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History

There is a reference in the Hindu epic Ramayana, to the monkey-god Hanuman making a stopover in the Andaman while he was en route to Lanka in search of Sita. Aboriginals have inhabited the Islands for thousands of years – but their xenophobia and their belligerence resulted in the area remaining unexplored. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of ‘Sherlock Holmes’ fame described the islanders in his book, ‘The Sign of Four’, as “perhaps the smallest race upon this earth – fierce, morose and intractable”. Lying on the ancient trade route between Burma and India, the islands were delineated on Ptolemy’s second century a.d. map. The Chinese traveller, I-Tsing who visited India in the seventh century gave a rivetting account of these isles, as did the Venetian explorer Marco Polo (1254-1324).

The place became the naval base of the great Maratha admiral, Kanhoji Angre in the early 18th century. He frequently crossed swords with the Europeans – the British, the Dutch and the Portugese. In 1713, he captured the yacht of the British governor of Bombay, releasing it only after obtaining a hefty ransom. Though attacked later by a combined British/Portugese naval task force, Angre remained undefeated until his death in 1729. The first westerners to set foot on these isles were the Danes in the mid-18th century.

However, these offshore islands had not escaped the eagle eyes of the British. In 1789, they established a penal colony on South Andaman Island, but had to abandon it seven years later because of the unhygienic living conditions. Finally in 1872, they annexed both groups of islands. However, the only point of settlement developed by the British was Port Blair, which was converted into a prison for convicts serving life terms. For the next 70 years, the atolls remained untouched by time until the Japanese occupied them in World War II. In December 1943, the Indian nationalist Subhas Chandra Bose, who was working in tandem with the Japanese, unfurled the Indian tricolour at Port Blair. However, the territory reverted to the British after the defeat of the Japanese in World War II. Come August 1947, and the English left our shores to go back to their island-nation, while Andaman and Nicobar became part of the dominion of India.

 

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