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Thursday, August 05, 2004

Maldives - Legends and Folklore


According to tradition, the islands of the country were named by a legendary people known as Redhin. They were said to have inhabited the archipelago some time in the past. There is scant information regarding these people, except for references made to them in oral traditions and folklore. One thing is however certain, the archipelago was in the past inhabited by various peoples, about whom nothing is known today.

The Redhin were said to be large, fair haired and light skinned people who had long noses. They were said to be skilled masons, who built temples and shrines. They were also astronomers, able to foretell events by observing the heavens. The Redhin were master mariners, competent in both sailing and rowing. They worshipped the sun and fire. They were known to be a peaceful people, who shunned contact with others who inhabited the islands. They were known to get violent when they performed their devotional rituals, in which both men and women participated. Architecture attributed to these ancient seafarers is evident in ruins scattered all over the archipelago.  


Once upon a time a Prince of Royal Birth named Koimala, and his wife the daughter of the King of Serendib, set sail on a voyage on two ships. The Royal Couple traveled on one ship while their retainers traveled on the other. The ships traveled the high seas for many days. Nearing the Maldives they were becalmed in the North Maalhos Madulu Atoll, in the North of the archipelago. Wanting to rest and provision they disembarked on the island Rasgetheemu and commanded their retainers to occupy the other island lying nearby, Angolhitheemu.

The inhabitants of the nearby islands learning of Koimala’s royal lineage, invited him remain and proclaimed him their king. One day while the prince was supervising the construction of a royal bath he saw a white bird flying overhead. The next day also he was supervising the royal baths when he saw a similar bird fly overhead. This went on for some days. On the seventh day he decided to follow the bird. Koimala traveled by boat while the bird flew overhead. After a journey of many days several islands were sighted. The bird alighted on a large tree on the island of Dhoonidhu, lying near Male’. The bird however, did not remain in Dhoonidhu for long. It once again flew away. Koimala followed it in his boat. This time the bird alighted on a tree growing on Male’. At the time Male was being used by the people of Giravaru Island, lying nearby, as a fishing village. Therefore Koimala asked their permission for him to settle down in Male’, which they willingly gave. Koimala and his spouse, the daughter of the king of Serendib, settled down in Male’ and sent their ships to Serendib to fetch more lion people.  


 The Traditional Version

The popular version of the episode attributes the exorcism and the subsequent Conversion of the islands to Yousuf Shamsuddin-al Tabrezi*, (popularly known as Thabreyzgefanu), and relates how he dispelled the evil demon by the powers of the Holy Qur’an. Nevertheless, this account deviates somewhat from Ibn Battuta’s' version.

It is said that an evil spirit came to the island every month demanding the sacrifice of a virgin. Every month a virgin was chosen and taken to a small ‘temple’ located on the north eastern shore of Male’, where she was left alone. When the people came to the temple in the morning, they found the girl dead. One day there arrived in Male', a man most pious named Yousuf Shamsuddin-al Tabrezi*, (popularly known as Thabreyzgefanu). He stayed in the house of a poor couple in Male'. The month following his arrival, he came home from a walk one day to find the poor couple weeping and wailing. When he heard about their plight, he volunteered to take the girls place in the temple that night.

Yousuf awaited the evil demon in the idol temple. He sat there reciting the Holy Qur’an. Around midnight he beheld something that looked like a ship, far out in the Eastern horizon. Slowly it loomed larger. However, as it came within hearing distance of the Qur’an recital, it turned back, plunged in to the sea and disappeared. At dawn, when the king and the islanders came they were astonished to find the learned man engaged in the recital of the Holy Qur’an.

The king questioned him about his mysterious performance and Thabreyzgefanu explained that he was saved by the powers of the most Gracious and Holy Qur’an, and called upon the king to embrace Islam, so that the island maybe freed from the wrath of the demon. The king replied; ‘I shall embrace your religion if on the next full moon night the demon fails to appear’

On the night of the next full moon, the lot fell on the king's daughter. This night too, Thabreyzgefanu went with the princess to the idol temple. When the demon failed to appear, he called upon the princess to embrace Islam, which she did at once. Next morning when the king, his courtiers and the islanders arrived, Thabreyzgefaanu once again called upon the king to embrace Islam. To this the king replied; ‘If you show me the demon I shall do as you ask’.

Thabreyzgefaanu instructed the king to order the islanders to deposit all the fish parts on a particular spot on the Northern shore of the island. This being done, the learned man and the king awaited the demon on Rahdhebai Magu.

As they waited, they beheld a small figure emerge from the sea and advance north along the road. It came and stopped at a large boulder on the middle of the road. [This boulder is said to mark the middle of the island.] The learned man and the king observed the child from the shadows. The boy looked around, making sure that he was not observed, started growing. It grew until its face could no longer be seen from the ground. Then the elongated figure bent towards the point on the northern shore, where the offal had been collected. It devoured the whole heap, shrank back to its original size and started to walk away.

Now, Thabreyzgefaanu was no ordinary mortal. He had a powerful jinni at his command, which he now summoned. Accompanied by the king, the learned man stepped out of concealment and barred the demon’s retreat at the Rahdhebai Magu / Majeedhee Magu junction. Thabreyzgefaanu commanded the demon to shrink. It shrank. Thabreyzgefaanu made it shrink until it was the size of a small worm, whereupon, he wiped out a small bottle from his pocket and commanded the demon to enter it. Afraid of the jinni the demon meekly entered the bottle. Then as Thabreyzgefaanu started to seal it the demon spoke, ‘this kingdom belongs to me; therefore, I come to my throne once every month. Today you have vanquished me expelled me, but if the day comes that you no longer holds the kingdom, you should inform me, so that I may once again come to claim my birthright.’ In reply the learned man clapped a rhythmic beat on his buttocks and said, “as long as I hold the kingdom this rhythmic beat would be heard at every sunset. If, you do not hear this beat for three consecutive days, you may return to claim your throne”. Saying this he sealed the bottle and dropped in to the sea. The king embraced Islam and had messengers sent to all the outlying islands bearing the message.

Ibn Battuta’s Version

"... and others related to me that the people of these islands used to be idolaters and there appeared to them every month an evil spirit, one of the jinni who came from the direction of the sea, He resembled a ship full of lamps. The custom of the native, as soon as they perceived him, was to take a virgin to adorn her and take her to the budhukhana, that is to say an idol temple, which was built on the seashore and had a window by which she was visible. They left her there during the nigh and returned in the morning, at which time there were wont to find the young girl dishonored and dead. Every month they drew lots and he upon whom the lot fell gave up his daughter. At length arrived among them a Maghribin Berber called Abu'l-Barakat, who knew by heart the Glorious Qur’an. He was lodged in the house of an old woman in the island of Mahal (Male'). One day he visited his hostess and found that she had assembled her relatives and that the women were weeping as at a funeral. He questioned them upon the subject of their affliction, but they could not make him understand the cause, until an interpreter, who chanced to come in informed him that the lot had fallen upon the old woman and that she had an only daughter, who was now about to be slain by the evil jinni.

Abu'l-Barakat said to the woman: ‘I will go tonight in your daughters stead'. At the time, he was beardless. So on the night following, after he had completed his ablutions, he was conducted to the idol temple. On arrival there he sat himself to recite the Qur’an. Presently through the window, beholding the demon to approach, he continued his recitations. The jinni, as soon as he came within hearing of the Qur’an, plunged in the sea and disappeared; and so it was that, when the dawn was come, the Maghribin was still occupied in reciting the Qur’an.  When the old woman, her relatives and the people of the island, according to their custom, came to take away the girl and burn the corpse, they found the stranger reciting the Qur’an. They conducted him to their king by name Shaniviraza, whom they informed of his adventure.

The king was astonished; and the Maghribin both proposed hi to embrace the true faith, and inspired him with a desire for it. Than said 'Shaniviraza' at him:' Remain with us until next month, and if you do again as you have now done and escape the evil jinni, I will be converted'.

Therefore, the stranger remained with the idolaters, and God disposed the heart of the king to receive the true faith. He became Musalman before the end of the month, as well as his wives, children and courtiers. At the beginning of the following month, the Maghribin was conducted to the idol temple; but the jinni came not, and the Berber recited the Qur’an until the morning, when the Sultan and his subjects arrived and found him so employed. Than they broke the idols and razed the temple to the ground. The people of the island embraced Islam, and sent messengers to the other islands, whose inhabitants were also converted".


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