Knowledge Corner

Lakshadweep, formerly known as the Laccadive, Minicoy, and Aminidivi Islands is a group of islands in the Laccadive Sea, 200 to 440 kilometres (120 to 270 mi) off the south western coast of India. The archipelago is a Union Territory and is governed by the Union Government of India. They were also known as Laccadive Islands, although geographically this is only the name of the central subgroup of the group. Lakshadweep comes from “Lakshadweepa”, which means “one hundred thousand islands” in Sanskrit. The islands form the smallest Union Territory of India: their total surface area is just 32 km2 (12 sq mi). The lagoon area covers about 4,200 km2 (1,600 sq mi), the territorial waters area 20,000 km2 (7,700 sq mi) and the exclusive economic zone area 400,000 km2 (150,000 sq mi). The region forms a single Indian district with ten sub divisions. Kavarattiserves as the capital of the Union Territory and the region comes under the jurisdiction of Kerala High Court. The islands are the northernmost of the Lakshadweep-Maldives-Chagos group of islands, which are the tops of a vast undersea mountain range, the Chagos-Laccadive Ridge.

As the islands do not have any aboriginal groups, different views have been postulated by the scholars about the history of habitation on these islands. Archaeological evidence support the existence of human settlement in the region around 1500 BC. The islands have long been known to sailors, as indicated by an anonymous reference from the first century AD to the region inPeriplus of the Erythraean Sea. The islands were referenced also in the Buddhist Jataka stories of the 6th century BC. The arrival of Muslim missionaries around 7th century led to the advent of Islam in the region. During the medieval period the region was ruled by the Chola dynasty and Kingdom of Cannanore. The Portuguese arrived around 1498 and were upstaged by 1545. The region was then ruled by the Muslim house of Arakkal, followed by Tipu Sultan. On his death in 1799 most of the region passed on to the British and with their departure the Union Territory was formed in 1956.

Ten of the islands are inhabited. At the 2011 Indian census the population of the Union Territory was 64,473. The majority of the indigenous population is Muslim and most of them belong to theShafi School of the Sunni Sect. The islanders are ethnically similar to the Malayali people of the nearest Indian state of Kerala. Most of the population speaks Malayalam with Mahi (or Mahl) being the most spoken language in Minicoy island. The islands are served by an airport on the Agatti island. The main occupation of the people is fishing and coconut cultivation, with tuna being the main item of export.

History

Several views have been postulated about the history of the habitation of the islands as they do not have any aboriginal groups. A mention of the region in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, by an anonymous author, is one of the earliest references. There are references to the control of the islands by the Cheras in the Sangam Patiṟṟuppattu. Local traditions and legends attribute the first settlement on these islands to the period of Cheraman Perumal, the last Chera king of Kerala. The oldest inhabited islands in the group are Amini, Kalpeni Andrott, Kavaratti and Agatti. Archaeological evidence suggests that Buddhism prevailed in the region during the 5th-6th century CE. According to popular tradition, Islam was brought to Lakshadweep by an Arab named Ubaidulla in 661 CE. His grave is located on the island of Andrott. During the 11th century, the islands came under the rule of the Late Cholas and subsequently the Kingdom of Cannanore.

In the 16th century the Portuguese ruled the seas between Ormuz and the Malabar Coast -and down to Ceylon. As early as 1498 they took control of the archipelago (called Laquedivas by them), later on to exploit coir production, until the islanders expelled them in 1545. In the 17th century, the islands came under the rule of Ali Rajahs/Arakkal Bheevi of Kannur, who received them as a gift from the Kolathiris. The islands are also mentioned in great detail in the stories of the Arab traveller Ibn Batuta.

The Aminidivi group of islands (Androth, Amini, Kadmat, Kiltan, Chetlath and Bitra) came under the rule of Tipu Sultan in 1787. They passed to British control after the Third Anglo-Mysore War and were attached to South Canara. The rest of the islands came under the suzerainty of the Arakkal family of Cannanore in return for a payment of annual tribute. The British took over the administration of those islands for non-payment of arrears. These islands were attached to the Malabar district of the Madras Presidency during the British Raj.

Geography

Lakshadweep is an archipelago of twelve atolls, three reefs and five submerged banks, with a total of about thirty-nine islands and islets. The reefs are in fact also atolls, although mostly submerged, with only small unvegetated sand cays above the high-water mark. The submerged banks are sunken atolls. Almost all the atolls have a northeast-southwest orientation with the islands lying on the eastern rim, and a mostly submerged reef on the western rim, enclosing a lagoon. It has 10 inhabited islands, 17 uninhabited islands, attached islets, 4 newly formed islets and 5 submerged reefs.

The main islands are Kavaratti, Agatti, Minicoy, and Amini. The total population of the territory is 60,595 according to the 2001 census. Agatti has an airport with direct flights from Kochi.

Demographics

According to the 2011 census Lakshadweep has a population of 64,429, roughly equal in number to that of the Marshall Islands. This gives it a ranking of 627th among the 640 districts in India. The district has a population density of 2,013 inhabitants per square kilometre (5,210/sq mi). Its population growth rate over the decade 2001-2011 was 6.23%. Lakshadweep has a sex ratio of 946 females for every 1000 males, and a literacy rate of 92.28%.

Religion

The inhabitants of Lakshadweep are known to practice different religious customs that were once propounded by the Sheikh Ubaidullah who is believed to be the propagator of Islam religion in Lakshadweep.

There are several festivals that have originated in the island of Lakshadweep to mark the eminence of Islam. Eid-Ul-Fitr, Muharram, Bakra Eid and Milad-Un-Nabi are the prominent occasions when the people of the island gather in various mosques to commemorate the holy sermons of the various prophets.

Languages

The principal languages of Lakshadweep are Malayalam, Jeseri (Dweep Bhasha) and Mahl. The people of all the northern islands speak a dialect of Malayalam with Tamil and Arabic similar to Arwiinfluenced by extensive trade activities of these people. The people of Minicoy, the southernmost atoll, speak Mahl, a variant of Divehi language spoken in the Maldives.

Skill Test

1. Name the capital city of Lakshadweep.
 
2. How many atolls and reefs form the archipelago of Lakshadweep?

3. How many coral islands together form Lakshadweep?
4. Who is the Administrator of Lakshadweep?
5. Which famous mosque is located in the Kavaratti?
6. What is the total are of Lakshadweep?
7. When was the territory of Lakshadweep established?
8. Which is the Judicature of Lakshadweep?
9. What are the two official languages of Lakshadweep?
10. In which year were the three islands of Laccadive, Minicoy and Amindivi renamed as Lakshadweep?
11. Which island in Lakshadweep is uninhabited and open for tourists for various adventure sports?
12. Where is the airport in Lakshadweep located?