Monday, September 1, 2014

Lakshadweep At A Glance

Dispersed on the emerald blue waters of the Arabian Sea, are the exotic islands of Lakshadweep. The only atolls in the Indian waters, Lakshadweep is an archipelago comprising 36 islands, 5 submerged banks, 12 atolls and 3 reefs. Scattered on mesmerizing and serene waters, the islands lie off the western coast of India. A paradise for naturalists, Lakshadweep islands are popular as a unique tourist destination, where travelers flock from farthest of the places.

A cluster of 36 palm-covered stunning coral islands, about 300 kms off the coast of Kerala, Lakshadweep is as fascinating as it is difficult to reach to. Only ten of the islands are peopled, mostly with Sunni Muslim fishermen, and only a handful of these are open for stay to the foreigners. The main occupations of the islanders are fishing and coir production, which is one of the prime reasons that the local life here remains highly traditional and a caste system segments the natives as Koya (land owners), Malmi (sailors) and Melachery (farmers).

History

Early history of Lakshadweep is primarily unknown. The Sangam literature Pathitruppaththu mentions about the control of the islands by the Cheras. A Pallava inscription of 7th century CE lists the islands as part of the Pallava domain and refers these as Dveepa Laksham. Amongst the group, the oldest inhabited islands are Andrott, Kavaratti, Amini and Agatti. It was earlier believed that the natives of Lakshadweep were originally Hindus who later turned to Islam. However, according to recent archaeological progress, evidence have been found that point out that Buddhist settlements had existed in the islands as early as the 6th or 7th century.

Around 17th century, Portuguese took control of the islands to exploit coir production. The Portuguese invasion was a phase of great savagery on the islands, and eventually the islanders oust the Portuguese. In due course of time, the control was taken over by the British. Despite the fact that most of the natives were Malayalis, the States Reorganisation Act passed in 1956, segregated these islands from the mainland administrative units, giving shape to a new union territory formed by the combination of all the islands.

Geography & Climate

Lakshadweep is the smallest Union Territory of India with an area of 32 sq kms. It comprises ten inhabited islands, 5 submerged reefs, 17 uninhabited islands attached islets and four newly formed islets. The climate here is characterized by three seasons- summer, monsoon and winter. The summer is generally warm and reigns from March to June. Monsoon arrives around the month of May and lasts upto October. Winters here are mildly warm and pleasant, prevailing from November to February.

Demographics

Kavaratti is the capital of Lakshadweep. The Union Territory has a population of 60,595. Malayalam is the official language of the land, while Mahl, Jeseri and English are other primary languages. The inhabitants of the islands are ethnically similar to coastal Kerala's Malayali population, and were influenced by Arab traders. Islanders of Minicoy, the largest and southernmost island in the group, very much resemble Maldivians. Most of the natives follow Islam. Except Minicoy the locals of all the islands call themselves the Div-i or the Aminidivi, which means 'from the mother island'.

Heritage & Culture

A dialect of Malayalam is used in all the islands except Minicoy, where ‘Mahl’ is the common language. Despite a few cultural variations, the customs and the manners of the islanders are same. Parents arrange the marriages, except in Minicoy where courting is prevalent.

Kolkali and Parichakali are the two prominent folk art forms of Lakshadweep. These are a significant part of the cultural traditions except in Minicoy, where “Lava” is the most famous dance form. Some of the folk dances of the territory have a resemblance with those in North Eastern regions of the country. Picnics are the regular leisure activity in Minicoy. The commonly celebrated festivals are Republic Day and Independence Day, Milad- ul–nabi, Bakra-id, Id-ul-fitr and Muharram. Amazingly, Republic Day and Independence Day are celebrated for days with religious ardor.

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