Kottayam is located in central Kerala in India. The town is an important trading center of spices and predominantly known for its commercial crop rubber. Rubber trees are extensively cultivated in central Kerala, especially in vast areas of Kottayam District, in plantations, both large and small. It is also known as the base of important print media majors. It has also emerged as the pioneering centre of modern education in Kerala with the city becoming India’s first municipality to achieve over 100% literacy in 1989. The city of Kottayam is also called as «Akshara Nagari» which means the «City of Letters» considering its contribution to print media and literature. In keeping with its education, it also became the first tobacco free district in India.
Kottayam is bordered by Pathanamthitta district on the south, Alappuzha district on the west, Ernakulam district on the north and Idukki district on the east.
It is believed that the name Kottayam originated from the Malayalam words ‘Kotta’ meaning fort and ‘akam’ meaning ‘inside’, giving the word meaning ‘interior of the fort’.
Kottayam town is located in central Kerala at a location of 9°35′N 76°31′E9.58°N 76.52°E. It has an average elevation of 3 meters (9 feet) from sea level. It is situated in the basin of the Meenachil River that is formed by the confluence of several streams in the Western Ghats in Idukki district. The river flows through Kottayam district and joins the Vembanad Lake. Kerala geographically is divided into Highlands, Midlands and Lowlands based on altitude with Kottayam falling within the Midlands. The general soil type is alluvial soil. The vegetation is mainly tropical evergreen and moist deciduous type.
The climate in this District is moderate and pleasant. Kottayam’s proximity to the equator results in little seasonal temperature variation, with moderate to high levels of humidity. Annual temperatures range between 20 to 35 °C (68-95 °F) From June through September, the south-west monsoon brings in heavy rains as Kottayam lies on the wind-facing side of the Western Ghats. From October to December, Kottayam receives light rain from the northwest monsoon, as it lies on the leeward side. Average annual rainfall is 315 cm.
Kottayam was ruled by the Rajas of the independent little kingdom of Thekkumkoor who ruled from Thazhathangadi till the mid-18th century. Marthanda Varma, the hero king of Travancore annexed Thekkumkoor and surrounding areas of Kottayam to the Kingdom of Travancore. During the British rule of India, Kottayam continued to be ruled by the Princely State of Travancore.
The Travancore State under royal rule consisted of two revenue divisions viz., the southern and northern divisions, under the administrative control of a ‘Diwan Peshkar’. Later in 1868 two more divisions Quilon (Kollam) and Kottayam were constituted. A fifth division, Devikulam existed for a short period but was then added to Kottayam. At the time of the integration of the State of Travancore and Cochin in 1949, these revenue divisions were renamed as districts and the Diwan Peshkars were replaced the more British «District Collectors». Thus Kottayam district came into being in July 1949. Later it became a part of the Kerala state and the headquarters of the district bearing the same name when the state was formed in 1957.
Kottayam as already mentioned is a major trading center of natural rubber in India. The Rubber Board, a body set up by the Government of India for the development of rubber industry, is located at Kottayam. A number of small and medium sized enterprises in and around the town are engaged in the processing of rubber latex and manufacturing of rubber products. Besides rubber, Kottayam is a trading place of other commercial crops like spices cultivated widely in the surrounding areas. The Plantation Corporation of Kerala also has its headquarters at Kottayam.
Kerala has a history of being a magnet for traders’ predominantly from the Arab world as well as Europe. They not only brought along business opportunities but their culture and more importantly their religions along. Considering that the Hindu religion had been practiced here for ages, the negative practices of it were implemented in its harshness too-this included the feudal system supported by the caste system. Some of the religious beliefs that «offered» equality and a sense of self esteem was a welcome change for many suffering communities. One of the enticements of new religions was the opportunity to attain «nirvana» without social barriers. Christianity is supposed to have reached the shores of Kerala way back in the first century. According to unconfirmed beliefs, St. Thomas, the apostle of Jesus Christ was also reputed to have landed in Kerala to spread the good words of the lord.
Reflecting the religious make-up of the population, a large number of Hindu temples and Christian churches along with Mosques dot the townscape. Apart from the native Hindu population, Kottayam in particular has a large no. of Christians along with substantial no. of Muslims too.
Christianity- Kottayam is a major center of Syrian Christians of Kerala. Followers of Catholic Church, Orthodox Church, Jacobite Church, Knanaya, Marthoma Church, St. Thomas Evangelical Church, CSI Church, Pentecostal Churches, and Brethren form major Christian sects.
The St. Mary’s Church, or the Valia Palli or the Big Church, built in 1550 by Knanaya Syrian Jacobite Christians who emigrated from West Asia, is considered as the first Christian church in Kottayam town. This church is famous for its two granite crosses known as Persian crosses. There are rare antique carvings and mural paintings behind the main altar and on the ceiling.
There is another St. Mary’s Church known as Cheria Palli or the Little Church, belonging to the Malankara Orthodox Church was built in 1579 by the Raja of Thekkumkoor for his Christian subjects. These churches feature temple architectural influences. The interior murals, painted using vegetable dyes, depict Biblical themes.
The Syro-Malabar rite of the Roman Catholic Church has an archeparchy based in Kottayam. Some of the important Catholic churches in Kottayam include Lourdes Forane Church, Good Shepherd Church, Vimalagiri Cathedral and Christhuraja Cathedral. The previous Pope John Paul II visited Kottayam, during his visit to India in 1986. He announced the beatification of Father Kuriakose of Chavara and Sister Alphonsa, who hails from Kottayam. The mortal remains of Saint Alphonsa, who was elevated to sainthood in 12 October 2008, are kept in a chapel next to St. Mary’s Church, Bharananganam. It is a popular Christian pilgrimage center.
Islam-The most prominent among mosques seem to be the Thazhathangadi Juma Masjid, situated in the banks of river Meenachil. It is reputed to be one of the oldest mosques in India and according to legends is more than 1000 years old. It is famous for its architectural beauty, and rich wood carvings. This mosque was constructed by the followers of the Islamic prophet Muhammad during one of their first voyages to Kerala.
Hinduism- The native religion has a significant influence in the socio-cultural fabric of Kottayam. One of the most important temples is the Thirunakkara Mahadeva Kshetram, at the heart of the town. It is dedicated to the destroyer among the Hindu trinity- Shiva and is built in the typical Kerala style of temple architecture, with interior murals depicting themes from the Hindu epics. It was built at the beginning of the 16th century by the then Raja of Thekkumkoor. The annual temple festival is a grand affair and culminates with the Aarattu ceremony that attracts large number of devotees.
Despite the presence of various religions and a large no. of each faith, in keeping with its reputation for peace, various sections of Christianity, Muslim and Hinduism co-exist harmoniously.
It has been a major contribution to the economy of Kottayam. Many tourism related businesses thrive in the town. Kumarakom, one of the most famous tourist destinations in Kerala, is only 14 km from the town. Wagamon is another prominent place worth a visit, and borders the districts of Kottayam and Idukki. Kottayam has a vast network of rivers, backwaters, hill stations & ancient religious places. Just a few prominent places have been highlighted here:
Places to visit:
Vembanad Lake: It is a great water-body which is part of Kerala’s famous interconnected Kerala Backwaters that run virtually the length of the state. Vembanad Lake is 52 miles (84 km) in length and 9 miles (14 km) in width. Traditional cargo boats called Kettuvallams have been modified into luxurious cruise boats and house boats for the convenience of the tourists. These boats gracefully move around the back waters, enabling its passengers to enjoy the beauty of the Vembanad Lake in a relaxed pace.
Pathiramanal: Translated as the midnight sands, Pathiramanal is a small yet beautiful island located within the Vembanad Lake that is accessible only by boat.
Kumarakom: Located on the Coast of Vembanad Lake, Kumarakom is a village made picture perfect by mangroves and coconut groves, lush green paddy fields, gushing waters snaking through the dense forests. Kumarakom bird sanctuary is home to migratory birds like the Siberian stork, egret, darter, heron and teal. Local birds like the water fowl, cuckoo, owl and water hen and other common varieties like the woodpecker, sky lark, crane and parrot can also be spotted here. Approximately 91 species of local and 50 species of migratory birds are found here making it a bird watchers paradise. The best time to watch local birds is June-August and the best time for migratory birds is November-February. House Boats and motorboats are available on hire for bird watching cruises in the Lake.
Vagamon: is a hill station in the Kottayam-Idukki district.
Other attractions close by:
o Thekkady Periyar Tiger Reserve – 104 kilometers away, located in the Idukki District.
o Peerumed- Roughly 75 Kms away, located in Idukki district
o Munnar- The famous hill station, about 80 km away
o Vaikom- Located about 50 km from Kottayam.
o Kottayam is also a gateway to the pilgrim centers like Sabarimala, Mannanam, Vaikom, Ettumanoor Siva temple, Thirunakkara, Bharananganam, Erumeli and famous Manarcaud church. Kottayam town is linked by rail to other prominent cities in Kerala and also linked to the waterways for scenic travel.
During the months of August and September, the rivers in and near Kottayam transform into race tracks. The serene backwaters come alive during the popular malayali festival of Onam when the spectacular water regatta -the snake boat races. Oarsmen, at least a hundred in each boat, slice their way through the waters to the fast rhythm of their own full-throated singing. Thazhathangadi boat race in Kummanam is over a century old. Boat races are conducted at Kavanar and Kottathodu rivers in Kumarakom. These vallam kalis have about 50 boats participating, including Chundan, Churulan, Iruttukuthi(ody) veppu, and canoes.
Bottomline, Kottayam is a beautiful part of the gorgeous Kerala. Visit it to believe it.
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