Area : 39,000 sq km
Population : 51,700
Distance : 225-450 km from Kerala
The coral islands that make up
Lakshadweep, (literally meaning 100,000 islands) are the northernmost
extension of the chain of islands that stretch from far south of the
Maldives. The name derives from estimates of early sailors who must
have imagined at least 100,000 of these coral islands and atolls. In
fact, Lakshadweep contains 22 islands, only 11 of which are inhabited
– none of them being more than four metres above sea level. The
atolls are rich in guano – deposits of centuries of bird
¤ A Brief Historical Sketch
A Greek sailor, who had been taken off course by the monsoon winds,
first discovered Lakshadweep in the first century a.d. The Chera,
Pandya and Chola Dynasties each wrestled for control of the islands,
with the Cholas ultimately triumphing in the 11th century.
In the 13th century, the archipelago passed into the
hands of a powerful Muslim family of Kannur, who governed the
territory by appointing administrators.
After Vasco da Gama reached Calicut in 1498 in search of spices, it
was only a matter of time before the Portugese annexed Lakshadweep.
The Portugese built a fort at Lakshadweep, and kept a standing army
to protect their rights over the island’s coir production.
However, this led to an uprising by the islanders against their
colonial masters in 1545.
By the late 18th century, the British were cutting a
swath through India like a knife through butter, and inevitably, their
octopus-like hands reached Lakshadweep as well.
turning point came after the British worsted Tipu Sultan in the fourth
Anglo-Mysore war, in circa 1799.
After Tipu’s demise, local chieftains administered the island
for half a century while the British held the remote control in their
hands. In 1854, the East India Company formally annexed Lakshadweep.
They named the place ‘Laccadive Islands’ and in 1908, the
Resident Administrator of Calicut was given authority over the
islands. In 1956, the islands became a Union Territory, and 17 years
later it reverted to its earlier name of Lakshadweep.
¤ The People
Nearly 93% of Lakshdweep’s population is Muslim. The
Moplahs of mixed Indian and Arab descent were converted to the faith
around the ninth century. Local legend has it that in the middle of
the seventh century, a man called Ubeidulla was shipwrecked on Amini
Island while returning from a pilgrimage to Mecca. He performed many
miracles that swayed the local populace into embracing Islam.