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Indian Subcontinent >> India >> Andaman & Nicobar Islands >> History of Andaman & Nicobar Islands

History of Andaman & Nicobar Islands

Andaman’s appearance in history is as ancient as the epic Ramayana and its main characters, Rama, Hanuman, Sita and Ravana. The legendary Monkey God Hanuman is believed to have landed here on the way to Ravana’s kingdom in Sri Lanka, while searching for Lord Rama’s abducted wife, Sita. And that is perhaps the reason for the name “Andaman” which is derived from the Malay word “Handuman” or Hanuman, the Hindu Monkey God. The Andaman & Nicobar Islands were the abode of the Negritos and the Mongoloids respectively, who lived on the islands for centuries. The islands remained isolated from the mainland till the end of the 17th century when people from the outside world first arrived. Nicobar means “the land of the naked” – possibly a reference to its tribal residents. The islands first appeared in the 2nd century maps prepared by the great Roman geographer, Claudius Ptolemus who also referred to them as the “islands of cannibals”. Xuan Zang, a Chinese monk noted their existence in the seventh century, as did Marco Polo who called it “the land of the head hunters”.

The Marathas annexed the islands in the late 17th century. In the early 18th century, the islands were the naval bases of Maratha admiral Kanhoji Angre, whose fleet frequently attacked and captured British, Dutch and Portuguese merchant ships. The British finally annexed Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the 19th century who used it as the penitentiary for Indian freedom fighters. The exile was known as ‘kalapani’ (or exile) by the ‘offenders’ sent to the ill-reputed 'Cellular Jail', where many of the freedom fighters were executed.

It was the Japanese who occupied the islands during the World War II. Whereas some of the local tribes took up guerrilla activities against the Japanese, others welcomed them as liberators from the British colonialism. After India gained independence in 1947, the islands were incorporated into the Indian Union and administered as a Union Territory by the Central Government.

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