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Language and Culture in the Maldives

Similar to its history, the Maldives has a rich culture which continues to be one of its main appeals to tourists. Maldivian culture is mainly derived from numerous sources, with the most important being the country’s proximity to South India and Sri Lanka. It is mainly populated by Indo-Aryans.

The language of the Maldives is of Indo-Iranian Sanskritic origin that points to later influences from the northern part of the subcontinent. Their national language, Dhivehi is closely related to Sinhala. Based on legends, the kingly dynasty which ruled the Maldives in the past originated from there.

These ancient kings are also speculated to have brought the religion of Buddhism from the subcontinent; however, it has not been established. There are similar legends in Sri Lanka but is improbable that Buddhism and ancient Maldive royals both came from that island as none of the chronicles of Sri Lanka mentions the Maldives.

Since 1100 AD, there have also been language and culture influences from Arabia due to its general Islamic conversion during the 12th century, along with its strategic location as a crossroad in the central part of the Indian Ocean.

Culturally, Maldivians feel that they are somehow similar to Northern India because of their language. As a matter of fact, most of the older generations of people living in the Maldives like watching Hindi movies and listening to Hindi songs. Many of the popular Maldivian songs are also based on Hindi tines. Some of the most popular songs in the Maldives would be Bollywood songs, particularly those which are from Mukesh, Mohammad Rafi, Asha Bhonsle and Lata Mangeshkar. Because of this, a majority of the Maldivian songs and dances are influenced by or based in Hindi songs and North Indian dances. They also have the Bodu Beru drumming performances which are believed to have African roots.

The most popular musical instrument in the Maldives would be the bulbul, which is a type of horizontal accordion. It is used in accompanying devotional songs such as the Maadhaha and Maulud.

As for marriage, the Maldivian culture shares several aspects with ancient Dravidian culture. They have a strong matriarchal tradition; however one of the unique features of the society in the Maldives would be that there is a high divorce rate by either Islamic or South Asian standards except in Minicoy Island where marriages are a lot more stable.

The Maldives also has its very own film industry though most of the films that they produce are remakes of popular Bollywood movies.

The culture of the Maldives is evident in many of the tombs and mosques which are found throughout the island. Their cemeteries have intricately carved tombstones and their mosque walls are filled with beautiful carvings that have been lifted from the Holy Quran. Some of the best and most popular masterpieces of the Maldives can be found in the Islamic Center. Most of the locals are also skilled in carving beautiful things out of tortoise shells and corals, which they sell to tourists and visitors.

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