Minicoy is situated at 8o17′ north latitude and 73o04 east longitude and is a prominent island in the Lakshadweep archipelago of India. It is unique in many respects. Locally known as Maliku, this majestic island has an area of 4.4 sq km. It is the second largest island in the Union Territory of Lakshadweep with a length of about 11 km and a maximum width about 2 km. The islet to its south-west is called Viringili. Another sandbank called Raggang, not far away from Viringili, is still getting formed on the reef wall of Maliku. Viringili was once known as “Smallpox” islet since it had been used for isolating patients of the dreaded disease when it had not been eradicated. Maliku is the southern-most of the Lakshadweep group of islands. The distance from Minicoy to Kochi is 215 nautical miles. From Kozhikode it is 240 nautical miles away in the Arabian Sea.
Minicoy is crescent-shaped and the lagoon is large and deep enough for small ships to enter. Within the lagoon, the reef dries at low tide at the north-western entrance depositing marine collections. The islanders are known as children of the sea. In the past their ships went for into Arabia, the Maldives, Andaman’s, Bengal and Burma. This has given them the tradition of a sea faring life. More than half of the inhabitants of working age are employed as seamen in ocean-going vessels all over the world. The islanders have their own seamen’s Associations at Calcutta and Bombay which provide employment opportunities. The profession of the seamen which made the ordinary Minicoy a globe trotter has also helped him to enrich his household with articles of luxury from abroad.
Maliku is reputed for its light house built in 1885. It largely serves the merchant navies and ships passing through the international sea route in between the Gulf countries and Sri Lanka, Singapore and Japan. This is among the biggest lighthouses in Asia and forms part of the island’s rich heritage. The lighthouse is a tourist attraction in Minicoy. An enthralling view of Maliku and the natural beauty of the island and its surrounding lagoon and reef from the top of its tower is a sight one will never forget. The lighthouse is 49.5 metres high with a range of 40 nautical miles . Anyone approaching Maliku from the sea route could see this lighthouse from far away, standing like a gigantic chalk in the middle of the blue sea.
Maliku is unique in all aspects. It is entirely different not only from the rest of India but from the other islands of Lakshadweep as well. Maliku speaks a language called Mahal. It is a distinct and rich language. Mahal is not spoken anywhere else in India. Its script known as Thaana has evolved using Arabic numerals and a reformed olden script written from right to left.
The robust and agile Maliku males have a distinct maritime tradition. They are number one so far as tuna fishing is concerned. Even the high techies such as the Japanese had to learn the art of tuna fishing from Maliku men. About 80 per cent of the male population in Maliku is engaged in different shipping companies in India and abroad as seamen. They are recognized as the finest seamen in the world. Many of them were employed by shipping companies straightaway. Their employers asked for no more credentials. From time immemorial the Malikuns sailed to far-off lands in sailing vessels which they made themselves. They are honest to the core and extremely agile, skillful at sea and very hard working by nature. They have risen to the ranks of captains, chief engineers and chief cooks in marchant navies. The Minicoyans are fond of music, dance and good food. They enjoy life.