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Lakshadweep (Malayalam: ലക്ഷദ്വീപ്, [Lakṣadvīp]) is the smallest union territory of India. The group is located 200 to 300 km off of the coast of Kerala in the Arabian Sea. The total land area of the territory is 32 km². Eleven of the islands are inhabited. Lakshadweep is the northern part of the erstwhile Lakshadweepa.;
The people of all the northern islands speak a dialect of Malayalam. According to local folk beliefs, they descended from traders who were washed up on the islands during a particularly heavy storm. However, the people of Minicoy, the southernmost atoll, speak Mahl, a variant of Divehi, the language of the Maldives.
The islanders are ethnically similar to coastal Kerala's Malayali people, and were influenced by Arab traders. Inhabitants of Minicoy, the southernmost and largest island, closely resemble Maldivians. Most — 99% — of the indigenous population is Muslim; they were converted by Arab traders. The locals call themselves the Div-i or the Aminidivi ("from the mother island").
The first westerner in the recent historical past on the islands was Vasco da Gama, but the British were the first to explore the islands. They are also mentioned in great detail in the stories of the Arab traveller Ibn Batuta. The Portuguese established a fort on the islands in May 1498, but the inhabitants soon rose up and expelled them. The Amindivi group of islands (Amini, Kadmat, Kiltan, Chetlat and Bitra) came under the rule of Tipu Sultan in 1787. They passed on to British control after the Third Anglo-Mysore War and were attached to the South Canara district. The rest of the islands became a suzerainty of the Arakkal family of Cannanore in return for a payment of annual tribute. After a while, the British took over the administration of those islands for non-payment of arrears. These islands were attached to the Malabar district of the Madras Presidency. In 1956, the States Reorganisation Act separated these islands from the mainland administrative units, forming a new union territory by combining all the islands.
The union territory is administered by an Administrator appointed by India's central government. Lakshadweep is under the jurisdiction of the High Court of Kerala at Ernakulam. It also elects one member to the Lok Sabha. The main languages spoken in Lakshadheep are Jasari (similar to Malayalam) and Mahl.
Lakshadweep's gross state domestic product for 2004 is estimated at $60 million at current prices. Due to its isolation and scenic appeal, Lakshadweep is emerging as a major tourist attraction for Indians. This brings in significant revenue, which is likely to increase. Since such a small region cannot support industries, the government is actively promoting tourism as a means of income.
Lakshadweep officially consists of 12 atolls, 3 reefs and 5 submerged banks, with a total of about 36 islands and islets. The reefs are in fact also atolls, although mostly submerged, with only small unvegetated sand cays above the high water mark. The submerged banks are sunken atolls.
Almost all the atolls have a northeast-southwest orientation with the islands lying on the eastern rim, and a mostly submerged reef on the western rim, enclosing a lagoons.
The atolls, reefs and banks are listed from north to south in the table: