Kerala, also known as God’s Own Country, allures tourists through its fascinating backwaters, Ayurveda, beaches, waterfalls and much more. However, have you ever pondered over the origin and history of Kerala’s name?
The earliest mention of this region can be traced all the way back to the 3rd century BCE on a rock inscription from the Mauryan dynasty. However, another theory has it that the state was named after Keralian Thamboran, the ruler of an independent province in southern India. It’s also believed that the name Kerala is derived from the name “Cheralam,” signifying the land of the powerful “Cheras,” one of the longest-ruling dynasties in this region. Whatever the origin behind its name, it sure makes for an interesting subject. Take a look at the lesser-known stories of how 14 Kerala towns got their unique names.
The capital city of Kerala was known as Thiruvananthapuram before the British renamed it Trivandrum. This place was famous by its original name during the medieval era. Thiruvananthapuram means “The City of Lord Ananta”, who is the presiding deity at the renowned Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple located in the city.
The famous city of Pathanamthitta, also known as the pilgrim capital of Kerala, has several interesting accounts behind its name. One of the most popular ones amongst these is that the name was created by combining two Malayalam words, Pathanam and Thatta, which together means a group of ten families settled on the banks of the River Achenkovil. Yet another account has it that the name was derived from Pattana (town), which later became pathname before finally becoming Pathanamthitta.
Munnar is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Kerala and is characterized by its endless stretches of tea plantations, winding lanes and spectacular beauty. Its name can be traced to the three mountain streams which one can find here, namely, Kundala, Mudrapuzha and Nallathanni. The Malayalam words for number three and stream respectively are Munnu and Aaru.
Palakkad is immediately identifiable by its contrasting landscape. Here, you come across the rugged and barren (Pala) rocky mountains as well as thick forests (kadu). These are believed to be the reasons behind its being called so. It’s also widely believed that its name can be attributed to the strong presence of Jains who settled in the region and spoke the sacred language of Pali. It was they who referred to this place as Palghat. However, the most widely accepted theory is that Palakkad owes its name to the aromatic Pala trees, which enjoyed a strong presence in the region.
The city of Kottayam enjoys a worldwide reputation, thanks to its incredible spices and rubber trees. This city derived its name after combining the two words, Kotta and akam, which means the interiors of a fort. This region, encompassing present-day Kottayam during the 18th century, consisting of several palaces and forts. However, these were demolished by a Travancore ruler, Marthanda Varma when he laid siege to the town. Today, however, one only comes across the remnants of the forts. Although extremely dilapidated, it tells the tales of the past glory.
Mavelikara lies in close proximity to Alleppey, which is known as the Venice of the East. Located on the banks of the River Achankovil, it gets its name by combing the words Maveli, who was the mythical king of Kerala and Kara, which means land. Legend has it that Mavelikara is the land where the mighty King Mahabali prostrated before Vamana, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Onam, one of the most popular festivals of Kerala, is held in honor of this legendary king.
Ernakulam holds the distinction of being the commercial capital of Kerala. The origin of its name is however linked to two theories. One of these state that this city derived its name from the Tamil word “Erayanarkulam,” which means the abode of Lord Shiva. Another theory states that the city got its name from the Malayalam words “Ere-naal-Kulam,” which means to “pond for a long time.”
Kollam was also known as Quilon during the British era. Historical citations of this city can be traced as far back as King Solomon’s reign. Recent excavations have hinted at human settlements dating back to the Paleolithic Age. This place is said to derive its name from Kollam, which in Sanskrit, means pepper. The pepper here was of such fine quality that it attracted visitors from around the world eager to taste and trade in the famous spice.
Most people still recognize Kozhikode, pronounced Ko-Rrhi- Code, as Calicut. This is the anglicized version of the name used by the local Mappila community, Kalikat. Eminent historian K.V. Krishnan Iyer states that the word has been derived from the Malayalam words koyil (palace) and kotai (fortified), which together meant a fortified palace. The word “kozhi” means a rooster in the Malayalam language. This is the reason why this city is also called the Cock Fort.
The word Kalamassery has been derived from the word Kalabhasery. Although commonly used to refer to sandalwood paste, the word Kalabham also denotes an elephant in literary Malayalam. In Kerala, elephants have been a part of temple rituals and festivities since immemorial times. Legend has it that this was the place where herbivorous giants were taken for rest after a long day’s work at the Thrikkakara Temple. The city also became famous by the name Kalamassery with the gradual passage of time.
Lying in close proximity to the town of Ernakulam, this town is believed to have borrowed its name from the age of the Puranas. The story of Samudra Manthan which depicts the gods and demons engaged in a fight over the nectar of immortality, with Shiva drinking the Halahala poison to save the world, is one of the most famous episodes in Hindu mythology. However, what makes Aluva relevant is the fact that an idol of Lord Shiva consumed the poison, or Alam, was placed in a temple in modern-day Aluva.
If common folklore and parables are to be believed, then Ankam, or battles, were fought on ordinary grounds called myal. This place had once served as the battleground for ancient warriors and is said to have acquired its name due to that tradition. Another belief is that the name of this place, known as a port for inland transportation, is derived from Akamaly, an inland port area.
Thrissur is famous for its beautiful ancient Shiva temples and wonderful festivals. This city derives its name from the Malayalam/Tamil words Thiru-Shiva-Perur, which means “the city with the name of the Lord Shiva.” According to another explanation, this place is also called Tri-Shiva-Peroor, which means an enormous expanse of land with three Shiva temples. Thrissur is also home to three temples where Lord Shiva is the presiding deity. These temples are Vadakkunnathan, Asokeswaram and Irattachira.
The name Wayanad is a combination of two words, Vayal (paddy field) and Naad (land). In other words, it’s also famous as “the land of paddy fields.” It’s believed that the hills comprising this region housed a civilization dating back to the Neolithic Age. Archaeological evidence suggests that the forests of Wayanad have been inhabited for more than 3000 years.
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