Jaffna, the main city of Jaffna district (until the year 1824, the district was called Waligama) of the Northern Province is located in the northernmost peninsula of Sri Lanka. The Jaffna district is one of the 25 districts organized into the nine provinces, an artificial creation of the Colonial British (1815-1948) for the purposes of administration of the Island of Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon.
Jaffna city can be reached from Colombo via the A9 main motor road. The distance from Colombo to Jaffna is approximately 404km from Colombo to Jaffna along the A3 main road, in view of the road conditions in the Northern Province, it takes over 10 hours of drive time.
History of Jaffna
Nagadipa or Naka-diva was supposedly the ancient name given to the Jaffna peninsula. Nagadipa is first mentioned in the Pali chronicles of Sri Lanka in connection with the story of the Buddha’s second visit to the island in the 6th century B.C. Mahavamsa (ch.1.vv 44-70) narrates that the Buddha during this visit made peace between two Naga kings of Nagadipa who were about to wage war over a gem-set throne.
According to records reviewed by the Portuguese, Prince Sapumal of Kotte re-populated the barren ‘Yapanaya’ (The Sinhalese Term for Jaffna) with the Sinhalese of Kotte Kingdom. During the Dutch era Jaffna was populated by the south Indians brought into the peninsula for the cultivation of Tobacco. Today the Jaffna peninsula is inhabited mainly by the Tamils.
Jaffna Sea Port
Jaffna, a derivation of Yapa Patuna (Sinhala: Port of Yapanaya), since the ancient times had been one the four main sea ports in Sri Lanka, the others being Dambakola Patuna (KKS or Kankesanturai) again in the North), Mathota (Mannar) in North-West and Gona (Trincomalee) in North-East. Jaffna’s proximity to neighbouring lands over the Palk Straits with a width of only 30km resulted in frequent invasion by the powerful Dravidian kingdoms in southern India. The Jaffna sea port had been the springboard of the Dravidian marauders from India in the ancient history of Sri Lanka.
SLAF Palaly (IATA: JAF) is a domestic airport located 18km north of the city of Jaffna at Palali, Kankesanturai. The airport was built by the RAF, as RAF Kankesanturai during World War II .The Palaly airport at Kankesanturai is managed by Daya Airlines (Colombo – Ratmalana), Deccan Airways (Colombo- Ratmalana), Colombo (Colombo-Bandaranaike), Expo Aviation (Colombo-Ratmalana).
The Jaffna Fort, the second largest Dutch Fort in Sri Lanka, is located immediately south of the Jaffna town, with the southern side bounded by the shallow waters of Jaffna lagoon, the inlet of the Indian Ocean that carves out the Jaffna Peninsula.
“A true and exact description of the Great Island of Ceylon” (1672) by Dutch pastor Phillipus Baldaeus, who lived in Jaffna for about nine years narrates:
“The fort of Jaffnapatan is square surrounded with strong high walls as the print exhibits, it is larger than the fort of Batavia and is the capital of the entire kingdom. It remained under the Portugezen sway for upwards of 40 years, wrested from the Emperor by Philippo d’Olivero when he defeated the Cingalezen forces near Achiavelli by the great pagode, where there are still to be seen the ruins and a wonderfully large wide well, deep and round and its centre 24 fathoms deep, truly a wonderful work hewn out of a large rock”.
Following a grant of LKR 104.5 million, the Department of Archaeology of National Heritage and the Cultural Affairs Ministry has secured the assistance of the 51 Division of Sri Lanka Army in the reconstruction works of the five sided fort that consists of high ramparts and bastions and a moat that runs along the land side.
Vaitheeswara Kovil in Jaffna
Vaitheeswara Kovil located in the town of Jaffna, along the KKS Road hosts a couple of annual festivals: the Shivan festival that lasts for no less than twenty days ends with the full moon day in the month of March; Ambal Devi festival which goes on celebrating for ten days ends on the new moon day in the month of July.
St. Mary’s Cathedral in Jaffna
St. Mary’s Cathedral, popularly known as the Jaffna Cathedral is located in the Jaffna town. The foundation stone to St. Mary’s Cathedral constructed in Goanese style was laid in1789. The construction of the cathedral was in the beginning led by Portuguese pastor Leonardo Rebeiro of the Oratory of Goa. When the marble tabernacle and exposition over the high alter was brought from Europe, the second Bishop of Jaffna (1893-1918), Frenchman Rev. Dr. Henry Joulain presented the cathedral with a magnificent chime of bells.
Nallur in Jaffna
Nallur is a populated village located about 3km south of the city centre of Jaffna. Nallur, according to the Portuguese historian in Ceylon, De Queyroz, was a lovely little village. There were tanks at Nallur brimming with water yet weren’t used by many. He has narrated that the lovely purple flowers growing on these tanks were called ‘Manel Mal’ (Sinhala: Purple Lotus) that is also grown along most reservoirs of every part of Sri Lanka. Nallur, according to Portuguese sources, had a great Sinhala (Chingalaz, as the Portuguese spelled) populace. “Two sailors, both brave men, Pero Travacos, a native of Cochim, and Braz de Couto of Truquel in the Boroughs of Alcobaca, offered to go and discover them. They landed with all precaution, but were at once surrounded by the Chingalaz within sight of the Manchua (Type of Malaylam boat) in which they went”. A Muslim Mosque, did once stand at Nallur, till it was burned and destroyed by the Catholic Padre of Jaffna during the early 1600’s. Portuguese have well recorded their battles in Jaffna against the Sinhalese, Muslims and Vadukas at Nallur.
Nallur Kandhaswamy Kovil in Jaffna
Nallur Kandhaswamy Kovil, which is the main landmark of Jaffna located 3km northeast of the town centre and is dedicated to the Hindu God Murugan. The Kovil was built in 1807 during the British regime. The original shrine, a ‘devalaya’ featuring the statues of the Hindu Gods and Lord Buddha, built by the Prince Sapumal of Kotte Kingdom, the vice royal of Jaffna Peninsula was destroyed by the Portuguese, on the 2nd of Feb 1625. To date at the Nallur Kandhaswami Kovil, prayers are recited in the name of Prince Sapumal of Kotte. According to the head of the Franciscan order in Ceylon, father Negaro, who had studied all available records mentions that, while in the Kingdom, Prince Sapumal after ascending the throne of Kotte as King Buvanekabahu VI, had decided to populate the Northern area’s as the majority of these lands were deserted.
Today the Kovil has been developed into an enormous complex encompassing numerous shrines accessed by richly decorated corridors. Within the complex is a beautiful courtyard and a large tank. Since the temple was built during the year 1734 to 1749, it contained a shrine dedicated to an Islamic Sufi saint. However in the year 1749, the vault of the Islamic saint was removed by the Hindus.
Cultural Siginfcance of Nallur Kandhaswamy Kovil in Jaffna
Nallur Kandhaswamy Kovil is of great cultural significance to the Hindu Tamils of the Jaffna peninsula. The kovil hosts the annual religious festival called Thaipusam that is organized to commemorate the victory of Lord Murugan over the demon, Tarakasuran. Devotees bearing kavadis dance with great vigour accompanied by the penitents, hooked with ropes, suspended in mid air over the chariots in procession, rocking back and forth with great devotion. The festival is also having said to commemorate the arrival of Prince Sapumal of Kotte to Jaffna.
Miniature dagobas at Kantharodai
Kantharodai, described as Kadurugoda Temple in the Sinhalese chronicles, is a 3rd century BC Buddhist site located about 10km north of the city of Jaffna and 2km west of the village of Chunnakam. A cluster of twenty miniature dagobas, ranging in height from one to three meters, are unlike any other Buddhist religious site in Sri Lanka. It is believed that each of the miniature dagobas has the remains of Buddhist monks enshrined therein. The site is yet be subjected to archaeological exploration.
Keerimalai Hot Water Springs
Keerimalai Hot Water Springs located close to Naguleswaram which is of proximity to Kanksanturai of Jaffna Peninsula and are said to be of the therapeutic value, containing healing waters. The spring water flowing through the crevices and fissures of the carbonated rocks acquires residues of minerals and encounters sea water as it surface at Keerimalai. Hindu Tamils gather at these springs on the new moon day of July to dip into the waters and pay tribute to the souls of their departed ancestors.
Point Pedro and surroundings
The light house at the coastal village of Point Pedro marks the northernmost point of Sri Lanka. West of Point Pedro is the infamous coastal village of Velvettiturai, which for long decades, had been a stronghold of the petty local smugglers and the landing point of illegal immigrants from South India. Until about three decades ago the illegal immigrants called “Kallathoni” from the state of Tamilnadu of India, found Velvettiturai, a convenient shore. 5km south of the lighthouse, at the northern end of the Manalkadu Desert is the village of Vallipuram, which unearthed the famous ancient Vallipuram gold foil of inscriptions. Vallipuram, once a principal city of Jaffna peninsula is home to the second largest Hindu Kovil in the country. The shrine is one of the very few in Sri Lanka dedicated to God Vishnu.
Manalkadu Sand Dunes
Manalkadu is a mini version of a desert. Right at the town of Point Pedro begins the Manalkadu Sand dunes. The sparsely populated coastal stretch is punctured with isolated villages centred around a village well. The acres of sand dunes are also found covered with thick bush while beyond the dunes one can spot one of the most beautiful beaches of the Northern Province.
Nagadipa Viharaya, an ancient Buddhist temple is located in Nagadipa, one of the islands in a cluster that is situated close to the western coast of the Jaffna peninsula with Palk Strait shaping around it. The stupa which is of modest dimensions commemorates the Buddha’s third visit to Sri Lanka. The Image House next to the stupa features a fine golden Buddhist statue.
Delft is the island furthest of the Jaffna peninsula, with the exception of the uninhabited island of Kachchative, which is further 30km southwest of Jaffna. Delft was occupied by all three colonial powers in Ceylon in succession. The bleak and barren landscape devoid of wood with the exception of a single stumpy Baobab Tree, scattered with coral-rock walls is populated by throngs of wild ponies, off spring of the horses brought into the island by Portuguese. These wild horses roam freely in the grassy windswept plains of the island. A protection law has been enforced preventing horses being taken away from Delft Island to any other location.
Ancient Jaffna According to the Mahavamsa, the great historical chronicle of Sri Lanka and Vallipuram gold plate. Quote Prof. S.Ranwella
It was at the ancient port of Jambukola, the present Sambiliturai, in the Jaffna peninsula that the envoys of King Devanampiya Tissa (250-210) embarked when leaving Ceylon on their mission to the court of Asoka (273-236). (MV. Ch.XI,20-24). It was also at this port that the Theri Sanghamitta and her retinue had disembarked when they came from India with a branch of the Bodhi tree at Buddhagaya during the reign of Devanampiya Tissa. The Theri and her retinue were received by King Devanampiya Tissa, who had come to Jambukola from Anuradhapura (MV. XVIII> 1-8, XIX, 23-32).
Further the chronicle states that king Devanampiya Tissa built three Buddhist shrines, namely the Jambukola Vihara, the Tissamaha Vihara and the Pacina Vihara and planted a Bo sapling in the Jaffna peninsula (MV.XX.25-27). A gold plate inscription discovered at Vallipuram near point Pedro reveals that during the reign of Vasabha (67-111) the Jaffna peninsula was governed by a minister of that king and that a Buddhist Vihara named Piyaguka Tissa had been built there by that Minister. (EX.IV. 229-237). According to the Mahavamsa (XXXVI.9,36) Kanittha Tissa(167-186) during his reign at Anuradhapura repaired the Cetiyaghara of the Tissamaha Vihara in the Jaffna peninsula and King Voharaka Tissa (209-231) during his reign effected improvements to that Vihara.
The Culavamase records that King Aggabodhi II(571-604) built a Relic House and a dwelling place named Unhaloma for the monks of the Rajayatana Vihara in Nagadipa and granted a village there for the provision of rice gruel to the monks living there (CV.42.62)
The Palmyrah Palm Tree
The palmyrah palm tree, Borassus flabellifer (Linea) from the Palmae Arecaceae is known as panay or panam in Tamil and tal gaha in Sinhala. It is common to the Jaffna district with about two thirds of the 10 million palms in Sri Lanka found here. Unfortunately the war has destroyed many of these palms and their trunks can be seen in the constructions of guard posts, watch towers, etc. The Palmyrah prefers a dry climate and rather arid soil and can grow to 30 m in height or more, with a life span of about a century. There are two varieties which give either black or red skinned fruit. Almost everything on the palm can be used by man, most obviously the trunks but also Jaffna is remarkable for its elegant fences or rather screens with their repeating designs of fans standing side by side on the boundaries of properties. The stalks also are used to make fences as well as the base stalk which has a fibre which is extracted because of its valuable qualities of resistance to chemicals, termites, water etc. The leaves are used for roofs and the dried young leaves can be woven. The fruit, when tender, yields a refreshing delicacy known as nungkus.
The pulp of the ripe fruit is roasted or sun-dried and then eaten. The heart of the palm or palmito is also a delicacy but the sap is by far the most important as many products are derived from it such as jaggery, treacle, sugar, sugar candy, molasses as well as an unfermented drink known as ‘sweet toddy’. When the sap is fermented a drink known as toddy is produced and upon distillation a stronger alcoholic drink “arrack” is obtained. Vinegar is also a by product of this wondrous fruit. The palmyrah palm has long been celebrated in legends as a special creation by the Brahma to “assuage hunger and cure disease, to feed the people and to enrich the race”. It has also been traditionally venerated as the Kalpa Tree or Tree of Life and dedicated to the deity Ganesa.
Elephant Pass is an isthmus that links the northern mainland known as Wanni with the Jaffna Peninsula. The A9 Highway to Jaffna as well as the Railway track to Jaffna from Colombo shares the isthmus of Elephant pass. The narrow strip of land is in a sense the gateway to Jaffna. Elephant Pass was thought to be an impregnable military complex. The flat barren strip of land is the entry point on the A9 motor road to the Jaffna peninsula. During the rainy season the narrow strip of land that cuts across the Jaffna lagoon tends to get flooded. Sadly, Elephant Pass is famous nowadays for the fierce battles which were fought between the Tigers of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam) and the Sri Lankan Army during the gruesome war which ceased in May 2009. Originally it was named as Elephant Pass because this was the narrowest part of the lagoon across which Elephants captured on the mainland were driven to stalls on the peninsula where they were subsequently loaded onto boats and exported. Maps of this area drawn in the 18th century show large numbers of these stalls dotted over the entire area. Vegetation disappears when you reach the pass itself. On both sides there is water during the rainy season. Otherwise, it is a flat, barren land spiked with fences and barbed wire, a grim reminder of the fierce battles fought here during the past.
Until it was ravaged by the former civil war, the Jaffna Fort was the best preserved fort in Sri Lanka and contained a fine Reformed Dutch Church, which is now also in ruins. After the siege of 1658 which endured for three and a half months, the Dutch demolished the damaged and out of date square fort of the Portuguese and in its place built their ideal fortress. First they built the inner pentagon, and the main gate here bears the date of 1680 and then in the following century enclosed it in a wider fortification of the same shape. This shape is not as obvious as three of the branches are not built because of the vicinity of the sea on these sides. The fort’s black coral-lined walls, ramparts and battlements stand high on the grass covered mound and are surrounded by a moat. It covers an area of 22 hectares, a beautiful setting and rightfully qualified as a Citadel (i.e. a large, independent, garrisoned, administrative and military centre without civil inhabitants). The gate in the outer fortification bears the date of completion, 1792. On the 28th of September 1795, only three years after its completion, the fort surrendered to the British without firing a shot.
The strength of this fort was then never actually tested by an attack until recently when the power of modern day weapons proved its undoing. There are many similar fortifications around the Indian Ocean but none had attained such technical perfection as Jaffna. Unfortunately due to the civil strife within this region the fort is now in ruins and its former glory, until one-day restored, can only be imagined.
Warning: we first visited the fort mid 2002 without any problem and went, all of us, inside with the car. Few soldiers were there and we could walk around freely.
For our last visit almost a year later the place had been sealed by the Armed Forces with barbed wire, barriers, etc. The sentry even told us we couldn’t enter because of mines (laid since in the garrison premises).
We just hope now that this fort will be given back to the public soon to enjoy what remains and won’t be used any more as a military or police premise which has already caused its destruction.
Coming by road to Jaffna keep driving on the main road, called Main Street within the town and you will easily find this central feature of Jaffna . It lies in front of you just behind the stadium, the Cheluanayagam Tower and the Library being on your right. Take the road on the left to go to the entrance.
The Groote Kerk or Kruys or Dutch Church which stood inside the fort (not to be mistaken with the Portuguese Church which was in the opposite corner of the fort) was destroyed during the former civil war. It was built around 1730 and the ground plan was in the shape of a Maltese cross. On its floor were tomb¬stones as old as 1666 of Dutch dignitaries, each with an escutcheon and inscription, which were in jeopardy of disappearing during the civil war. They were rescued by Mr Bavink of the Theological Seminary who brought them to the Church of Vaddukoddai for safekeeping.
The foundation stone of the library was laid on the 29th of March 1955 but its actual construction began only in 1958 and was completed in 1960. The library, built in the Mogul style, was destroyed with its valuable books, burnt by a fire lit by an uncontrolled mob which arrived by bus in the evening of the 1st of June 1981. It is believed that about 97,000 books, the entire collection was lost. The same day, Father Thavidhu (David), a famous scholar and book lover died of a heart attack when he heard the news. Considered an outrage by all it was the first building to be restored after the cease-fire. There were about 30,000 books available in the library at its reopening in February 2003.
The statue standing on the left side of the entrance is of Father Long, who was a fervent supporter of the construction of the library and vice-president of the Library Building Committee. A conspicuous white building in the Moghul style which is closer to the Fort and the centre of town.
The Clock Tower commemorates the visit of his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to Ceylon in 1875 and perhaps also Sir James Longden’s administration of the island from 1877 to 1884. The tower was designed by Mr Smither, the Government architect and was a gift of Sir James Longden.
The clock tower suffered the damages of the war and during his visit to Sri Lanka in 2000, Prince Charles, the current Prince of Wales, was approached to help with its restoration. He kindly presented the four clocks, built in old style that currently gives the time to Jaffna.
This temple was built by Vaitilinga Chettiyar, a prominent merchant and one who held much influence with the Dutch government, with which he was able to obtain special permission to build the temple. He also used his influence (but still had to pay the ransom of 1,200 rixdollars) to obtain the release of Nalla Mapanan Vanniyan, Chief of Panakamam, who was held by the Dutch for treason. Later Vanniyan showed his appreciation of Chettiyar’s generosity by donating 20,000 Palmyrah trees as timber for the temple that Chettiyar was building, and Terangkandal, a village in Thunukai, along with its paddy fields and tank.
Two annual festivals are held here. The Shivan festival which lasts for twenty days and terminates with the full moon in March, and the Ambal Devi festival which continues for ten days, finishing with theertham (holy water) on the new moon day in July. Vaitheeswara is situated in Jaffna town, along the KKS Road.
Varatharaja Perumal Kovil
This temple boasts of its origins during the time of Guna Pooshanan Singhai Aryan (1347), from the dynasty of the Kings of Jaffna who ruled from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century. He was both successful and pious. As he was interested in the development of his Kingdom he invited settlers from South India who brought their talents as craftsmen, weavers, artists, etc. Among them was an old pious devotee who assisted them in their Vaishnava form of worship, which they performed originally simply under a tree. As previously mentioned, most of the Hindu temples were destroyed by the Portuguese and the Dutch; but this place of worship, a tree, being nothing more than that, was ignored by them and it therefore survived the destruction done to other places of worship. A figure has been erected to venerate this old tree and mark the place where daily prayers are still performed today.The annual festival at the temple takes place during September-October. The Kovil is located in Jaffna town, along the Perumal Kovil Lane, east of the KKS Road and north of the Clock Tower.
The Rosarian Sisters who were formerly at Tholakaddy (or Thologatty) a few kilometres west of Achchuveli, had moved to the Jaffna Town due to the civil war. Despite that, they have been keeping alive their tradition of making their own wine which, fortunately for us, they also sell on the market. Though it is made with freshly squeezed grape juice, keep in mind not to expect wines like a French Bordeaux or an Italian Chianti. It is going to be an interesting, new experience for your palate. Grape juice and other beverages are also available. at the convent. The exact location of the Rosarian Convent is No : 123 Main Street. Jaffna while coming from the centre of the town, number 123 will be on to your left.
St Martin’s Seminary
On the 12th day of November 1874, the seminary was placed under the patronage of St Martin of Tours and on the 11th of November 1878 the large walled premises known as Mooyaart’s garden was purchased for Rs 21,000. The splendid new building was completed in 1889 and is still in use as a seminary today. Coming from the centre of town, St Martin’s Seminary is on to your left, passing the Rosarian Convent.
St Mary’s Cathedral
Popularly known as the Jaffna Cathedral, St Mary’s foundation stones were laid in 1789. It has been constructed in a plain Goanese style without any ornamentation or decoration. Its sheer size is however impressive. It was initially led by Father Leonardo Rebeiro of the Oratory of Goa. The marble tabernacle and exposition over the high alter were brought from Europe and between 1901 and 1904, Rev. Dr Henry Joulain (a French priest, 1893¬1918, the second Bishop of Jaffna) presented his cathedral with a magnificent chime of bells – the first of its kind in the North that he ordered from MM. Pacard & Companie, France. The bigger of the two old bells that had been presented by the oblates to the Cathedral in 1861 were moved to Madu while the smaller one was given away to the newly founded Nallur parish.
Take the street which is almost opposite the St Martin’s Seminary and drive through the gate which is at the end. The Cathedral is found here, set in the middle of a large open space.
Residence in Old Park
The park which surrounds the Residency had originally been planned to be a botanical garden and there were apparently three very special trees to be found here, a baobab and two others which were unique to Sri Lanka, the doum palm and the lignum vitae which was reputedly in perpetual bloom with small blue flowers.
The Residency, built in the early part of the nineteenth century, stands at the northern end of the park and was a two storey building It is said “to have combined all the features of British architecture at its best – pillared verandahs, lofty archways and timbered ceilings. The showpiece was the drawing room upstairs, so immense that it could only be furnished with two sets of furniture, one on each half of the room. The walls were thick and solid, and according to one story they had originally been coated with the white of eggs” (Vernon). At the entrance to the Residency was a plaque which served as a memorial to Percival Acland Dyke, the Government Agent, who was responsible for putting up the building.
The Residence which has been used as kachcheri of Jaffna (administrative building) is opposite the present kachcheri. Coming from the centre of the town it is on your right and the ruins of this oval building are conspicuous, being on the side of the road.
Nallur Kandaswamy Temple
It is here, in July-August (26 days before the August new moon) that the most important festival of the Jaffna Penin¬sula is held. The deity which is kept in the temple is placed on its chariot (the ratham or chariot¬temple) to make its annual procession along the roads surrounding the temple.
The original temple is believed to have been built by King Bhuvaneka Bahu in the period 1450 -1467. It was levelled to the ground in 1620 by Capt. Filipe de Oliveira after a full-scale battle between the Portuguese troops and the Jaffna forces which started with a simple brawl, and in which the latter were defeated. The king and his family fled and tried to cross over to India but their boat was seized by the Portuguese and their capture ended all resistance. The present temple at Nallur originated during the time of the Dutch. Initially, it was a place to hold Kandapuranam recitals. Then, a temple and eventually a proper temple structure were erected in 1807 by the Ragunatha Mappana Mudaliyar who enjoyed sympathy and privileges from the Dutch and was in their service. Among the very recent modifications are the changes in the front portals and the widening and decorating with artistic sculptural pillars. It is said that the original temple was situated at a different location, some authors mention behind Sangili Thoppu, others on the very spot where stands nowadays St James’ Church.
The annual festival, which is said to commemorate the arrival of King Bhuvaneka Bahu VI of Kotte is an impressive and grand occasion, lasting 26 days and finishing on the new moon day in August. The festival on the 24th day is undoubtedly the grand climax of all festivals in Jaffna and the largest crowd imaginable throngs the site when ‘Arumuga Peruman’ is taken out for the procession in the morning.
St James’ Church
St James’ Church is said to have been built on the original site of the Nallur Kandaswami Temple destroyed by the Portuguese in the seventeenth century. The church was erected in 1827 and belongs to the Church of England.The St James’ Church is about 800 m east of the current Nallur Kandaswamy Temple, just behind the recreational park.
The place is named after the famous and sacred Yamuna River which flows in India at the foot of the magnificent Taj Mahal mausoleum, and from which theertam (holy) water has been brought in kavadis (piously conveyed) and poured into this pool especially dug for this purpose. The pond was built by Para Raja Sekaran (1478), a famous King of Jaffna , during the fifteenth century.
About 800 m east of the Nallur Kandaswamy Temple, just behind the recreational park, is the St James’ Church. Take the small track which directs north in front of the main gate. Drive 120 m and take the small track on the right. Continue for 50 m and turn right again: the water pond is there, hidden between small houses and gardens.
This arch bears the name of King Sangili, or Sankili (1519) and some authors believe it marks the entrance of the palace from which only this ornamental arch, built later in the Portuguese tradition, still remains.
Others believe it could have been leading to the gardens, and the Yamunari pond, which is behind and not far away. Locals also refer to it as Poothathamby Valaivu (arch) and Dr Kunarasa says that it was the headquarters of Poothathamby mudaliyar, a Tamil mudaliyar (administrator), from the Dutch period.
Take the road which is in front of the Nallur Temple and drive 800 m, the site will be on your right, on the side of the road. It is about 200 m after the statue of Sangili which is after the left curve, on your right.
Mandri(minister) manai(house) the central part of the building is said to have been built in the fifteenth century by Paranirupasinghan. People believe that this residence was sheltering a treasure in its foundations and in fact there is at the back of the house an entrance to a cellar in which contains a flight of stairs leading down to another room linked to a third room by more stairs. The inhabitants were probably keeping their valuables safe, deeply hidden in the ground under their house.The front part of the building is from a more recent period, most certainly Dutch. Take the road which is in front of the Nallur Temple and drive 900 m, the site will be on to your left. It is about 100 m north from Sangili Topu.
Jaffna Archaeological Museum
Surprisingly, the building has somehow not been affected by the damage of the war. The construction started in 1976 and was completed about 10 years later according to the local staff. Many pieces and artefacts are found on the dusty shelves and in the dark Galleries of this small but charming museum. The findings of the excavation at Kantharodai led by P E. Pieris in 1917-1919 were kept here and are probably still here. There is the fragment of a torso which could be the same Pieris describes in his papers. There is also a standing Buddha statue in good condition which was discovered in 1969 at Puttur, east of Jaffna . Note also the superb carving of a wooden doorframe, decorated on both sides, which, according to the Department of Archaeology in Colombo, comes from Tirukeshvaram There are also some stone artefacts: a pea-cock, a Nandi (bull) and they say, a footprint of Buddha with a five hooded cobra from the Polonnaruwa Period and a beautiful collection of ivory objects. You will also witness the glass stupas and the bead necklaces from Kantharodai. Walking around you will probably notice a large portrait of Queen Victoria which is said to “smile at you from any angle”!
There are many ways to reach the Jaffna Archaeological Museum but the easiest is probably to take the Temple Road which leads to the Nallur Temple and well known by the locals. The road to the museum will be on to your left. The museum is in fact behind the Navalar Madapam Hall.
Karunakara Pillaiyar Temple
This temple is of exceptional importance because it has an interesting and unique feature in being the only one in the Jaffna Peninsula to have two stone inscriptions. This stone can now be found within the temple as an object of veneration. The first inscription of the sixteenth century is written in the Tamil language and is dated April 1567. It records the names of donors of a gift to the temple and says that he who violates this gift should incur sins equivalent to killing the sacred cow on the banks of the river Ganges. The second inscription, is written towards the end of the sixteenth century.
The temple is named after a distinguished Indian general, Karunakara Thondaiman who had been sent during the reign of Cholan King I in the twelfth century, most probably to help the Jaffna King during the war. He is believed to have asked as a reward the develop¬ment and procurement of salt which is easy to collect around the Thondaiman Aru Lagoon which was then named after him. The annual festival commences with Avany Sathurthi in August and lasts for 10 days.
Take the road to Palali and drive until you reach the junction in Urumpirai. Turn left and drive 400 m and then take the small road on the left. The site is then 400 m ahead on the right hand side.
Vaddukoddai Portuguese Church
The plaque above the main door says that the church was built by the Dutch commander Laurens Pyl in 1678 (“Doen Maken door den Heer Commandeur Laurens Pyls, Anno 1678”). In fact it was, during the Portuguese period, in 1640, that the famous church of the Glorious Assumption of the Virgin Mother, Battecotte, was started.
The church is now used by the American Mission. The three spikes on the top of the plain front wall were on most of the American Mission churches in the 1840s. It consists of a vast nave and aisles separated by semicircular arches supported by massive round pillars over a metre in diameter and ending in plain square capitals. It is said to be large enough to accommodate 2,000 people.
Behind the church are twenty-seven tombstones. They are mostly Dutch although a few English ones can be found. They were brought here recently by Mr Bavink of the Theological Seminary for safekeeping after the Dutch Church in the Jaffna Fort, where they were lying, was destroyed. The oldest is dated 1666.
Punnalai Varatharaje Perumal Kovil
“The oldest temples in Jaffna, dedicated to Rama and Krishna, were at Vallipuram and Punnalai respectively and they are mentioned in the Kokila Sandesa”, writer S. Rasanayagam, p. 167, in his book Ancient Jaffna (1926). As for most temples on a legend, it is said caught a tortoise on the shore by the sea.
The origin of Punnalai is based on a legend that one day, a fisherman in his net, off the west of Punnalai caught a big tortoise, dragged it to the shore and went to the village seeking help. He returned with some villagers and found to their utmost surprise that the tortoise had turned into a stone and that golden rays were shining from the sky above. Ascribing this to some divine intervention of Sri Devi (Maha Lakshmi) they decided to build a Vishnu temple here and dedicated it to Varatha Raja Perumal. The stone tortoise can be seen in the sanctum today.
Two annual festivals are held each year. The first one in July lasts for 21 days while the other one in December goes on for 10 days.
This is a pleasant beach with shallow water and corals where you can enjoy a swim. The beach is fringed by Casuarina trees. These trees can survive within a dry Climate and grow in sandy soils.
It is probably due to its spiky branches which look like the feathers of the cassowary that the name of ‘casuarina’ has been given to this tree.
Reaching the Vaddukodai junction (the Portuguese Church is on your right) drive straight to reach the western tip of the peninsula. Once there, take the causeway which is on your left, across the water. Upon reaching the island on the other side, turn right at the first junction and then drive 900 m and turn right again. Drive north approximately 1.7 km where the road turns right. Follow it for 300 m and take the track which is on your left. The beach is 600 m from that point.
Kantharodai – Kadurugoda Viharaya
The site was discovered in 1916 by Sir Paul Pieris who also conducted the first excavations there. He wrote that “Kantarodai appears to me to be a miniature Anuradhapura buried in the Tamil country.” Considering the amount of remains of statues, pillars, railings, guardstones, etc. which have been unearthed, some authors suggest that Kantharodai marks the spot where Buddha landed on his second visit to the island. The works of excavations have unearthed over 50 stupas small in size and constructed very close together. The diameter of the base of each is about 2.5 m and the height about 3.5 m.
The finials of the stupas are made of limestone. A sacred footprint stone was also found on the site. This has been identified as the Kadurugoda Temple as mentioned in the Sinhala Chronicles, its history dating back to the third century BC.
Other theories mention the possibility of these dagobas to be ‘votive’ dagobas, that is, dedicated in fulfilment or in accordance with a vow. Some say they contain relics of Tamil Buddhist Monks.
From Jaffna, drive along the KKS road to the Chunnakam junction. Turn left from the junction and drive a bit more than 1.8 km.A small road will be on your left. Take it and drive 300 m to reach a small junction. Take the road on your right. You are at 600 m from the site which will appear in a small clearing on your left. Carefully follow the directions as the site is not very easy to find.
Maviddapuram (Ma means ‘horse’; vidda means ‘removed’; puram means ‘holy city’)
According to the legend the original temple was built here, by the Princess Jamathakiri. In her journeys to the sthalam (sacred place) of Keerimalai, she had noticed an old man by the name of Sadaiyanar venerating with daily puja (prayer) a silver Vel, symbol of the god Skanda Kumaran, placed in a mango tree. She was overcome with the desire to build a real temple to house the deity and demanded assistance from her father, who sent craftsmen and architects to build a Kandaswamy Temple.
The temple was destroyed by the Portuguese in the 17th Century and even the stones, it is said, were removed to build the fort at Kayts. With the revival of Hinduism the temple was re-built in 1782. Several of the vigrakams (venerated objects) that had been hidden in wells, buried, etc. were recovered and replaced in the temple.
The imposing Raja Gopuram (main entrance tower) by the road side on the western hall depicts events in the history of the temple. The inner temple premises were built in heavy granite stone in 1927. A ‘ther’ (chariot) superbly carved was made in 1943 and a temple for Palani Andavar was added in 1964. The following year, the therppa thiruvila (the Holy Bath Festival) was introduced on the last day to the 27 day annual festival held in July-August. On this day the deity is taken in procession for theertham (pilgrimage) at Keerimalai.
The Maha Bharata tells the story of the Princess Jamathakiri, whose facial appearance changed to that of a horse after she was cursed for not observing ancestral ceremonies (others say it was a congenital disease). She journeyed to Keerimalai Spring which was reputed for its therapeutic properties. Her daily obeisance and the curative value of the medicinal waters restored her face to its prior aspect. She erected a temple at Maviddapuram to the God Skanda Kumaran.
Mavvidapuram is on the main road to Kankesanturai (K-KS), 4.3 km from the Mallakam Junction. It is on the right hand side of the road and it is very easy to find. Unfortunately, it is located in what the Armed Forces call ‘the High Security Zone’ which makes the access to a large portion of the peninsula restricted. At the time this article has been written, visitors are allowed to visit this place after clearance and are not permitted to take any media equipment with them. Travellers are usually accompanied by a soldier.
Naguleswaram Shiva Temple
Naguleswaram is a very ancient kovil believed to be one of the five isvarams (divine residences) of the beginning of Shivaism.
The kovil was built where the Saadhu Nagulaswami used to worship a lingam (usually an oblong shaped stone, representing the male attribute and seen also as a flame, symbol of life and creation. The lingam is often placed on a base, the yoni, which symbolizes the female).
Like many others in the region, the temple was destroyed during the Portuguese times and the present temple, well maintained and administered, dates from 1859. The main entrance faces East and in walking distance towards the northwest is the Keerimalai Spring. Inside the temple are the statues of the moorthies (deities) which adorn the sanctum.
A fifteen day festival is held in February-March which culminates with the Shivarathiri (Shiva’s night) for the revelation of the deities.
Like Maviddapuram, Naguleswaram is in the ‘High Security Zone’ and access is restricted as of date. From the main road, take the road on the left which is in front of Maviddapuram Temple and drive 2.7 km. The temple will be on to your left and the Keerimalai Spring slightly further on to your right.
The springs of Keerimalai are said to be of therapeutic value, containing healing waters. The site itself is of historical and religious importance.
From its source in the rocks of Tellipallai¬Maviddapuram at an elevation of 10 metres, the spring waters flow through the crevices and fissures of the carbonated rocks encountering sea water as it emerges at Keerimalai. Its reputation for imparting therapeutic medicinal benefit to the human body comes from the fact that the spring waters whilst flow¬ing through the fissures of the carbonated rocks acquire chemical values.
For the Hindus the springs are an important site and they gather here on the new moon day of July to dip into the sacred waters and to pay homage to the souls of their ancestors. The Magam day (auspicious day for Shiva) in February is also another important festival day.
Legend says that a saadhu from India, Nagulaswami (`fiagul’ meaning mongoose in Sanskrit) came to bathe in the waters of this reputed spring after which his mongoose-like face turned into a human one. Thus the name of Keerimalai, ‘keeri’ – mongoose – and’malai’ – mound – in Tamil was given to the place.
Like previous sites, the Keerimalai Spring is in the ‘High Security Zone’ and access is restricted. It is very close to Naguleswaram, within walking distance.
Located at a crossroad, this beautiful natural well with its astonishing aquamarine colour is said to be bottomless, with salt water in its depths attesting to its connection to the sea.
Legend says that this is the place where Rama, the Hero of the Indian Hindu epic Ramayana, stopped to rest and finding himself thirsty plunged his arrow into the ground whereupon water came spurting out. This well has ever since provided a never-ending supply of fresh water.
From Jaffna, drive along the KKS road to Chunnakam junction. Turn right, from the junction and the site will be on to your left.
Achchuveli Portuguese House
The ruins of a Portuguese church, which was thought to be dedicated to the Holy Spirit and the ‘Church House’ are to be found behind the more recent church built in 1882 which belongs to the American Mission. Of the church house remain only a few pillars of the open arcaded veranda that the Portuguese called ‘solar’ and which was the main living room.
From Nilavarai well, drive east towards Puttur and turn left at the first junction. This road, that leads roughly north east, takes you to an inverted Y junction that you reach from its left branch. The church is just here, on the right. The church itself and the ruins of the old building which is behind can be seen by entering the church gate on the left. To obtain a better view of the arches, enter the school gate on the right of the church, walk through the courtyard and the first building on your left is the back wall of the ‘church house’ and looking up you will see the arches.
Point Pedro lies near the most northerly point of the island of Sri Lanka (9’50’N) facing the immense Bay of Bengal. The name of the place is derived from the Portuguese Punta das Pedras which means Stony or Rocky Point. The lighthouse is slightly on the east of the town. The beach here is pleasant and you can enjoy a swim, not so much in front of the town but after the Light-house in towards the East.
To get to these places you pass under the Theru Modi, the shelter for carts and travellers en route to Jaffna which is near the centre of the town, and then proceed east.Other places of interest: in town, the St Thomas’ church just before the lighthouse. Not far away, the famous Vallipuram Temple and the Manalkadu desert nearby.
Theru Modi Madam
This building, the Theru Moodi Madam, is the last of the four road shelters which were on the peninsula. It is the equivalent of the ambalama found in the Kandyan Kingdom and travellers on the way to or from Jaffna could shelter in it overnight. It still spans the modern road, east of Point Pedro, leading into the town. Thanks to its condition and its judicious situation it is still extensively used.
Before you reach the centre of town, take the first main street leading east. The Theru Modi Madam is about a hundred metres from here and extends over the road. If you park your vehicle on the open space which is just before it, on the right, you will also see a traditional well with a balancing pole on which the person drawing the water walks up and down.
The corner stone for this church was laid on the 21st of December 1860 and less than two years later on the 15th of August 1862 the church was completed and ready for use. A large bell which was affectionately known as Leo was brought from Pacard’s foundry in France in 1904 to commemorate Father Leo Pellissier the founder of this church, its cost was over 700 rupees!
From the Theru Moodi Madam, take the first main lane on the left. They all lead to the northern shore anyway. Once you reach the beach, turn right and drive along the coast. St Thomas’ Church will be on your right on the sea side of the road, a cross marks the entrance.
The lighthouse, which is almost in town, marks the most northerly point of the island of Sri Lanka (9050’N) and faces the immense Bay of Bengal. The southern tip of the island, 435 km away, is marked by another lighthouse at Dondra (5°55 N). The lighthouse is a little further than St Thomas’ Church and stands right on the side of the road. It can’t be missed.
Vallipuram is one of the oldest temples in Jaffna. In the sanctum, the Vishnu’s sakkaram (disc) occupies the place of the utsava moorthy (deity) which is taken out for processions during festivals. The annual festival is held in August-September. The temple attracts worshippers daily, on Sundays in particular. Situated amidst a vast expanse of sand dunes, it is difficult to imagine that the area was once the capital city of the Jaffna region.
Sir P Pieris, who also discovered Kantharodai, made important discoveries here, which have subsequently been identified as belonging to the period of the first Lambakhana King, Vasaba (65 – 109 AC). An inscription on a gold plate records the words “Hail in the reign of the great king, Vasaba and when the Minister Isigirayan was governing Nakadiva, Piyagyka Tissa caused a vihara (temple) to be built at Badakara Atana”. The origin of this temple, like most, is founded in legend. The story says that Lavalli Ammaiyar, a pious lady, had been afflicted with nagthosham (a curse) and was hence unable to have children. She was advised to go to this place which was sacred to Vishnu and beseech him for the remission of her sins. She performed thapas (prayed) daily with arms outspread facing the sea in the hope that Lord Vishnu would appear before her, arise from the ocean and grant her desire. One day when the fishermen of the village were fishing they cast their net and caught a large fish which leapt into the arms of Lavalli Ammaiyar. As she held it, it turned into the shape of an infant looking like the Lord Vishnu himself. When the infant vanished an old seer who was present gave to the people a Vishnu chakkaram (a disc, symbol of Vishnu), which they decided to install at this place and venerate in commemoration of the event.
A mini desert, a small Sahara with long stretches of sand dunes which is astonishing to find on this island paradise reputed for its exotic and lush vegetation. Manalkadu is a sparsely populated area, where each village forms an oasis, with life being centred around the village well. No electricity is available and to get to the nearest bus stop a walk of a few kilometres is necessary.
The desert of Manalkadu is in fact right at the doors of the town of Pt Pedro. When driving to Vallipuram Temple, sand dunes can be seen in the background.
St Anthony’s Old Church
Partly excavated from the sands which encompassed it, are the ruins of a lovely small church built approximately 100 years ago. In the vicinity are several crosses which mark the spot of the cemetery itself buried under the sand dunes. This church was replaced by another a mere 200 metres further along the road. It was built in 1935 and has interesting cupola lacework. Here the Parish Priest serves a small community of fisherman who live in hardship, with no electricity while drinking water is difficult to obtain.
From Point Pedro or Vallipuram Temple drive along the road going southeast on the strip of land between the sea and the lagoon. At a junction with a check post on the right, take the track on the left and drive a few kilometres. The ruins of the church will be your right with a large dune in the background planted with some crosses.To go to the new St Anthony’s Church, enter the village and it will be on your left.
St James’ Church
This old church with its large courtyard, though ravaged by the war, still holds its charm and miraculously the faces of the sculptures have not been damaged. Written on the facade of the church is 1716 but the first stone, it was noted, was laid on the 1st of January 1815 by Father Dalgado, a Goanese Oratorian, to replace a more ancient mud building.
Upon reaching the centre of town in Kayts, you arrive at a T-junction. Take the right, and then immediately left. St James’ Church is at the end of this street, about 100 m away, and can be seen from the junction.
Little remains of this fort on Kayts, which, in the Portuguese time, together with Hammenhiel (Hammenhiel) Fort off the island of Karaitivu opposite, once stood guard defending the access to the Jaffna Lagoon. Though you might be disappointed by the scarcity of the ruins, it is from here that you have a very good view (and a photograph of it if you have a long lens) of Fort Hammenhiel and this justifies the visit.
This fort was built by the Portuguese but when the Dutch took over, it was neglected and finally abandoned. The question remains: why? The reason could be that due to the improvement of the weaponry, and with a better range, the Hammenhiel Fort was sufficient to control the strait to Jaffna .
Upon reaching the centre of town in Kayts, you arrive at a T-junction. Turn left and pass St Mary’s Church which has been repainted recently. A little further after the church, take the road on the right hand side. From here, at the junction, you are 900 m from Fort Urundi. The road bypasses the ruins of the fort and it can’t be missed.
Fort Hammenhiel GOWAIGU
Hammenhiel means ‘Heel-of-the-Ham’ which the Dutch thought that Lanka resembles. The attractive little fort was constructed by the Portuguese and named Fortaleza do Caes. It is built in an unusual circular design from solid coral stonework and has two internal levels. The height of the walls is approximately four and a half metres. The fort stands on a small sand bank between the small islands of Karaitivu and Velanai (Kayts) and the sole navigation channel from the sea to the lagoon on which Jaffna stands.
The fort came under Dutch control during the siege of Jaffna in 1658 when, after a fortnight of bombardment from the shores, their wooden rain water tank was smashed. With no natural water supply on the island, thirst forced the Portuguese to surrender.
Hammenhiel was regarded by the Dutch as the key to Jaffna and it was specified that the garrison of 30 should all be Dutch. Aware of its weakness, the Dutch built a huge reservoir which they paved with bricks from their homeland. The fort surrendered without resistance to the British in 1795. At present the fort can only be viewed from afar as it is occupied by the Navy. Follow the itinerary to go to Fort Urundi. Just before reaching the fort when the road reaches the sea shore, Fort Hammenhiel will appear in front of you, a fortified island on the horizon.
Dambakola Patuna (Jambukola Pattana) is located about 20 km from the Jaffna town and 10 km from Kankesanturai off the Jaffna Peninsuala, the northernmost Peninsula of Sri Lanka. The distance form Colombo is 427km by A3 and A9 main motor roads.
Dambakola Patuna is the sea port where the Buddhist nun Sangamitta Therani arrived in Sri Lanka bringing the southern sapling of the Bo or Peepal tree, the sacred Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi at Bodhgaya in India, in whose shelter the Prince Siddhartha attained supreme enlightenment, thereby becoming the Gauthama Buddha. The sapling was planted with great ceremony at Mahamewna Uyana Park of the ancient city of Anuradhapura (a World Heritage Site) during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa (306BC-266 BC). Today the sacred tree is known to be the oldest recorded tree of the world and known by the name of Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi of Anuradhapura.
The small stupa and the temple at Dambakola Patuna (Jambukola Pattana) are modern constrictions. The modern statue of Sanghamitta Therini was installed at the Dambakolapatuna Purana Viharaya Buddhist temple at a ceremony presided by First Lady, Shiranthi Rajapaksa in the year 2010.
Sella Sanathi Temple
The Annual festival of Katargama started on Friday the 1st of July 2011. There is a belief that the Lord Murugan traveled from the Sella Sanathi temple to Kataragama for the annual festival. This is the reason that the “Patha Yathra” is conducted from this temple to Kataragama.