/luk'sheuh dweep"/, n.
a union territory of India comprising a group of islands and coral reefs in the Arabian Sea, off the SW coast of India. 40,237; ab. 12 sq. mi. (31 sq. km). Formerly, Laccadive, Minicoy, and Amindivi Islands.

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Union territory (pop., 2001 prelim.: 60,595) of India.

Located in the Arabian Sea off India's southwestern coast, it includes 27 islands (10 of which are inhabited), with a total land area of 12 sq mi (32 sq km). The capital is Kavaratti. Once ruled by the Hindu Kulashekhara dynasty, it became part of an Islamic dominion in the 12th century. Britain gained sovereignty over it in the 18th century and assumed direct administration in 1908. It passed to India in 1947 and became the nation's smallest union territory in 1956. Coconut palms are the agricultural mainstay, while fishing is the chief industry.

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▪ union territory, India
formerly (1956–73)  Laccadive, Minicoy, and Amīndīvi Islands, 

      union territory of India. It is a group of some two dozen islands with a total land area of 12 square miles (32 square kilometres) scattered over 30,000 square miles of the Arabian Sea. The easternmost island lies about 185 miles (300 kilometres) off the western coast of the state of Kerala. Ten of the islands are inhabited. The administrative centre is Kavaratti. The name Lakshadweep means “Hundred Thousand Islands” in the Malayālam language and also in Sanskrit.

Physical and human geography

The land
 The Amīndīvis are the northernmost islands of the group and Minicoy Island the southernmost. All but one of the inhabited islands are coral atolls. The higher eastern sides of the islands are the most ideally suited for human habitation, while the low-lying lagoons on the western sides protect the inhabitants from the southwest monsoon. The islands are small, none exceeding one mile in breadth. The sandy soils, derived from the coral, support rich growths of coconut palms and perennial garden plants. Cyclones moving up the Arabian Sea rarely cross the islands, but the winds and waves associated with them can considerably alter the land features.

The people and economy
      Most of the islanders are Muslim Mapillas who speak Malayālam. Mahl, which is akin to old Sinhalese, is spoken on Minicoy, however. There is a college affiliated with the University of Calicut in Kerala. The jurisdiction of the Kerala High Court extends over Lakshadweep.

      Coconut palms are the agricultural mainstay. 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. Copra also is produced and exported to the mainland.

      The chief industry is fishing, and it is supported by boatbuilding facilities and by a cannery on Minicoy that processes tuna. The traditional process of drying bonito also is practiced on Minicoy. The government operates several coir mills, but the manufacture of the fibre—which largely employs women—remains a major cottage industry. Sailors continue their ancient tradition of skilled navigation, and some still sail between the islands and the mainland in distinctive craft called odams.

      Missionary activity in the 7th century AD and continued contact with Arab traders eventually led to the conversion of all the islanders to Islām. Sometime before 1100 a small Hindu kingdom on the Malabār Coast annexed the islands, and after the fall of the Kulaśekhara dynasty of Kerala in 1102 they passed to the Kolathiris, another small Hindu dynasty. Later in the 12th century, after a Kolathiri princess married a Muslim convert, a separate kingdom (including the islands that eventually formed Lakshadweep) was set up in the Cannanore area in order to protect the Keralan tradition of matrilineal descent.

      Successive bibis (female rulers) and their husbands ruled the islands, until control of the Amīndīvis passed to Tīpū Sultān in the 1780s. When Tīpū was killed in battle with the British in 1799, the Amīndīvis came under British control. The bibi and her husband were permitted to retain the other islands and receive income from them in exchange for an annual payment. These payments repeatedly were in arrears, and in 1908 the bibi ceded to the British direct administration of these islands. Sovereignty was transferred to India upon Indian independence in 1947, and the islands were constituted a union territory in 1956.

William A. Noble

Additional Reading
General introductions are offered in N.S. Mannadiar (ed.), Lakshadweep (1977), a gazetteer; M. Ramunny, Lakshadweep, 2nd ed. (1979); and T.K. Mukundan, Laksha Dweep: A Hundred Thousand Islands (1979).William A. Noble

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Universalium. 2010.

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