There’s a saying, “The greatness of a culture can be found in its festivals.” And it’s true, especially as a traveler, that if you want to know about the culture of a place, the best time to visit is during its festivals. The national festivals are also significant as it is the time when the country peacefully and unanimously experiences and reflects the zenith of patriotism. You can take a deep dive into the history of that particular nation during this time. Maldives festivals, during the celebrations, oozes culture, traditions and historical glory of the country.
Religious Festivals in Maldives
For the fact that Maldives is an overwhelmingly Muslim country, a majority of its festivals are based on Islam. Eid and Ramadan are the most significant and widely celebrated religious festivals.
1. Bodu Eid
Eid ul Adha is celebrated on the Eid after the Hajj day. It’s significance is derived from the importance associated with Hajj, which is an annual Islamic pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. It is a mandatory religious duty for Muslims that must be fulfilled at least once in their lifetime.
In many Islands of Maldives, Eid ul Adha is called ‘Bodu Eid’ because of the ‘Bodu Mas’ tradition observed by them. ‘Bodu’ meaning ‘big’ emphasises on the importance of this Eid. ‘Bodu Mas’ celebration sees islanders gather and fishermen ‘catch’ a big fish made by weaving palm leaves. This tradition is based on an ancient story according to which a giant fish (Modu) along with Maali (ghosts) had come out from the sea. After a long struggle, the villagers were able to catch the fish with only the help of a ‘holy man’. This is why the celebration also involves ‘Maali neshun’, a form of dance performed by a group of people painted and dressed like ghosts.
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Ramadan falls on the ninth month of the Islamic or the Lunar calendar during which the Muslims observe fasting, prayer, reflection and charity for 30 days. The last third of Ramadan is considered even more auspicious as it is believed to be the time when Koran’s (Quran) first verses were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.
A majority of the population in Maldives being Muslim, the government offices work only between 9am to 1.30pm. Many of the private workplaces close by 3pm in the afternoon. Meanwhile, resorts and hotels are not affected by the holy month. In fact, this is one of the best times to visit Maldives, as you get to taste a lot of cultural foods which is exclusive to this festival. Many restaurants also offer special Iftar (evening meal for breaking the fast) meals on their menu. Try some Ramadan juices in exotic flavours of rose, apricot and kamardine. The celebration also involves cultural activities like performances by music bands, belly dancers and fire dancers.
3. Eid-ul Fithr
Eid-ul Fithr also known as Kuda Eid marks the end of Ramadan and is the 1st day of the month of Shawaal (the 10th month) in the Islamic Calendar. Eid-ul Fithr is a cardinal festival in Islam and is celebrated with a great enthusiasm in Maldives. Kuda Eid commends with the locating of the new moon.
People in Maldives celebrate the day mostly with their family and relatives. A significant activity during this Eid is to make donation (fitr zakaath) in charity to the poor and the needy. The celebration starts with a morning prayer followed by participating in a sermon at the mosque. After this, the people visit friends and relatives and dine together. The celebrations last for consecutive 3 days and people also engage in traditional festive games.
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4. Prophet’s Birthday
Mawlid (Mawlid un-Nabi) meaning “birth of the Prophet”, is celebrated as the birthday of the founder of the Islamic faith, Prophet Muhammad. It is observed in the month of Rabee-ul-Awwal (3rd month) in the lunar calendar. The Sunni muslims celebrate it on the 12th day, whereas the Shi’a muslims recognise it on the 17th day.
Mawlid is celebrated in a carnival style, with large street procession and decorating the mosque. As an expression of love towards the Prophet, scholars and poets recite famous sufi poems. Stories about the life of Muhammad are also recited at the community gatherings. The day is completed with donating food and money to the poor, as charity.
Eid-ul-Al’h’aa is celebrated on the 10 day of the 12th and the final month of the Islamic calendar, Zul-Hijja or Zil-Hajj. Also known as Eid al adha, the festival is observed as the “feast of sacrifice”. This is occasion to celebrate the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his beloved son Ishmael to Allah.
A major practice associated with this festival is the animal sacrifice offered to Allah, which is later used to prepare the feast and share with the poor. Like any other country, Eid-ul-Al’h’aa is observed with morning prayer, exchanging gifts, inviting friends and family to dine together and so on. But Maldives has some additional unique ways of celebration including, street carnivals with people wearing colorful clothes, dancing, singing and other cultural events. Also, there are sports competitions based on Maldives’ traditional game, ‘bai bala’.
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6. The Day Maldives Embraced Islam
Celebrated on the 1st day of the month of Rabi al-thani (4th month) in the Islamic Calendar, ‘The Day Maldives Embraced Islam’ is a festival of religious unity. In the 12th century, the last Buddhist king of Maldives converted to Islam, embracing the title of Sultan. Buddhism was the major religion followed in Maldives but with the conversion of the king, the country also embraced Islam. This later came to be observed as the ‘The Day Maldives Embraced Islam’.The celebrative activities involve lectures, speeches and religious ceremonies about the history of Islamic conversion.
Though, it is said that the reason for his conversion was to improve the trade relations with the Arabian countries, there are many other interesting versions of the story. Going by the legends, a sea-demon called Rannamaari, arose from the sea every month threatening to destroy the village if it wasn’t given the sacrifice of a virgin girl. This lead to regular sacrifice of young girls in the village. But one day an Islamic traveller, Yousef Shamsuddin-al Tabrezi, disguised himself as a girl and waited for the demon. While waiting, he recited verses from the Quran, listening to which the demon ran away.
National Festivals in Maldives
Like a majority of colonised countries, national festivals in Maldives are a reflection of the country’s struggle and freedom. Maldives has been under the rule of Sultanate, Portugal, Dutch and British for decades. And this is why freedom struggle, independence and major developments after that are significant reasons to celebrate for them.
7. National Day of Maldives
National Day of Maldives, officially known as “Qaumee Dhuvas”, is observed to honour the day when a local revolt forced the colonial Portuguese to leave the land. In 1558, the Portuguese arrived in Maldives, killed the local sultan, and taken over. In 1573, however, Muhammad Thakurufaanu and his forces took back Male and ended the 15 long Portugal rule. However, it was later colonised by the Dutch and the British.
National Day falls on the 1st day of the month of Rabee-ul-Awwal (3rd month) of the Islamic Calendar. On this day, numerous military parades, political speeches, flag-raising ceremonies, are held across the Island nation. You may also see fireworks in some places.
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8. Independence Day of Maldives
Maldives celebrates its complete independence on July 26th. The celebrations see parades held by the National Security Services and National Cadet Corps. There are also performances by school children.
Maldives used to be British colony and in 1887, it received the status of a British Protectorate, which freed the country from interventions into its internal affairs. But the foreign affairs were still controlled by the British, in return of which British were to give them protection. Finally, on July 26th, 1965, Maldives gained complete independence. Interestingly, when the then Prime Minister, Ibrahim Nasir, had signed the agreement with the British for independence, the population in Maldives was merely 97,743.
9. Republic Day of Maldives
Maldives celebrates Republic Day on November 11th to commemorate the replacement of the prolonged Sultanate rule with a republican form of government in 1968. It is also the day on which a new Maldivian president is appointed, once in 5 years. As a part of the celebration, official events held all over the country, including speeches and parades. This is the best time to taste some special “Republic Day” foods like “huni hakuru folhi,” a kind of coconut cake; “bodibaiy,” a super-sweet rice snack; and “masroshi,” a sort of “fish-stuffed pancake.”
Within a few years of independence, a referendum was held on March 15th 1968, in which 81% of the people voted to replace the Sultanate with a republic. On November 11th, 1968, the republic was officially pronounced. Ibrahim Nasir, the final sultan’s Prime Minister, became the first president of the modern Republic of the Maldives.
After reading about the rich cultural, religious and national festivals of Maldives, you must encouraged to plan your vacations around these festivals. It’s a great idea, but make sure you make the hotel and travel reservations much early as the country see a lot of inflow of visitors during the festivals. So, what are you waiting for, plan a trip to Maldives now now and double you fun by hitting island just during it’s festivities.
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