Kerala known historically as Keralam, is a state in South India on the Malabar coast. It was created on 1 November 1956 following the States Reorganisation Act by combining various Malayalam-speaking regions. Spread over 38,863 km2 (15,005 sq mi), it is bordered by Karnataka to the north and north east, Tamil Nadu to the east and south, and the Lakshadweep Sea to the west. With 33,387,677 inhabitants as per the 2011 census, Kerala is the thirteenth largest state by population and is divided into 14 districts with the capital being Thiruvananthapuram. Malayalam is the most widely spoken and official language of the state.
The name Kerala has an uncertain etymology. Keralam may stem from the Classical Tamil cherive-alam ("declivity of a hill or a mountain slope") or chera alam ("Land of the Cheras"). Kerala may represent an imperfect Malayalam portmanteau fusing kera ("coconut palm tree") and alam ("land" or "location"). "Kerala" can also be derived from the word "Cheral" that refers to the oldest known dynasty of Kerala kings. The word "Cheral" is derived from the Proto-Tamil-Malayalam word for "lake".
The earliest Sanskrit text to mention Kerala is the Aitareya Aranyaka of the Rigveda. It is also mentioned in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the two Hindu epics. The word Kerala is first recorded (as Keralaputra, meaning Cherathala makan or Cheraman) in a 3rd-century BCE rock inscription (Rock Edict 2) left by the Maurya emperor Ashoka (274–237 BCE). The inscription refers to the local ruler as Keralaputra (Sanskrit for "son of Kerala"); or "son of Chera[s]". This contradicts a popular theory that its etymology derives "Kerala" from "Kera" (coconut tree in Malayalam). At that time, one of three states in the region was called Cheralam in Classical Tamil: Chera and Kera are variants of the same word. The Graeco-Roman trade map Periplus Maris Erythraei refers to Keralaputra as Celobotra.
The region was a prominent spice exporter from 3000 BCE. The Chera Dynasty was the first prominent kingdom based in Kerala, though it frequently struggled against attacks from the neighbouring Cholas and Pandyas. In the 15th century, the spice trade attracted Portuguese traders to Kerala, and paved the way for the European colonisation of India. After independence, Travancore and Cochin joined the Republic of India and Travancore-Cochin was given the status of a state. Kerala state was formed in 1956 by merging the Malabar district, Travancore-Cochin (excluding four southern taluks), and the taluk of Kasargod, South Kanara.
Kerala has the lowest positive population growth rate in India; 3.44%, highest Human Development Index (HDI); 0.790 in 2011, the highest literacy rate; 93.91%, the highest life expectancy; 77 years and the highest sex ratio; 1,084 women per 1000 men. According to a study commissioned by Lien Foundation, a Singapore-based philanthropic organisation, Kerala is considered to be the best place to die in India based on the state's provision of palliative care for patients with serious illnesses. The state has witnessed significant emigration, especially to the Gulf states during the Gulf Boom of the 1970s and early 1980s, and its economy depends significantly on remittances from a large Malayali expatriate community. Hinduism is practised by more than half of the population, followed by Islam and Christianity. The culture is a synthesis of Aryan and Dravidian cultures, developed over millennia, under influences from other parts of India and abroad.
The production of pepper and natural rubber contributes a significantly to the total national output. In the agricultural sector, coconut, tea, coffee, cashew and spices are important. The state's coastline extends for 595 kilometres (370 mi), and around 1.1 million people in the state are dependent on the fishery industry which contributes 3% of the state's income. The state has the highest media exposure in India with newspapers publishing in nine different languages; mainly English and Malayalam. Kerala is an important tourist destination, with backwaters, beaches, Ayurvedic tourism and tropical greenery its major attractions.