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Lakshadweep: A Melting Pot

Location and Geography

  • In Malayalam and Sanskrit, the name Lakshadweep translates to “a hundred thousand islands”.
  • It is an island of coral origin (atoll) surrounded by fringing reefs in the Arabian Sea.
  • An atoll is a ring-shaped coral reef, island, or series of islets. Corals are the skeletons of tiny marine animals called Polyps. When the Polyps die, their skeletons remain, and other Polyps grow on the hard skeleton.

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  • The Amindivi Islands, Laccadive Islands and Minicoy Islands are called Lakshadweep.
  • Capital: Kavaratti; High court: Kerala high court
  • Amindivi Islands are the northernmost, while the Minicoy Islands are the southernmost.
  • The largest and the most advanced islands are the Minicoy Islands.
  • Most islands have low elevations (< 5 meters) and are highly vulnerable to sea level change.
  • Their topography is flat, and relief features such as hills, streams, valleys, etc., are absent.

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History of Lakshadweep

  • The last Chera ruler in Kerala, Cheraman Perumal, is associated with the discovery of Lakshadweep.
  • As per the myths, after conversion to Islam, he went to Hajj but never returned.
  • Then, the Raja of Kolattunad (north Malabar) is known to have sent a search party to look for him.
  • Having been caught in a severe storm, this search party was stuck in one of the Lakshadweep islands.
  • Though the story of Cheraman Perumal is harrowing to validate, the first settlers on the Lakshadweep islands were Malabari sailors, possibly castaways.
  • Later waves of immigrants included Malabari Hindus, including Nambudiri Brahmins, Nairs, Tiyyars and probably Mukkuvans.
  • The existing caste structure and prevailing Marumakkathayam matrilineal inheritance system resulted from these later immigrations.
  • From the 16th century, the islands came under the control of the Arakkal kingdom of Kannur, the only Muslim dynasty to have ruled in Kerala and a matrilineal one.
  • Even after the Arrakal kingdom was surrendered to Britishers in Malabar, Lakshadweep was under the Arakkal princely family till 1908.
  • Before becoming India’s smallest Union Territory in the reorganisation of 1956, Lakshadweep was part of the Malabar district (Kerala).

Social organisation

  • Though inhabited by most Muslim residents, Islam practised in the Lakshadweep is unique.
  • Lakshadweep has an Islamic matrilineal society influenced by Hindu traditions and caste structure.
  • Apart from the caste system, a pre-Islamic Hindu society in the islands can be deduced from using the ancient Malayalam script, Vattelutu, in the islands.
  • Discovery of several buried idols, probably Hindu origins, and several traditional island songs praising Ram and alluding to snake worship are also available.
  • Jazari and Mahl are two other main languages, with Malayalam being the official language.
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