Lakshadweep (, Malayalam : ലക്ഷദ്വീപ്), formerly known as the Laccadive, Minicoy, and Amindivi Islands , is a group of islands in the Laccadive Sea, off the South Western coast of India. The archipelago is a Union Territory and is governed by the Union Government of India. They were also known as Laccadive Islands, although geographically this is only the name of the central subgroup of the group. Lakshadweep comes from "Lakshadweepa", which means "one hundred thousand islands" in Sanskrit as well as many Indian languages like Hindi, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu and others. The islands form the smallest Union Territory of India: their total surface area is just .2 The lagoon area covers about , the territorial waters area and the exclusive economic zone area . The region forms a single Indian district with ten sub divisions. Kavaratti serves as the capital of the Union Territory and the region comes under the jurisdiction of Kerala High Court. The islands are the northernmost of the Lakshadweep-Maldives-Chagos group of islands, which are the tops of a vast undersea mountain range, the Chagos-Laccadive Ridge.
As the islands do not have any aboriginal groups, different views have been postulated by the scholars about the history of habitation on these islands. Archaeological evidence support the existence of human settlement in the region around 1500 BC. The islands have long been known to sailors, as indicated by an anonymous reference from the first century AD to the region in Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. The islands were referenced also in the Buddhist Jataka stories of the 6th century BC. The arrival of Muslim missionaries around 7th century led to the advent of Islam in the region. During the medieval period the region was ruled by the cholas and Kingdom of Cannanore. The Portuguese arrived around 1498 and were upstaged by 1545. The region was then ruled by the Muslim house of Arakkal, followed by Tipu Sultan. On his death in 1799 most of the region passed on to the British and with their departure the Union Territory was formed in 1956.
Ten of the islands are inhabited. As per the 2011 Indian census the population of the Union Territory is 64,429. The majority of the indigenous population is Muslim and most of them belong to the Shafi School of the Sunni Sect. The islanders are ethnically similar to the Malayali people of the nearest Indian state of Kerala. Most of the population speaks Malayalam with Mahi (or Mahl) being the most spoken language in Minicoy island. The islands are served by an airport on the Agatti island. The main occupation of the people is fishing and coconut cultivation, with tuna being the main item of export.
Several views have been postulated about the history of the habituation of the island as they do not have any aboriginal groups. A mention of the region in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, by an anonymous author, is one of the earliest references. There are references to the control of the islands by the Cheras in the Sangam literature Pathitruppaththu. A Pallava inscription of 7th century AD refers to the islands as Dveepa Laksham and lists them as part of the Pallava domain. Local traditions and legends attribute the first settlement on these islands to the period of Cheraman Perumal, the last Chera king of Kerala. The oldest inhabited islands in the group are Amini, Kalpeni Andrott, Kavaratti and Agatti. Archaeological evidence suggests that Buddhism prevailed in the region during the 5th-6th century CE. According to popular tradition, Islam was brought to Lakshadweep by an Arab named Ubaidulla in 661 CE. His grave is located in the island of Andrott. During the 11th century, the islands came under the rule of the Late Cholas. The region then came under the Kingdom of Cannanore.
In the 17th century, the islands came under the rule of Ali Rajahs/Arakkal Bheevi of Kannur, who received them as a gift from the Kolathiris. The Portuguese took control to exploit coir production until the islanders expelled the Portuguese. The islands are also mentioned in great detail in the stories of the Arab traveller Ibn Batuta.
The Amindivi group of islands (Amini, Kadmat, Kiltan, Chetlat and Bitra) came under the rule of Tipu Sultan in 1787. They passed to British control after the Third Anglo-Mysore War and were attached to South Canara. The rest of the islands came under the suzerainty of the Arakkal family of Cannanore in return for a payment of annual tribute. 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 during the British Raj.
The inhabitants of these islands, remote from the mainland of India, heard the final news of the Partition and Independence of India some days after it occurred on 15 August 1947. As the islands were then British possessions and part of the Madras Presidency, in accordance with the Indian Independence Act 1947, enacted by the British parliament a month before, the islands transferred automatically to the new Union of India. However, considering that they also had a Muslim majority, it seemed possible that the new dominion of Pakistan might seek to lay claim to them. On the orders of Vallabhbhai Patel, the first Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of India, known as the Iron Man, a ship of the Royal Indian Navy was sent to the Laccadives (as they were then called) to hoist the Indian national flag and ensure the islands' integration into the new Union of India, aiming to thwart any similar attempt by Pakistan. Hours after the arrival of the Indian ship, vessels of the Royal Pakistan Navy were seen near the islands, but after observing the Indian presence they returned to Karachi.
In 1956, during the reorganization of Indian states, the Lakshadweep islands were organized into a separate union territory for administrative purposes.
To safeguard India's vital shipping lanes to the Middle East, and the growing relevance of the islands in security considerations, an Indian Navy base, INS Dweeprakshak, was commissioned on Kavaratti island.