By Janhavi Lokegaonkar, Research Associate, Maritime History Society
The tiny Union territory is making big news! Lakshadweep is the only territory under the Indian jurisdiction to be completely Covid-free even after five months since the first case was reported1 in India, in Kerala.
But the news should not come as surprise either because the islands stand out as unique entities. They have an inimitable ecosystem in terms of biodiversity, physical environment. India has about 1100 islands-inhabited and uninhabited. Lakshadweep, India’s smallest Union Territory, is an archipelago consisting of 36 islands well known for its exotic and sun-kissed beaches and lush green landscape. The name Lakshadweep means ‘a hundred thousand islands’ in Malayalam and Sanskrit.
With an area of 32 sq.km.2, it comprises twelve atolls, three reefs, five submerged banks, and ten inhabited islands. Kavaratti is the capital town of this Union Territory. All the islands are about 200 to 400 km away from the mainland, the coastal city of Kochi in Kerala being the nearest. The natural setting, the picturesque coastline, pristine beaches with emerald waters, abundant presence of varied flora and fauna, and a laid back lifestyle augment the mystique of Lakshadweep.
In a research paper3 titled ‘Marine Investigations in the Lakshadweep Islands’, noted scholar Sila Tripati discusses the fact that the ancient Chinese and Greek seafarers knew about the existence of the Lakshadweep islands. Lakshadweep is alluded to in a range of literary texts and inscriptions ranging from Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, the works of Ptolemy, the Buddhist Jatakas and the works of Fa Hien, Ibn Batuta, and El Masudi. Some indirect reference to naval wars related to Lakshadweep come from Vayalur inscriptions near Mahabalipuram. These inscriptions mention Narasimha Varman II Rajasimha (680-720AD) of the Pallava dynasty and his conquest of the Dvipalaksham, as the Lakshadweep Islands were then called.
Lakshadweep lies on the maritime trade route between Africa-Arabia and west coast of India on one hand, and South Asia and the Far East on the other. In maritime history, these islands have played a vital role by providing shelter, fresh water and landmarks to navigators through the ages.
Being far removed from the mainland; geographically remote and isolated, these islands stand out as a unique place and have an intriguing history.
- Tripati, S. (1999). Marine investigations in the Lakshadweep Islands, India. Antiquity,73(282), 827-835. doi:10.1017/S0003598X0006556X