history and origin of kerala
Kerala – A Historical Perspective

Like the history of many other provinces of India, the history of Kerala is also unique in many ways. Because of its unique geographical position, it staged the meeting place for many types of people, many religions many ideas and ideologies. Travelers, merchants & rulers - people of various profiles visited and influenced the history of Kerala. History of Kerala is the story of the growth of a complex and sheltered society with Indian outlook and open to West-Asian influence.

The earliest people of Kerala were believed to be Megalith builders aged between 10th Century BC and 5th Century AD. Their language was most probably was an archaic form of Tamil. They built burial moments similar to megalithic monuments in West Asia and Europe including Menhirs, Rock cut chambers, dolmens with port hole cists, stone circles and specifically hat stones (Toppikallus), which were peculiar to Kerala.

Jainism was brought to Kerala during the period of Chandra Guptha mourya. The evidence of their presence in Kerala is the fact that some Hindu temples of today were originally Jain temples, the deites of some of the hindu temples like Kudalmanikkam Temple near Irinjalakuda is believed to be Jain saints originally.

During the period of Asoka, Bhudhists came to Kerala and established their temples and monasteries in different parts of the country. The following Hindu temples are believed to be once Buddhist shrines: the Vadakkunnathan Temple of Trichur, the Kurumba Bhagavathi Temple of Cranganore, and the Durga Temple at Paruvasseri near Trichur. A large number of Buddha-images have been discovered in the coastal districts of Alleppey and Quilon; the most important Buddha-image is the famous Karumati Kuttan near Ambalappuzha.

The first lighted period in Kerala History in called the Sangam Age (1-500 AD.) Collections of poems like Purananuru, Akananuru, Silappathikaram and Manimekhalai by poets like Paramer, Kapilar, Gautamanar, mamulanar and poetess Avvaiyar. The Sangam poems were secular. The poems give us information about the Chera kulas like Utiyam, Neducheralathan and Chenkuttawan. Their capital was vanchi (muziris), which was an important trading centre with Rome. There were harbours of Naura near Kannur, Tyndis near Quilandy, and Bacare near Alappuzha which were also trading with Rome and Palakkad pass (churam) facilitated migration and trade. The contact with Romans might have given rise to small colonies of Jews and Syrian Christians in the chief harbour towns of Kerala. The Jews of Kochi believe that their ancestors came to the west coast of India as refugees following the destruction of Jerusalem in the first century AD The Syrian Christians claim to be the descendants of the converts of St. Thomas, one of the Apostle of Jesus Christ. The tribal society was slowly moveing towards civilization.

A silent revolution was taking place in the social system of Kerala during the last
phase of Samgam Age. Brahmins from the Karnataka region started coming to Kerala. By about the 8th century, a chain of thirty-two Brahmin settlements had come up, which eventually paved the way for the social, cultural and political separation of Kerala from the Tamil country, in due course. A large number of the settlements were in Central Kerala. The process of Brahminisation or Sanskritisation began. Temples were constructed, Nambudiri community was evolved. Sankara the exponent of Advaita (monistic) philosophy lived in the 8thC.AD. The whole of Kerala came to be covered by a network of temple centered Brahmin settlements. Under their control, these settlements had a large extend of land, number of tenants and the entailing privileges. With more advanced techniques of cultivation, sociopolitical organization and a strong sense of solidarity, the Brahmins gradually formed the elite of the society. They succeeded in raising a feudal fighting class and ordered the caste system with numerous graduations of upper, intermediate and lower classes. In due course, the consolidation of these settlements and the establishments of their ascendancy gradually led to the evolution of a new Malayalee language and a new Malayalee culture, the separate identity of Kerala was in the making.

A new dynasty called Perumal of Mahodayapuram emerged in Kerala in the 9th Century AD. The capital city of mahodaya puram was built around the temple of Tiruvanchi kulam. A major part of Kerala was brought under the control of this dynasty. Perumal was the overlord (Keraladhinatha) of Kerala. Perumal had a Nair force under him.There were rulers like Sthanu Ravivarma, Bhaskara Ravivarman and RamavarmaKulasekhara. A network of landed aristocracy was evolved in Kerala. A peculiar type of feudal relationship was evolved. Each Nadu or District had its own hereditary or nominated governor called the Naduvazhi.

Kollam,the capital of Venadu was an important harbour. In 825 AD Kollam era (Malayalam Era) came into existance. Matrilineal (Marumakkathayam) system was developed. Trade and commerce flourished. Hill products were exported to West Asia. Caste system began to develop. Sections like Panas, Pulayas, and Parayar were deprived of all privileges.

Importance was given to Sanskrit language and many Sanskrit works were written in this period Tapathi Samvaranam and Subhadra Dhamanjayam are among them. Sankara Narayana was a famous astronomer. There was progress in temple architecture-and sculpture.

Of the many Nadus, three - Venad, Kozhikode and Kolathumody - became prominent. Venad in the south with the new capital, Thiruvananthapuram grew. Samuthiris with the new capital Kozhikkode was another major kingdom. Arab contacts of Kerala are also very ancient and it is believed that Islam came to Kerala as far back as the 9th century AD. Arab and native Muslims seemed to have played an important in the development of Samuthiri kingdom. Though smaller in size other two important kingdoms were Kochi in the middle and Kolothunadu in the North. In general, Jews, Christians and Arab Muslims played an important part in the development of trade and towns.

The period from the 12thC to the beginning of 19thC is generally classified as the Middle Age in Kerala History. At the beginning of the 12th century, the cholas and pandyas attacked Kerala combined and the Chera Kingdom lost its central power. Kerala became a land of agricultural villages and each of them became under a Naduvazhi. Wars among Naduvazhis became common. Society transformed into a feudal one with a graded hierarchy, hereditary occupations and well-defined duties and responsibilities for each class of people. A new social system iof this age is the matrilineal form of inheritance. In spite of the predominantly agrarian character of society, trade and commerce flourished. Hill products from the Western Ghats carried down, by the many rivers, to the natural harbours on the Arabian Sea secured an expanding market in West Asia and Europe.

The arrival of Vasco - da gama in 1498 marked the beginning of a new era in Kerala History. This new era called Gama epoch he rated the age of colonization. The Portuguese wanted monopoly in spice trade, especially in pepper. The Portuguese demanded the expulsion of all Muslim traders. This resulted in war between the Portuguese and Samuthiris. Samuthiris naval force under the Kunjali Marakkar fought bravely against the Portuguese. The Dutch and French intervention in Kerala placed the Portuguese at disadvantage and by 1663 the Portuguese were diminished from Malabar Coast. The Dutch were prominent but later gave way to British supremacy. In 1682 the English settled Talassery and in 1694 at Anhuthengu. From these settlements they extended their influence all over Kerala. The Kingdom of Mysore led by Tippu Sulthan tried to invade Malabar but was defeated by the combined force of British and the local Kingdom. By the Treaty of Sriranga pattanam (8th March 1792) Malabar practically came under the British. The British signed treaties with rulers of Thirvithamkur and Kochi. These rulers accepted the supremacy of the British. All the early rebellions like that of Pazhassi Raja, Veluthampi, Paliath Achan and Kurichiyas against the British were crushed. All the Naduvazhies were brought under the control of the British.

The British rule in Malabar and British supremacy in Thiruvithamkur and Kochi resulted in far reaching changes in the life of Malayalis. Western education, Modern Judiciary, rule of law, new tenancy rules etc were introduced. Cash economy prevailed. The traditional society was shaken. Several vestiges of feudalism disappeared. Marthanda varma of Travancore and Sakthan Thampuran of Cochin crushed feudal aristocracy of Nairs. Kerala was on the whole undergoing a steady and gradual transformation in the 19th C. This century also witnessed the emergence of socio-religious reform movements. Sri Narayana guru, Chattampi Swamikal, Ayyankali, Vakkam Abdul Khader Moulavi, Vagbhatananda and others accelerated social reforms. Narayan Guru was the prior who campaigned against caste system, Brahmin supremacy and many social disabilities. This Renaissance in Kerala further gained momentum in the early decades of the 20th century. In this period rationalism and new trends in malayalam literature influenced the mind of the Malayalis.

Towards the close of the 19th C National movement was spreading in India. Many prominent persons worked for Indian National Congress from Kerala. G.P. Pillai, Sir. C. Sankaran Nair and Rairu Nambiar deserve mention. C. Sankaran Nair of Ottapalam was the first Malayali who president over the congress sessions. He was the president of the Amaravathi Session of the Congress in 1897. By 1919 Congress activities gained momentum in Malabar. Gandhiji's influence was increasing. Non co-operation and Khilafat movement and Salt Satyagraha fired up the national spirit in Malabar. Some of the early leaders were K. Kelappan, Muhamed Abdurahiman, K.P. Kesava Menon, and K. Madhavan Nair

Vaikkam Satyagraha, Guruvayoor Satyagraha and the ceremonial breach of the salt law strengthened the freedom movement in all parts of Kerala. In Thiruvinthamkur the nature of freedom movement was different. Their caste organizations played an important role in bringing out changes. These organizations agitated for social justice and adequate representation for backward classes in government jobs and in legislature. Slowly political organizations like the Travancore State Congress were founded. Some of the prominent leaders were TK Madhavan, C Kesavan, TM Varghese and Pattam Thanupilla. In Cochin, Prajamandalam was formed. Some important leaders were Ikkanda Warrier and Panampilly Govinda Menon.

Peasants and workers also formed their organizations. They agitated for reforms.
By 1930s a strong leftist movement emerged in Kerala. Socialism and Communism influenced many leaders and the Kerala Provincial Congress Committee was dominated by leftists were under the leadership of EM.S. Nambuthiripad and P.S. Krishnapillai. When the world war broke out the rift between the Right and the left widened.

This resulted in the formation of the Communist Party of India in Kerala in 1939. The Quit India movement in 1942 had its impact in Kerala. There was great enthusiasm among students in Malabar. In Travancore the Communist launched a violent struggle against the constitutional scheme proposed by the Diwan C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer. The Punnapra Vayalar out break in A!apuzha under the leadership of the communists was part of this patriotic struggle.

When in 1947 India became free Malabar, Kochi and Travancore also became free and became part of the India Union. The Aikya Kerala Movement under the leadership of K.P. Kesava Menon and K. Kelappan demanded and worked for the linguistic state of Kerala. The same spirit is found in the book" Keralam Malayalikalude Mathrubhumi" written by EM.S. Nambudiripad. This dream of Aikya Kerala materialized with the reorganization of States on a linguistic basis in the light of the report of the States Reorganization Commission. It was decided to add Malabar district and the Kasargod taluk of south Canara district to Travancore-Kochi and to separate the Tamil-speaking southern region of old Travancore from Travancore-Kochi for inclusion in Madras State. On November 1, 1956, the new State of Kerala was formally inaugurated.

Sabarimala – More of a reality than a myth

The logical history of Sabarimala is linked to the mythical history of Lord Ayyappa. It would be an arduous effort to find out the border at which the myth crosses over to reality and vice versa. Nonetheless, both the logical and mythical histories have their own significances.

Sabarimala – The myth

Sabarimala was once under the regime of the Pandalam dynasty. So there can’t be a mythical history for Sabarimala without the mythical histories of Lord Ayyappa and Pandalam dynasty.

Lord Ayyappa, the deity of Sabarimala had his human sojourn at Pandalam as the adopted son of the King of Pandalam. It is believed that the King of Pandalam, who didn’t have an offspring to assume his throne, got a baby from the banks of the river Pampa. The king heard an oracle that he should take the baby to his Palace and that the baby will show the intent of his birth at 12. Because the baby had a bell tied in a string around his neck, he was called Manikandan; meaning a person who has a bell around his neck. At 12, he would be known as Ayyappa. The King took the baby home and the Royal Family accepted the child as the Prince. But after some time, the Queen delivered a baby and the attention of all except the King in the Royal Family switched to the new born baby. The Minister in the Royal Palace told the Queen that unless Manikandan was thrown out of the Palace, her own son could not become the next King. He was playing on her jealousy. It worked out.

According to the directives from the Minister, the Queen pretended to have fallen ill. The Royal Family doctor prescribed her the milk of leopardess. It was also a trick of the Minister. He knew that Manikandan would take up the challenge. As expected, Manikandan went to the forest in search of leopardess-milk, despite resistance from the King. He was around 12 now. In the forest, in a fierce battle, he killed the demon queen Mahishi, who used to attack and kill the people and their cattle. She was even feared by the Gods. After she was killed, all the Gods praised and worshipped Manikandan. Knowing the intent of Manikandan’s visit, the King of the Gods, Indra, transfigured into a leopardess and the rest of the Gods joined them, as leopards. Manikandan climbed on top of the leopardess and led the way back to the Royal Palace.

Everyone was surprised to see the Prince coming with a group of leopards. Ayyappa took rest underneath a banyan tree. The Queen and the Minister were now frightened and confessed to the King about their misdeeds. Finally, the King came out himself with others to welcome his son to the Palace. Manikandan forgave the misdeeds of his mother, the Minister and others. Despite demands from the King that Manikandan should take over as the King of Pandalam, he nominated his younger brother to follow his father. He then took the King to the forest and told him that the intension of his human sojourn was complete and that he had to leave now. He then blazed away an arrow toward a hill. He asked the King to construct a shrine for him where the arrow alighted. He also requested his father to come annually to visit him at the shrine. Thus he gave up his human life and his divinity entered Sabarimala. Parasuram, another incarnation of Lord Mahavishnu, built the idol of Ayyappa and the architect among the Gods, Viswakarma built the temple in the Sabarimala (Sabari hills) at the place where the arrow alighted. This is the myth about Lord Ayyappa.

Sabarimala – The reality

The Pandalam Royal Family has its roots in Tamil Nadu. The members of the Pandalam Royal Family are descendants of the Pandya dynasty of Madurai. The Pandya Kings fled to today’s Kerala in two groups, after losing the battle against Malik Khafer, the General of the then Delhi Sultan Alauddin Khilji. One group settled down in Punjar (Kottayam Dist) and the other in Pandalam in 1202 AD. The then ruler of Venad helped them establish the Kingdom of Pandalam. The Kingdom of Pandalam extended to over 1,000 square miles. The royal family of Pandalam belongs to the 'Bhargava Gothra' while other Kshatriya families in Kerala belong to the 'Viswamithra Gothra'. Secularism was one of the prime principles of Pandalam dynasty and they helped the other religious followers to build a mosque at Kadakkad and a church at Kudassanad. It is also believed that those who settled down in Pandalam had sympathies toward the Buddhist beliefs.

There is no clear evidence as to when did the pilgrimage to Sabarimala begin. After the instauration of the temple, it left unreached for about three centuries. One of the Kings in the later generation rediscovered the traditional paths to reach Sabarimala. He had many followers with him, including the descendants of the Vavar family. They refreshed their resources at Erumely and this marked the beginning of the famous Petta Thullal at Erumely. They laid down their arms at the place today known as Saramkuthy. Those who are on their maiden visits to Sabarimala thrust arrows at this place. The temple was then renovated. In 1821 AD, the kingdom of Pandalam was added to Travancore. 48 major temples including the Sabarimala temple were also added to Travancore. The idol was erected in 1910. The temple conflagrated in 1971 and underwent a major revamp.

The history behind the worshipping methods

The customs of the pilgrims to Sabarimala are based on five worshipping methods; those of Shaivites, Shaktists, Vaishnavites, Buddhists and Jainists. At first, there were three sections of devotees – the devotees of Shakti who used meat, liquor and other drugs to worship their deity, the devotees of Vishnu who followed strict penance and continence, and the devotees of Shiva who partly followed these two methods. It was then that the Buddhists and Jainists entered, spreading the concepts of Ahimsa. Another name of Lord Ayyappa is Sastha which means Buddha. This is a prime example of the reach of the Buddhist beliefs to this part of the world. All these can be seen merged into the beliefs of pilgrims to Sabarimala. The chain the pilgrims wear comes from the Rudraksha chain of the Shaivites. The strict fasting, penance and continence is taken out of the beliefs of the Vaishnavites. Ahimsa is taken from the Jainists. The constant and repeated utterance of prayers reminds one of the Buddhists. The offering of tobacco to Kaduthaswamy can be considered to be taken from the Shaktists.

Those who decide to go to Sabarimala need to observe strict celibacy. The procession of Malikappurathamma to Saramkuthy and her return without any exuberance shows one the patience, endurance and mental strength a man can achieve. The ghee filled coconuts in the blazing fire hearth symbolizes the burn off of one’s selfishness. A bath in river Pampa stands for driving away the sins one committed in his life.

Where humanity scores over myth and logic

The striking significance of the beliefs about Sabarimala is the absence of the touch-me-not-ism among the upper castes of Hindus. All are equal before Lord Ayyappa. Even the deity and the devotee are known by the same name – either Ayyappa or Swamy. This is the only such belief in the entire world.

Through the observation of strict penance, fasting and continence, one learns to control his senses. He gives up his lust and other human desires. He remoulds himself. On reaching his destination, he realizes the meaning of Thathwamasi – ‘That is You’. Thus he recognizes the enormous power, restraint and resilience from within.

Another importance which is more relevant these days is the oneness of diverse religious beliefs. It is one temple in the world, with doors open to all, whatever be their beliefs. The triumvirate of Ayyappa, a Hindu; Vavar, a Muslim and Kochu Thomman, a Christian speaks volumes for this factual truth. It is here that Sabarimala becomes more of a reality than a myth.

Sreejith Kumar G

The flavor of Kerala – Story of an Ancient Spice
pepper, ancient spice of kerala

Black pepper, piper nigum, world’s most widely used spice is indigenous to Kerala. The hot and pungent berries of the pepper plant are one of the earliest known and the most widely used spice in the world. Piper longum, long pepper, called pippali in Sanskrit was the most valuable Indian exports of earliest times. In ancient Europe long pepper was used as medicine. Early Greek traders thought that black pepper was a variety of long pepper and called it peperi, and in Latin it became piper nigum. Black pepper’s Sanskrit name maricha was unknown in the west.

The story of Indian Spices is an ever-changing history of lands discovered or destroyed, favors sought or offered, treaties signed or broken, wars won or lost, and kingdoms built or brought down. For Europe, spices were the envoys from enchanted orient. The monsoon soaked rain forests of Kerala, home to several spices, became a prime destination for many explorers. Black pepper has a colorful history as it followed the trade routes to the west. Nomadic Arabs and ancient Phoenicians are said to be among the first to come to Kerala for spice trade. The Arabs gained control of the lucrative trade by 600 B.C. They transported pepper, cinnamon, incense, and oils from the East through the Persian Gulf to Arabia. Southern Arabia became the great spice emporium of the ancient world.

The seamen of Ptolemaic Egypt carefully avoided long voyages close to the Arab-controlled shoreline of India. During the reign of King Ptolemy VII, around 116 B.C. a Greek sailor managed to sail with the winds and reach India’s southwest coast, marking the beginnings of a thriving Egyptian, and later Roman spice trade. Ptolemy XI bequeathed Alexandria to the Romans in 80 BC. By 40 AD Alexandria became not only the greatest commercial center in the world but also the preeminent emporium for spices. The rapid growth of Roman trade led to the introduction of a direct route from Red Sea ports to the ancient port of Muziris in central Kerala. Roman ships left in July, at the height of the monsoon season and returned back with the reverse northwest monsoons in November. They used the most southerly course even in the worst monsoons especially as the sighting of the Lakshadweep Islands two hundred miles from mainland gave them excellent guide to their destination. The consumption of pepper grew astonishingly in the days of the Roman Empire and pepper became the most typical spice in medieval Europe. It was a status symbol of fine cookery and a descriptions of lavish feasts invariably mentioned pepper, if not other spices. Recipes for pepper sauces even appeared in Roman novels of 1st century A.D. Roman Emperor Domition designated an area in the heart of the city as Ahorrea piperataria, pepper sheds, for the exclusive use of pepper merchants.

The Roman trade began to weaken during the 3rd century A.D. Arab and Ethiopian middlemen began to take control of the trade. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Arabs held the control of spice trade for a long time. Major Mid-east market centers were Constantinople (now Istanbul) and Alexandria. In order to protect their market and to enhance the price of pepper and also to discourage competitors, Arab traders artfully withheld the true sources of the spices they transported from Kerala. According to an ancient text, The Nature of Things, pepper is the seed or fruit from a tree that grows in the lush forests on the southern side of the Caucasus Mountains in the hottest sunshine. The pepper forests are full of snakes that guard the trees. When fruits are ripe, people set fire to the forest, the snakes flee, and the thick flames blacken the pepper fruits and make them sharper.

By this time Venice became a great sea power and controlled the Adriatic Sea. The Venetians dominated in the distribution of pepper and other spices from the Mid-east to Western Europe. With these virtual monopolies in trade and distribution pepper price skyrocketed and only the rich were able to afford it. Pepper was sold for exorbitant prices all over Western Europe. Pepper was equivalent to money and people stored it under and lock and key. In 408 A.D. when Alaric, the King of Visigoths, besieged Rome he demanded a stiff price for sparing the city, which included fine garments, gold, silver and 3000 kilograms of pepper.

Pepper was considered a symbol of wealth and affluence and doubled as a more stable form of currency than money. A proper bribe from a merchant in Venice to a tax collector included among other things a pound of pepper. And in France a pound of pepper could free a slave. In Germany a nickname for the rich was pepper sacks. In renaissance Italy, pasta dishes served at banquets were sprinkled with abundant quantities of black pepper and cinnamon, as a symbol of prosperity. The princely houses of Europe had developed a passion for pepper that led to ostentatious display. Miniature ships of precious metal, inlaid with gems and filled with pepper and cinnamon were used as dinner table decorations. Charles the Brave of Burgundy had 289 pounds of pepper brought to his table for his wedding banquet.

pepper, ancient spice of kerala

In early 11th century King Ethelred collected toll in the form of bags of pepper from ships that landed at Billingsgate. In 1101 A.D. soldiers of Genoa were rewarded with one kilogram of pepper each for their victory in a war. One of the oldest guilds in the City of London registered in 1328 A.D. was the Guild of Pepperers. When an English ship that sank in 1545 A.D. was raised from the ocean in the 1980’s, nearly every sailor’s body was found to have a bunch of peppercorns, the most portable valuable, in his possession. In England a pound of pepper was a commonly accepted form of rent from land tenants. During later years pepper became cheap and a custom of handing a single peppercorn to confirm a tenancy came into existence. In 1973 the tributes Prince Charles received as he took possession of the Duchy of Cornwall included a pound of pepper.

The higher prices for pepper frustrated other European nations and the quest for a new source of pepper fuelled the enthusiasm of the great explorers of the Renaissance. The conquest of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453 A.D. had already marked the decline of Venice. During the latter half of 15th century the Spanish and the Portuguese built stronger ships and ventured abroad in search of a new ocean route to the spice producing countries of the east. In 1498, Portugal’s fortunes rose when Vasco da Gama rounded Africa’s Cape of Good Hope and reached the southwestern shores of India. As they landed on the shores of Kerala, the men shouted “for Christ and spices!” They had arrived at the very heart of spice country.

The advent of the Portuguese through the newly discovered ocean route totally ended the Arab and Venetian monopoly of pepper trade. In the following years, Lisbon became one of the wealthiest towns of Europe. After gaining their freedom from Spain in the 16th century, the Dutch began their voyages to the East Indies during 1595 A.D. The Dutch East India Company was founded in 1602 A.D. By 1663 A.D. the Dutch gained trade supremacy in the east by defeating the Portuguese. Soon the British were on the scene. Conflict erupted between the Dutch and the British in the following years and the British eventually broke a 200-year Dutch monopoly.

The rise of French cuisine during the 17th century A.D. put an end to over-spicing of food and milder spices and herbs slowly replaced black pepper. The price of pepper dropped dramatically with the decrease in demand. By the middle of 19th century A.D. pepper prices dropped to six cents a kilogram in the world markets. Despite the drop in its price pepper continues remain a favorite spice. The world today consumes as much black pepper as all other spices combined. It is used in one way or other in most cuisines and it is used to prepare just about every kind of dish, including desserts. Today black pepper is freely traded in world commodity markets.

Today pepper is cultivated in the tropical regions near the equator around the globe. There are pepper plantations in Thailand, China, Vietnam, Brazil, and Sri Lanka. India and Indonesia together produce about half of the pepper traded in the world markets. Modern pepper trade grades pepper based on its country of origin. The Indian grades are Malabar and Thalasseri (Tellicherry) and they are very aromatic. Kochi is the major pepper trade center in India.

Ammini Ramachandran, www.peppertrail.com, ammini@peppertrail.com