The history of writing in Maldives can be traced back to over 1400 years. The oldest script, to be found, is on a block of coral with inscription on all four sides. These inscriptions, a mantra of Vajrayana Buddhism, are in the Southern Brahmi script of the Pallava period, 6th century AD.  Brahmi was an angular script, but it evolved into the rounded medieval Sinhala script (Maloney 1995). The original Maldives script, called Evala Akuru, finds its roots in the Brahmi script, dating the Mauryan times, which gave rise to both the Sinhala and Tamil scripts. Naseema Mohamed (2004) explains that in Maldives the Dhivehi alphabets, called akuru, have evolved over time with Eveyla, Dhives and Thaana being the main scripts. Until the late 18th century AD, Dhivehi was written in a script that had strong similarities to South Asian scripts such as Grantha, Elu and Vatteluttu. Although there were differences between earlier and later forms of the letters used in Maldivian writing, Dhivehi (Maldivians) called the old scripts Dhivehi or Dhives Akuru, literally meaning ‘letters of island people’.

The origin of the modern Divehi script, called Tana or Thaana, is difficult to pin point. Its establishment has been placed after the Portuguese interlude in the 16th century. The script is unique in its combination of features from both Arabic and Indian scripts. Divehi phonetic values have been given to Arabic numerals. While early Divehi scripts ran from left to right, Thaana runs from right to left. Naseema (2004) claims that with the rising trade and religious proximity with the Arabic world, and “the religious awareness of the time, and a desire to belong to the community of other Islamic nations, may have been one of the chief reasons for the change to Thaana.

Traditions & Rituals

Maldivians share a great sense of family; men, women and children come together in the preparation of food, decoration and entertainment during the planning of festivals. Celebration in Maldives will witness the blend of the traditional and the contemporary. Parades during festivals and days of national importance also play a vital role in city life.  Intensely proud of their nations, Maldivians proudly bring out there national flag during the parades.

The presence of a drummer is a key feature in the life of the Maldives; along with the dancers and the singer they are present on all important family occasions like marriage and circumcision.

All festivals are followed by feasts with dishes like the Gula (fried fish balls with tuna and coconut), kuli boakiba (spicy fish cakes), foni boaika (coconut milk and rice pudding), and kiru Sarbat (sweet milk drink).

Folktales in Maldives: The island nation has a rich tradition of folkltales. These stories help us understand the nature of the society and time in which they developed.

Legend of Koimala: According to a Maldivian epic, Koimala, a prince from India, is said to have come bringing with him his royal lineage, landed on a northern atol, and then made Male his capital. The people of Giraavaru spotted his vessel from afar and welcomed him. They allowed Prince Koimala to settle on that large sandbank in the midst of the waters. Trees were planted on the sandbank and it is said that the first tree that grew on it was the papaya tree. As time went by the local islanders accepted the rule of this northern prince.

The name koi is from Malayalam koya, son of the prince, which is also the name of a high caste group in the Lakshadvip Islands. Koimala has now become a generalized eponymous ancestor of the pre-Muslim Divehis.

Myth of Origin: According to Xavier Romero-Frias’s The Maldive Islanders, A Study of the Popular Culture of an Ancient Ocean Kingdom, Maldivian legend has it that the first inhabitants of the Maldives died in great numbers, but a great sorcerer or fan

Cultural Festivals & Events

Festivals in Maldives are a time for family and friends to get together. Since Maldives is a Islamic nation it follows and observes most of the religious occasion in Islam.

Ramadan: Ninth month of the Muslim calendar is the month of Ramadan, during which fasting is observed for thirty days. Work timings nationwide altered to accommodate religious duties. Fasting concludes when the moon is sighted on the last day of the month. This day is celebrated as Eid.

Kuda Eid: The end of Ramadan is marked by the festival of Kuda Eid. It also commemorates the beginning of the month of Shawaal in the Islamic Calendar. In Male, at the sighting of the new moon, cannons are set off to welcome Kuda Eid. Early in the morning, people gather at the mosque to offer prayers to the God. Families offer Zakath to those less fortunate than them. Kuda Eid is celebrated for three consecutive days, and is a time for reverence, gratitude, and festivities.

Prophet’s Birthday: The Prophet’s birthday, is celebrated on the 12th day of the Rabee-ul-Awwal month of the Islamic calendar. On this day people visit their relatives and share food with neighbors and friends.

Eid-ul-Al’h’aa: Eid-ul-Al’h’aa falls on the 10th day of Zul-Hijja of the Islamic calendar. This festival is of great importance as many people leave on a pilgrimage to Mecca during this period. This festival brings with it an atmosphere of brotherhood and feasting. People plan ahead and visit their friends and relatives staying in different islands. Sports including traditional sports, music and dance all form a part of the festivities of Maldives.

There are also a number of secular holidays in Maldives including the National day, and republic day. For a complete list of festivals in Maldives please click here.


Cultural Identities

Divehi culture is a conglomeration of a variety of influences. The influence of medieval Sinhalas is the dominant cultural stream. Between the 8th to the 10th century, unwanted kings and their retinues were apparently banished from Sri Lanka to the Maldives, and they brought their culture, language, and religion with them. There are several remains of Buddhist stupas (excavated by Bell), with coins, inscriptions, and various artifacts. (Maloney 1995)

Research by Michael O’Shea also shows early cultural links of the fishing and coconut cultivating people of South India. Close contact with these cultures also influenced the belief system. O’Shea claims that beliefs in Devi, demons, sorcery, male sacrifice and the power of tantric practices were once common place.

Maloney also claims that is also a “strong underlying layer of Tamil population and culture