Jaffna or Yazhpanam, a northern port city, is the cultural capital of the Tamils next only to Madurai and Thanjavur in India. A predominantly large population of Tamils lived here and were ruled by the Tamil kings of peninsular India. However, they declared themselves independent when the kingdoms in India fell to other invasions. The invaders of South India except for the Portugeuse, Dutch and the British, did not venture into Srilanka. Although the westerners settled in and administered the country, they were content in trading. This left the populace of Jaffna to practise and preserve their religion and their culture. The Westerners established many schools and universities to benefit themselves. However the education given to the natives transformed the people of Jaffna into a highly educated distinct class among the Srilankan masses. Jaffna thus was the cherished home to the Tamils who lived peacefully along with a small minority of Christians, Moorish Muslims and Sinhalese.
Independant Srilanka however did envy the Tamils and history reads that their culture was assaulted by a chauvanist, Sinhalese government, leading the young and student Tamils to revolt. These events made the Government leash out an armed raid of ethnic cleansing. This sparked the civil war for an Independant Tamil Eelam nation that ended only in 2009 with most of the educated Tamils leaving as refugees and settling worldwide. They still love their hometown and long to return but their past suffering and the simmering passion among the vanquished people for a separate nation, have them wishing with their fingers crossed.
Musing over the history of the town through the several centuries that have gone by, I drove past several ruined palatial buildings as well as new construction. The town had recouped well to embrace democracy but are still pained by laws that are discriminatory and prejudicial to their aspirations, fundamental rights, freedoms and progress.
The central market, bus terminus are busy through the day and would close down before 9 PM till the ensuing morning. The buildings and houses on the small roads across the town, still retain the 19th century architecture. The medivial, landmark, catholic church built by the Portugeuse, has a colourfully decorated altar.
We then left to Nallur the historic first capital of Jaffna province which had a unique aura. What surprised me was a beautiful temple which was curiously very much different from the other Hindu temples that I had seen. It’s deity was Murugan the son of Shiva who is not accepted as a god by the Hindus of North India. Murugan was, believed to be the youngest son of Shiva who left his parents at a very early age to create his own kingdom as he felt cheated by his own parents who favoured his elder brother the Elephant headed ,God Ganesh. Murugan is thereby believed to have reached south India and established his crown. He is worshiped as the principal deity by the Tamils. Many Tamil literary works dating back to ages before the birth of Christ, praising the deity or invoking his blessings were said to be sung during pooja rituals or ceremonies conducted in this temple. Further entry into the temple had the custom requiring women to be dressed traditionally and men stay bare chested. Skirts, blouses or shorts were prohibited. So was footwear and cameras.[Text Wrapping Break]
This temple is huge; built by the Tamil kings but was destroyed during the western invasions and subsequently rebuilt. I enjoyed the cultural ritual ceremony, listening to the tamil devotional songs sung to the accompaniment of the “Tavil” drum as well as the “Nadaswaram” a pipe instrument and the symbols. Verses were sung by a head priest and repeated by the people. It praised the deity and its divine consorts while being taken in a palequin around the sanctum to their respective chambers. The age old Tamil verses that were sung sounded very different from the dialect of today and I was overjoyed to have had an experience of the Tamil dialect that had been preserved through all these ages.
The next morning I visited the worlds most famous Tamil library. It originally had a collection of more than a hundred thousand Tamil books and manuscripts. It showcased the knowledge of the ancient Tamils in astonomy, mathamatics, engeneering, medicine, science, arts, literature, religion and history. Called the Jaffna public library it was built in 1933 . It was burnt down in 1981 by Sinhalese Chauvinists with the intent of destroying the recorded history and culture of the Tamil populace. It was reconstructed in 2001 and is the place where every Tamilian coming to Jaffna, would eagerly make a religious visit as one would go to his favourite church, Temple or place of worship.
My next visit was the Jaffna fort from where the town was administered by the Portugeuse, Dutch, British and where the armed forces of the Srilankan government were garrisoned. I walked into the Fortress to climb over the fort walls and view the expanse of the lagoon. It was surrounded on its three sides by water and also had a defensive moat protecting it. It held a strategic vantage point from where the seaside of the fort could be guarded. The civil war saw the army walk in and take control for a few years. The Indian peace keeping force held fort for a few years and on their leaving the country the LTTE beseiged the fort and massacred the Sri lankan army, to take control once again. They withdrew from the fort during the final stages of the war in 2009. The toll of war left all buildings inside the fort, demolished to rubble. The present Elected administration consisting of Tamils are reconstructing the fallen ramparts. A small shop at the entrance of the fort has a variety of paintings and artifacts including gemstones.
Leaving the fort, we then drove to the land mark, clock tower which was built to honor the visit of the Prince of Wales during1875. We then lunched in the town square and drove to visit the railway station. The railway connecting Colombo to Jaffna commenced in 1902 and the services were stopped during the war except for a brief period when the Indian peace keeping force took control of Jaffna. It had been reconstructed after 2009 with the assistance from many countries.
We passed the famous University which according to the Tamils was the brain of the Tamilians revolution. We also drove around the general hospital which served the many hundred wounded during the long drawn war. Jaffna had so much to offer and the history, cultural heritage and stories of battle all made it very emotional. ” Yazhpanam” as it is fondly known among the Tamil people gets its name from a harp shaped musical instrument called “Yazh” and “panam” derivatively from “pattanam” or town in tamil. It is said that the physical features of this town was exactly the same as a harp.
This isthumus is dotted with many tiny islands among the crystal clear waters. These islands were said to be where the earliest tribes of Srilanka who worshipped a Naga or Serpent Godess resided. They were also islands contended as places of religious importance by both the Tamils and the Sinhalese.
At the end of the evening I realised that I had been through a fascinating day in a town to which the Tamil diaspora around the globe were very emotionally attached to and prayed for all the blessings they needed or sought. Again the thought of my journey the next morrow to a tiny island that could come out with more legends, history and stories set my mind to journey restlessly before drowsiness took over and until the night cap put me to sleep.