Culture and festivals in the Maldives

The Maldives is a ring-shaped group of 26 atolls in the Indian Ocean, forming over a thousand tiny islands. It’s hugely popular for its peaceful sandy beaches, idyllic lagoons and extensive coral reefs.

Its location close to India and Sri Lanka gives Maldivian culture an interesting mix of influences. This is reflected in their music and traditional dances, as well as the language which is closely related to Indian Hindi. It’s also a nation that likes to celebrate and there’s plenty of opportunity to join in the festivities.

Traditional Maldivian music and dance

You can see live performances of traditional songs and dances in your resort, or in the capital of Male. These are good fun to watch and you’re sure to end up swaying to the beat.

Songs are often accompanied by a traditional bulbul which is a stringed instrument with its origins in India. It looks a little like an accordion, the likes of which was originally used mostly for sacred music.

Another frequently used instrument is the bodu beru – meaning big drum – which is thought to have African roots. Bodu beru also describes a type of Maldivian folk music and dance that features an earthy rhythm of feet, hands and instruments. It starts with a slow beat then gradually builds up to a powerful crescendo of speed and sound.

Maldivians love to dance and you can experience some beautiful and highly expressive folk dances while you’re there. One must-see is the Bolimalaafath Neshu dance. This is performed by women and celebrates an ancient tradition where they offered presents to the Sultan on special festival days.

Another dance is the Dhandi Jehun, which is performed by a group of 30 men. In this routine there’s a lead solo singer with the other members singing the chorus. Each dancer holds three sticks which he hits against the sticks of the performer facing him. In a way, it’s a bit like traditional morris dancing at home.

Festivals and celebrations in the Maldives

The national religion of the Maldives is Islam, so all of the important Muslim religious festivals are celebrated across the islands. There are also several lively and colourful national celebrations, meaning there’s a lot going on throughout the year.

January – Haj and Bodu Eid festival. The Haj is the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The three days that follow this pilgrimage are national holidays in the Maldives where families and friends share food and play games.

March – National Day. National Day commemorates the victory of the island over the Portuguese in 1573. Celebrations include lively parades with music and dance through the streets of Male and throughout the islands.

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