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Geography of Kerala

Updated: Apr 14, 2021

  • The land of Kerala comprises the narrow coastal strip bounded by the Western Ghats on the east and the Arabian Sea on the west in the southern part of the Indian Peninsula.

Position, Location and Shape

  • Kerala is situated in the extreme south-west corner of the Indian Sub- Continent.

  • The land of Kerala comprises the narrow coastal strip surrounded by the Western Ghats in the East and the Arabian Sea in the West.

  • Kerala comprises three natural divisions. They are:

    1. The High land – The Western Ghats constitute this region

    2. The Low land – it stretches along the coastal plain in the West

    3. The Mid land – in between the High land and the Low land. It is rich in agricultural products.

Mountains, Hills and Passes

  • The Sahya Mountains which form part of the Western Ghats is the main mountain range in Kerala.

    • It protected the state from political invasions that hit South India till the 18th century .

    • It guards the eastern frontier. In this sense, Sahya range may be called as the 'Great Sentinel of the East' (Kizhakkinte Kavalkkaran).

    • It was the source of most of the rivers of Kerala.

    • It provided mountain passes for traffic between Kerala and neighbouring states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

    • The forest in the Ghat is a source of wealth to the state.

    • Some of the peaks important from the political and religious points of view are situated in the Western Ghats.

    • The Anamudi Peak (8841 m) in the Ghat represents the highest point in India-south of the Himalayas.

    • The Agastyakutam, the southernmost peak in the Western Ghats figures in the popular legend of Agastya.

  • The Hills are so many in Kerala. From Ezhimala in the north to Agastyakutam in the South, we have innumerable hills. These hills have influenced our history in more ways than one.

  • 'Ezhimala' was the seat of a flourishing kingdom during the early centuries of the Christian era. It was a well known landmark for ancient mariners.

  • The 'Puralimala' was the headquarters of 'Pazhassi Raja' for a long time and is hailed as the ‘Aravallis of Malabar’.

  • The 'Brahmagiri' in Wayanad is important as Thirunelli temple is located here.

  • The 'Sabari hill' is famous for the Sastha shrine, one of the most important centers of Hindu pilgrimage in the state.

  • The 'Malayattur hill' is famous as a centre of Christian pilgrimage associated with St. Thomas.

Passes/Gaps

  • The mountains provide a number of passes/gaps to facilitate contacts. There are a number of mountain passes in Kerala which influence our History.

  • The 'Palakkad Gap' is the major gap with a width of 36 Kms.

    • Through it, the South-West winds bring pleasant moist air and grateful showers to the thirsty plains of Coimbatore.

    • Through it, many a stream from the higher mountains find their way to the Arabian Sea.

    • The gap is of great economic value to Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

  • The Tamarasseri and Perambadi gaps promote contacts between Kerala and Karnataka.

    • They have also served as routes of Mysorean invasion of Kerala.

    • The 'Perambadi Pass' gives access from Kannur to Coorg while 'Tamarasseri Pass' provide access from Wayanad to Mysore.

  • The 'Bodinaykannur Pass' in the Travancore area connects Madurai with the High Ranges (Idukki).

  • The 'Aryankavu Pass' gives easy access from Kollam to Tirunelveli. The Tamils used this route for most of their raids and trade to South Kerala.

  • The 'Arambadi Pass' (Aruvamozhi Pass), which connects Trivandrum with Tirunelveli, was crucial in the history of Kerala.

    • Early man with his microliths entered Kerala through this gap.

    • This route had been the highway of traffic between Kerala and its eastern neighbours.

    • Many raids and invasions, the last being that of Chanda Saheb in 1740, had taken place through the Arambadi.

    • Numberless battles had been fought in this region.

    • The Arambadi – Kottar region is rightly called the 'Cockpit of Kerala'.

The Sea

  • The 'Arabean Sea' has been a permanent geographical factor Kerala History.

  • Kerala depended for its prosperity on the sea and the sea borne trade.

    • The Jews, Christians, Muslims and Parsees came here following a sea route and first landed here.

    • The Europeans anchored at Kerala coast.

    • The Portuguese were the first in this endeavour followed by the Dutch. French and the English, all followed a sea route to reach Kerala and landed on the Kerala coast and built their settlements here.

  • The Arabian sea had been the field of activity for the Kunjalis, the Admirals of the Calicut fleet.

  • The extensive sea coast of Kerala has provided a number of harbours both in the ancient and modern times.

    • In ancient times, Kerala had such ports as Muziris, Tyndis, Barace and Nelcynda.

    • In medieval times, we had Kollam, Kozhikode and Kodungallur.

    • In modern times, we have Kochi, Alapuzha and Ezhimala.

  • If Kerala was isolated from the rest of India by the mountains, she was opened to the rest of the world by the sea.

Rivers of Kerala

  • There are 44 rivers in the state – 41 west flowing and 3 (Kabini, Bhavani and Pampar) east flowing.

  • The major rivers are Nila (Bharata Puzha or Perar), Periyar and Pampa, Kunthipuzha, Chandragiri Puzha, Korapuzha and Chaliyar.

  • The rivers perform a two-fold function:

    • They provide uninterrupted water transport through the length and breadth of the state.

    • They make the land fertile and the country prosperous.

  • Inland trade has been mainly through the rivers.

  • The harbours at the mouth of the rivers provide safe anchorage to ships.

  • Kerala Rivers have been the cradles of early civilisations.

    • 24 out of the 32 Brahmin settlements are on the banks of rivers.

    • A number of historic and religious temples and churches are situated on the banks of rivers.

  • The rivers have influenced our political and military history.

    • The Periyar flood of 1341 made Muziris useless for trade and brought in to existence the Vaipin Island.

    • The flood of 1789 in the same river forced Tippu Sultan to abandon his further conquest of Travancore.

  • It was on the rivers that major hydro-electric and irrigation projects were constructed in modern times.

    • The hydro-electric projects like Pallivasal, Sengulam, Peringal Kuthu and Sabarigiri have quickened the industrialization of Kerala.

    • The irrigation projects like Peechi, Malampuzha, Periyar Valley help the agriculture sector of Kerala.

Backwaters

  • Running parallel to the seacoast, Kerala has a chain of lagoons and backwaters.

  • They provide communication between the different parts of Kerala.

  • The important lakes of Kerala are Vembanad, Ashtamudi, Bakel and Kumbla.

  • The Vembanad Lake:

    • Its name came from the ancient kingdom of 'Venpolinad'.

    • It is the largest lake in Kerala extending from the south up to Kochi.

    • On its banks are situated Vaikkam, a famous Hindu pilgrim centre.

    • The ports of Alleppey, Quilon and Cochin are on its banks.

  • The Sasthamkotta Lake is the one and the only one fresh water lake in Kerala.

  • The Azhis in the state like Azikkal, Chettruvai, Neentakara, Kochi, Kodungallur and many bud bays like West Hill provide safe anchorage to ships.

Climate

  • Kerala alone has the two monsoons- Edavapathi and Thulavarsham.

  • Thus we get rainfall both from the south-west and north-east monsoons.

  • The abundance of rainfall enabled the people to choose agriculture as their main occupation.

  • Agriculture, as often said, is a gamble in the monsoon.

  • The variations in climate and seasons had their impact on vegetation and agriculture.

  • The two main crops- Virippu and Muntakan- are dependent on rainfall.

  • The climatic factors have influenced our History also.

    • The epoch making discovery of south-west monsoon by Hippalus, the Egyptian pilot in 45 AD facilitated the direct sea voyage from the Persian gulf to Kerala.

    • The climatic factors also affected the military operations in Kerala.

    • Eg:Tippu’s retreat due to Periyar flood in 1789.

    • It was monsoon who saved the Cochin Raja and his Portuguese allies from the Zamorins attack in 1503.

Fauna and Flora

  • The fauna and flora has made Kerala ‘the God’s own country’.

  • The forests of Kerala are rich in woods, animals and birds of rare varieties.

  • In ancient times, Kerala seems to have exported the elephant, the peacock and the monkey to the west.

  • It also exported aromatic plants, spices, ivory, teak and coir.

  • It was the demand for spices, especially the Black Gold (pepper) that brought the Europeans to Kerala.

  • Kerala is rich in mineral resources and white clay and graphite deposits.

  • Kautilya refers to River Churni (Periyar) from where pearls are found.

  • The fertile soil has facilitated the growth of agricultural villages.

Settlement Pattern

  • Kerala is a thickly populated state.

  • Kerala has a continuous settlement pattern with each settlement bordering up on the next settlement.

  • Houses are built in the centre of the plot and not in clusters as seen in other parts of India.

  • Thus a village consists of a number of house sites around which there are gardens and food crop areas held by the villagers.

  • River valleys were the cradle of these settlements.

    • Most of the Brahmin settlements in Kerala are found on the banks of rivers like Churni, Nila, Korapuzha and Pampa.

  • The settlements were called 'Ur' and 'Cheri', the former belonging to the Brahmins and the latter of the common man.

  • There was no separation or demarcation between the settlements of the upper and low castes.

  • The fisherman community has their settlement in the coastal region(Tura).

  • The tribesmen had their settlements in the highlands.

  • The artisans lived near the temple (Teruv).

  • The Christians and Muslims lived as part of the village settlement and had their churches and mosques in the villages.

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