|Search results for: All About Kerala & Kerala History
The Kerala Story
by Dr. Zacharias Thundy, Northern Michigan University
The purpose of this work is to reacquaint the Keralites of North America and elsewhere with their rich cultural heritage and to make second-generation Keralites in foreign lands become aware of their roots. This work, of course, is not comprehensive...ZT.
Kerala: The Land
Though physically and culturally Kerala is part of India, it is one of the distinctive regions of the area. Historically it has been isolated from the rest of the Peninsula. It is hard for many Keralites to admit that once Kerala was more caste-divided than any other area; it was only here that "untouchability" developed into "unapproachability" and "unseeability"; on the other hand, today it is one of the least caste-conscious and communally tranquil areas of India. Many young Keralites even do not know that the Nair gentry with its matrilinear organization (Marumakkathayam) once practiced polygamy and polyandry, Kerala has a high percentage (22%) of Christians whose traditions go back to St. Thomas the Apostle. The "white Jews" of Cochin are another cultural rarity. The first democratically elected Communist Party came to power in Kerala for the first time in the whole world.
The people of Kerala have always considered themselves Indians first, not only when they live outside India but also when they reside in Kerala. In this case they are significantly different from the other Dravidians like the Tamils who seem to consider themselves Tamils first and Indians next. There are, of course, many reasons for this unique phenomenon of Kerala: one with the larger Indian culture and yet distinct from the mainstream, while receiving much from the rest of India and contributing much to it. The main reason for it is that this once distinct ethnic Munda-Dravidian group of Keralites became Aryanized or Sanskritized to such a degree that they became culturally and racially very Aryan and less distinctly Dravidian like the Tamils who remain more Dravidian and less Aryan. The evidence for this can be easily seen in the physical features of Keralites and particularly in the Malayalam.
Malabar and Kerala
The word Malabar used first by Al-Biruni (973-1048 A.D.) and the Arab writers seems to be derived from mala (hill) --Cosmas Indicopleustus (6th century) refers to the Kerala Coast as male-- and varam (country); medieval Tamil writers called the land malainadu (the land of hills). The term Malayalam, which is the language of Malabar, is the indigenous word for denoting the country; it is composed of mala (hill) and alam (land). The word Keralam is found in the Ashoka inscriptions of the third century B.C. The word is formed from Chera (the Kera/Chera people) and alam (land) meaning "the land of Cheras." The second rock-edict of Ashoka (circa 273-236 B.C.) refers to "Keralaputra" along with the Cholas, Pandyas, and Satyaputra as the border kingdoms of the Maurya Empire. In the first century A.D., the Roman historian Pliny refers to Caelobrothas and the author of Periplus of the Erithryan Sea mentions it as Cerobothra; the second-century geographer Ptolemy calls the land Kerobothro. In certain languages and dialects the ch-sound becomes k (the Southern English church is spelled and pronounced as kirk in Scotland), which would explain why Cheralam became Keralam, for instance, in the Kannada language.