New Delhi (ABC Live): Buddhist Maldives : In spite of being just mentioned briefly in most history books, the 1,400-year-long Buddhist period has a foundational importance in the history of the Maldives.
It was during this period that the cultures of the Maldives as we now know it both developed and flourished.
Before embracing Buddhism as their way of life, Maldivians had practised an ancient form of Hinduism, ritualistic traditions known as Śrauta, in the form of venerating the Surya (the ancient ruling caste were of Aadheetta or Suryavanshi origins).
Buddhism probably spread to the Maldives in the 3rd century BC, at the time of Aśoka. Nearly all archaeological remains in the Maldives are from Buddhist stupas and monasteries, and all artifacts found to date display characteristic Buddhist iconography.
Buddhist temples were Mandala shaped, they are oriented according to the four cardinal points, the main gate being towards the east. Since building space and materials were scarce, Maldivians constructed their places of worship on the foundations of previous buildings.
The ancient Buddhist stupas are called “havitta”, “hatteli” or “ustubu” by the Maldivians according to the different atolls. These stupas and other archaeological remains, like foundations of Buddhist buildings Vihara, compound walls and stone baths, are found on many islands of the Maldives.
They usually lie buried under mounds of sand and covered by vegetation. Local historian Hassan Ahmed Maniku counted as many as 59 islands with Buddhist archaeological sites in a provisional list he published in 1990.
The largest monuments of the Buddhist era are in the islands fringing the eastern side of Haddhunmathi Atoll.
In the early 11th century, the Minicoy and Thiladhunmathi, and possibly other northern Atolls, were conquered by the medieval Chola Tamil emperor Raja Raja Chola I, thus becoming a part of the Chola Empire.
The Maldivian language, the first Maldive scripts, the architecture, the ruling institutions, the customs and manners of the Maldivians originated at the time when the Maldives were a Buddhist kingdom.
The Maldives was converted to Islam in the year 1153 AD by a Muslim named from Maghreb (North Africa) by the name of Abul Barakat Yoosuf Al Barbary.
After arrival at Malé Abul Barakat Yoosuf Al Barbary stayed in Malé for several days. He was a Hafiz, a person who could recite the entire Holy Quran from memory.
The importance of the Arabs as traders in the Indian Ocean by the 12th century may partly explain why the last Buddhist king of Maldives was converted to Islam and thereafter followed by his wives and children and members of the court.
The King hereupon adopted the Muslim title and name (in Arabic) of Sultan (besides the old Divehi title of Maha Radun or Ras Kilege or Rasgefānu) Muhammad al Adil, initiating a series of six Islamic dynasties consisting of eighty-four sultans and sultanas that lasted until 1932.
According to Thangeehu Kurevunu Dhivehi Raajjeyge Thaareekhuge Thanthankolhu the Hafiz succeeded in converting Maldivians to Islam after much effort and endeavour.
His first efforts to proselytise did not meet with success. However his relentless perseverance turned out to be a tremendous service to the nation as Maldivians finally embraced Islam.
After the people embraced the Islamic faith the Buddhist temples and idols were destroyed.
Archaeological excavations carried out in Malé at various times this century confirm the fact that there had been Buddhist temples in Malé during the 12th century AD.
Yoosuf Al Barbary stayed in the Maldives to teach Islam to the people. He died during the reign of Dharumavantha Rasgefaanu (Muhammed Ibn Abdulla).
During his reign he strengthened adherence to the rules and principles of Islam, established laws of governance and destroyed the symbols of Buddhism. It is said that a long time after Abul Barakat Yoosuf Al Barbary’s death, the Sultan left on pilgrimage to Mecca and did not return.
Initiating a series of six Islamic dynasties consisting of eighty-four sultans and sultanas that lasted until 1932 when the sultanate became elective.The formal title of the Sultan up to 1965 was, Sultan of Land and Sea, Lord of the twelve-thousand islands and Sultan of the Maldives which came with the style Highness.
The construction of the first Friday Mosque
The mosque was first built by Sultan Muhammed Ibn Abdulla. The works were carried out by Minister Shaniviraza upon the order of the Sultan and his brother Sri Kalo.