A Royal Procession, A Communal Festival, A Musical Extravaganza
The Maldives is a country with a diverse history, enriched with cultures and traditions that varied greatly given the era, religious sentiments and type of governance in place. One such tradition, practised when the Maldives was still a monarchy, was the royal procession held during the final 10 days of the holy month of Ramadan, known as ‘Hihcchah Vadaigathun’. Described as more of a festival than a procession, this tradition dwindled into obscurity with the abolishment of the monarchy and the establishment of the Republic of Maldives in 1968.
The Royal Procession - An opportunity to showcase individuality
*Dramatised photo depictions
Hihcchah Vadaigathun consisted of the Sultan himself marching along the streets of Male with his entourage in tow, dressed in the royal garments and replete with the royal entourage and guards. The Sultan visits one mausoleum in each ward of Male, with the royal procession taking place every other night starting from the 22nd of Ramadan. He would dress in the colours of the wards on their respective nights - blue for Henveiru, pink for Maafannu, grey for Macchangoalhi, and green for Galhohu. While the Sultan marching in full garb is a rare sight for most of the public, these 10 days become of great significance for all the residents of the city for a far more important reason - the spirit of Ramadan that is inherent within all Maldivians from a far older time.
The Communal Festival - Exuberant displays of pure delight
The wards playfully compete between themselves with the decorations and festivities. This includes fireworks of all kinds and the streets laden with an assortment of oil lamps and lights and flags of all colours. Most people appear dressed in their finest. All kinds of delicacies are cooked in excess and neighbours, relatives and friends are invited to homes to feast, laugh and celebrate.
A Musical Extravaganza - Rejoicing in resonant beats
Following the visit to each mausoleum, the procession would arrive at the Henveiru Hithige, a temporary shelter built for the purpose, for the initiation of an event known as Bodunaabajehun, a celebration of Maldivian music. The Sultan would initiate this festivity by going to the Drum Master aka BeruEdhuru, and beginning to play a rhythm on the largest drum. The rest of the drummers would follow the Sultans rhythm and the Bodunaabajehun officially begins. Everyone joins in to sing, dance and play music together in a resonant beat that lasts well into the night.
What remains - A celebration of kindness, camaraderie and kinship
Of the four mausoleums that the Sultan would visit during this festival, Ali Rasgefaanu Ziraaraiy in Maafannu ward of Malé City still exists. And while this tradition might be long obsolete, the celebratory spirit of the Maldivian people during the holy month of Ramadan remains to this day. Festivities are still held during this month, music is played, laughter rings throughout and the scents of delectable delicacies fill the air. Families and friends visit each other, share a meal, and talk about the events of the previous year and the year ahead. The last 10 days of the month remain the most special to the Maldives, as people come together for a joyful celebration of kindness, camaraderie and kinship.
There is no restriction when it comes to sharing joy
These celebrations and participation in the festivities of the month of Ramadan isn't restricted just to family and friends. The spirit of sharing, caring, and amiability extends to every visitor of the Maldives. As a country that is already renowned all over the world for an unrivalled standard of service and hospitality, the Maldives takes it up a notch when it comes to this time of the year. It isn't unusual for visitors and holidaymakers in the islands to be invited to join in the celebrations for an authentic Maldivian Ramadan experience, especially for those staying in guesthouses or homestays in inhabited islands.