Before 1989, ‘God’s Own Country’ just didn’t exist. The famed slogan that’s come to typify Kerala was channelised first by an adman named Walter Mendez, then creative director of Mudra, and that’s how the land that we all love successfully appropriated the evocative phrase—imagined way back in 1807, by the English writer Edward Dubois.
That brings us to the next question: what does Malabar mean? No, it’s not a toddy joint. It’s derived from the Tamil words malai vaaram or ‘hilly region’. Before you bristle at the mention of Tamil and not Malayalam, please bear in mind that Kerala or Keralam owes its origins to Cheralam, the land of the Cheras, who happen to be a Dravidian dynasty.
Let’s explore the Tamil-Malayalam angle further. For ease of remembrance, let’s refer to this twin-root as the ‘Chera touch’. Many town names in Kerala display this touch. Ernakulam flows from Iraiyankulam (Tamil for Lord Shiva’s tank). Kumarakom, now renowned for its resorts, is actually Kumaran agam. That’s again Tamil for ‘home of Lord Muruga’, a reference to an ancient temple there. Idukki, the second largest district of the state, comes from the Tamil idukku, which in turn cues a narrow gorge.
There’s also this theory that Palakkad is paalai kaadu (senthamizh for barren forest). And Kozhikode is supposed to have sprung from Kalli Kottai (Cactus Fort). Meenachil river (an ode to Madurai Meenakshi), Munnar (moonu aaru or confluence of three rivers), Wayanad (from vayal nadu) and Cannanore (Kannan ur) are more examples of the Tamilian nexus.
Lest you suspect me to be a Tamil supremacist, let’s allay your fears by sharing many pure play Malayalam town names. Cochin or Kochi is widely believed to have evolved from kochu azhi (meaning small lagoon). Alappuzha can be broken down into ala (deep/broad) and puzha (river). Likewise Thodupuzha (the setting of Drishyam) means ‘a town touching a river’.
Kollam can be traced to the Sanskrit side of Malayalam. Apparently in the olden days, it was a hilly terrain laden with Kaulam trees (Indian Long Pepper). Trivandrum and Trissur have a divine connect, though. Trivandrum is the anglicised form of Thiru Anantha Puram or Lord Anantha’s abode—an allusion to the gold-rich Padmanabha temple. Trissur’s source word is Tirusivaperur (Home of Lord Shiva).
Continuing on the divine trail, I think someday we’ll have towns named after movie gods—Mammooty and Mohanlal. In anticipation, I propose Mamootiur and Lalettanpuram. That will truly make it a God’s own country, don’t you think?