The Maldives are a group of scattered islands in the Indian Ocean, located to the south west of Sri Lanka. It consists of approximately 1,190 coral islands grouped in a double chain of 26 atolls, spread over roughly 90,000 square kilometers, making this one of the most disparate countries in the world.
Composed of live coral reefs and sand bars, the atolls are situated atop a submarine ridge 960 kilometers long that rises abruptly from the depths of the Indian Ocean and runs from north to south. According to some contemporary geologists, the islands of the Maldives, like that of Lakshadweep would have formed the backbone of a lost continent linking Africa to India in the long distant past.
Most Atolls of the Maldives consist of a large, ring-shaped coral reef supporting numerous small islands. Islands average only one to two square kilometers in area, and lie between one and 1.5 meters above mean sea level. Although some of the larger atolls are approximately 50 kilometers long from north to south, and 30 kilometers wide from east to west, no individual island is longer than eight kilometers. Maldives has no hills, but some islands have dunes which can reach 2.4 meters / 8 feet above sea level.
Maldives largest attraction is the underwater coral gardens, with its colourful inhabitants the richest collection of multicolored fish and live coral reefs which add up to a diver's paradise. It has 73 holiday resorts from over a thousand uninhabited islands
The ancient history of the Maldives is not known. According to Maldivian legend, an Indian prince called Koimala had fallen in love with his young wife in a lagoon of the Maldives and was installed as the first sultan. It is also said that it is the women from Ceylon (Sri Lanka) who settled on the Maldives first, hence the islands ancient name Mahiladipa.
The Buddhist Kingdom Of Maldives
It’s believed Buddhism spread to the Maldives in the third century BC, at the time of the Mauryan emperor Aśoka the Great, when it extended to the regions of Afghanistan and Central Asia. Serious studies of the archaeological work of H. C. P. Bell, a British commissioner of the Ceylon Civil Service in 1879, and returned several times to investigate the ancient Buddhist ruins.
Buddhism became the dominant religion in the Maldives and enjoyed royal patronage for many centuries, probably as long as over one thousand and four hundred years. Practically all archaeological remains in the Maldives are from Buddhist stupas and monasteries, and all artifacts found to date display characteristic Buddhist iconography. Buddhist (and Hindu) temples were Mandala shaped, they are oriented according to the four cardinal points, the main gate being towards the east.Since building space and materials were scarce, Maldivians constructed their places of worship on the foundations of previous buildings. It was during this period that the culture of the Maldives as we now knows it both developed and flourished.
Introduction Of Islam
The Arabian traders in the Indian Ocean by the twelfth century A.D. may partly explain why the last Buddhist king of Maldives converted to Islam in the year 1153.The person responsible for this conversion was a Sunni Muslim visitor named Abu al Barakat. His venerated tomb now stands on the grounds of Hukuru Mosque, or miski, in the capital of Malé. Built in 1656, this is the oldest mosque in Maldives.
In 1558 the Portuguese established a small garrison with a Viador (Viyazoru), or overseer of a trading post in the Maldives, which they administered from their main colony in Goa. However fifteen years later, a local leader named Muhammad Thakurufaanu Al-Azam and his two brothers organized a popular revolt and drove the Portuguese out of Maldives.
In the mid-seventeenth century, the Dutch, who had replaced the Portuguese as the dominant power in Ceylon, established hegemony over Maldivian affairs without involving themselves directly in local matters, which were governed according to centuries-old Islamic customs.
The British got entangled with the Maldives as a result of domestic disturbances which targeted the settler community of Bora merchants who were British subjects. A rivalry between two dominant families, the Athireege clan and the Kakaage clan was resolved with former winning the favour of the British authorities in Ceylon, who concluded a Protection Agreement in 1887. During the British era, which lasted until 1965, Maldives continued to be ruled under a succession of sultans.
After independence in 1965, the sultanate continued for another three years, then on 11th November 1968, he was overthrown and replaced by a republic and the country took its current name.
In 1988, a coup was attempted, led by a group of Maldivians using the Tamils of Sri Lanka's People's Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam as their military force. The intervention of 1500 Indian soldiers restored the government and peace.
The 1990s were a decade of prosperity and extremely rapid development. The entire country is endowed with a modern telecommunications system (mobile phones, internet). However, the country maintains the same chairman , the head of a rather autocratic regime, as other political parties were banned.
In 2004, the tsunami hit the archipelago. There were extensive material damages but few casualties, about a hundred, in relation to neighbouring countries. The hotels have been renovated very quickly and mostly reopened the following year.
Then President Gayoom caused a stir by continuing his reform packages. In August 2008, a new constitution was ratified leading to the first multiparty elections. Suddenly in the same year, Nasheed, the Democratic challenger, won the second round of elections and became the first democratically elected leader of the country.
The Maldivian ethnic identity is a blend of the cultures reflecting the peoples who settled on the islands, reinforced by religion and language. The earliest settlers were probably from southern India and Sri Lanka. They are linguistically and ethnically related to the people in the Indian subcontinent and known as Dhivehis.
The local language in the Maldives is called Dhivehi though dialectical variations exist across the atolls. Dhivehi language’s sentence structure, verb formations and conjugations has its root in Sanskrit. This is surprising as the languages of the Maldives immediate neighbors are predominantly Dravidian. Since the earliest religion practiced in Maldives was Buddhism, this establishes another link with the Sanskirit-derived language Sinhala, which is spoken by the Singhalese community in Sri Lanka, the languages of the other immediate neighbors being Tamil and Malayalam.
However the foreigners and domestic populations are likely to interact unless you visit the capital Male. The tourist resorts are not on islands where the natives live, and casual contacts between the two groups are discouraged.
In 2007, the population was recorded as 300,000 persons in Maldives, more than 70,000 foreign employees live in the country and another 33,000 illegal immigrants comprise more than one third of Maldivian population. They consist mainly of people from the neighboring South Asian countries of India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal.
All Maldivians are Sunni Muslims, as no other religion is allowed. They follow a liberal form of Islam similar to that practiced in parts of India and Indonesia. Women usually wear a veil, but move freely. Children learn the Arabic alphabet and the Qur'an. Most mosques are simple and stark, but the older wooden sculptures tell their own long story. Prayers takes place five times a day: in the hour before sunrise, noon, around 15:30, sunset and evening.
Islam is the only official religion of the Maldives. The open practice of all other religions is forbidden and such actions are liable to prosecution under the law of the country. According to the revised constitution, in article two, it says that the republic "is based on the principles of Islam." Article nine says that "a non-Muslim may not become a citizen of the Maldives"; number ten says that "no law contrary to any principle of Islam can be applied in the Maldives." Article nineteen states that "citizens are free to participate in or carry out any activity that is not expressly prohibited by sharia or by the law."
The temperature of Maldives ranges between 24 °C (75 °F) and 33 °C (91 °F) throughout the year. Although the humidity is relatively high, the constant cool sea breezes keep the air moving and the heat bearable. The weather in the Maldives is affected by the large landmass of South Asia to the north. The presence of this landmass causes differential heating of land and water. These factors set off a rush of moisture-rich air from the Indian Ocean over South Asia, resulting in the southwest monsoon.
There are two seasons in the Maldives' weather: the dry season associated with the winter northeastern monsoon and the rainy season which brings strong winds and storms. The South west monsoon affects the islands from April to May and the North East Monsoons occurs from June to end August. However, the weather patterns of Maldives do not always conform to the monsoon patterns of South Asia. The annual rainfall averages 2,540 millimeters in the north and 3,810 millimeters in the south.
Environmental Issues and Climate Change
Over the last century, sea levels have risen about 20 centimeters (8 inches); further rises of the ocean could threaten the existence of Maldives, being the lowest country in the world! Current estimates place sea level rise at 59 centimeters (23 in) by the year 2100. However, around 1970, the sea level there dropped 20–30 centimeters (8–12 in). In November 2008, President Mohamed Nasheed announced plans to look into purchasing new land in India, Sri Lanka, and Australia because of his concerns about global warming and the possibility of much of the islands being inundated with water from rising sea levels.
On 17 October 2009, the government of the Maldives held a cabinet meeting underwater to highlight the threat of global warming to the low-lying Indian Ocean nation. President Mohamed Nasheed and his cabinet signed a document calling for global cuts in carbon emissions.
Fish, mainly tuna, is the most prominent element of Maldivian food. However, with travelers from different parts of the world, new seasonings and vegetables were introduced in to the country and added to the existing repertoire of seafood and tubers such as sweet potato.
A traditional meal consists of rice and garudhiya (fish soup), with fish, chilli, lemon and onion. Curries are also used instead of garudhiya. Fish paste known as rihaakuru is also a fine side dish. Alternately, roshi (chapati) and mas huni (made of grated coconut, fish, lemon and onions) are a popular dish. Fried yams are also widely eaten. Sweet dishes include custard, bodibaiy (rice mixed with sugar) and fruits such as bananas, mangoes and papayas.
The resorts offer diverse international cuisine including oriental, Middle Eastern, Indian and continental ones. Most resorts have more than one restaurant to cater the needs. For light snacks and refreshments the coffee shops in the resorts are ideal.
Typical Maldivian snacks
Alcohol is served only at tourist resorts and as the Maldives are fairly strongly Muslim, alcohol is banned for the local population. The locals drink a lot of tea and “Raa” toddy tapped from palm trees, sometimes left to ferment and thus slightly alcoholic - the closest any Maldivian gets to alcohol.
Most hotels have a shop but this is limited to diving and holiday essentials (sun cream, sarongs, disposable cameras, etc.). Some excursions from resorts will take you to local islands where there are handicraft type things to buy.
Lacquer work: the hollowed out oval lidded dishes, vases and jewellery boxes come in an assortment of shapes and sizes and are beautifully lacquered in strands of red, black and yellow resin and delicately carved with unique flowery patterns. These valuable ornamental objects are almost exclusively produced in the island of Thulhaadhoo located in Baa Atoll.
Mats: mat-weaving is traditional craft mostly undertaken by women. The women of Gadhdhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll weave the most beautiful red mats known as Thundukunaa. The mats are hand-woven on a loom from reeds which are dried in the sun and stained with natural dyes ranging from fawn to black. The patterns and the inter-woven abstract designs vary according to the weaver’s imagination and skill.
The Maldives has been an Islamic country since 1153 and the Islamic festival of Eid has always been an important event for the people. Even in the days of the monarchy, special customs were followed in the Eid. It includes special drumbeats from Nabuskhan, a place where special events are announced with drums, and the official procession of the Sultan to the Eid prayer. This procession was accompanied by music and military displays. In the islands special games are played. People wear new clothes and are in a festive mood.
Through the times the customs of celebrating the Eid have changed. Now you can see western and modern music shows held in Male and other islands. In addition brass bands, cadets of schools and National security service hold parades out in the streets. The traditional games are also now revived including baibala. There are two Eids for Muslims, one after the fasting days of Ramazan and the other after the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. The various cultural events associated with these two Eids vary and are also different from island to island. If a visitor wishes to see traditional events held during these Eid festivals, a local island would be the ideal one to visit.
The Maldives became a British Protectorate in 1887. The British made an agreement in which they pledged not to interfere with the internal affairs of the Maldives, while on foreign affairs the British were to be consulted. In return the British assured of security and protection from any colonial intimidation. On 26th July 1965, full independence was granted to the Maldives. Maldives celebrates its Independence Day on this date. Special celebrations include parades by the National Security Services and the school children.
After the Portuguese invaded Maldives and killed the reigning Sultan in 1558, the Maldives was under Portuguese colonial rule until Muhmmad Thakurufaanu liberated Maldives in 1573. He and his companions arrived on Male on 1 Rabeeul Awwal 981 A.H. (Islamic calendar) and ended the colonial rule of fifteen years. Now 1 Rabeeul Awwal is marked the National Day. Parades and root marches are held in the streets of Male' and other islands on this day.
In 1752, in the third year of the reign of Sultan Mukarram Muhammad Imadudheen 3, a South Indian expedition captured Male, took the King with them and destroyed the palace. This occurred on 13th Safar 1166 A.H. (Islamic Calendar). Some of the invaders remained, controlling the Maldives. Within four months, Maldives regained its independence under the leadership of Muleege Hassan Maniku, who was later to become a Sultan named Hassan Izzudheen. This national hero, a descendant of a family from Huraa, Male Atoll, liberated Maldives on 3rd Jumadhul Akhir 1166. Hence, this day is marked as Huravee Day.
Prophet Muhammad's Birthday
The 12th of Rabeeul Awwal in Arabic calendar is marked the Prophet Muhammad's Birthday. Traditionally, it was a very important day in which Malood, Arabic verses praising the Prophet, were sung. Special foods including aweli were made. Even today, some households offer special prayers and prepare special food for the occasion. It's a public holiday.
After hundreds of years as a monarchy, the Maldives became a Republic on 1 January 1953. However, this Republic was short lived. A monarchy was restored within the same year after turbulent politics. A Republic was formed again on 11 November 1968. The Republic Day falls on 11 November. Parades on streets and special events are held on this day.
A terrorist group attacked Male on 3 November 1988 and tried to overthrow the government in an attempted coup. However, they fled the country after their attempts failed. Victory Day is marked on 3 November.
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