Buddhism in the Maldives

Buddhism in the Maldives

Although sources are not readily available but with a significant number of foreign workers from Sri Lanka [http://asia.msu.edu/southasia/Maldives/religion.html] the Buddhists could make up about 0.45% of the total population in Maldives [http://www.religiousintelligence.co.uk/country/?CountryID=46] and it could higher.

History of Buddhism in Maldives

Buddhism came to the Maldives at the time of Emperor Ashoka's expansion and became the dominant religion of the people of the Maldives until the 12th century AD.

Western interest in the archaeological remains of early cultures on the Maldives began with the work of H. C. P. Bell, a British commissioner of the Ceylon Civil Service. Bell was shipwrecked on the islands in 1879, and returned several times to investigate ancient Buddhist ruins. He studied the ancient mounds, called "havitta" or "ustubu" (these names are derived from chaitiya or stupa) ( _dv. ހަވިއްތަ) by the Maldivians, which are found on many of the atolls.

Although Bell mentioned that the ancient Maldivians followed Theravada Buddhism, many local Buddhist archaeological remains now in the Malé Museum display in fact Mahayana and Vajrayana iconography.

According to a legend of the Maldivian Folklore, a prince named Koimala from India or Sri Lanka entered the Maldives from the North (Ihavandhu) and became the first king from the House of Theemuge. Prior to that the Maldives had been settled by people of Dravidian origin from the nearest coasts, like the group today known as the Giravaaru who claim ancestry from ancient Tamils. It is unlikely that the Giraavaru islanders were the only early settlers in the Maldives. The importance they have been given is because they are mentioned in the legend about the establishment of the capital and kingly rule in Malé. The Giraavaru people were just one of the island communities predating Buddhism and the arrival of a Northern Kingly dynasty and the establishment of centralized political and administrative institutions.

The ancient Maldivian Kings promoted Buddhism and the first Maldive writings and artistic achievements in the form of highly developed sculpture and architecture are from that period. The conversion to Islam is mentioned in the ancient edicts written in copper plates from the end of the 12th century AD. There is also a locally well-known legend about a foreign saint (Persian or Moroccan according to the versions) who subdued a demon known as Rannamaari.

Over the centuries, the islands have been visited and their development influenced by sailors and traders from countries on the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Until relatively recent times, Mappila pirates from the Malabar Coast – present-day Kerala state in India – harassed the islands.


* [http://asia.msu.edu/southasia/Maldives/religion.html Windows on Asia - Religion in Maldives]
* [http://www.maldivesstory.com.mv/site%20files/after%20islam/latest/conversion-frames.htm Conversion of the Maldives to Islam]

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