(i/ˈmɔːldaɪvz/, /ˈmɔːldiːvz/ or /ˈmældaɪvz/), (Dhivehi: ދިވެހިރާއްޖެ, Dhivehi Raa'je), officially the Republic of Maldives (Dhivehi: ދިވެހިރާއްޖޭގެ ޖުމްހޫރިއްޔާ, Dhivehi Raa'jeyge Jumhooriyya), also referred to as the Maldive Islands, is an island nation in the Indian Ocean formed by a double chain of twenty-six atolls oriented north-south off India's Lakshadweep Islands, between Minicoy Island and Chagos Archipelago. It stands in the Laccadive Sea, about 700 kilometres (430 mi) south-west of Sri Lanka and 400 kilometres (250 mi) south-west of India. During the colonial era, the Dutch referred to the country as "Maldivische Eilanden" (pronounced [mɑlˈdivisə ˈɛi̯lɑndə(n)]) in their documentation, while "Maldive Islands" is the anglicised version of the local name used by the British, which later came to be written "Maldives".
The Maldives was dominated from the mid sixteenth century by colonial powers: Portugal, the Netherlands, and Britain. In 1965, the Maldives gained independence from the British, becoming a republic. It was then ruled by a sultanate and an authoritarian government.
The archipelago is located on top of the Chagos-Maldives-Laccadive Ridge, a vast submarine mountain range in the Indian Ocean. Maldives also form a terrestrial ecoregion together with the Chagos and the Lakshadweep. The atolls of Maldives encompass a territory spread over roughly 90,000 square kilometres (35,000 sq mi), making it one of the world's most geographically dispersed countries. Its population of 328,536 (2012) inhabits 200 of its 1,192 islands. Maldives' capital and largest city Malé had a population of 103,693 in 2006. It is located at the southern edge of North Malé Atoll, in the Kaafu Atoll. It is also one of the Administrative divisions of the Maldives. Traditionally it was the King's Island where the ancient Maldive Royal dynasties were enthroned.
Maldives is the smallest Asian country in both population and land area. With an average ground level of 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in) above sea level, it is the planet's lowest country. It is also the country with the lowest natural highest point in the world, at 2.4 metres (7 ft 10 in); the Maldives' forecast inundation is a great concern for the Maldivian people.