Kerala is a melting pot of several cultures and civilizations, both domestic and foreign, since ancient times. The state’s history offers a mix of myths and facts woven together. The very origin of Kerala is sourced from mythology. As per legend, the state was carved out of the sea when warrior sage Parashuram, an incarnation of Vishnu, threw his axe into the water depths, ordering the violent sea to recede. The land which emerged came to be called Kerala or the land of coconut trees.
Early inhabitants of the state, according to archeologists, were food gatherers and hunters belonging to the negro tribe. Then came the aborigines who did worship of nature and animals, followed by the Dravidians who migrated from the Mediteranean region and made significant contributions in culture. This was to have an impact on the lifestyle of the Aryans who later on made their abode in the state. The Aryans whose ancestors originated from Central Asia brought with them Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism and scattered themselves throughout India including Kerala. The so-called forward communities can trace their ancestry to the Aryans while the backward castes are said to originate from Dravidian predecessors.
The Chera dynasty which ruled over south India till the 15th century had parts of Kerala and Tamil Nadu including the present day Malabar regions, Coimbatore and Salem districts in its fold. This coincides with the golden Sangam Age which saw the renaissance of literature and the arts. The Sangam era was followed by a period referred to as Dark Ages in the history of Kerala, for more than 4 centuries. Later on, a 2nd Chera empire was built up consisting of the able kings of the Kulasekhara dynasty, under whom the kingdom flourished, the people lived in plenty, and art and culture were encouraged. Rama Varma Kulasekhara Perumal was the last of the Chera rulers and he shifted the capital from Mahodayapuram to Quilon during a rival attack.
After the fall of the Cheras emerged the kingdom of Venad or Vanchidesam. The surviving members of the Chera dynasty intermingled with the Venad royal family and the extended family was called the Venad Cheras who were able and wise rulers. It was during this time that the famous Padmanabhaswamy temple was built in the state capital. Its gopuram is reminiscent of the architectural style that is typical to the temples of Tamil Nadu.
The 14th century was the period of the medieval rulers who belonged to the Zamorin dynasty of present-day Kozhikode. Calicut was once a major sea port facilitating trade and commerce among the Arabs and the Chinese. The historic landing of Vasco-da-gama on the shores of this region in his discovery of a new sea route was a turning point in the political, cultural and social development of this land. In the mid seventies, Malabar was invaded by Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan and remained the latter’s bastion until his surrender to the British, eventually ending in signing of the Treaty of Srirangapatnam.
Following this was the turn of the Portuguese and later the Dutch to rule over Kerala. At this time was established the spice trade, coffee estates, teak wood plantations, coal and oil industries, cashew export etc. From the old kingdom of Venad rose the modern Travancore, in the 17th & 18th centuries, whose rulers were able and wise administrators. Thereupon followed the rule of the British marked by developments in education, healthcare and public utility services.
In the 1800s, Travancore, Kochi and Malabar came under the Madras presidency of British rule. Towards the mid nineteenth century, the state was witness to constant rebellions and public revolts against colonial supremacy in the wake of the Mahatma’s quit-India call. These were reflected in the Punnapra-Vayalar revolt and other Satyagraha movements staged by the people demanding freedom.
The modern state of Kerala was formed on Nov 1, 1956, combining the erstwhile Travancore, Kochi and Malabar princely states.