The Maldives (, ; ދިވެހިރާއްޖެ Dhivehi Raajje), officially the Republic of Maldives, is an Asian country, located in the Indian Ocean, situated in the Arabian Sea. It lies southwest of Sri Lanka and India, about 1000 km from the Asian continent. The chain of 26 atolls stretches from Ihavandhippolhu Atoll in the north to the Addu City in the south. Comprising a territory spanning roughly 298 km2, the Maldives is one of the world's most geographically dispersed sovereign states as well as the smallest Asian country by land area and population, with around inhabitants. Malé is the capital and a populated city, traditionally called the "King's Island" for its central location.
The Maldives archipelago is located on the Chagos-Laccadive Ridge, a vast submarine mountain range in the Indian Ocean, which also forms a terrestrial ecoregion, together with the Chagos Archipelago and Lakshadweep. With an average ground-level elevation of 1.5 m above sea level, it is the world's lowest country, with even its highest natural point being the lowest in the world, at 5.1 m. Due to the consequent risks posed by rising sea levels, the government pledged in 2009 to make the Maldives a carbon-neutral country by 2019.
Islam was introduced to the Maldivian archipelago in the 12th century which was consolidated as a sultanate, developing strong commercial and cultural ties with Asia and Africa. From the mid-16th-century, the region came under the increasing influence of European colonial powers, with the Maldives becoming a British protectorate in 1887. Independence from the United Kingdom was achieved in 1965 and a presidential republic was established in 1968 with an elected People's Majlis. The ensuing decades have been characterised by political instability, efforts at democratic reform, and environmental challenges posed by climate change.
The Maldives is a founding member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). It is also a member of the United Nations, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Non Aligned Movement. The World Bank classifies the Maldives as having an upper middle income economy. Fishing has historically been the dominant economic activity, and remains the largest sector by far, followed by the rapidly growing tourism industry. Maldives is rated "high" on the Human Development Index, with its per capita income significantly higher than other SAARC nations.
The Maldives was a Commonwealth republic from July 1982 until its withdrawal from the Commonwealth in October 2016 in protest of international criticism of its records in relation to corruption and human rights.
The name "Maldives" may derive from the Tamil words maalai (garland / evening) and theevu (island), or මාල දිවයින (Maala Divaina, "Necklace Islands") in Sinhala. The Maldivian people are called Dhivehin. The word theevu (archaic heevu, related to Tamil தீவு, dheevu) means "island", and Dhives (Dhivehin) means "islanders" (i.e., Maldivians).
The ancient Sri Lankan chronicle Mahawamsa refers to an island called Mahiladiva ("Island of Women", महिलादिभ) in Pali, which is probably a mistranslation of the same Sanskrit word meaning "garland".
Jan S Hogendorn, Grossman Professor of Economics, theorises that the name Maldives derives from the Sanskrit mālādvīpa (मालाद्वीप), meaning "garland of islands". In Tamil, "Garland of Islands" can be translated as Malai Theevu (மாலைத்தீவு). In Malayalam, "Garland of Islands" can be translated as Maladweepu (മാലദ്വീപ്). In Kannada, "Garland of Islands" can be translated as Maaledweepa (ಮಾಲೆದ್ವೀಪ). None of these names is mentioned in any literature, but classical Sanskrit texts dating back to the Vedic period mention the "Hundred Thousand Islands" (Lakshadweep), a generic name which would include not only the Maldives, but also the Laccadives, Aminidivi Islands, Minicoy, and the Chagos island groups.
Some medieval travellers such as Ibn Battuta called the islands Mahal Dibiyat (محل دبيأت) from the Arabic word mahal ("palace"), which must be how the Berber traveller interpreted the local name, having been through Muslim North India, where Perso-Arabic words were introduced to the local vocabulary. This is the name currently inscribed on the scroll in the Maldive state emblem. The classical Persian/Arabic name for Maldives is Dibajat. The Dutch referred to the islands as the Maldivische Eilanden, while the British anglicised the local name for the islands first to the "Maldive Islands" and later to "Maldives".
Garcia da Orta writes in his conversational book first published in 1563 as follows: "I must tell you that I have heard it said that the natives do not call it Maldiva but Nalediva. In the Malabar language nale means four and diva island. So that in that language the word signifies "four islands," while we, corrupting the name, call it Maldiva."