Kerala: history

Given its strategic geographical location, Kerala has had a lot of contact with the outside world since very old. Trade with Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Chinese, Malays… until the arrival of the Portuguese in 1498, after Vasco da Gama’s circumnavigation of Africa. Also persecuted minorities (Jews, Christian-Syrians…) or merchants-navigators (Yemeni, Arabs…) took root in these lands. 

Kerala has a long history, always linked to that of the neighboring Tamil Country. Between the 1st and 9th centuries, it was ruled by the Chera dynasty (from which the name keralam comes), one of the three great kingdoms of the Tamil world (along with the Pantyas and the Cholas). The Cheras established capitals in Karur and Muziris (Kodungallur), which became important trading enclaves (mentioned even by Pliny the Elder). This dynasty gave light in the 8th century to the Perumal, which would rule in much of present-day Kerala until the 12th century.

In fact, Kerala as a land of desire has been a constant in history, from Strabo and Pliny to Admiral Christopher Columbus, who wanted to arrive at the Indian ports of the Malabar coast, gleaming with spices, and also find the mythical figure of Preste Juan ( a supposed Christian kingdom beyond Islam). Although the Genoese were wrong (and changed the history of the world), the Portuguese did reach “the Indies” (Kerala and Goa), beginning the long period of colonial tension. After the Portuguese came the Dutch; and then the British; and now tourists from half the world, attracted by the beaches, the Ayurvedic spas and the magic of the backwaters.

The “state” of Kerala was formed in 1956 with the union of the kingdoms (independent of British India) of Travancore and Cochin (which joined the Republic of India after its creation, in 1948) and the Malabar region (which belonged to the British “presidency” of Madras). In 1957 the first state parliament was elected and its first government was formed under the direction of E.M.S. Namboodiripad.