Location, Area & Population  Back
The tiniest Union Territory of India, Lakshadweep is an archipelago consisting of 12 atolls, three reefs and five submerged banks. It is a uni-district Union Territory with an area of 32 Sq.Kms and is comprised of  ten inhabited islands, 17 uninhabited islands attached islets, four newly formed islets and 5 submerged reefs. The inhabited islands are Kavaratti, Agatti, Amini, Kadmat, Kiltan, Chetlat, Bitra, Andrott, Kalpeni and Minicoy. Bitra is the smallest of all having only a population of 225 persons (Census 1991). The uninhabited island Bangaram has been enumerated during 1991 census operation and has a population of 61 persons.

It is located between 8 - 12 13" North latitude and  71 -74   East longitude, 220 to 440 Kms. away from the coastal city of Kochi in Kerala, in the emerald Arabian sea. Considering its lagoon area of about 4,200 Sq.kms, 20,000 Sq.kms of territorial waters and about 4 lakhs Sq.kms. of economic zone, Lakshadweep is a large territory.


According to the 1991 Census, Lakshadweep has a population of  51707  persons. (It is 60,595 as per the Census -2001, provisional population Data sheet). More than 93%  of the population who are indigenous, are Muslims and majority of them belong to the Shafi School of the Sunni Sect.

Malayalam is spoken in all the islands except Minicoy where people speak Mahl which is written in Divehi script and is spoken in Maldives also. The entire indigenous population has been classified as Scheduled Tribes because of their economic and social backwardness. According to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes list (modification orders), 1956, the inhabitants of Lakshadweep who and both of whose parents were born in these islands are treated as Scheduled Tribes. There are no Scheduled Castes in this Union Territory.

The main occupation of the people is fishing, coconut cultivation and coir twisting. Tourism is an emerging industry.

Geology                                                             

There are no conclusive theories about the formation of these coral atolls. The most accepted theory is given by the English Evolutionist Sir Charles Darwin. He concluded in 1842 that the subsidence of a volcanic island resulted in the formation of a fringing reef and the continual subsidence allowed this to grow upwards. 

When the volcanic island became completely submerged the atoll was formed encircling the lagoon where, with the action of the wind, waves, reef to currents and temperature, the coral islands were formed. 

 

Sand bags were first formed in an atoll. They became naturally the nesting grounds for sea birds. They continued to be their exclusive preserve till as a result of the fertilization of the soil by their droppings ( Guano deposits), ground vegetation became possible and man then took over, thus leaving the birds to seek another sanctuary.
fundamentally this concept is still valid, although many consider submerging volcanic islands is by the melting of Pleistocene ice sheets. The fringing reefs are quickly built, repaired and strengthened by a micro organism called polypous. The are the architects and engineers of these atolls. The corals are the hard calcareous skeleton of these polypous.

Fauna & Flora                                                     

The flora of the islands include Banana, Vazha,(Musaparadisiaca), Colocassia, Chambu (Colocassia antiquarum) Drumstic moringakkai (Moringa Oleifera) , Bread Fruit, Chakka (Artocarpus incisa) wild almond (Terminalia Catappa) which are grown extensively. Some of the shrub jungles plant like Kanni (Scaevolakeeningil), Punna, (Calaphylluminophyllum), Chavok(Casurina equisetifolia), Cheerani (Thespesia Populnea) are unevenly grown throughout  the island. Coconut, Thenga (Cacos nucifera) is the only crop of economic importance in Lakshadweep. These are found in different varieties such as Laccadive micro, Laccadive ordinary,  green dwarf etc. Two different varieties of sea grass are seen adjacent to the beaches. They are known as Thalassia hemprichin and Cymodocea isoetifolia. They prevent sea erosion and movement of the beach sediments. 

The marine life of the sea is quite elaborate and difficult to condense. The commonly seen vertebrates are cattle and poultry. Oceanic birds generally found in Lakshadweep are Tharathasi (Sterna fuscata) and Karifetu (Anous solidus). They are generally found in one of the uninhabited islands known as PITTI. This island has been declared as a bird sanctuary.

 Molluscan forms are also important from the economic point of  the islands. The money cowrie (cypraea monita) are also found in abundance in the shallow lagoons and reefs of the islands. Other cypraeds found here are cypraca talpa and cyprea maculiferra. Among crabs, the hermit crab is the most common. Colorful coral fish such as parrot fish (Callyedon sordidus), Butterfly fish (Chaetodon auriga), Surgeon fish (Acanthurus lineotus) are also found in plenty. 

The following animal, bird, and tree are declared as state symbols of LAkshadweep.

Animal - Butterfly fish (Chaetodon auriga) locally known as "Fakkikadia".

Bird    - Sooty tern (Anus solidus piletus) locally known as "Karifettu". 

Tree   - Bread-fruit (Artocarpus Incise) locally known as "Chakka"









History                                                                                  

Early history of Lakshadweep is unwritten. What now passes for history is based on various legends. Local traditions attribute the first settlement on these islands to the period of Cheraman Perumal, the last king of Kerala. It is believed that after his conversion to Islam, at the behest of some Arab merchants, he slipped out of his  capital Cranganore, the present day Kodungallor - an old harbour town Kochi, for Mecca. When his disappearance was discovered, search parties went after him in sailing boats and left for the shores of Mecca, in search of the king from different places. It is believed that one of these sailing boats of Raja of Cannanore was struck by a fierce storm and they were shipwrecked on the island now known as Bangaram. From there they went to the nearby island of Agatti. Finally the weather improved and they returned to the mainland sighting other islands on their way. It is said that after their return another party of sailors and soldiers discovered the island of Amini and started living there. It is believed that the people sent there were Hindus. Even now unmistakable Hindu Social stratification exists in these islands despite Islam. Legends say that small settlements started in the Islands of Amini, Kavaratti, Andrott and Kalpeni first and later people from these islands moved to the other islands of Agatti, Kiltan, Chetlat and Kadmat. This legend of Cheraman Perumal is not, however, substantiated. 

The advent of Islam dates back to the 7th century around the year 41 Hijra. It is universally believed that one St.Ubaidullah(r) while praying at Mecca fell asleep. He dreamt that Prophet Mohammed(s) wanted him to go to Jeddah and take a ship from there to go to distant places. Thus, he left Jeddah but after sailing for months, a storm wrecked his ship near these small Islands. Floating on a plank  he was swept ashore on the island of Amini. He fell asleep there but again dreamt of the Prophet asking him to propagate Islam in that Island.  Ubaidullah started doing so. But this enraged the headman of the island and he ordered his exit at once. St. Ubaidullah(r) stood firm. Meanwhile, a young woman fell in love with him. He gave her the name Hameedat Beebi and married her. This further offended the headman and he decided to kill him. It is said that the headman and his henchmen surrounded Ubaidullah(r) and his wife to kill them. At once St.Ubaidullah(r) called up on the Almighty and the people were struck blind. At this time St.Ubaidullah(r) and his wife disappeared and as soon as they left the island people regained their eye sight.  From Amini St.Ubaidullah(r)  arrived at Andrott where he met with similar opposition but he succeeded finally in converting the people to Islam. He next went to other islands and successfully propagated Islam and returned to Andrott where he died, and was buried. The grave of St.Ubaidullah(r) is today a sacred place. Preachers from Andrott are respected deeply in far off lands like Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Burma etc. It is a marabout or Mukbara. 

The Arrival of the Portuguese in India again made Laccadives an important place for seafarers. It was also the beginning of years of plunder for the islands. The finely spun coir was much sought after for ships. So the Portuguese  started looting island vessels. They forcibly landed at Amini to procure coir sometime in the early 16th century, but it is said that the people killed all the invaders by poisoning, ending the Portuguese invasion. 

Even after the conversion of the entire islands to Islam, sovereignty remained in the hands of the Hindu Rajah of Chirakkal for some years. From the hands of the Chirakkal Raja, the Administration of the island passed on to the Muslim house of Arakkal of Cannanore around the middle of the 16th century. The Arakkal rule was oppressive and unbearable. So sometime in the year 1783 some islanders from Amini took courage and went to Tipu Sultan at Mangalore and requested him to take over the Administration of Amini group of islands. Tipu Sultan at that time was on friendly terms with Beebi of Arakkel and after deliberations, the islands of Amini group were handed over to him. Thus the islands suzerainty came to be divided as five came under the rule of Tipu Sultan and the rest continued under Arakkal house. After the battle of Seringapattom in 1799 the islands were annexed to the British East India Company and were administered from Mangalore. In 1847, a severe cyclone hit the island of Andrott and Raja of Chirakkal decided to visit the island in order to assess the damages and for distributing relief. An officer of the East India Company Sir William Robinson volunteered to accompany him. On reaching Andrott, the Rajah found it difficult to meet all the demands of the people. Sir William then offered the Rajah help in the form of  a loan. This was accepted. This arrangement continued for about four years but when the interest started mounting, the English asked the Rajah to repay them which he could not. In 1854 all the remaining islands were handed over to the East India Company for Administration. so, came the British rule.  

The sequestration of the islands is a clear example of the political manipulations and methods adopted by the British for establishing their supremacy in India. Its traditional system of administration was treated by the English as something of misgovernment. But they were more interested in their own political and economic interests than the good government of the islands. Their policy was to exploit the profits from the islands through the Beebi without taking responsibility of its administration. the British later brought the Lakshadweep Regulation 1912,which confers limited power of judicial and magisterial status to Amins/Karanis of the islands. A reasonable restriction of outsiders were also brought into force by the above regulation. Nine Primary Schools and few dispensaries were started during the colonial rule in the islands. 

The Union Territory was formed in 1956 and it was named Lakshadweep in 1973. 

Role of Women

Women enjoy a unique position. The Marumakkathayam system of inheritance, under which Tharwad property descends through the female line saves the women from proverbial economic dependence. Ancestral or Tharwad property is equally shared among the members of the joint family in Kavaratti and Agatti, whereas in Andrott the division is between the Thavazhi only. 


The Tharwad property is managed by the eldest male member of the family known as Karanavan. He has no right to alienate or sell any portion of the Tharwad property. The wife and children of the Karanavan are not entitled to any share from Tharwad. Thus the Tharwad  property system has given economic freedom and independence to women in the social system of Lakshadweep. The husband is obliged to make an annual payment towards the maintenance of the wife which forms part of the marriage contract. The wife has full freedom to demand a divorce on grounds of non-payment of these customary dues. Divorce is not a disqualification for a woman to seek a fresh alliance. There is also no ban on the remarriage of a widow. The early history of Lakshadweep also reveals that "Hameedath Beebi"  of Pantamveli at Amini was the first lady to accept the preaching of Saint Ubaidullah(r) amidst humiliation and threats. She became the wife of the Saint who went to Andrott and settled there.  

The predominance of women folk in all walks of life is a peculiar feature of Minicoy. The husband takes the wife's family name after marriage. All family affairs are managed by the female of the house. 

Most males being the bread-winners of the family serve in international ships as seamen. The famous traveller Marco Polo(1254-1324) in his travelogue  made a reference to Minicoy as the island of females. The turkish traveller Ibnu Bathuta touched Minicoy while on his way to Maldives and married two women and stayed there for one month. In the village (Athiri) administration, the  ladies have an important role. The female Chief(Boduthatha) is the head of the women's assembly who organizes Women's labour for common purposes in the "Athiri".  

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