The word Malabar is derived from the Malayalam word "mala-baram". Mala in Malayalam means "hill". Varam means "slope" or "side of a hill". In Northern and North-Central Kerala (including all Malabar districts except Palakkad and parts of Malappuram district), where Malabar proper is located, words that start in Southern Malayalam/Tamil with the letter "v" tend to be pronounced with the letter "b". Thus, Malabar comes from the Northern Malayalam words Mala-Bar(am) meaning "hillside land".
The Malabar Coast, in historical contexts, refers to India's southwest coast, lying on the narrow coastal plain of Karnataka and Kerala states between the Western Ghats range and the Arabian Sea. The coast runs from south of Goa to Kanyakumari on India's southern tip. In ancient times the term Malabar was used to denote the entire south-western coast of the Indian peninsula. The region formed part of the ancient kingdom of Chera until the early 12th century. Following the breakup of the Chera Kingdom, the chieftains of the region proclaimed their independence. Notable among these were the Kolathiris, Travancore, Zamorins of Calicut, the Coylot Wanees Country of northeast and coastal Ceylon (including Puttalam), Valluvokonathiris of Walluvanad.
The Malabar Coast is sometimes used as an all-encompassing term for the entire Indian coast from the western coast of Konkan to the tip of the subcontinent at Cape Comorin. It is over 525 miles or 845 km long. It spans from the south-western coast of Maharashtra and goes along the coastal region of Goa, through the entire western coast of Karnataka and Kerala and reaches till Kanyakumari. It is flanked by the Arabian Sea on the west and the Western Ghats on the east. The Southern part of this narrow coast is the South Western Ghats moist deciduous forests. Climate-wise, the Malabar Coast, especially on its westward-facing mountain slopes, comprises the wettest region of southern India, as the Western Ghats intercept the moisture-laden Southwest monsoon rains.
The Malabar Coast featured (and in some instances still does) a number of historic port cities. Notable among these were/are Naura, Vizhinjam, Muziris, Nelcynda, Beypore and Thundi (near Kadalundi) during ancient times, and Kozhikode (Calicut), Cochin in the medieval period, and have served as centers of the Indian Ocean trade for millennia. Because of their orientation to the sea and to maritime commerce, the coastal cities of Malabar are very cosmopolitan and have hosted some of the first groups of Christians (now known as Saint Thomas Christians), Jews (today called as Cochin Jews), and Muslims (at present known as Mappilas) in India.
Though the name is sometimes extended to the entire south-western coast of the peninsula, called the Malabar Coast. Malabar is also used by ecologists to refer to the tropical and subtropical moist broad-leaf forests of south-western India (present-day Kerala).