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Kerala: Historical Background

Posted by mullookkaaran on August 22, 2009

Kerala is a strip of enchanting land between the high Sahya ranges in the east and the vast Arabian Sea in the west. According to legends Parasurama, ithe incarnation of God Visnu., threw his axe from Gokarnav (now in south Karnataka) to Kanyakumari (now in Tamil Nadu), the southern most tip of the Indian peninsula, rising the land of Kerala stretches from Manjeswaranm in the North to Parassala in the South, excluding both Gokarnam and Kanyakumari areas. Kerala sate was formed in 1956 as part of linguistic re-organization of States in India. It is said that the name was derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Kera’, the coconut palm. There is another view that it might have derived from ‘Cheralam’ which means either ‘land of Chera Kings’ or ‘the marshy land’.

Before the formation of the state in 1956, Kerala was divided in to three kingdoms – Travancore, Kochi and Malabar. Travancore in the south and Kochi in the middle were princely states under the supremacy of British rulers in the Country while Malabar was a district of Madras State, a province of British India till 1947.

Even befor Christ, Kerala had commercial relations with foreign countries like Rome, Greece, Egypt, Babylonia Palestine and Arabia. The early inhabitants of the State were Dravidians. Malayalam, the language of Kerala, belongs to the Dravidian family of languages. By the fourth or third century B.C., Aryans might have migrated to Kerala. In a second wave of Aryan migrations from North India in the seventh and eight centuries, the Aryan Brahmins called Namboothiries became very influential in the society. They introduced cast system in Kerala and considered themselves as the highest caste eligible for priesthood in Hindu temples. They had acquired ownership of the large areas of land as donations from the kings. Thus Kerala inherits a mixed culture and blood of Aryans and Dravidians.

During the first five centuries of Christian era, known as the ‘Sangham Age’ in Indian history, the first Chera Kings ruled major part of the state. The second Chera dynasty was in power during the period between A.D, 820 and 1102. After the fall of the mighty Chera dynasty, so many little kingdoms and principalities were formed throughout Kerala. The most prominent among them were Kozhikode, Kochi and Venad. The situation continued until the invasion of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sulthan (of Mysore0 during 1776-1790 in Malabar and the aggressive expansion programme of his kingdom by Marthanda Varma Raja of Venad. Later Malabar was seized by the East India Company in 1792 and the two kingdoms Travancore and Kochi were brought under their control.

There were about 40 principalities in Travancore at the beginning of the 18th century. Marthand Varma, the king of Venad, the southern most and ancient principality, attacked so many small kingdoms and annexed them to Vanad, forming the biggest kingdom of Travencore in 1729AD. He defeated the Dutch army at Kulachal and made a pact with the British East India Company for the protection of his country and accepted their supremacy. The last king in the dynasty Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varama Maharaja continued in the throne from 1931 to 1949. He was appointed as the Rajapramukh (equal to State Governor) of the Travancore –Cochin state when both the kingdoms were united into a single state in 1949. He performed the duty as Rajapramukh till the formation of Kerala State in 1956. Travancore was one of the most prosperous and literate states at the time if independence.

The Kingdom of Kochi (Cochin) came into prominence in 16th century A.D. It was also known as ‘Perumpadappu Swaroopam’. The Portuguese in the 16th century and later the Dutch controlled the affairs of Kochi. In the 1781 British East India Company made a pact enforcing its supremacy on the kingdom. During the integration of Kochi with Travancore, Rama Varma Pareekshith Thampuran was the king of the country. The harbour at Kochi is well-known.

In 1972, Malabar the northernmost part of the States, was seized by the East India Company from Tipu Sulatan, the King of Mysore. From 13th century up to the invasion of Hyder Ali and his son Tippu Sulatan of Mysore, a major portion of the of Malabar region was ruled by the Zamorin, the King of Kozhikode (Calicut). Vasco-Da-Gama, the first sailor from Portugal landed at Kappadu kear Kozhikode in 1498.


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