The islands of good fortune
Photo: S. Thanthoni
The jetty on Ross Island.
The popular impression is that the history of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands begins with the arrival of the British. But the history of the islands dates back to much earlier.
Legend has it that the name Andaman is derived from Hanuman, an important character in the `Ramayana.' Hanuman was called as `Handuman' by the Malayas.
Ptolemy, the Roman geographer, included the islands in his first map of the world in the 2nd century and described them as "the islands of good fortunes."
I Tsing, 7th century Buddhist scholar, referred to them as `Andabans.'
Marco Polo too appears to have known them. Nicolo Contri, 15th century Italian traveller, called the Andamans "the Island of God."
There are also references in the Chola inscriptions of 1050 A.D. in Thanjavur.
As for the Nicobar group of islands, the Arab travellers used the term Lakhabalus or Najabulus, which, historians say, was a corrupted form of `Nicobar.'
In the Thanjavur inscriptions, the islands are mentioned as Nakkavaram, which means "the land of the naked."
These islands attracted the Danes at about 17th century and they took possession in 1756, according to materials available at the Samudrika naval marine museum.
Three years later, a colony was built. Another colony came up by 1768. The islands were handed over to the British in 1869.
Three years later, they came under the fold of the Chief Commissioner. Since then, Nicobar has been an integrated unit with Andaman.
When the two groups of islands came briefly under the control of the Azad Hind Government (1943-45), Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, as the head of the government, renamed the Andamans as `Shaheed' in the memory of martyrs and the Nicobars as `Swaraj' in memory of the freedom struggle.
A publication brought out by the Andaman and Nicobar administration's Tourism Directorate in 1998 states that Netaji, at a press conference in 1944, referred to the liberation of the Bastille as a prelude to the French Revolution and said, "The Andamans, where our patriots suffered much, is the first to be liberated in India's fight for independence. Part by part, India's territory will be liberated but it is always the first plot of land that holds the most significance."
Explore the Emerald islands : Andaman & Nicobar