Heritage Sites of Jaffna’s last kingdom

16 Jan
Nallur temple

Nallur Kandasamy Temple – Photo courtesy T.T Mayuran

Jaffna was once a Kingdom with its seat in Nallur.
The Nallur Kandasamy temple, originally built by the Kings of Jaffna, has a recorded history going back more than a thousand years, and is still the cultural icon that many people identify, with the peninsula of Jaffna. The temple’s famous annual festival which drew pilgrims and tourists from all over Sri Lanka has recently concluded. What many people are unaware of however is that there are many other historical sites to see in Nallur, apart from the main temple. Jaffna’s last kingdom still has remnants of its heyday dotting the area. Listed below are just a few of the sites you can visit to get a glimpse of its historical past. Note however that we’re telling the stories of these places as per local folklore. There hasn’t been much research to corroborate the community’s claims about them, but they’re fascinating nonetheless.

King Sankili’s statue
Statue of King Sankili

Just a few meters away from the Nallur temple, on the Jaffna – Pt.Pedro Road is a gold plated statue of Jaffna’s last king. The old white statue made of stone was damaged during the war, so this is a new one, installed after war ended in 2009. King Sankili II’s rule ended in 1619 when he was caught and executed by Portuguese invaders. He was not necessarily known as a popular or benevolent king according to the local people.  They report contradicting anecdotes as to his claim to the throne – differences of opinion exist as to whether he was in fact the previous king’s nephew or illegitimate son.

Either way, he is said to have come to power by killing the legitimate heirs, and became known as a tyrannical despot who ruthlessly squashed dissent.  Not content with subjugating his own people, he also made the fatal mistake of annoying the colonial Portuguese government in Colombo by beheading 600 of Mannar’s local populace who had converted to Christianity. This brought about the vanquishing of the Jaffna kingdom and his own execution. He is now remembered and lauded for fighting the Portuguese whom the people didn’t want to see taking over their land either, but  Sankili II in the end is more famous for being the last king of Jaffna than for any yearning of the people to get back under his reign.

Palace Arch

King's palace arch

The expanse of land (now reduced to a few kilometres) surrounding the Nallur temple were once known as the grounds of the Royal Family of Jaffna. The land is known, even to this day as Sankilian Thoppu (Sankili’s Garden) as the Royals had properties dotting the area, which were also thickly planted with trees.

The Royal Palace which Sankili II took over however has long since been destroyed (even before the war) except for one solitary remnant – the Arch to the Palace Gate. Carved from thick stone and worked in intricate detail at the looping arch end, it can be seen a few meters away from the King’s statue on the Jaffna –Pt.Pedro Road. This Arch alone from the original palace structure is still standing – a solitary testament to a bygone age, of Jaffna’s palace intrigues and history.

Queens’ Bathing Tank

Queen's bathing tank

The Queens and their attendants had a private bathing tank (now no longer private) behind the Palace, known as the Yamuna Aeri. According to local reports, there was once a tunnel leading from the palace to the tank so that the royal retinue of ladies (who probably practised purdah), could not be viewed by the common people as they wended  their way to their daily baths. This tunnel was seen by people until recent decades when fears that the LTTE might utilize it, led to its being sealed by the Army apparently.

Situated in a small hamlet just off the Jaffna –Pt.Pedro Road, the tank still has an aura of historical nostalgia about it. As if it were reminiscing of a time when Queens once bathed in it instead of the little boys now irreverently frolicking in its abandoned moss green waters.

The Raja Manthiri’s Mansion

Manthiri Manai

Known in Tamil as the Manthiri Manai (the Minister’s Mansion), this building is in a much better state of preservation when compared to the Palace structure.  It stands on the other side of the road opposite the Palace Arch. The Raja Manthiri’s Quarters as it is known, is a rather fascinating, picturesque old world structure which is beginning to look increasingly out of place in fast urbanizing Nallur. If buildings have personalities, this one’s is reminiscent of a venerable old man, lost in his own musings of a bygone age, oblivious to the antics of the hipster youths around him.

Manthiri Manai from the inside

Of the antics of these youths, a whole lot can be written. The ancient walls within the mansion have been vandalised all over with unseemly graffiti. The abandoned and cobwebbed nooks and corners of the Mansion seem to have become ideal Lover’s Spots away from prying eyes, and while conducting their clandestine rendezvous there, the young lovers have also left behind their eternal (or not) love for each other inked on the walls. This seems to have set the trend for other visitors to also ink their names and random thoughts on the ancient walls.  Despite this vandalism however, the building retains an aura of proud history and heritage, which deserves to be preserved, at least from now on.

 Jaffna Archaeological Museum

Museum

The museum, opened in 1978 at the former home of the nineteenth century Tamil nationalist reformer Arumuka Navalar has quite a few interesting and diverse artefacts harking back to Jaffna’s history. The eclectic collection ranges from prehistoric artefacts excavated from Kandaroadai to colonial memorabilia of the Portuguese, Dutch and British eras. From palanquins used by Royals and Nobles to wooden stocks used to punish the common people, intricately carved Hindu Gods and Goddesses made of wood and stone along with the Buddha carved in  various positions and facial expressions  & features, the museum offers an ad hoc yet fascinating view of Jaffna’s past, spanning centuries. It is open Wednesdays-Mondays from 8.00 am – 4.00 pm and is well worth a visit.

The next time you visit Jaffna to check out its culture and history, allocate a day to visit all these spots in Nallur. The history of the ancient kingdom of Jaffna is obviously deeper than this, but if you’re wandering around Nallur, it’s a compact way to get a sense of what once was.

Nallur sri lanka 14

Photo Courtesy T.T Mayuran

 

 

 

 

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