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Kerala (kĕrˈələ), state (2001 provisional pop. 31,838,619), 15,003 sq mi (38,858 sq km), SW India, on the Arabian Sea. Thiruvananthapuram is the capital. A wet tropical climate and coastal lowlands support cultivation of rice, coconuts, tapioca, and spices; the interior hills produce rubber, coffee, and tea. Tourism is economically important. A densely populated state, Kerala was created in 1956 from the Malayalam-speaking former princely states of Cochin and Travancore and Malayalam-speaking areas formerly in Madras state (now Tamil Nadu). About 60% of the population is Hindu; Christians and Muslims each make up about 20% of the remaining inhabitants. Although Kerala has the highest literacy rate in India, it has suffered from economic underdevelopment and unemployment. In 1957, India's first Communist-led state administration was elected in Kerala. Maoist Naxalite groups have been active in the state. Kerala takes its name from the ancient Tamil kingdom of Kerala (Chera), which traded with the Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans. Some coastal areas of Kerala were hard-hit by the Dec., 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami. The state is governed by a chief minister responsible to an elected unicameral legislature and by a governor appointed by the president of India.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a state in southwestern India located on the shore of the Arabian Sea. Area, 38,900 sq km; population, 21.3 million (1971), primarily Malayali people. The state’s administrative center is the city of Tiruvanantapuram (Trivandrum). Population density ranks highest among the Indian states. More than 60 percent of the people are Hindus, 21 percent are Christians, and 18 percent are Muslims. Kerala is the state with the greatest degree of literacy in India (60 percent as of 1971).

Most of Kerala is occupied by the lowland Malabar Coast. Located in the east are the slopes of the Cardamom and Anaimalai Hills (with elevations up to 2,698 m). The climate is tropical and monsoonal; the rainy season extends from April through November with precipitation of as much as 3,000 mm annually. The plains are under cultivation, and the slopes have evergreen forests of teak, ebony, rosewood (pallisander), cork, and other trees.

Kerala is an agrarian region. It has experienced an especially severe agrarian overpopulation. The average size of the plots cultivated by peasants is 0.8 hectare (ha); someone who owns more than 8 ha of land is considered to be a landlord. Almost half of those employed in agriculture are farm laborers. The agrarian reform that was adopted in Kerala in 1970 is considered the most radical in India: it establishes the lowest maximum area that can belong to single landlord in the country (6 ha). Excess land owned by the landlords has been transferred to the government, which has distributed it among the landless peasants and farm laborers, most of whom cultivate it on a lease basis. The newly established reduced lease payments have been collected by the government for the purpose of buying up land on the part of the peasants. Use is made of practically all arable lands (2 million ha). The southern, more arid part of the coast is intensively irrigated.

Almost the entire Malabar Coast is occupied by coconut palms and rice crops. Kerala has more than 70 percent of all the plantings of coconut palms in India. (In Malayalam the term “Kerala” means “the land of the coconut palms.”) Cashew nuts are also grown there, and in the foothills an important food crop is tapioca. Plantation crops, spices, and condiments are likewise widespread. Kerala is the principal supplier of black pepper to the world market (100,000 ha, with harvests ranging from 20,000 to 30,000 tons annually), dried ginger (about 20,000 tons), cardamom, and lemongrass oil. Almost all the Indian rubber (hevea) plantations are concentrated in Kerala, and their areas have been rapidly expanding (to 180,000 ha by 1969). Tea plantations occupy approximately 40,000 ha (about 12 percent of the total Indian area planted with tea), and coffee plantations cover about 20,000 ha (17 percent of the total area planted with coffee).

Kerala produces more than one-third of India’s saltwater fish catch (for example, tuna, sardines, mackerel, and shark).

Along the Malabar Coast there are major deposits of monazite sands, containing monazite, ilmenite, rutile, zirconium, and other minerals that are being worked. Based on local mineral raw materials is the production of graphite materials (Kottayam), tiles, and bricks (Trichur). As of 1969, the rated capacity of hydroelectric power plants was 500 millivolts. In Alvai there is a small aluminum plant. The food-processing industry accounts for about half of Kerala’s factory output; the principal branches are the processing and packing of cashew nuts, which are earmarked primarily for export (employing 100,000), and the production of coconut oil. Connected with the processing of coconuts is the coir industry with its center at Alleppey. There are also cotton, wood-processing, and rubber industries. (There is processing of natural rubber as well as an automobile tire factory in Kalamasseri. The center of the rubber industry is Kottayam.) Machine-building and metal-working (with about 10,000 employees) are represented by enterprises of the electrical engineering industry and electrical equipment (plants in Cannanore, Ernakulam, and elsewhere) and highway workshops (Trivandrum). The chemical industry includes the production of soap, perfumes from coconut oil (Tatapuram), and pulp cellulose (near Calicut). There is also a mineral fertilizer plant in Alvai. In Cochin there is a petroleum refinery operating on imported crude. Kerala’s largest port-industrial complex is formed by the cities of Cochin, Ernakulam, and Alvai, which have grown up and merged.


Historical survey. In remote antiquity the state of Chera arose on the territory of Kerala; it is mentioned in sources dating from the third century B.C. Parts of Kerala were included within the states of Chola, Kadamba, and Vijayanagar. It was here in 1498 that the Portuguese first appeared in India. In 1663 the Dutch settled in certain regions, and in the middle of the 18th century the Portuguese were pushed out by the French. At that time, British trading posts also appeared on the territory of Kerala. In the mid-18th century southern Kerala made up the principality of Travancore, and northern Kerala was conquered by Mysore. In 1792 northern Kerala was annexed by the British East India Company, and the principalities of Travancore and Cochin became its vassals.

After India gained its independence (1947), the single state of Travancore-Cochin was formed out of these principalities. It was on this basis that the state of Kerala was established in 1956 within its present borders. As a result of the 1957 elections, the Communists formed the government of the state. The efforts of this government to improve the status of the masses and to prepare an agrarian reform evoked sharp resistance, including armed resistance, from the propertied classes; as a result, the Kerala government was removed in July 1959 by decree of the president.

In the 1967 elections there was a victory of the united front consisting of the Communist Party of India, the Parallel Communist Party (formed in 1964 as the result of a split in the Communist Party of India), the United Socialist Party, the Muslim League, and a number of small left-wing groups. The government increased the wages of the blue-collar and white-collar workers of the state enterprises and institutions, assisted the growth of industry and agriculture, and prepared a plan for agrarian reform.

In 1970, after extraordinary elections in the state’s legislative assembly, the government came under the direction of A. Menon, one of the leaders of the Communist Party of India who had been a member of the previous government and who had since the end of 1969 temporarily carried out the duties of the prime minister. Included within this government were representatives of the united front, led by the Communist Party of India, and the Indian National Congress. The Parallel Communist Party opposed Menon’s government. Since 1970 this government has implemented the agrarian reform law according to which all those who rented lands (2.5 million people) became the owners of the lands by means of redemption and the farm laborers (500,000 persons) obtained the right of property ownership of the huts that they had built and of personal plot holdings. A maximum was established for the amount of land that an individual could own.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a state of SW India, on the Arabian Sea: formed in 1956, it includes the former state of Travancore-Cochin; has the highest population density of any Indian state. Capital: Trivandrum. Pop.: 31 838 619 (2001). Area: 38 863 sq. km (15 005 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005