Express News Service
If you happen to know of a city that celebrates a festival for 27 days non-stop and houses a library that boasts Asia’s finest collection of books, live there. If you can’t, the second-best is to visit. Jaffna, the Sri Lankan city in context here, is just 85 km away from Dhanushkodi in Tamil Nadu, which should be on your travel bucket list this season, although Omicron may dampen your wandering spirit.
Interestingly, it’s closer to India than to Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka. While there is no direct boat service between the two ports (service was suspended due to security reasons), all you need to visit Jaffna is a passport with a six-month validity and a few thousand Sri Lankan rupees.
With its bountiful paths, endless paddy fields, entangled and bloody history with Tamils, Jaffna is located in the northern province of Sri Lanka. Once an important trading port, the erstwhile Yalpanam (now Jaffna) was an important kingdom in the history of Sri Lanka for centuries, which was then occupied by the Portuguese, Dutch and the British until the country’s independence in 1948.
For decades, the LTTE fought the Sri Lankan Army, and hundreds of thousands died. In the end, the Sri Lankan Army won after a brutal offensive, and Jaffna is trying to hide the scars of conflict.
The peninsula is slowly but steadily reclaiming its glorious days as a prominent cultural melting pot. And, the Nallur Kandaswamy Temple in the heart of the city is a testimony to this resurgence. Replete with colourful paint and impressive rangolis, the temple is dedicated to the Hindu god Murugan, also known as Subramanya and Karthikeya, who is revered by the Tamilians.
An iconic landmark in the region, the temple hosts a 27-day-long festival called ‘Nallur Festival’ during August-September .
In close proximity to this place of worship is the famous original 1970-founded Rio Ice Cream outlet that’s been scooping out lip-smacking ice-creams even through Jaffna’s turbulent past. Although it has branches at various other places in Sri Lanka the charm of the original remains intact.
For some food for thought, a visit to the iconic Jaffna Public Library is highly recommended. This library is supposedly one of the finest in Asia and stocks over 1,20,000 books, as well as newspaper archives valiantly preserved from 1972 onwards. Many of the older volumes were lost in the infamous 1981 fire involving the then Sri Lankan police force which literally reduced the Jaffna Public Library to rubble.
Located around the bend from the library, along the city’s shore, is the pentagon-shaped 400-year-old edifice of the Jaffna Fort, a remnant of Portuguese and Dutch architecture. With well-kept moats and lawns, the ruins are monuments to the past when European powers and separatist forces laid siege to this port city once.
A short walk from the fort leads to the Jaffna market, which is famous for Jaffna palmyra jaggery. A natural sweetener, energy-rich food and an excellent substitute for white sugar, it is made of the sap extracted from palmyra trees or kithul grown in this part of the country. Considering palm jaggery is a source of minerals, it’s high in demand overseas.
A ferry ride away is the Nagapooshani Amman Kovil built on the fringes of Nainativu island. Equally revered by local people and pilgrims from India, it’s also one of the Shakti Peethas, where an anklet of Sati is believed to have fallen. In close proximity to the temple is the Nagadeepa Purana Vihara, an ancient Buddhist temple complex.
Lord Buddha is supposed to have visited this place five years after his enlightenment. Hence, it is considered one of the 16 holiest Buddhist shrines in Sri Lanka. The place is also mentioned in Buddhist epics like Mahavamsa and Manimekalai. The islands around the Jaffna peninsula like Nainativu, Neduntheevu (Delft Island) are an ornithologist’s paradise, where endemic and exotic birds such as Madagascar pochard can be spotted.
Any tour of Jaffna is incomplete without a visit to Keerimalai, 25 km away. Home to the Naguleeswaram Kovil, Keerimalai (means Mongoose Hill), it is also known for its natural springs reputed for curative properties. Locals will tell you that it has potent curative properties.
Locals will tell you that it has potent curative properties. The water here is believed to cure many diseases since it flows across the fissures of the carbonated rocks on the hill. Revered by the Tamil people of both nations, the place is steeped in legends and lore, which is a story for another day!