Kerala is a state on the tropical Malabar coast of southwestern India. To its east and north-east, Kerala borders Tamil Nadu and Karnataka; to its west and south lie the Arabian Sea islands of Lakshadweep and the Indian Ocean islands of Maldives, respectively. Kerala nearly envelops Mahé, a coastal exclave of Pondicherry. The principal spoken language is Malayalam, but other languages are also spoken.
Natives of Kerala, known as Keralites or Malayalees, thus refer to their land as Keralam. Kerala's tourism industry, among others, also uses the phrase God's Own Country.
Kerala’s western coastal belt is relatively flat, and is criss-crossed by a network of interconnected brackish canals, lakes, estuaries, and rivers known as the Kerala backwaters. Lake Vembanad — Kerala’s largest body of water — dominates the backwaters; it lies between Alappuzha and Kochi and is more than 200 km² in area. The most important of Kerala’s forty four rivers include the Periyar (244 km), the Bharathapuzha or Nila (209 km), the Pamba (176 km), the Chaliyar (169 km), the Kadalundipuzha (130 km) and the Achankovil (128 km). The average length of the rivers of Kerala is 64 km. Most of the others are small and entirely fed by monsoon rains. These conditions result in the nearly year-round water logging of such western regions as Kuttanad, 500 km² of which lies below sea level. As Kerala's rivers are small and lack deltas, they are more prone to environmental factors. Kerala's rivers face many problems, including summer droughts, the building of large dams, sand mining, and pollution.
Much of Kerala's notable biodiversity is concentrated and protected in the Agasthyarmalai Biosphere Reserve in the eastern hills. Almost a fourth of India's 10,000 plant species are found in the state.
Kerala's healthcare system has earned international acclaim. The UNICEF and the World Health Organization have designated Kerala as the world's first "baby-friendly state". Representative of this condition, more than 95% of Keralite births are hospital-delivered. Aside from ayurveda (both elite and popular forms), siddha and unani, many endangered and endemic modes of traditional medicine, including kalari, marmachikitsa, and vishavaidyam are practiced. These propagate via gurukula discipleship and comprise a fusion of both medicinal and supernatural treatments and are partly responsible for drawing increasing numbers of medical tourists.
Kerala's culture was elaborated upon through centuries of contact with neighbouring and overseas cultures. Native performing arts include kutiyattam, kathakali—from katha ("story") and kali ("performance")—and its offshoot Keralanatanam, koothu (akin to stand-up comedy), mohiniyattam ("dance of the enchantress"), thullal, patayani, and theyyam.
Other forms of art are more religious or tribal in nature. These include chavittu natakom, oppana (originally from Malabar), which combines dance, rhythmic clapping, and vocalisations.
Kerala's music sopanasangeetham also has ancient roots. Carnatic music now dominates Keralite traditional music. This was the result of King Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma's popularisation of the genre in the 19th century.
Kerala, situated on the lush and tropical Malabar Coast, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in India. Named as one of the "ten paradises of the world" and "50 places of a lifetime" by the National Geographic Traveler magazine, Kerala is especially known for its ecotourism initiatives.
Popular attractions in the state include the beaches at Kovalam, Cherai and Varkala; the hill stations of Munnar, Nelliampathi, Ponmudi and Wayanad; and national parks and wildlife sanctuaries at Periyar and Eravikulam National Park. The "backwaters" region, which comprises an extensive network of interlocking rivers, lakes, and canals that centre on Alleppey, Kumarakom, and Punnamada (where the annual Nehru Trophy Boat Race is held in August), also see heavy tourist traffic. Heritage sites, such as the Padmanabhapuram Palace and the Mattancherry Palace, are also visited. Cities such as Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram are popular centres for their shopping and traditional theatrical performances. During early summer, the Thrissur Pooram is conducted, attracting foreign tourists who are largely drawn by the festival's elephants and celebrants.
Facts at a glance
Time zone – IST (UTC+5:30). Area – 38,863 km² (15,005 sq mi). Capital – Thiruvananthapuram. Largest city – Thiruvananthapuram. Largest metro – Kochi metropolitan area. District(s) – 14. Population – 31,838,619 (12th) (2001). Density – 819 /km² (2,121 /sq mi). Language(s) – Malayalam. Established – November 1, 1956 Legislature (seats) – Unicameral (141). ISO abbreviation – IN-KL.