Kerala lies situated between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea, on the southern tip of India.
The official language is Malayalam. English and Hindi are also spoken, as is Kannada in the north and Tamil in the east.
Around half the population are Hindu, a quarter Muslim and a quarter Christian. St Thomas the apostle was believed to have arrived in the ancient port of Muziris in AD 52, converting many people to Christianity and founding seven churches, which formed the basis of the Syrian Christian tradition.
A small Jewish community was also established from around AD68, from the Malabari Jews to the arrival of the Pardesi (or white) Jews, after expulsion from Spain in the late 15th century. For centuries, Kerala’s port city of Kochi (Cochin) has been an important centre for trade, particularly in spices, such as cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and crucially pepper – the black gold.
In 1498, the Portuguese arrived with Vasco de Gama. They formed settlements and built forts, taking advantage of tensions between native communities to assume control of the region. By 1663 the Portuguese were forced to retreat to Goa after the Dutch captured Kochi, and in 1682, the British arrived… India gained its Independence in 1947, and Kerala State, was formed in 1956, by the merging of the state of Travancore-Cochin with the Malabar district.