Answer by Raakhee V. Menon:
Age of Kerala
Strictly speaking, the state of ‘Kerala’ was formed only on November 1, 1956. Until then, it was just a region comprising of three princely states- Malabar, Kochi & Thiruvithamkoor – and several baronial estates.
As per Hindu mythology, there are only a handful of mentions to the area currently known as Kerala. It finds a couple of mentions in the Mahabharata, where it is written that the ‘Keralas’ fought alongside the Pandava army in the Kurukshetra battle.
Wikipedia states that Kerala has been mentioned in the Matsya Purana and the Rigveda…
The oldest of all the Puranas, the Matsya Purana, sets the story of the Matsya Avatar (fish incarnation) of Lord Vishnu, in the Malaya Mountains of Dravida, which lie in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The earliest Sanskrit text to mention Kerala by name is the Aitareya Aranyaka of the Rigveda.
Besides this, there is the huge chicken-or-egg argument of Kerala being in the stories of two of Lord Vishnu’s avatars – in Vamana Avatar & in Parashurama Avatar.
As per the chronicle of divine births of Lord Vishnu on earth, Vamana avatar happens before Prashurama avatar.
The Asura king Mahabali is said to have ruled the world with his capital in Kerala. And then the story goes that Vamana appeared in front of him during a sacrifice and asked for three measures of land the size of his foot. When Mahabali promised to give him what he demanded, the Lord is said to have grown to gigantic proportions taking the form of Trivikrama and with two steps measured all the worlds. When he asked where he could keep his third step, Mahabali is said to have offered his own head.
Mahabali was pushed down to the netherworlds by Vamana and he was permitted to visit his subjects once every year. To this day, every Malayali celebrates the homecoming of their king as Onam.
After Vamana avatar, comes Parashurama avatar. And it is said that the land of Kerala was wedged out from under the sea by Parashurama with his battle axe.
Now how do we explain this conflict of periods? I have absolutely no idea. I have always maintained the highly unpopular opinion that Mahabali DID NOT have his capital in Kerala. There are several articles available on the internet that state that Mahabali was conducting his sacrifice on the banks of the Narmada river when Vamana appeared at the site. The Narmada river is several thousand kilometers away from Kerala, in the Gujarat region.
There is a folk tale in Kerala about how a bird who was witness to the entire Vamana-Mahabali episode flew down to Thrikkakkara in Kerala where it sang the story of what happened. A priest heard this and took this as some sort of divine intervention and consecrated at the site the temple of Thrikkakkara dedicated to Lord Vishnu in His Trivikrama form.
The festival of Onam is said to have originated from here. There a very interesting write-up about the series of events showing the conquest of traditional Shaivites by the Vaishnavite sect. I have posted the link in the footnotes for anyone who might be interested to read further.
So, to sum it up, I staunchly believe that the origin of Kerala is attributed to Parashurama. It is said that the land that Parashurama wedged out from the ocean bed was a part of the kingdom of the Nagas. There’s a story about how Parashurama appeased the Nagas and convinced them to remove all poison from the land and turn it into a super-fertile land (which it is, even to this day!).
Quite interestingly, one of the earliest known ruling clans of the region were the Cheras. The word ‘chera’ is the name of one of the most well known varieties of snake in Kerala, the Indian rat snake. Doo-bee-doo-be-doo! ^_^
Malayalam & Sanskrit
I tell my Tamil friends that Malayalam is just a heady cocktail of Tamil and Sanskrit. It’s like for whatever words that had complicated Sanskrit terms, we took the Tamil words that we liked, put in the Sanskrit methodology of endings and voila! Malayalam was born! I guess this explains why many Malayalam words end with ‘m’. It’s just like Sanskrit….
Breath → Shwaasam
Relaxation → Aaramam
Day → Dinam, Divasam
Belief → Vishwaasam
I know many Tamil words also end with ‘m’. But in Malayalam it’s just a lot more. This could also be the reason why Malayalis find it a lot easier to learn Sanskrit. There is a Govt. Sanskrit College in the street just two streets parallel to my home street back home in Kerala. When I chant my evening prayers, most of which are in pure Sanskrit, I don’t find them utterly incomprehensible. Most of the words seem to be in Malayalam only…just that it sounds a bit bookish. But I must say that without any formal training in Sanskrit, I am able to understand 6 words out of every 10 words in any given Sanskrit prayer…just because my native language is Malayalam. I understand 9 out of 10 words in Tamil, but that’s not relevant here.
Simply put, one just cannot take out either Sanskrit or Tamil from Malayalam. Considering all the fights over supremacy of Sanskrit vs. Tamil that has been raging over years, it kinda helps to look at what a synergistically beautiful language can be formed when both the beautiful languages of Tamil and Sanskrit are combined 🙂