Kerala is a state at the southwestern tip of India, meeting the Arabian Sea on the west and the Ghat mountains on the east. The state's tourism board coined its official slogan "God's Own Country." Like many Indian states, Kerala has its own creation myth. As the legend goes, a wise warrior named Parsurama created Kerala in an attempt to avenge his father's murder. He wreaked havoc on the clan of the Kshatriya king who killed his father, but afterwards was stricken with terrible remorse. After he repented, Varuna, the god of the sea, promised him a portion of land extending as far into the ocean as he could throw his axe. Parsurama did so, and the land that arose from the water became the territory of Kerala.
In more modern history, Kerala achieved statehood in 1956 after existing as part of the Travancore-Cochin region since India's independence in 1947. Kerala's official language is Malayalam, although it is not uncommon for inhabitants to be familiar with several other languages from neighboring territories.
Hindus, Christians, and Muslims are the primary religious groups occupying Kerala in addition to many minor ones. The state's religious diversity is a testament to the many groups that have inhabited the land throughout history, and this is one reason Roy's novel takes place here. Inhabitants have included Portuguese, Dutch, British, rulers from all over India, and religious groups escaping persecution in their own countries.
Kerala is lauded for its outstanding progress in the areas of cleanliness, education, and quality of life. The tourism board of Kerala boasts that it is not only India's "cleanest state" but also has a literacy rate above ninety percent and "the highest physical quality of life in India."
Kerala has a rich cultural heritage that includes many art forms. Perhaps the most recognizable of these is the traditional dance-storytelling art of Kathakali. The form originated in the seventeenth century, and it has become a hallmark of the region ever since. Over the course of several hours, trained and exquisitely costumed actors play out traditional stories while singing, dancing, and using hand gestures known as mudras. There are at least seven other dance and dramatic forms native to Kerala, including the original acting style of Koodiyattom. During festivals, elephant pageants are requisite, complete with costumes for humans and animals, music, and fireworks displays.
Also central to the culture of Kerala is the tradition of Malayalam literature, which is at least 1,000 years old. Some of the most notable works of Malayalam literature are the Ramacharitam, the first of many poetry-based Malayalam versions of the Ramayana, as well as the Attakkatha, a genre of poetry used as the libretto for Kathakali performances. Other works are influenced by or reacting to the genres of British or Western literature in more recent times, plus literary criticism and an essay tradition.