Christopher Columbus found out America accidentally when he sailed in the year 1491 to find out a sea-route to Kerala, the land of spices. In Kerala varieties of spices grow abundantly. The Western world bought the spices from Kerala, that gave flavor to the foods of the west.
Kerala is one of the 25 States comprising the Indian Union, which is the largest Democratic Republic in the world. This is the southernmost state which is on the shores of the Arabian Sea. It has an area of 15,005 sq. miles or 38,863 sq. kms. with 30 million people, and it is divided into 14 districts. The language of Kerala is Malayalam, which had originated from Sanskrit and Tamil.
There is no unanimous opinion among the scholars as regards the origin of the name "Kerala". The earliest name known of the tract was Chera associating with the kingdom of the Chera king who was known as "Keralaputra" at the time of the edicts of Asoka (257 B.C.). Malayalam, another name of the state, which is also the name of the language, is probably derived from mala (hill) and alam (dale) corresponding to the undulating physical feature of Kerala, the land of hills and valleys. "Malabar" is a partially Arabicized form of the same word. The northern area of Kerala is still known as Malabar. The word Malabar corresponds to the vernacular "Malayalam". Keram in vernacular means coconut tree. Coconut trees grow here in abundance. So some scholars think that the word Kerala is derived from keram, meaning land of coconut trees. It was only in November of 1956 that the three Malayalam speaking states of Travancore, Cochin and Malabar were integrated into one political unit and given the name Kerala as one of the states of the Republic of India. The name more often used by the European writers was "Malabar."
Extensive trade relations existed between Malabar and the Mediterranean countries even before the Christian Era. The numerous golden coins of the Roman Empire which have been found all over the south, as well as many recent discoveries, offer abundant proof that Roman trade centers existed along the southern coasts of India. While King Solomon was ruling over the Israelites (B.C. 970-930), his warships brought back to his country valuable merchandise supposed to be from Muziris (Cranganore), a defunct international port of Malabar. While discussing the dealings of the Phoenicians with Muziris, the Roman historian Pliny (77 B.C.) complained that every year they were sending large sum of money to India for silk, pearls, gems and spices. He also remarked that the Malabar ships were visiting the Persian Gulf, Aden, the Red Sea and Egypt. Pliny (A.D. 23-79), Ptolemy (A.D. 100-160) and the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea give much detailed information about the trading centers of Malabar. Diplomatic relations between Malabar and Roman Empire existed even before the Christian era.
If we look in the Guinness Book of World Records, we find that there is only one place on earth, which has attained 100 percent literacy, and it is Kerala! The state has set records in other areas too. It has the lowest birthrate in India. 100% of its people get free education and medical help. Go to Kerala; no need of medical insurance. The govt. hospitals are all free. Higher education is also virtually free. A post graduate student pays about $10 as fees for a year. It is the first place where Communists came to power through the ballot box and the land where the great philosophical tradition of "Advaita" or Pantheism of the extreme was born.
Christianity in Kerala is as old as Christianity itself, and it is the cradle of Christianity in India. Many Keralites became Christians even before St. Peter reached Rome in 68 A.D. The traditional belief is that St. Thomas, one of the disciples of Jesus, came to Kerala in 52 A.D., and converted several persons to Christianity, and founded seven churches there. He was martyred in 72 A.D. by a fanatic at Little Mount (near Madras, which is the capital city of the nearby state of Tamilnadu) and his body was brought to Mylapore (near Madras) and was buried there. His tomb is venerated until this day. So Kerala Christians have a longer history and a higher ancestry than that of Christians of many of the European countries. Even the European missionaries, when they first came, landed in Kerala. There are around 9 million Christians in Kerala at present. Among them the Catholics form the majority with 5 million. Here are the approximate figures of Christians belonging to different denominations: Syro-Malabar Catholics-3,000,000; Latin Catholics-1,700,000; Syro-Malankara Catholics-300,000; Syrian Orthodox Christians (Methran Kakshi)-1,100,000; Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Christians (Bava Kakshi)-1,000,000; Chruch of South India(CSI) and other Protestants-700,000; Marthomites-500,000; Christians of the Church of the East (Nestorians/Surais)-100,000; St.Thomas Evangelical & Others - 10,000; Independent Jacobites(Thozhiyur)-9,000.
Like Christianity, Islam also came to Kerala after spreading in Arabia. The main reason for all this religious awakening was the trade connection between Kerala and the outer world. Religious harmony is another focal point of Kerala, where three major religions - Hinduism, Christianity and Islam - coexist without much quarrel. Sixty percent of the thirty million people are Hindus and Christians and Muslims the remaining forty percent. Kerala even has a Jewish past and a beautiful Jewish synagogue, situated in Kochi, the port city which is known as the Jewel of the Arabian Sea.
The peculiar geography, with a range of mountains, separated Kerala from the rest of India, but opened it to the foreigners through sea. People from far and wide, came in search of the "black gold" (pepper) and other spices. Kerala culture is very different from the rest of India. It is a land of great beauty with hills, rivers, forests and backwaters making it a rare spectacle.
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