State of southwest India; area 38,864 sq km/15,006 sq mi; population (2001 est) 31,838,600. The capital is Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode and Kochi are other towns. The state extends along the southwest coast from Karnataka almost to the southern tip of India and is bounded on the east by the highlands of the Western Ghats. Industries include textiles, chemicals, electrical goods, and fish. Agricultural products include tea, coffee, rice, coconuts, fruit, and oilseed.
Kerala is the most densely populated (over 500 people per sq km/1,300 per sq mi in places), and most literate (60%), state of India, particularly among women who enjoy greater freedoms than is traditional in the country. Strong religious and caste divisions make it politically unstable. Languages spoken are Malayalam, Kannada, and Tamil. The religion in the state is predominantly Hindu, with 25% Christian and significant Jain, Muslim, Buddhist, and Jewish minorities.
Economy The climate is almost equatorial and the long rainy season allows rice to be grown three times a year on much of the heavily populated alluvial coastal plain. 40% of land is under cultivation, mainly of rice, coconuts, and fruit; the coastal dunes are used to grow coconuts, producing copra as a cash crop, and locally-used coir fibre. The Western Ghats contain some large-scale plantations of coffee, tea, pepper, and rubber. Fishing continues to be a major food source, and sardines and frozen shrimps are exported.
Industrial diversification Small-scale food-processing and handicrafts still provide more employment than manufacturing, but the development of Kochi deep-water harbour and oil refinery, and of the great hydroelectric potential in the Western Ghats, especially at Idukki are helping to combat high unemployment and rural poverty. Beach sands are exploited for ilmenite (the chief ore of titanium), rutile, and monazite.
History Kerala is physically isolated from the rest of India by the Western Ghats and was never part of the great empires of Hindustan, despite being settled and linked by sea with the West during the Phoenician period (1200–300 BC). The southern dynasties of Cheras is the origin of the name Kerala. It was part of Vijayanagar, and later was partly controlled by the Bijapur and Mysore kingdoms. Vasco Da Gama landed at Calicut (Kozhikode), and at Kochi the Portuguese established the first European settlement in India. The local dynasties of Cochin and Travancore retained their kingdoms, but the Zamorins, ‘Lords of the Sea’, of Calicut lost theirs in conflicts with the Portuguese over trading rights. In 1766 Hyder Ali led his army southwards down the west coast of India until repelled by the British. Kochi and Travancore became princely states under the British, acceded to independent India in 1947, and were fused into one state in 1949. In 1956 the Malabar district of Madras state (Tamil Nadu) was added to Kerala, uniting all Malayalam-speaking areas. Since 1956 the Communist Party has been the dominant power in a series of coalition governments.
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