with the Arabs and with China, a lucrative role as middlemen in the Moluccan spice trade, and the presence of a succession of European powers including the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British - all have left their imprint over the centuries.  Today many Malayalis (the Malyallum speaking residents of Kerala) live and work in the Gulf, supporting families at home with their earnings abroad.

Kerala boasts the highest literacy rate in the country (70%), a low infant mortality rate, and is the only state in which females outnumber males.  Land distribution is among the most equitable in India, at least partly due to the progressive land ownership policies instituted more than a century ago in what was then the princely state of Travancore.  Further extensive land reforms in the 1960's and 70's were carried out by a state government which gained the distinction, in 1957, of being the first democratically elected communist government in the world.  Kerala's industrial sector is almost non-existent, however, potential investors from outside being reluctant to engage a highly politicized labour force.

Kerala's population is approximately 60% Hindu 20% Christian and 20% Muslim with Muslims mainly in the north Christians primarily in the central area around Cochin and Kottayam and Hindus in the south mainly around Thiruvananthapuram.  A tiny Jewish population there is said to date from 587 BC when they fled the occupation of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnessar.

Kerala has originated a range of theatre and dance styles, the most famous being the four hundred year old Kathakali dance drama.  Kerala has its own female classical dance, called Mohiniattam, meaning 'dance of the enchantress'.

Humidly green and lush, with sparkling palm-tree-fringed beaches and the unique populated 'backwater' area in the north, Kerala has a well-deserved reputation as an attractive tourist destination.

History

Kerala is described as the land of the Cheras from as early as the 3rd century BC.  Thriving trade with the Roman Empire as well as with China and the Arab world brought prosperity to the area, causing envy to the neighbouring Cholas.  The latter launched a hundred years of periodic warfare with the Cheras and by 1100 their capitol of Mahodayapuram was lost to the aggressors and the Cheras moved south to Kollam (Quilon) where they established a new capitol.

Vasco da Gama's voyage to Kerala from Portugal in 1498 was at least partly motivated by his determination to break the Keralan Muslims' control over the trade between local spice producers and the Middle East.  He established India's first Portuguese fortress at Cochin in 1503 and from there, taking advantage of 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 Portuguese from their forts.  The British moved into the area in the form of the British East India Company and were firmly established in Kerala by the beginning of the seventeenth century.  "Tipu Sultan attempted to encroach on British-held territory in 1792, but he was defeated and the British remained in control until Independence ".

The Portuguese were surprised to discover, when they arrived in Kerela 500 years ago, that Christianity was already established.  The history of that community dates back to the arrival in 52 AD of St.  Thomas the Apostle, 'Doubting Thomas', and to the establishing of a Christian community by a contingent of Syrian Christians who arrived in 192 AD via Baghdad.

Modern day Kerala was created in 1956 from Malabar, which had been part of the Madras Presidency, and from Travancore and Cochin.  The latter two were princely states which had been ruled by maharajas, both being somewhat unique among their kind in that they had concerned themselves with the education and provision of basic services to the residents of their territories.

Since it's election in 1957 Kerala's communist party has been regularly, though not consistently, in power in the state.

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