The Rich Cultural Heritage of the Maldivian Islands

Srimal Fernando

The Maldives islands of the Indian Ocean is one of world’s most spectacular tropical paradise destinations  known for its exquisite scenery  and for its  noteworthy rich cultural past. Filled with over a hundred of palm-fringed white sand beaches this picturesque double chain of islands of Maldives stretches in a north-south direction 500km from the Southern tip of both Sri Lanka and off India’s Laksha-dweep islands. A country   with its magnificent heritage, glorious culture with its rich royal past has passed through several stages during its history.

In 1153 A.D the Persian and the Arab travelers converted the people of this Island nation from Buddhism to Islam. After the conversion of the first known king of the Malay dynasty to Islam, the rulers were then known as Sultans. The Ma-lay or Thimuge dynasty lasted for more than two hundred years. Under the rule of 29 different Sultans the Hilali dynasty prevailed until the Maldives became a Republic.

The country gained its Independence from Britain in 26 th July 26th, 1965. Dhivehi the language of the islanders has its roots in Sanskrit. It is considered as the most important cultural identity of the Maldivian people. The Maldives islands have undergone tremendous transformation following the changes to the economy. The capital Male’, pronounced as “Maa-lay” is one destination in the country for which praising words seems inadequate.

It is located at the southern edge of North Male’ Atoll, known as Kaafu Atoll. One third of the country’s population is located in this island.  It is one destination in the country for which praising words seems inadequate. Male’ is dotted with dozens of mosques having sprawling complexes with towering minarets .The   iconic 350-year old mosque known as Hukuru Miskiiy is one of the most recognizable and the best-known monuments in the city that attracts hundreds  of visitors every day. There is no end to the breath-taking sites visitors can see in the Maldives. Of those the most exotic popular places of interest are the National Museum of Maldives, the republic square or Jumhoorie Maidan, Mulee Aage built in 1906, the mausoleum tomb of Mohammad Thakurufaanu, Grand Mosque, the Islamic Centre, Esjehi art gallery, Gan war memorial, the 900 year old Kogannu cemetery in the Addu Islands and the Pre-Islamic Buddhist Stupa of the Thodhoo islands. The country is famous for its delicious food, distinctive culinary traditions, snacks and savories. With the passage of centuries, the country served as a source of inspiration to musicians, poets and other creative spirits. The countrie’s culture possesses several distinctive characteristics that give its own unique home grown style. Since the yester years, Maldivians are known for their love for music, dance,  films , drama and comedy.

Throughout their long history, Maldivian had an outstanding love for music and dance. The most popular folk music and dances are found in Bodu beru .People of all age and groups participate enthusiastically in Bodu beru folk music. There is a Bodu Beru troupe in almost every inhabited island of Maldives. It is thought Bodu Beru drumming and dancing originated in Africa and was introduced to the islands of Feridho and Maalhos situated in the North Ari-Atoll in the 12th centaury. The rich music of the Maldives  is a unique mix of many influences with peaceful rhythms and poetic lyrics that celebrate island life. Although western pop and Indian music are quite popular today, traditional forms of music is mixed into Hindi songs. The drumming and dancing soon caught on with the locals and spread to many other islands of the country. Maldivian dances and songs are based on North Indian Kathak dances and Hindi music. Maldivian folklore is another living tribute to the variety and depth of the islanders’ culture. Due to its vastness the folkloric dance culture of Maldives, including the colorful array of costumes, reflects the flavor of the country. Popular form of folk dances known as Dhandi jehun ,Thaara and Bandiyaa jehun are performed during festive events. Gaa Odi, Lava Langiri and Fathigandu Jehun are another genera of folk dances and music that are performed by islanders. Another famous folk performance known as Kadhaa Maali is a form of traditional music and dance that can be found in Kulhudhuffushi and Thiladhunmathi Atolls.

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The Maldivian cinema witnessed a massive change during mid 70’s. Since then the countrie’s film industry in the Island has undergone major developments and captured interest of many. The history of Maldivian   cinema can be traced to the time of the first locally produced feature film “Thin Fiyavalhu” produced in 1979.  Dance and theatre venues are mostly alive in many rural islands; still Bollywood films are still the most popular movies that are quite popular. Most films are only screened in Male’. Olympus and the Athena cinema halls screen daily shows for the entertainment loving Maldivians. If one is to understand and experience the surprises of culture, history, heritage and visual delights.  Of the South Asia , Maldives is an emerald waiting to be explored.

 Srimal Fernando is a  MPhil/PhD student of Sociology from South Asian University 

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