Alappuzha town has earned for itself the fame of being styled as the Venice of the East. The port at this place owes its origin to the ingenuity and imagination of a great administrator of the erstwhile Travancore, Raja Kesavadas, the Dewan of His Highness the Maharaja Rama Varma. He constructed the two main canals, running parallel to each other through the heart of the town, linking the backwaters with the seashore. He brought here the Gujaratis, Kutchimemons and Parsis to start trade in hill-produce, copra and coconut oil. The port was open for foreign trade in 1792 and it remained the commercial metropolis of Travancore for over a century. The lighthouse in the western coast was put up in 1862 under the supervision of a European engineer, Mr.Crawford. Alappuzha market was once the solitary supplier of coir yarn, mats and matting, coconuts, coconut oil, pepper, ginger, tea, rubber, cashew and cardamom to the world markets before the establishment of the Cochin Port. The development of Cochin harbour during the second quarter of the century marks the beginning of the decline of Alappuzha market and port. The business community found better prospects in Kochi and a large number of them moved to Kochi.
Alappuzha District consists of two revenue divisions, six taluks and 91 revenue villages. There are 71 panchayats in the district.
Bounded on the northeast by Ernakulam and Kottayam districts, on the east by Pathanamthitta, on the southeast by Kollam on district and on the west by the Arabian Sea, this district lies between north latitude 90° 05' and 90° 52' east longitude 76° 17' and 76° 48'.
The climate is moist and hot in the coast, and it is slightly cooler and drier in the interior of the district. The average monthly temperature of this district is approximately 18° C. As in the case of other parts of the State, this district also gets the benefit of two outstanding monsoons.
The soil of this district may be classified as sandy, peaty, alluvial and laterite. Sandy soil covers the western portion of Cherthala, Amabalappuzha and Karthikappally taluks. Coconut is mostly grown in this area. Peaty and kari soil occur as a small belt on the eastern regions of Cherthala and Ambalappuzha and on the western portions of Kuttanad. This soil is of poor fertility and of low yields. To the east of the peaty soil lies the belt of the alluvial soil which covers the residuary portions of Kuttanad, northern portions of Karthikappally, Chengannur and the northwestern sector of Mavelikkara. The alluvial soil is heavy in texture, consists mostly of fine silt and is generally well supplied with organic matter, nitrogen and potash. Major portions of Chengannur and Mavelikkara taluks are covered by laterite soil which is formed by weathering mainly of acidic rocks under alternate wet and dry tropical conditions.
The following three important rivers flow through this district.
The villages of Manimala, Mallappally, Kaviyoor, Kalloppara, Thalavadi, Kozhimukku and Champakulam lies in the course of the river Manimala, which has a length of 91.73 kms. and drainage area of 802.90 sq. kms.
The river Pamba, which has its origin at Peermedu, after traversing a distance of 177.08 kms. itself in the Vembanad lake. The catchment area of this river is 1987.17 sq. kms. And has a marginal length of 74.02 kms.
The Achancovil river on entering this district at about three miles from the west of Kaipattoor adopts a westerly course till it reaches Chennithala. After that it takes a southwesterly course and joins Pamba at Veeyapuram. The catchment area of this river is 1155.14 sq.kms. And has a marginal length of 32.19 kms.
The Vembanad lake stretching from Alappuzha to Cochin borders Cherthala, Ambalapuzha and Kuttanad taluks of this district.
Kayamkulam lake lies in both Alleppey and Quilon districts.
The lakes are used for inland water transport of passengers and cargo.
According to 2001 census (bifurcated) Alleppey district has got a population of 2,105,349. During the1981-91 decade this district showed the lowest growth rate. But as far as density of population is concerned, Alappuzha district stands 1489 persons per sq. km. while that of the State is only 819. The sex ratio recorded in this district is 1079 females to 1000 males.
Alappuzha is a backward district in terms of the standard of living of the people. The majority of population of the district comprises, agricultural labourers and coir workers. Most of these people live in huts which, by any standard, are not worth living. Though literacy rate in Alleppey district is in the second rank as compared to other districts, employment rate is not proportionate to the literacy rate. The awareness of democratic equality and the land reform measures offered a feeling to the individual that each is equal to anybody else. The high literacy level coupled with the achievements of the labour class has speeded up the breakdown of the coterie of casteism and landlordism in the district.
The art, culture and customs of the people of Alleppey district are mostly the same as those of the people in other districts of central Kerala. The folk songs in the fields during sowing and harvesting, the awakening songs by the Panans, and a few other dance forms of the traditional style associated with festivals like Onam can still be seen. A large number of art forms including folk dances, dramas, folk-songs, etc., have gone into oblivion. We find the reasons for this decline in the society's march towards social transition brought about by the spread of communism and a social consciousness of the downtrodden and the labour class who constitute the majority. It is believed that Thullal propounded by Kunchan Nambiar had found its stage in the famous Ambalapuzha temple.
The customs, behaviour and practice of the people of different parts of the district are almost the same. Alleppey has only a small number of tribal population. Their way of life and attire are far from the same of those of their counterparts in Manantoddy, Nilambur etc., of Wynad and Malappuram districts. The small number of Ulladas settled in the district to not maintain their traditional tribal way of life, but they have become one with the rest of the society.
Alleppey has contributed its might to the development of Malayalam language and literature. Two stalwarts of Malayalam literature namely Sahitya Panchananan P.K.Narayana Pillai and Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai hailed from this district. The great linguist and grammarian, I.C. Chacko, was also born and brought up in this district. It is also worth mentioning that the first cinema studio in Kerala was started in Alleppey district.
Alleppey district can be proud of being the centre of snake boat races. All the important boat races, namely the Nehru Trophy Boat Race at Punnamada, the Payippad boat race at Payippad near Harippad, the Thiruvanvandoor, Neerettupuram, Karuvatta and Thaikkoottam boat races are held on or around the Onam holidays at different parts of the district. Thousands of people from all parts of the world come and witness these races.
Though very much declined in importance because of various reasons, Alappuzha still remains a central market in Kerala for copra, coconut oil, oil cakes and coir. The trade in copra was started in 1875 in Alappuzha. The centre of activity is Chungom. There are at present more than 62 oil mills in the municipal area. The number of workers engaged in coconut oil milling industry is about 1200. The total production of coconut oil in this area is approximately 3500 tonnes.
Alappuzha is the major production centre of coir and coir products in the State. There are about four thousand production units including a few big factories for coir in the district. There are at present 15 mechanised looms too. Attempts are being made for the revival and revitalisation of the industry through co-operative societies. There are 41 cooperative societies in the coir sector. There is a central coir marketing society for the export of the produce of primary societies. The Hindustan Coir Ltd., a centrally sponsored factory, has introduced on an experimental basis, production of coir mats and matting using powerlooms.
Alappuzha district occupies a very important position in the fisheries map of Kerala. Its western boundary is the Arabian sea having rich marine resources. More than 20 per cent of the total area of the district is water-logged, and the 20,000 acres of kari lands and 42,736 acres of paddy fields in Kuttanad are suitable for pisciculture.
The total population of fishermen in the district is 136,300. The sea farming fisherman population is 87,027 and the inland fishermen population is 49,273. Of these not less than 40 per cent are active fishermen and of the remaining more than 60 per cent are either directly or indirectly engaged in fishing operation. The fishing season in the marine sector is from October to May and in the inland sector it is throughout the year.
The Fisheries Department has established a fishermen colony of 20 houses at Thevarvattom in Thycattussery panchayat. Feeder roads from sea coast to main roads are constructed to help fishing industry. The department also started two dispensaries at Thottappally and Pallithode. Another one is under construction at Pallana. The department has established an estuarine fish farm at Ayiramthengu, the southern most boundary of the district. Local varieties of fish are reared in this farm and sold to public at reasonable rates.
There is a Regional Fisheries Technical High School in Arthunkal. 'Chakara' is a rare marine phenomenon found in this district. It happens usually in the early days of June and May last upto the end of August.
Though there are no important newspapers published from Alappuzha district, the various media of mass communication including newspapers, radio, film, etc., are playing a very important role in the cultural and educational development of the people of this district.
There are two evening dailies published from Alappuzha town, namely, the Munnani and Keralasree. There is also one morning newspaper called Theepandam. As far as periodicals are concerned, still Alappuzha lags behind. The relay station of the All India Radio near Alappuzha is the most powerful station in the State.
There is a film studio in Alappuzha namely, the Udaya Studio. There is a large number of cinema exhibition houses also in the district. A notable incident in this fields is the inauguration of the Chitranjali, the second theatre owned by the Kerala Film Development Corporation at Cherthalla.
As regards exhibition of films in the rural areas, four Government film exhibition units including the field publicity unit of the Government of India, are functioning in this district.
All the important publishing houses in this district function in the private sector.
The credit for development of roads in this district goes back to the period of Ramayyan Dalawa, the Dewan of Travancore, who opened several roads chiefly for the convenience of militia and for traffic. With the appointment of Mr.Bartom as the Chief Engineer during the time of Dewan Madhava Rao, remarkable progress in the expansion of roads has been achieved. With the opening of the Alleppey-Changanacherry road in 1958 this district has a net work of good motorable roads.
The commercial canals connecting the nook and corner of this district are its life line. Canals, rivers and backwaters afford an easy and cheap mode of transport of goods and men which was one of the main reasons for the importance of Alleppey town as the major commercial centre of older times.