Ancient History of Kerala

Kerala, ‘The land of Parushurama’, ‘The land of coconut trees’,‘Gods own Country”, bestowed are many labels for this gorgeous piece of land, like an emerald anklet on the foot of the great Indian subcontinent.

Legend has it that the sea retreated upon the command of warrior sage Parashurama, to give land to Brahmins as a penance for his sins. He threw his axe from a mountain top across the Arabian Sea and commanded the sea to retreat as far as the point where the axe landed. Thus emerged the land of Kerala.

Legend apart, Kerala’s civilization can be dated back to 5000 BC. Stone Age carvings in north Kerala, in today’s Wayanad are proofs supporting the same. The word Keralam is earlier known as Keralaputra in a 3rd-century BC rock inscription of the Maurya dynasty. Kerala and the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu were the core regions of Dravidian civilization.

One of the greatest seaports of the ancient eastern world, Muziris (ca. 100 BC – 1341 AD), in the south western border of Kerala, has brought in Romans, Arabs, Jews and Chinese for trade. Spices, cotton, sandalwood, and ivory ruled the export list. Another commercial port of the ancient period that quickly gained popularity was the port at Vizhinjam. The port was mentioned in a Greco-Roman periplus, written in Greek, describing navigation and trading opportunities from Roman Egyptian ports, called ‘ThePeriplus of the Erythraean Sea’ or ‘Periplus of the Red Sea’. The core trade routes recorded were through Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf.

The course of the well-established trade history of Kerala changed when Portugal appointed a sailor named Vasco Da Gama was sent to discover a new sea route to break the sea route monopoly of Venice. He landed atKappad, in Kozhikode in 1498, initially he was welcomed by the Zamorins, the rulers of North Kerala, but was forced to flee when the Portuguese attacked the Arab settlements in the region. Though they were accepted by the Raja of Cochin and managed to dominate and build forts along the Malabar Coast, they faced disastrous setbacks from the Zamorin rulers including naval attacks. Defeated and weakened by the Zamorins, the Portuguese were easily toppled by the Dutch, who in turn was mitigated by MarthandaVarma of the Travancore Royal Family and in 1741 was defeated at the battle of Colachel. The British and French came after the Dutch, but unlike in Africa French couldn’t act much in Kerala.

The onset of British brought in modernisation at the same time opened a new chapter in the History of Kerala and India. British was able to hold their grounds strong because of the wars among the regional kings. For almost 200 years under British rule, Kerala went through major social and cultural reformation.This period also saw the emergence of a number of social reformation movements.

But the tyrannical rule of the British brought in pandemonium in the region. They revolted against the British almost a century before the freedom struggle of India. This unique distinctness of being the pioneers in revolting against the British was by many of our heroes namely Kerala VarmaPazhassi Raja of Malabar, PaliathAchan of Cochin &VeluThambiDalava of Travancore. The disparity in social, cultural and religious views of the people never united them and British exploited this situation. However social reformers like ChattambiSwamikal, SreeNarayana Guru and Ayyankali played a vital role in the refinement and reformation of the Kerala Society.

After much struggle beggaring description, India finally attained freedom from the imperial rule in 1947. In 1949, the princely states of Cochin and Travancore united and on November 1st, 1956 the present state of Kerala came into being, uniting Malabar, Cochin and Travancore. With Trivandrum as its capital and Malayalam as the official language of Kerala state. The mass political movements led by the communist party led to being the first place in the world to have a democratically elected Communist Party, in 1959. Which also set the basic legislative agenda for the people of Kerala.

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