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Lakshwadeep

CAPITAL KAVARATTI
AREA IN Sq. km 0.03
PRINCIPAL LANGUAGES MALAYALAM AND MAHI

A Union Territory of India, Lakshadweep is a group of some two dozen islands with a total land area of 32 square kilometres scattered over 30,000 square miles of the Arabian Sea. Out of these islands, only ten are inhabited and they are Andrott, Amini, Agatti, Bitra, Chetlat, Kadmath, Kalpeni, Kavaratti, Kiltan and Minicoy. These islands form the smallest of the Union Territories of India, and are the country's only coral islands. The name Lakshadweep means "Hundred Thousand Islands" in the Malayalam language and also in Sanskrit.

Climatic conditions are similar to that of Kerala coast. Average rainfall is 1600mma year with the major share from thesouthwest monsoon. Almost all islands experiance tropical climate with temperature ranging from 25 degrees c to 35 degrees c and humidity ranging from 70 -76 per cent during the most part of the year. March, April and May are the hottest months of the year.

The administrative centre is Kavaratti.The jurisdiction of the Kerala High Court extends over Lakshadweep.

History

It is generally believed that the first settlement on these islands was made by Cheraman Perumal, the last king of Kerala, as a result of shipwreck on the stormy Arabian seas. But the historical record shows that, around the 7th century, a Muslim saint was shipwrecked on the island of Amini. He converted the inhabitants here to Islam, despite initial opposition. After many difficulties he was able to carry out his mission, and to this day, the people of Lakshadweep follow Islam. Although the sovereignty remained in the hands of the Hindu Raja of Chirakkal, it eventually passed to the Ali Raja of Cannanore (Kannur) in the 16th century, the only Muslim royal family of Kerala, and later, in 1783 to Tipu Sultan. Following the defeat of Tipu Sultan by the British, at Srirangapattanam in 1799, the islands were annexed by the East India Company. It remained with the British until Independence, when it was made a Union territory of the Indian Union in 1956.

Society and Culture

Of the 36 islands in Lakshadweep, only 10 are inhabited, mainly due to lack of drinking water in the other islands. The people are warm, friendly and god-fearing.  The language spoken in all the islands except Minicoy is Malayalam. In Minicoy, the largest island of the group, they speak Mahl, a dialect of the ancient Singhalese.


The people are of mixed Arab and Hindu descent, akin to the Moplahs of Malabar. 90 percent of the people are devout Muslims who follow the matrilineal system still prevalent in some parts of Kerala but are matrilocal in residence. The young man continues to stay in his mother's house after his wedding and visits his wife every evening. Remarriage for both men and women is accepted. As Muslims, they have conservative customs and traditions and yet they are liberal in approach. 93% of the popultion are indigenous Muslims.

In Minicoy things are a little different. Here a man after marriage not only moves to his wife's home but also adopts her family name. Marco Polo described Minicoy as a female island. Women are dominant and make all the decisions.

History comes alive in folk ballads that women chant during their house - hold chores. Events of the past - the arrival of Hazrat Ubaidullah in Lakshadweep, the plunder of the islands by the Portuguese, have been perpetuated by the balladeer.

The young men have some spirited folk dances. The women are modest with colourful dress and wear their jewellery in safety. The people of Minicoy have a good sense of colour, painting their houses, furniture and boats in bright and tasteful combinations. Seamen from Minicoy are to be found on merchant ship all over the world.

Economy

Agriculture is the mainstay of the Lakshadweep economy, the major products being coconut and coir. Coconut is the only major crop grown here, with a production of around 26.5 million nuts in 1994-95. Coconut fibre extraction and conversion of its fibre products is the main industry in the islands. In some places the underlying coral has been excised and the tracts fertilized with organic matter; these support the cultivation of bananas, vegetables, edible root crops, and millet. Coir (coconut husk fibre), a state monopoly, is traded for rice from the mainland. The other major activity here, is fishing. Immense potential for development in fisheries has resulted in the setting up of boat-building yards, canning and processing factories and adoption of mechanised fishing boats.The islands stand first in the country in per capita availability of fish.The annual fishlanding crossed the level of 10000 MTs in 1996

Tourist Centres

Tourist facilities in Lakshadweep have been developed by way of luxury cruises around the islands. All tourists need permission to visit Lakshadweep. Four of the inhabited islands (Kavaratti, Kalpeni, Minicoy and Kadmath) are open to Indian tourists and Bangaram, an uninhabited island, is open to both domestic and foreign tourists. Bangaram has facilities for water sports. Swimming, fishing, sailing in glass - bottomed boats which give enchanting views of the coral below, and yachting are the main attractions. Wood - carving in the Ujra Mosque at Kavaratti, the tomb of Hazrat Ubaidullah at Andrott, the Buddhist archaeological remains at Andrott, and the famous light house at Minicoy, are some of the places worth visiting. Cheriyam, Suheli, Valiyakara and Tinakara have been identified for international tourists.