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History of Kerala

Kerala is cut-off from the rest of India and so has been out of the mainstream of Indian history. Though settled from the earliest times and linked by sea with the west, from Phoenician days, Kerala was never part of the great empires of India. It was the great southern dynasties of Cheras and Pandyas that ruled Kerala in ancient days.

Later, new races of peoples settled down in Kerala and society became heterogeneous and filled with castes, sub-castes, racial groups and ethnic varieties. Several princely states appeared and disappeared in this small, narrow piece of land, during the past two thousand years. At times some princely states became powerful and expanded conquering weaker neighbors. In the early centuries and medieval age, two or three princely states dominated in different regions of Kerala. Of them, the dynasty of Calicut, named Zamorin (or ‘Saamoo – thiri – ppad’ in native language) is the most famous in world history, due to calico clothes, Vasco da Gama, the Chinese armada that came during 14th-15th centuries, etc.

Vasco da Gama, arrived in Kerala in 1498. He landed at ‘Kaappaad’ beach just north of Calicut (now named Kozhikode). The ruler of northern Kerala, the Zamorins, had the culture and tradition of welcoming foreigners arriving on ships and thus greeted the European traders in the same way he greeted the Chinese, Arabs, Jews and others.

After this the Portuguese under Gama and others, made many settlements in the west coast of the Indian peninsula. But, after a few decades, the Dutch people from Holland (Netherlands) arrived in Kerala at the end of the 16th century and the Portuguese settlements began to pass into the hands of the Dutch.

The next great struggle that ensued was that between the Dutch and the British East India Company, in which the Dutch were finally driven out altogether from India.

In the days of the great Companies of the western nations, Indian peninsula was under the sway of the Portuguese, Dutch, British and French colonial powers. Wars were fought on Indian soil. The remains of the European settlements and fortifications can be seen in various coastal towns in Kerala.

In the tug-of-war for India, England won and captured most of the Indian Territory and ruled for a long time siphoning off India's wealth. During the days of British rule in India, only part of Kerala – the Malabar region – came under their direct rule. The two southern princely states of Travancore and Cochin could retain their kingdoms, though the Zamorin of Calicut lost his kingdom first to Tipu Sulthan, the attacker from Mysore, and then to the British, when Tipu was defeated and killed by the latter.

In the case of Travancore and Cochin, the British allowed the native princes to continue under treaties, by way of a system of setting up subsidized princes. This system had done much to extend the power of Britain throughout the whole Indian peninsula. The princely states of Travancore and Cochin continued to enjoy some degree of freedom as a result of the treaty relations with the British Government, when India was made the “Brightest Jewel in the Crown of the British Empire”, during the reign of Queen Victoria in the 19th century. Though Her Majesty was made the ‘Empress of India’, more than half the area of Kerala, was not under her suzerainty.

When India became an independent country in August 1947 and became a republic in January 1950, the two independent princely states of Kerala, viz. Travancore and Cochin were unified under pressure from the new nation that was formed. These two states, along with some other princely states, had tried to stay as free nations in the Indian sub-continent. But, under threat of conquest, they had to surrender and give up claims for independence. Thus, Travancore-Cochin state was formed in 1949 and became part of India.

When reorganization of the constituent units (states) in the Indian republic was effected, in 1956, modern Kerala was born.

This reorganization was on linguistic basis, though geographical, economic, or other practical considerations, imposed departures from the linguistic principle in not a few cases. Modern Kerala was thus formed on 1 November 1956 by the enforced unification of Travancore and Cochin regions, with the Malabar district, previously under direct British rule and included in Madras Presidency.

The ancient and medieval history of Kerala, ended and modern history began on that day, half-a-century ago.


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