Marine Investigations in the Lakshadweep Islands, India

Article excerpt


India, one of the oldest maritime nations of the world, has been maintaining commercial and cultural contacts with African, Arabian and Southeast Asian countries for the last 5000 years. The findings of excavations at various coastal sites of India have provided convincing evidence of such relations.

The group of 36 islands scattered off the southwest coast of India between latitudes 8 [degrees] and 12 [degrees] 37'N and longitudes 71 [degrees] and 74 [degrees] E (FIGURE 1) are known as the Lakshadweep (Laccadives). The word laksha is derived from the root lag, meaning a mark or sign. In addition to these islands, there are a number of submerged banks, open reefs and sand banks in this region. Only 11 of these islands are inhabited; while the rest are small and serve as satellites of the inhabited islands. Minicoy is the southernmost island of this group, separated from the rest by the Nine Degree Channel. Kavaratti, Kalpeni, Androth and Agatti form the southern group while Amini, Kadmat, Kiltan, Chetlat and Bitra make up the northern group of islands of Lakshadweep. All the islands are generally oriented north-south except Androth which lies east-west. These islands are famous for their beautiful lagoons, colourful coral reefs and clean coralline beaches. Most of them are enclosed by lagoons with coral reefs on the western sides, protecting them from the fury of the monsoon. The lagoons are 0.5-1.5 km long with a maximum water depth of 10 m. Earlier these islands were known as Divis or Dibajat which means islands. The islanders identify themselves as Divis even today.


The Lakshadweep Islands lie on the sea route between west Asia and north Africa on one side, and south Asia and the Far East on the other. These islands have been known to navigators of various countries and served as good landmarks for sailors, places for refuge in case of mishap and for replenishment of fresh water etc. Therefore, ancient seafarers of India as well as other countries might have taken shelter on the Lakshadweep, particularly in case of emergency. The early settlers were people from Gujarat, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. These people were engaged in maritime trade between the mainland of India and the Arab and African countries, as well as with the western world. Country craft called Odams and Bandodies provided the only means of communication between the islands and mainland (Bhatt 1997). Such seafarers might also have crossed to other islands, namely the Maldives and the Andaman and Nicobar group of islands on their way to the far eastern countries.

Geology & geomorphology of the Lakshadweep Islands

Geologically these islands are a part of the Indian subcontinent and were separated due to faulting of the ridge 53-54 million years ago. The rock stratum is a continuation of the Aravalli hills of Rajasthan (Mannadiar 1977).

The Lakshadweep Islands do not show any major topographic features and are mostly low and flat-topped with a height of less than 6 m above sea-level. Most of the islands are long and irregularly shaped. They are believed to have been formed as the result of coral growth. The soil is porous, and lakes, rivers or streams are completely absent. Drinking-water is drawn from wells and tanks on the inhabited islands. The water is hard and a little brackish in some places. The eastern seaward shores of all the islands except Kadmat, Agatti, Bangaram and Cheriyakara are marked by rough waters. The eastern shelf of the islands rises precipitously from the sea enabling ships to get very close to the islands (Athawale 1991).


This paper aims to synthesize the information available from earlier explorations and excavations in the Lakshadweep including the work carried out by the National Institute of Oceanography (Vora 1994; Gaur et al. 1998). The objectives of these explorations have been to locate archaeological sites on land and collect data for reconstructing cultural contacts, to trace the trade links of these islands with the mainland, and to locate shipwrecks in Lakshadweep waters. …