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Subject : Kerala
Content : The place where I belong is a little like heaven. Does this phrase sound distinctly cliché to you? Well, it’s only true. This place that I am so proud to call home is quite like heaven. It really is no surprise that Kerala is called ‘God’s own country’. To be fair, I can prove it to you. Legend has it that Parasuram, the sixth avatar of Lord Vishnu stood high above the oceans on a cliff while the waters were ravaging the land. He then ordered the ravaging seas to recede and threw his warrior axe into the sea. The sea obeyed his commands and the land that came out of this endeavour became Kerala. This story, quite obviously, has several variations. My mother, for instance, decided to secularize the tale by informing me that God actually cast a net over this piece of land called Kerala, and gifted it with affluence and abundance.

But I’m fairly sure you will argue the point that these are only myths that sound rather intriguing, which is why we even bother ourselves with them. What real proof can I give to support my statement that Kerala is truly something extraordinary? Well, if only you would allow me to begin, I can prove my statement to you with solid facts.

Kerala has a rich history in its throngs. The first scripted history of Kerala is found in the inscription of Ashoka the Great, the Mauryan Emperor (269-232 BC) who cited four independent territories in the south of his empire and recorded Kerala as Keralaputra. The Sangam Age (1-500 AD) in Kerala is said to be the first enlightened age among the other periods of the past. The poets, poetesses and other writers of this period have left behind valuable accounts of the kingdoms of the South. Three political powers ruled the Kerala during the Sangam Age. These were the Ezhimalas, the Cheras and the Ays. Poems like Akananuru, Manimekhalai, Purananuru and Silappathikaram were composed in this age.

However the Sangam age sadly did not last. The light cast by the Sangam age faded and Kerala underwent a dark phase that lasted almost for four centuries. This era is known as ‘Kalabhra Interregnum’ and has been referred as the Dark Age in the history of Kerala.

The Zamorins ruled Calicut or Kozhikode for many generations and during the rule of these medieval rulers of the 14th Century, Calicut became a significant seaport as trade. However, Calicut is famously associated with that famed place where the world –famous European sailor Vasco da Gama who set his foot ashore in 1498. The Portuguese associations led to the synthesis of political as well as cultural and social factors.

After the Portuguese, it was the Dutch who settled in India and established the Dutch East India Company in the year 1592. In 1604, the Dutch came at the Malabar Coast and diplomatically taking advantage of the existing enmity between Kochi and Kozhikode, they drove away the Portuguese from their fortresses. The Dutch and the British jointly abolished the monopoly of the spice trade of the Portuguese. The Dutch ascendancy in Kerala waned away when the ruler of Travancore, Marthanda Varma (1729-1758) defeated the Dutch powers.

The modern history of Travancore starts with Marthanda Varma who after succeeding the throne, transformed and amplified the old kingdom of Venad into Travancore during his progressive tenure. Under his reign Travancore emerged as the independent realm of political, cultural and social activities.

In 1766, Hyder Ali, the ruler of Mysore invaded Malabar. Hyder Ali’s son, Tipu Sultan known as the tiger of Mysore inherited the throne in 1782 and took the possession of the whole of South Malabar in 1783. However, the Treaty of Serirangapatam on the 8th of March, 1792 made Tipu Sultan cede the kingdom of Malabar to the British.

British ascendancy in India initiated in the seventeenth century and lasted for two centuries till the independence of India. By 1806 Cochin, Travancore and Malabar in the north were brought under the British Madras Presidency. The British Supremacy however witnessed many social and cultural changes in Kerala. English missionaries brought great alterations and improvements in the livelihood of the people.

There were innumerous revolts against the British Supremacy and by the nineteenth century, the infuriated masses tried to throw off the yoke of British domination. In Travancore, Velu Thampi Dalawa revolted against the British. The early upheavals and clashes against the Colonial power, like the Mappila Rebellion of 1921, Pazhassi revolt were crushed effectively by the British.

The non-violent Guruvayoor Satyagraha movement and the passive Vaikom Satyagraha movement helped the access of the backward social classes to the public roads adjoining the Vaikom temple. The Samyukta Rashtriya Congress consisting of a confederation of Christians, Muslims and Ezhavas was formed to create reservations in Government and thus community based party system came into Kerala's background for the first time. Finally the Communist Party of India came into being in Kerala in 1939, which led the Punnapra Vayalar revolt of 1946.

After India gained its independence in 1947, Travancore and Cochin were merged to form Travancore-Cochin on 1 July 1949. On 1 January 1950 (Republic Day), Travancore-Cochin was recognized as a state. Finally, the Government of India's 1 November 1956 States Reorganization Act inaugurated the state of Kerala. This is why we celebrate the 1st of November as ‘Kerala Piravi’ every year.

Looking at Kerala geographically, we can say that it is divided into three distinct regions: the eastern highlands, the central midlands, and the western lowlands. Eastern Kerala lies immediately west of the Western Ghats' rain shadow. It consists of high mountains, gorges and deep-cut valleys. 41 of Kerala’s west-flowing rivers, and 3 of its east-flowing ones originate in this region. Here, the Western Ghats form a wall of mountains interrupted only near Palakkad, where the Palakkad Gap breaks through to provide access to the rest of India.

Just west of the mountains lie the midland plains composing central Kerala. This area mainly consists of rolling hills and valleys. The eastern portions of the Nilgiri and Palni Hills include such formations as Agastyamalai and Anamalai.

Kerala’s western coastal belt is relatively flat, and is criss-crossed by a network of interconnected brackish canals, lakes, estuaries, and rivers known as the Kerala Backwaters. Lake Vembanad lies between Alappuzha and Kochi and is more than 200 square kilometre in area.

The Agastyamalai Biosphere Reserve in the eastern hills is responsible for Kerala’s biodiversity. Altogether, 24 percent of Kerala is forested and this includes tropical wet evergreen and semi-evergreen forests, tropical moist and dry deciduous forests, and subtropical and temperate forests. Lake Sasthamkotta and the Vembanad-Kol wetlands, which are two of the Ramsar Convention listed wetlands, are in Kerala, as well as parts of the vast Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. Subjected to extensive clearing for cultivation in the twentieth century, much of Kerala's forest cover is now protected from clear felling.

Like other Indian states, Kerala is governed through a parliamentary system of representative democracy; universal suffrage is granted to state residents. The unicameral legislature, known as the legislative assembly, comprises elected members and special office bearers (the Speaker and Deputy Speaker) elected by the members from among themselves. Kerala has 140 Assembly constituencies. The state sends 20 members to the Lok Sabha and 9 to the Rajya Sabha, the Indian Parliament's upper house.

The judiciary comprises the Kerala High Court and a system of lower courts. The High Court of Kerala is the apex court for the state. Auxiliary authorities known as panchayats, for which local body elections are regularly held, govern local affairs.

Kerala hosts two major political alliances: the United Democratic Front (UDF—led by the Indian National Congress) and the Left Democratic Front (LDF—led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI (M)). Kerala is one of the few regions in the world where communist parties are democratically elected in a parliamentary democracy. Compared with most other Indians, Keralites are well versed and keen participants in the political process. Many elections, in this state, are decided by razor-thin margins of victory. Strikes, protests, rallies, and marches are ubiquitous.

Owing to favourable living conditions, Kerala is home to 3.44 percent of India's people. At 819 persons per square kilometre, its land is three times as densely settled as the rest of India. However, Kerala's rate of population growth is India's lowest. The 31.8 million of Kerala’s population is predominantly of Malayali ethnicity, while the rest is mostly made up of Jewish and Arab elements as well as a small percentage of Adivasis.

Kerala's principal religions are Hinduism (56.1 percent), Islam (24.7 percent), and Christianity (19 percent). Remnants of a once substantial Cochin Jewish population also practice Judaism. In comparison with the rest of India, Kerala experiences relatively little sectarianism.

Kerala's healthcare system has garnered international acclaim. UNICEF and the World Health Organization designated Kerala the world's first "baby-friendly state". Representative of this condition, more than 95 percent of Keralite births are hospital-delivered.

Kerala's society is less patriarchal than the rest of the Third World. Gender relations are among the most equitable in India and the Third World, despite discrepancies among low caste men and women. Kerala's female-to-male ratio (1.058) is significantly higher than that of the rest of India. It is truly remarkable how, in this state, parents do not care about the gender of the newborn child. It makes no difference to a parent as to whether the child is male or female. It is in this seemingly simple fact that Kerala has that distinct edge over society in the rest of India.

The society of Kerala gives much importance to education. School is treated as a very important part of a child’s life. Every child, whether male or female, is encouraged to have an education. The Government of Kerala is looking forward to improve the quality of education in schools, colleges and universities. The department of education administers school education from pre-primary level to the secondary level and also teacher training.

The newspapers of Kerala are Malayala Manorama, Kerala Express, Kerala Kaumudi, Malayalam Times, Mangalam Daily, Deepika and Mathrubhumi. The circulation figures of these newspapers only seem to increase over time. This, however, is of little surprise in a state like Kerala that is famous for a almost completely literate population. According to a 2005-2006 national survey, Kerala has one of the highest literacy rates among Indian states.

The major radio stations of Kerala are at Thiruvananthapuram, Alappuzha, Kannur, Kochi, Kozhikode and Thrissur. In addition to government-owned radio stations, a number of private radio stations such as Club FM, Radio Mango and SFM have also been set up that are becoming increasingly popular with the people of Kerala.

Kerala, situated on the lush and tropical Malabar Coast, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in India. Named as one of the "ten paradises of the world" and "50 places of a lifetime" by the National Geographic Traveler magazine, Kerala is especially known for its ecotourism initiatives. Growing at a rate of 13.31 percent, the state's tourism industry is a major contributor to the state's economy. Popular attractions in the state include the beaches at Kovalam, Cherai and Varkala; the hill stations of Munnar, Nelliampathi, Ponmudi and Wayanad; and national parks and wildlife sanctuaries at Periyar and Eravikulam National Park. The "backwaters" region, which comprises an extensive network of interlocking rivers, lakes, and canals that centre on Alleppey, Kumarakom, and Punnamada (where the annual Nehru Trophy Boat Race is held in August), also see heavy tourist traffic. During early summer, the Thrissur Pooram is conducted, attracting foreign tourists who are largely drawn by the festival's elephants and celebrants.

As I draw close to the end of this piece of writing, I feel more and more convinced to stick to the statement that I made at the beginning. I have no doubt and I’m sure you will agree that ‘God’s Own Country’ truly is God’s very own.
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