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Kerala (Malayalam: കേരളം, About this sound Kēraḷam ) is a state in India. It is located on the south-western region of the country. It was created on 1 November 1956, with the passing of the States Reorganisation Act bringing together the areas where Malayalam was the dominant language.

The state has an area of 38,863 km2 (15,005 sq mi) and is bordered by Karnataka to the north, Tamil Nadu to the south and the east and the Lakshadweep Sea[note] towards the west. Thiruvananthapuram is the capital and largest city of Kerala. Kochi and Kozhikode are the other major cities. Kerala is also known for its many small towns that are scattered across the state, thus creating a higher density of population.

From as early as 3000 BC, Kerala had established itself as a major spice trade centre. A 3rd-century-BC rock inscription by emperor Asoka the Great attests to a Keralaputra.[4] Around 1 BC the region was ruled by the Chera Dynasty, which traded with the Greeks, Romans and Arabs. The Tamil Chera dynasty, Ays and the Pandyan Empire were the traditional rulers of Kerala whose patriarchal dynasties ruled until the 14th century.[5][6] The Cheras collapsed after repeated attacks from the neighboring Chola and Rashtrakuta kingdoms. Feudal Namboothiri Brahmin and Nair city-states subsequently gained control of the region.[7] Contact with Europeans after the arrival of Vasco Da Gama in 1498 gave way to struggles between colonial and native interests. By early 16th century, the Portuguese established their domination. They were defeated by the Dutch in 1663, who in turn were forced out of the land by the British East India Company in 1795, bringing the area under British dominion. After independence, the state of Kerala was created in 1956 from the former state of Travancore-Cochin, the Malabar district of Madras State, and the Kasaragod taluk of Dakshina Kannada.[8]

Kerala is a popular tourist destination famous for its backwaters, Ayurvedic treatments [9] and tropical greenery. Kerala has a higher Human Development Index than all other states in India.[10][11] The state has a literacy rate of 94.59 percent,[2] the highest in India. A survey conducted in 2005 by Transparency International ranked Kerala as the least corrupt state in the country.[12] Kerala has witnessed significant migration of its people, especially to the Persian Gulf countries during the Kerala Gulf boom, and is heavily dependent on remittances from its large Malayali expatriate community


The name Kerala has an uncertain etymology. Keralam may stem from an imperfect Malayalam portmanteau fusing kera ("coconut tree") and alam ("land" or "location").[17]:122 Kerala may represent the Classical Tamil chera-alam ("declivity of a hill or a mountain slope")[18] or chera alam ("Land of the Cheras").[19]:2 Natives of Kerala, known as Malayalis, refer to their land as Keralam.[20] Kerala has been referenced in puranas as created by Parashurama by throwing his axe into the sea. The Aitareya Aranyaka is the earliest Sanskrit work that specifically mentions Kerala.[2] A 3rd-century-BC rock inscription by emperor Asoka the Great references Kerala as Keralaputra.[21]

Kerala is wedged between the Lakshadweep sea and the Western Ghats. Lying between north latitudes 8°18' and 12°48' and east longitudes 74°52' and 77°22',[49][50] Kerala experiences the humid equatorial tropic climate. The state has a coast of length 590 km (367 mi)[51] and the width of the state varies between 35 and 120 km (22–75 miles). 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; hence, most of the state is subject to comparatively little seismic and volcanic activity.[52] Pre-Cambrian and Pleistocene geological formations compose the bulk of Kerala’s terrain.

Eastern Kerala region 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). Anamudi is the highest peak at an elevation of 2,695 metres (8,130 ft). Just west of the mountains lie the midland plains comprising central Kerala, dominated by rolling hills and valleys.[49] 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 Agastya Mala and Anamala.

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. 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.[53] 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 River (130 km), the Valapattanam (129 km) and the Achankovil (128 km). The average length of the rivers of Kerala is 64 km. Many of the rivers are small and entirely fed by monsoon rains.[49] These conditions result in the nearly year-round water logging of such western regions as Kuttanad, 500 km² of which lies below sea level. As Kerala's rivers are small and lack deltas, they are more prone to environmental factors. The rivers also face problems such as sand mining and pollution.[54] The state experiences several natural hazards such as landslides, floods, lightning and droughts. The state was also affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

A catastrophic flood occurred in Kerala in 1341 AD that drastically modified the terrain and consequently affected the history.[55] The flood resulted in changing the course of the river Periyar, recession of Arabian Sea by several miles downwards making the Kuttanad region cultivable, closure of the Muziris (Kodungalloor) harbour and creation of a new harbour at Kochi.[56][57][58]

With 120–140 rainy days per year, Kerala has a wet and maritime tropical climate influenced by the seasonal heavy rains of the southwest summer monsoon.[59]:80 In eastern Kerala, a drier tropical wet and dry climate prevails. Kerala's rainfall averages 3,107 mm annually. Some of Kerala's drier lowland regions average only 1,250 mm; the mountains of eastern Idukki district receive more than 5,000 mm of orographic precipitation, the highest in the state.

During summer, Kerala is prone to gale force winds, storm surges, cyclone-related torrential downpours, occasional droughts, and rises in sea level.[60]:26, 46, 52 The mean daily temperatures range from 19.8 °C to 36.7 °C.[49] Mean annual temperatures range from 25.0–27.5 °C in the coastal lowlands to 20.0–22.5 °C in the eastern highlands.[60]:65

[edit] Flora and fauna

A blue tiger (Tirumala limniace) butterfly in Chalakudy
Cassia Fistula, (Malayalam: കണിക്കൊന്ന, Kani Konna), is the state flower of Kerala.
Petals of the gloriosa lily (Gloriosa superba) flower curve upward into a claw-like shape; below, its stamens grow radially outwards.
A fulvous forest skimmer (Neurothemis fulvia) in Chalakudy, near Thrissur

Much of Kerala's notable biodiversity is concentrated and protected in the Western Ghats. Almost a fourth of India's 10,000 plant species are found in the state. Among the almost 4,000 flowering plant species (1,272 of which are endemic to Kerala and 159 threatened) are 900 species of medicinal plants.[61][62]:11

Its 9,400 km² of forests include tropical wet evergreen and semi-evergreen forests (lower and middle elevations—3,470 km²), tropical moist and dry deciduous forests (mid-elevations—4,100 km² and 100 km², respectively), and montane subtropical and temperate (shola) forests (highest elevations—100 km²). Altogether, 24% of Kerala is forested.[62]:12 Two of the world’s Ramsar Convention listed wetlandsLake Sasthamkotta and the Vembanad-Kol wetlands—are in Kerala, as well as 1455.4 km² of the vast Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. Subjected to extensive clearing for cultivation in the 20th century,[63]:6–7 much of the remaining forest cover is now protected from clearfelling. Kerala's fauna are notable for their diversity and high rates of endemism: 102 species of mammals (56 of which are endemic), 453 species of birds, 202 species of freshwater fishes, 169 species of reptiles (139 of them endemic), and 89 species of amphibians (86 endemic).[61] These are threatened by extensive habitat destruction, including soil erosion, landslides, salinization, and resource extraction.[64]

Eastern Kerala’s windward mountains shelter tropical moist forests and tropical dry forests, which are common in the Western Ghats. Here, sonokeling (Dalbergia latifolia), anjili, mullumurikku (Erythrina), and Cassia number among the more than 1,000 species of trees in Kerala. Other plants include bamboo, wild black pepper, wild cardamom, the calamus rattan palm (a type of climbing palm), and aromatic vetiver grass (Vetiveria zizanioides).[62]:12 Living among them are such fauna as Indian Elephant (Elephas maximus indicus), Bengal Tiger, Indian Leopard (Panthera pardus fusca), Nilgiri Tahr, Common Palm Civet, and Grizzled Giant Squirrel.[62]:12, 174–175 Reptiles include the King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah), viper, python, and Mugger Crocodile (Crocodylus palustris) . Kerala's birds are legion—Malabar Trogon, the Great Hornbill, Kerala Laughingthrush, Darter, and Southern Hill Myna are several emblematic species. In lakes, wetlands, and waterways, fish such as kadu (stinging catfish) and Choottachi (Orange chromide—Etroplus maculatus are found.[62]:163–165