10 Fun Facts about Kerala – “God’s Own Country” in India!

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Kerala is one of the most worldwide-famous southern-Indian regions.

It is located on the west coast of the Indian peninsula (on the Malabar coast!) and stretches for over 600km from North to South along the Arabic sea.

The tropical climate, the verdant jungle, colorful backwaters, and a uniquely cheerful and welcoming culture are just the tip of the iceberg of all the marvels that Kerala has to offer, which started attracting an increasing number of travelers in recent years!

While in this article we won’t go through all of the top tourist attractions in Kerala, we will explore 10 curiosities about this peculiar region of India that will both surprise you and help to put this picturesque region into context: let’s dive right in and let’s start

1. Kerala means “Land of Coconuts”

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The first thing that comes to your eyes when traveling in Kerala is coconut palms: coconuts everywhere, and you can’t turn around without seeing any of them!

Given the region’s name, that’s really no wonder why: the literary meaning of Kerala is “the land of coconuts“. How cool is that? 🙂

“Kera” in Malayalam (the language of Kerala) means coconut.

As Kerala is abundant with coconut plants thanks to its abundantly available water resources and wet fertile soil, it naturally got the name Kerala.

Fun to know is that on average every person in Kerala owns at least 4-5 coconut plants which they cultivate and utilize for food, delicate coconuts for water and spirituous drink for drinking; the fronds for mats and rooftops; the oil for cooking; and the husk fiber for a flourishing rope industry. 

Last but not least, a bonus fun fact: Kerala produces over 5.230 million coconuts a year, which is roughly 20% of the whole Indian production!

2. Kerala is also nicknamed

“God’s Own Land”

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If you’re a passionate traveler, probably you already heard Kerala’s nickname before: “God’s Land”.

Pretty ambitious nickname, isn’t it? 😉

According to local legends, the term is coined based on a mythological belief: Lord Parshuram, a deity manifestation of Lord Vishnu (the “protector of the universe” in Hinduism) threw his axe into the vast sea to develop land for his followers to reside peacefully. And this is how the Kerala state was born directly from the god itself.

While the lore might sound fun, the true origin of the nickname is to be found in 1989, when Walter Mendez (a governmental creative), coined the term “God’s Own Country” in an attempt to revive the tourist sector in Kerala and enhance its brand to the eyes of the world.

Flash-forwarding almost four decades, we can see how these curious nicknames widely impacted the perception of Kerala to both local and international eyes: in 1999 the state was named “one of the ten paradises of the world” by National Geographic.

Since then, the popularity of its coconut-lined sandy beaches, backwaters, hill stations, Ayurvedic tourism, and tropical greenery, have been constantly on the rise, and Kerala is among the best experiences you can try in India as a first-timer!

3. The backwaters of Kerala are part of the Western Ghats,

a UNESCO World Heritage Site

famous for its unique nature and biodiversity

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The backwaters of Kerala are an intricate network of freshwater rivers, canals, and brackish lakes that run parallel to the Arabic Sea.

Originally, the backwaters were formed by the action of waves and shore currents creating low barrier islands across the mouths of the many rivers flowing down from the Western Ghats range.

When traveling (exclusively by boat – highly recommended!) amid this landscape, you can find several towns and cities, and witness the flourishing nature surrounding the place. The abundant freshwater is used to grow both coconut trees and rice fields, which remain fertile year-round.

Last but not least, for a complete visit to the backwaters of Kerala, don’t forget to write Kochi up your list: this is the place where the freshwater lakes embrace the Arabic Sea, creating a pretty curious fishing area where freshwater and salty-water catches can be made alike.

4. Kerala has the highest literacy rate

and life expectancy in India

old people in kerala state

With a literacy rate of 94% (against the Indian average of 76%) and a life expectancy of 75 years old (against the 70yo of the national average), Kerala is one of the most socially developed states in India.

Said that, as a traveler don’t be fooled by statistics: while it’s true that 94% of the Kerala population can write and read, that doesn’t mean that they can speak English and easily communicate with you!

On the opposite, Kerala is perhaps the most unilingual state of India, where 97% of the total population speaks Malayalam, and only tourism-employed or young people speak English (normally with a strong Punjabi accent, as it’s in most of India).

Last but not least, as we’re speaking about demographics, one extra fun fact: Kerala has the highest number of women compared to men (1083 vs 1000).

While this data might seem purely casual at first, it’s a great indication of the modern mentality of the Kerala population and its acceptance of female babies (not in all India it was the same!). 🙂

 

5. In Kerala, “Bull Surfing” is a thing!

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Every year, in the post-harvest season (month of August), in the state of Kerala takes place a pretty curious tradition: the Maramadi festival – also referred to as “Bull Surfing”.

Forget about conventional water sports; here, the thrill comes from riding the waves on the back of a majestic bull – or two -.

The competition consists of a 100meter race, usually carried out by two oxen attached, running in half a foot of water and mud, while three men run along them (two flank the bulls on the sides to give directions, and one behind “surfs” on a wooden plank pulled by the animals).

The competitions are a heart-pounding spectacle that combines the raw power of these magnificent animals with the daring spirit of the participants.

If you’re wondering, the oxen are fed for this specific event and are revered as team companions by the humans racing with them.

It’s a tradition originated from local farmers, and no animal is mistreated as people hold strong respect toward them (and India is a country strongly against animal suffering, as a wide chunk of the population believes in reincarnation!).

Bull surfing races can be found in many different towns of Kerala and usually last for several hours (as many teams run one after the other separately!).

Bull Surfing is not just a sport; it’s a cultural extravaganza that showcases the deep connection between Kerala’s people and its rich agricultural landscape.

At the end of the races, useless to say that all participants will be completely soaked in mud, showcasing the funny “brown-side” of India – here you can find more colours of India😉

6. Kerala has a unique dance form called “Kathakali”,

which unites music, dance and theater!

nicosia catedral - capital of cyprus

The Kathakali (literally “narration”) is an iconic form of expression typical of the Indian state of Kerala, which unites theater, dance, and religious rituals.

According to historians, it was born roughly 400 years ago, and it’s today considered one of the most ancient forms of dance in India.

During a Kathakali dance, the actors usually narrate the most important stories from the classical epoch, to emphasize the victory of the truth above the bad and the lies.

Under the skilled hands of makeup artists, a Kathakali actor can be transformed into a deity, a beautiful maiden, a demon, or a witch: each character is essentially symbolic, and every detail of the makeup and costume is designed to transform the actor not only externally but also psychologically.

After about three hours of makeup and dressing, the actor transmutes into the character and begins the dance.

Even today, in the villages of Kerala, Kathakali performances are held by the light of oil lamps, among coconut palms and verdant fields, and traditionally last the entire night (surely a must-do experience when visiting Kerala!

Here you can find a video to see for yourself what is the Kathakali dance and how every movement of the body and face represents a different emotion! 🙂

 

7. Kerala is also called the “Spice Garden of India”,

because of its vast production of spices

cats in cyprus - there are more cats than humans

Thanks to its fertile and nutrient-rich soil, Kerala is a state that cultivates plenty of different plants and among these, we surely find spices!

The most abundant species of spices you can find in Kerala are pepper, vanilla, cardamom, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and turmeric, and their commercialization dates back over 5 millennia (3000 BCE).

For centuries the spices of Kerala have indeed attracted explorers from all over the world, excited to discover the the origin of the world’s best tastes of their era: Arabs, Chinese, Portuguese, British, French… everybody was venturing toward India and Kerala for trading this absurdly treasured commodity.

Extra fun fact: according to historical records, it seems that Cinnamon from Kerala was used for embalming the corpses of the Pharaohs and in the manufacturing of perfumes and holy oils for the ceremonies held in ancient Egypt!

 

8. Kerala is world-famous for its several national parks

and wildlife sanctuaries

underwater museum in cyprus

Kerala is home to a stunning variety of fauna, such as the iconic Bengal Tiger, the Asian Elephant, the Leopard, the Grizzled Giant Squirrel, the Nilgiri Tahr, and endangered species such as the Indian Sloth Bear, the Lion-tailed Macaque or the Gaur!

According to Animalia. bio, in Kerala there are 118 species of mammals, 500 species of birds, 189 species of freshwater fish, 173 species of reptiles, and 151 species of amphibians... tremendous biodiversity!

The most popular national parks you could visit in Kerala are the Periyar National Park, (a dense mountainous jungle with abundant flora and fauna), the Eravikulam National Park, (the jewel of Kerala, a haven for all kinds of exotic animals and the special place where the Neelakurinji flowers bloom once every 12 years!), and the Silent Valley national park (rainforest of Keral, protected since 1985).

 

9. The national animal of Kerala

is the Elephant

kerala national park

Asian elephants are slightly smaller than their African cousins, but also surely not less unbelievable to witness and observe!

In Kerala, your chances to see one are pretty high as, according to a 2024 census, there are over 2400 elephants within the region: that means about one elephant every 4 km2!

Most elephants in Kerala are either owned by temples or individuals and are often employed for ceremonies.

Last but not least, it’s important to highlight that the elephant is also the national animal of Kerala, and it’s revered as a son of god! 🙂

 

10. Kerala is the home

to the wealthiest temple in the world!

padmanabhaswany temple in kerala, india

The Padmanabhaswamy Temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Vishnu in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of the state of Kerala (yeah, I know, the name it’s very hard to remember! 😉 ).

In 2011, its retainers uncovered a secret cellar behind some of the temple’s walls, containing a vast amount of treasures such as gold, silver, and precious jewels.

The value of the treasures found is estimated to be worth at least 15 billion euros ($ 18 billion): a jaw-dropping insane fortune that made this iconic temple the richest in the world!

Extra fun fact: the windows of the temple work as a sundial, and from the right perspective it’s possible to read the hour by simply noticing from which window the sun is peeking out! 🙂

Conclusion

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And here we are at the end of this article 🙂

In this post, we’ve seen 10 curiosities about the Indian state of Kerala: we learned about the meaning of its name (coconut land), the origin of its nickname, its backwaters, the elephant as a national animal, the crazy bull surfing festival, the richest temple in the world, the species, the wildlife sanctuaries, the kathakali dance and much more! 😀

For sure, Kerala is a concentration of natural and cultural marvels, plenty of things to see and do, and well worth a visit!

I hope this article inspired you to insert this wonderful destination in your travel bucket list too ;D

If all the above moved your wanderlust, be sure to check out also the best places to visit in Kerala! 🙂

Before going I would like to ask you:

  • Have you ever visited Kerala before?
  • How was your experience? 🙂
  • Do you know any other fun facts you believe could make it to this list?

LET US KNOW IN THE COMMENTS BELOW! (We always love receiving feedback and exchanging a chat 🙂

Last but not least, before going, I will leave you here some articles you might want to check out too:

As always, thank you for reading,

And see you in the next article! 😀

 

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