Rajapalayam gets its name from the name of the community that is dominant here - Rajas or Rajus a Telugu speaking community that had migrated from Andhra Pradesh centuries ago. The word 'palayam' is frequently used in many Tamil cities as a suffix and it translates roughly as a 'fort'. The origin of Rajapalayam dates back to 1700 AD. The exact timing of the settling of Raju people in this specific area is not established, but believed to have happened as a consequence of collapse of Vijayanagara empire and the arrival of Rajus as administrators or commanders to this region.
Initially, Rajapalyam developed as an agricultural community and most people had farming as their source of livelihood. In the mid 1900s, the small town of Rajapalayam gradually evolved into a thriving business community. Due to the enterprising and hard working nature of its people, commerce developed quickly in the region and several industries, particularly cotton based flourished. Hence it got the name "Cotton city". Today Rajapalayam is one of the most industrialized cities in southern Tamil Nadu and people of all communities and religions live and contribute for its growth.
Rajapalayam city acquired the total area of 11 sq kms. It is located 9° 12' to 9° 47' N latitude and 77° 20' to 78° 26' E longitude. The climate of the city is Semi- arid -tropical monsoon type. It has a high mean temperature and a low degree of humidity. In summer the maximum temperature is 37.1°C and minimum is 25.4°C. In winter the maximum temperature is 29.2°C and minimum is 20.4°C. The maximum rainfall of the city is 792 mm.
The economy of the city is based on the manufacture of textiles, and there are mills for spinning and weaving cotton, as well as a large cotton market.
The major industries of Rajapalayam are-
By Air: The nearest airport to Rajapalayam is Madurai.
By Rail: Rajapalayam has a railway station that connects it with Tirunelveli, Sivakasi, Srivilliputur and other towns and cities of the state.
By Road: Rajapalayam is well connected by road with the neighbouring towns and cities of the state.
As per 2001 Census of India, Rajapalayam had a population of 121,982. Males constitute 50% and females 50% of the population . 9% of the population is under 6 years of age. Rajapalayam has an average literacy rate of 73%, higher than the national average of 59.5%: male literacy is 80%, and female literacy is 66%.
The major languages used in Rajapalayam are Tamil, Telugu and English. Most important festival of Rajapalayam is the sacred wedding ceremony of Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Sundareswarar. This festival is held during March -April. During this festival the city displays a colourful and joyous mood. Images of the divine couple are taken around the city in a tastefully decorated chariot, amidst the presence of a huge gathering of devotees. The notes of Nadaswaram and drums further aggravate the festive ambience. The annual float festival marks the images of Meenakshi and her consort floating on the Mariamman tank on an illuminated raft bedecked with flowers. As such there are festivals throughout the year in Rajapalayam. All most 11 big annual festivals are celebrated, which are spread through the year with exception of the monsoon months. There are several libraries, theaters and town halls for entertainment in the city.
The Rajapalayam breed dog was used for hunting long back in Rajapalayam. It is a hound dog, white in colour with good height. Its nose is generally light in colour-pink.
Ayyanar Koil (Ayyanar Falls): Ayyanar Falls is located on the slope of Western Ghats, It has lot of waterfalls and a temple. It provides good opportunity for woodland mountain climbing. Dam is situated on the way to Ayyanar Falls which is providing water for the whole city.
Sanjeevi Hills: Sanjeevi Hills is situated in Rajapalayam on the way to Chatrapatti. The calm and serene ambience makes it a favorite spot for tourists. Tradition recounts that in order to save the unconscious Lakshmana, Hanuman, the monkey god carried the entire Sanjeevi Hill with the herbal plants to Sri Lanka and threw it away afterwards. It is said that the thrown down hill is the Sanjeevi Hills.
Srivilliputtur:Sri Andal's Temple is located in Srivilliputtur . Andal was a great devotee of Lord Krishna. The tower at the entrance gate (Main Gopuram) is the second highest in Tamil Nadu. And the tower is the symbol of Tamilnadu Government.
Shenbagathope Grizzled Squirrel Sanctuary: The forests are found on the eastern slopes of the Western Ghats. Only 6.3% of the total geographical area is under forests. Many rare and endemic varieties of flora and fauna are found along the mountain slopes. A wildlife sanctuary, spread over 480 square kilometres was established in 1989 at Shenbagathopu in Srivilliputtur taluk..
This sanctuary is contiguous with the Periyar tiger reserve on the south-western side and the Megamalai reserve forest on the north-western side. The altitude varies from 100 to 2010 m above sea level. The sanctuary is home to the endangered, arboreal grizzled giant squirrel 'Ratufa macrora'. This greyish brown squirrel weighs 1 to 1.8 kg. and is the size of a small cat. It measures about 735 mm. from nose to tail with the tail being 360 to 400 mm. long. They construct drays at forked branches where the crowns of neighbouring trees meet. This enables the squirrel to move away from the site by jumping from tree to tree when threatened. The home range of an individual is between 1,970 and 6,110 square metres.
Rajapalayam has many higher secondary and high schools, which provide quality education. Most of the schools are established due to the vision and philanthropy of wealthy Rajus.
Notable schools in town are-
In recent years, there has been some progress in women education beyond high school and many have become accomplished doctors, engineers and professionals. Higher education which was once the preserve of wealthy people of this town has become possible to its ordinary people with the beginning of a separate women's college in the town.
A Gurukulam (old style institute teaching Sanskrit and Vedic literature) has also been set up recently.