According to a legend, Parasurama, an
avatar of Mahavishnu, threw his battle axe into the sea. As a
result, the land of Kerala arose and was reclaimed from the waters.
During Neolithic times, humans largely avoided Kerala's rainforests
and wetlands. There is evidence of the emergence of prehistoric
pottery and granite burial monuments in the 10th century BC that
resemble their counterparts in Western Europe and the rest of Asia.
These were produced by speakers of a proto-Tamil language. Thus,
Kerala and Tamil Nadu once shared a common language, ethnicity and
culture; this common area was known as Tamilakam. Kerala became a
linguistically separate region by the early 14th century. The
ancient Cherans, whose mother tongue and court language was Tamil,
ruled Kerala from their capital at Vanchi and was the first major
recorded kingdom. Allied with the Pallavas, they continually warred
against the neighbouring Chola and Pandya kingdoms. A Keralite
identity—distinct from the Tamils and associated with the second
Chera empire—and the development of Malayalam evolved between the
8th and 14th centuries. In written records, Kerala was first
mentioned in the Sanskrit epic Aitareya Aranyaka. Later, figures
such as Katyayana, Patanjali, Pliny the Elder, and the unknown
author of the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea displayed familiarity
The Chera kings' dependence on trade meant that merchants from West
Asia and Southern Europe established coastal posts and settlements
in Kerala. Many, especially Jews and Christians, escaped persecution
and established the Nasrani Mappila and Muslim Mappila communities.
According to several scholars, the Jews first arrived in Kerala in
573 BC. The works of scholars and Eastern Christian writings state
that Thomas the Apostle visited Muziris in Kerala in 52 AD to
proselytize amongst Kerala's Jewish settlements. However, the first
verifiable migration of Jewish-Nasrani families to Kerala is of the
arrival of Knai Thoma in 345 AD. Muslim merchants (Malik ibn Dinar)
settled in Kerala by the 8th century AD. After Vasco Da Gama's
arrival in 1498, the Portuguese gained control of the lucrative
pepper trade by subduing Keralite communities and commerce.
Conflicts between the cities of Kozhikode (Calicut) and Kochi
(Cochin) provided an opportunity for the Dutch to oust the
Portuguese. In turn, the Dutch were ousted at the 1741 Battle of
Colachel by Marthanda Varma of Travancore (Thiruvathaamkoor). Hyder
Ali, heading the Mysore, conquered northern Kerala, capturing
Kozhikode in 1766. In the late 18th century, Tipu Sultan, Ali’s son
and successor, launched campaigns against the expanding British East
India Company; these resulted in two of the four Anglo-Mysore Wars.
He ultimately ceded Malabar District and South Kanara to the Company
in the 1790s. The Company then forged tributary alliances with Kochi
(1791) and Travancore (1795). Malabar and South Kanara became part
of the Madras Presidency.
Kerala saw comparatively little defiance of the British Raj.
Nevertheless, several rebellions occurred, including the 1946
Punnapra-Vayalar revolt, and leaders like Velayudan Thampi Dalava,
Kunjali Marakkar, and Pazhassi Raja earned their place in history
and folklore. Many actions, spurred by such leaders as Sree Narayana
Guru and Chattampi Swamikal, instead protested such conditions as
untouchability; notable was the 1924 Vaikom Satyagraham. In 1936,
Chitra Thirunal Bala Rama Varma of Travancore issued the Temple
Entry Proclamation that opened Hindu temples to all castes; Cochin
and Malabar soon did likewise. The 1921 Moplah Rebellion involved
Mappila Muslims battling Hindus and the British Raj.
After India gained its independence in 1947, Travancore and Cochin
were merged to form Travancore-Cochin on July 1, 1949. On January 1,
1950 (Republic Day), Travancore-Cochin was recognised as a state.
The Madras Presidency was organised to form Madras State several
years prior, in 1947. Finally, the Government of India's November 1,
1956 States Reorganisation Act inaugurated the state of Kerala,
incorporating Malabar district, Travancore-Cochin (excluding four
southern taluks, which were merged with Tamil Nadu), and the taluk
of Kasargod, South Kanara. A new legislative assembly was also
created, for which elections were first held in 1957. These resulted
in a communist-led government—one of the world's earliest—headed by
E.M.S. Namboodiripad. Subsequent social reforms favoured tenants and
labourers. As a result, living standards, education, and life
expectancy improved dramatically.