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titleKerala and Malabar


Kerala is the land of origin of the Malabar Muslims. Geographically it stretches north-south a distance of 360miles never exceeding 70 miles in width, comprising of 3 belts -the Coastal planes, the low to medium elevation lateritic plateau and the high interior range of archaic hills (Ghats).

The name Kerala may be derived from Chera the name of the earliest ruling dynasty or from 'kerum' an abbreviated term for coconut. Thus Kerala may signify 'The land of the Cheras' or "The land of Coconuts'.

Kerala, with its lush vegetation and the waves of the Arabian Sea lashing its coastline, is one of the most beautiful states of India. The sea makes inroads into the mainland in several places and fishermen with their catamarans and sailboats dot the horizon. The sea overflows onto low-lying areas when the tide is high, forming lakes and backwaters. There are also many freshwater lakes 'which are rich in seafood. Coconut palms growing straight or arched, some touching the earth in a deep curve trying to reach the sunlight, grow in abundance.

These aspects of Kerala history gives it a 'South East Asian Personality' - as described by Charles A. Fisher in South East Asia:  a Social, Economic and political Geography-the tropical climate, the plentiful water supply and regular monsoons, dispersed settlement and communication by the river, the large degree of rice and coconut cultivation, and port cities functioning as entreports for the passage of merchandise from the West and East

It's location gave Kerala  the westward openness to the sea, resulting in  continuious impact of a variety of influences from the west including the Arabs as well as trade history with West Asia. On the other hand the Western Ghat forms- as described by  A. Sreedhara Menon in A Survey of Kerala History-" The state has from the dawn of history  enjoyed a kind of insularity which has given it welcome immunity from the political convulsions which shook North India.

 the Malabar Muslims were separated though not completely and consistently, from the making the   This thus helped  the  unique development of the Malabar Muslims Culture distinct though not completely, from  the Muslim and Urdu culture in the rest of India.

Kerala's openness to the Arabian Sea has created an uninterrupted impact of a variety of influences from Arabia and other western countries. Malabar coast was in constant trade with Greece, Egypt, Arabia and Middle -Eastern countries since Phoenician times. Kodungallur(Muziris) was then its major port. In the year 40 AD. a greek merchant called  Hippalus is said to have realised that seasonal monsoons could be used to get from Egypt to the pepper-producing Malabar coast of India. It will, therefore, be pertinent to deduce that traders from Arabia carried the message of Islam to Malabar during the very time of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W )


  The term Malabar and Ma'bar was first noted to be used by an Arab geographer named Yaqut (1179-1229). The term Malabar is an ancient name for for the entire Malayalam speaking territory stretching form Mount Deli to Cape Comorin. Sometimes by extension the Malabar coast would refer to the whole west coast of the Indian Peninsular. The term probably originated from the word 'mali' and 'bar'. 'Mali' is the first syllable in Malayalam  used by the Arabs to refer to Quilon and and 'bar' a Persian word to mean 'hill'.  The term Ma'bar  sometimes used interchangebly with Malabar is misleading  as it  actually refers to East Coast of India. (Miller 1976)

The Evolution

The current state of Kerala after the time of Chola dynasty, was for many centuries was divided and  under the rule of  many kings and chieftains. In the late 18th century Tippu Sultan from Mysore conquered the northern part of the state. This, as elsewhere, brought the British forces in  and the area was ceded to the British in the Treaty of Seringapattanam. Thus the term Malabar came into being for the area directly under the British rule- earlier from Bombay , then from Madras Presidency. 67% of the Muslims in Kerala comes from this region.

The southern part of the state- Cochin and Travancore -had their own kings but the British had effective political control through their agents ( similar to the Johor and the northern states in Malaysia under British rule). Later after Indian Independence(1947). Cochin and Travancore united in 1949 and later on November 1st 1956 the whole Malayalam speaking region was again united under the name Kerala. The area earlier called Malabar was divide into the districts of Kozhikode, Cannanore and Palghat ( later Malappuram was carved out in 1969).The term Malabar thus became obsolete. And as a result, the term Malabari itself is almost unheard of in Kerala nowadays.

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