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Physical Setting

Kerala occupies a narrow strip of land, not more than 360 miles (555 km.) long and 80 miles (120 km.) wide, with a total area of 15,002 sq. miles 38,855 sq. km.). The land lies between 8° 18' North Latitude and between 74° 52' and 77° 24' East Longitude. On the west it is washed by the Arabian Sea, in the, east hedged in by the western Ghat mountains, in the north bordered by the state of Karnataka, and in the south joined by the state of Tamil Nadu.

Mountain Passes

The Western Ghats that range along the highland are called Sahyadris which rise in elevation between 3,000 feet and 8,000 feet above sea-level. The Anamudi Peak in Idukki District rises to a height of 8,841 feet and represents the ha'ghest point in India, south of the Himalayas. The Agastyakutam, connected to Sage Agastya of the Mahabharata tradition, is 6,132 feet above sea-level. Many of the hills in the region have religious and political significance: Sabarimala is the hallowed seat of the Lord Ayyappan of pilgrimages; there is the famous St. Thomas Church located on top of Malayattoor Hill; Ezhimala or Mount Eli. the conspicuous hill overlooking the Arabian Sea or the Cannanore Coast,was the seat of a powerful kingdom and a landmark for mariners in the early centuries of Christianity; the Puralimala in Tellicherry Taluk was the center of the Pazhassi revolt (1793-97; 1800-1805) against the British in the nineteenth century. These tall hills covered by rain forests which are infested by wild animals prevented large-scale invasions of Kerala.The continuity of the Sahyadri hills is interrupted by the presence of several gaps which have prevented the total isolation of Kerala from the eastern countries. The major gap is the Palghat Gap which is about 20 miles wide. William Logan writes in his famous Malabar Manual:

Here by whatever great natural agency the break occurred, the mountains appear thrown back and heaped up, as if some overwhelming deluge had burst through, sweeping them left and right. On either hand tower the giant Nilgiris and Anamalas, overtopping the chain of ghats by several thousand feet, while through the gap, the southwest winds bring pleasant moist air and grateful showers to the thirsty plains of Coimbatore, and roads and railways link the Carnatic to Kerala. The unique character ... of this gap ... is only equalled by its great economic value to the countries lying on either hand of it (p.3).

In addition to the Palghat Gap, there are others like the Perambadi Ghat linking Kerala and Coorg, the Perlya and Thamarasseri Gaps linking Wynad and Mysore, and Bodinayikannur, Kambam, Aryankavu, and Aramboli Passes connecting Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Tamil powers often invaded Kerala through the Aramboli Pass.

Sea and Ports

On the one hand, the Arabian Sea prevented some invaders, traders, and intruders from visiting Kerala; on the other hand, it attracted mostly traders from Europe and the Middle East. From historical records we know of Arabs from the eighth century and the Portuguese (1498). the Dutch. and the British from the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries establishing trade centers in Kerala. Such ports as Cranganore,Quilon,Alleppey, Cannanore, and Cochin became prominent in later Kerala history. Most of the ancient port cities, except Cochin, are on the decline due to the lack of docking and berthing facilities as well as the expansion of other ports like Bombay and Goa, Remnants of European forts can be seen at Anjengo.Thankasserri. Pallippuram, Tellicherry. and Cannanore.



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