Hinduism in the Maldives
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There were certain Hindu traditions in ancient Maldives. Before conversion, the religion of Maldives was Vajrayana Buddhism which was heavily influenced by Hinduism. There are archaeological remains from the 8th or 9th century CE portraying Hindu deities such as Shiva, Lakshmi and the sage Agastya.
Maldivian folklore contains legends about the sage Vashishta, known locally as Oditan Kalēge, a mighty sorcerer. Oditan Kalēge's wife is a beautiful woman called Dōgi Aihā who possesses a fiery temperament and who is as powerful a sorceress as her husband. Her name is derived from the Sanskrit word Yogini.
It is not really known why the last Buddhist king of Maldives embraced Islam. The importance of the Arabs as traders in the Indian Ocean by the 12th century may partly explain why the last Buddhist king of Maldives took this decision. The king thereupon adopted the Muslim title and name (in Arabic) of Sultan (besides the old Divehi title of Maha radun or Ras Kilege) Muhammad al Adil, initiating a series of six Islamic dynasties consisting of 84 sultans and sultanas that lasted until 1932 when the sultanate became elective.
According to Merinid traveller Ibn Batuta, the person responsible for this conversion was a Sunni Muslim visitor named Abu al Barakat hailing from Morocco. However, more reliable Maldivian tradition says that he was a Persian saint from Tabriz called Yusuf Shamsuddin. He is also referred to as Tabrizugefaanu. His venerated tomb now stands on the grounds of the Friday Mosque, or Hukuru miski, in the capital of Malé. Built in 1656, this is the oldest mosque in Maldives.
Don Hiyala and Alifulhu
Among the Maldivian folklore stories in which the spirit and sorcery theme are not essential, the most significant is perhaps "Don Hiyalā and Alifulhu". This story about two good-looking lovers is a much distorted Maldivian version of the Rāmāyana. Despite the apparent dissimilarities, the common sequential structure linking the elements of the Maldivian story with the Indian epic (the heroic married couple, the wicked and powerful king, the kidnapping of the beautiful heroine, etc.) is evident. This is hardly unexpected, for all South and Southeast Asian countries have local Rāmayāna variations and the Maldives is definitely part of the South Asian cultural sphere.
Indians in Maldives and their status
There are an estimated 9,000 non-resident Indians (NRIs) in the Maldives, according to the census figures computed in the year 2000. This must be considered a relatively high figure, considering that the total population of this country consisting of many islands and atolls in the Indian Ocean is only 269,000 according to the same census.
The Indian Diaspora in the Maldives is mainly composed of doctors, teachers, engineers, accountants, managers and other such professionals. They have helped the country in the development of its human resources in many sectors. There are also, in the Maldives, a large number of Indian skilled and unskilled personnel, namely technicians, masons, tailors, plumbers, and other labourers.
It is interesting to note that there is only one Maldivian citizen of Indian origin in this country. There is a good reason for this. Both historically and commercially, people from the southern coast of India, particularly from Kerala, had been in close and regular contact with the Maldives. But these contacts did not metamorphose into a composite socio-cultural group, perhaps owing to the exclusive Islamic identity of the Maldives and its people.
There are officially no Maldivian Hindus, for the state religion is Sunni Islam and conversion is not allowed. It is compulsory to be a Muslim for all Maldivians. Maldivian customs laws prohibit import of any idol for the purpose of worship. There are Hindus in the Maldives, the vast majority of which are of Tamil or Malayali origin, who are foreign labour. Unofficially there are no Hindu Maldivians or Buddhist followers in Maldives.
Cultural affinity in the present day
Hindi songs are the most popular songs in Maldives, especially the older ones from Mohammed Rafi, Mukesh, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle, Pankaj Udhas, and Manhar Udhas. Therefore, most popular Maldivian songs are based on (or influenced by) Hindi songs. Similarly, popular local dances are North Indian dances, especially Kathak. The local dance of Maldives is called Bodu Beru, usually carried out by men, with a bodu beru (a drum-like instrument) keeping the beat.
- Asian Variations in Ramayana. Edited by K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar. Sahitya Akademi. Delhi (1983).
- Xavier Romero-Frias, The Maldive Islanders, A Study of the Popular Culture of an Ancient Ocean Kingdom. Barcelona (1999), ISBN 84-7254-801-5
- Doń Hiyala āi Alifulu. Abdullah Sādigu, Mulī. Novelty Press. Malé (1996).