Real Jaffna

Historically known as the Kingdom of Jaffna, it is a rich and diverse region with heavy influence of the Hindu religion and temples. The monarch was spread across Jaffna with the royal temple, Nallur’s control. Jaffna has been conquered by many foreign invaders after the South Indian Kalinga Maga’s era and then others such as the Portuguese, Dutch and finally the British. The remnants still give visitors the glamorous Dutch architecture starting from the Dutch fort.  Currently, Jaffna is the administrational district of the North and has the best economy in the north province.

The REAL Jaffna is where you feel the mix of culture, agriculture, religions, beaches, attractions, food and entertainment. The people of Jaffna are the symbolic representation of the real Jaffna. The colourful culture is a combination of Hindu temples, the clothes and the smiles of the Jaffna people which represent the harmony of the society. Real Jaffna also represents the unique food of the region such as the Jaffna Crab Curry.

The kingdom of Jaffna was under the rule of many South Indian Kings. The Sri Lankan kings and leaders of old and new, being resilient as they were, never allowed the Kingdom of Jaffna to be taken away from them. Blood was sacrificed through many great battles and Jaffna has always been protected.

The Jaffna Library was built in 1933 but was burnt down in 1981. At the time of its destruction, the Jaffna Library was one of the biggest libraries in Asia with more than 97,000 books. The Portuguese first made Jaffna into a trading hub and later lost it to the Dutch in 1619, who in turn lost it to the British in 1796. Just like Colombo and Trincomalee, Jaffna was one of the main trading hubs that everyone wanted to control.

The famous Nallur Kandaswamy temple was built in the year of 948. The continuous invasions kept destroying the temple several times, but it was always rebuilt by the rulers of Sri Lanka to its present state. One of the oldest dynasties of the Sri Lankan royal bloodlines – the Sengunthar Kaikola Mudaloyar still have their descendants living in Jaffna. This family is in possession of the Holy flag, named the Kodiyetram which is brought in a chariot to the Nallur temple every year to announce the beginning of the Nallur Festival. This festival is only second to the Kandy Perahera procession.

The statues of the Hindu God of War – God Murugan and his consorts are taken around the city of Jaffna in a chariot during the festival. God Murugan is the son of the great God Shiva who is one of the principal deities of Hinduism. Many compare Murugan to Ares, the Greek God of War who was the son of Zeus, the ruler of all Gods. This great and huge chariot is pulled by several thousands of devotees, shoulder to shoulder showing their devotion to the God of War. It is such an adrenaline spiking sight to see such devotion of people from all ages and casts coming together to shed their sweat and strength to please their God of War. This is a festival not to be missed!

Jaffna is still an unknown paradise for birdwatchers. The lagoons are pretty much untouched from the piercing eyes of the bird watching tourists. Due to this reason, there are thousands of birds who flock into these undiscovered lagoons during the migratory season from September to March every year along with the other wonders.

It is the Great Flamingos who take your breath away with their sheer numbers. It is a common site to see several hundreds of these flamingos feeding off in one location. Other commonly seen birds are the Pintail, Northern Shoveller, Little Ring Plovers and many species of duck.

While travelling around in Jaffna, you might come across some donkeys and wild horses which is an exceedingly rare sight in other parts of the island.

This is one of the regions in the country where you can see cows treated royally. The Hindu Goddess Bhoomi who is the personification of the Earth, is usually shown in the form of a cow. The Hindus in the region treat cows with the utmost respect since the cows are an intricate part of their daily lives. Plus, it helps the farmers in the agricultural fields. Do not be surprised if you see decorated cows walking down the streets of Jaffna.

Palmyra trees in Jaffna produce the Palmyra arrack (arrack is the main liquor brand in Sri Lanka) and this is the only place in the world where the Palmyra arrack is being produced. This arrack has a little bit of a sweet taste to it.

In a small village called Manalkadu, visitors can enjoy the only dessert experience in Sri Lanka. These sand dunes are more than 16 meters high and they keep moving from time to time. There are ruins of a great 17th century cathedral dedicated to St. Anthony’s buried within this desert which was believed to have been built by the Dutch. Depending on how the sand dunes move, one can see parts of this cathedral rising and disappearing in the desert.

The untouched white sandy beaches of Jaffna are the perfect places to be for an incredibly relaxing R&R session. Grab your matt and sunscreen and treat yourself to a well-deserved beach experience during your visit to Jaffna.

Casuarina beach is the best place to be in Jaffna along with some other hidden beaches as well. Casuarina is famous for its long beaches which is ideal for long walks with the waves caressing your feet. The casuarina trees that have been standing along the beach is the reason for the name of this great getaway place. 

It is an ideal location to engage in some yoga and meditation in the morning, in one of the star category hotels in the city and then head down to the beach with a book and a cooler with your favourite juices, beer and cocktails.

The Delft Island

Ever dreamt of visiting an island stuck in a time capsule? Count Willem II granted the city charter to the great trading city of Delft in the Netherlands. In 1640 when the Dutch invaded Sri Lanka, they established their own trading city on the other side of the world in a small island next to mainland Ceylon. To honour their great city back home, the Dutch named this island Delft as well.

During their rule in Sri Lanka until 1796, Delft Island was used as one of their main trading ports where they sold horses and African slaves.

More than 300 years later, the horses still live on the island. This is the only place in all of Sri Lanka where one can see this many wild horses in one single place. The sanctuary inside the Delft island has a population of more than 2000 horses running around freely on this island which is a magical site.

The African slaves have moved on, but their native Baobab tree still stands strong on the island. There are only 34 of these magical trees in the entire country and one of them is on Delft Island. Descendants from the African slaves have moved out of the Delft island during the last couple of centuries, but they still live in Sri Lanka with their own music and dance which is unique.

Today, life is quite simple on the Delft Island. There are less than a dozen vehicles in the island which means you can spend many hours walking or driving around in a safari jeep and not see another vehicle the whole time. The community helps each other out and the home property boundary walls have been made out of coral rocks, stacked up on top of each other. This is an incredibly unique architectural quality which can very rarely be seen outside the Delft island.

If you are looking at exploring ancient culture, then you have the chance to explore a Dutch fort, colonial administrative buildings, a huge lighthouse and a pigeons’ nest post where pigeons have been used to send messages to the mainland. The island is surrounded by the Indian ocean, so it is a great place to be if you are looking for a little bit of R&R on the beach or enjoy a sea bath. The island is filled with birds and wild horses to keep the wildlife enthusiast in you satisfied as well.

The only hotel inside the Delft Island – Delft Samudra hotel offers you the chance to enjoy a local rice and curry along with a chilled beer to make it a perfect meal.

If you are looking at travelling in style, there is a luxury sailing catamaran yacht that could ferry you from the mainland to Delft Island (operates from November to April). The cost-effective standard boats are available as well.

Nagadeepa Island

This island is the Mecca of the Northern Kingdom of Sri Lanka for all the Buddhist and Hindu devotees. Lord Buddha visited this island, five years after attaining enlightenment to settle a dispute between two kings and prevent a great war. Today a Buddhist temple stands on the place that Lord Buddha preached to the two kings.

Just like the western mythical legends such as Thor and Zeus, there were eastern mythical legends, out of which Lord Indra is believed to be the God of Lightning, Thunder, Rains and River flows. He is also considered to be the king of the heavens. Lord Indra once tried to seduce another man’s wife and the husband cursed Indra to have a thousand yoni (female reproductive organ) all over his body. Unable to face the humiliation, Indra sought exile in the Nagadeepa Island, and he prayed to Goddess Parvati (consort of Lord Shiva who is one of the principal deities of Hinduism and is considered as the “Destroyer”). Goddess Parvati is also known as “Naaga-pooshani” which is the name of the temple today – Naaga-pooshani Amman Temple. Lord Indra was cured by Parvati after seeing how he truly repented his sins and turned the yonis on Indra’s body into eyes.

Many centuries after Lord Indra’s stay in Naagadeepa island, there were cobras (snakes) who swam to the island to worship Goddess Parvati. One day an eagle preyed on one of these cobras while it was swimming from the mainland. With eminent death at hand, the cobra sought refuge on one of the rocks at sea close to the island and the eagle sat on another rock close by. A merchant passing close by in a boat, begged the eagle not to kill the cobra. The eagle agreed to not kill the cobra under one condition, that the merchant had to build a beautiful temple in the Naagadeepa island to protect “The Growing Rock” of Goddess Parvati. The merchant agreed and later he built a beautiful temple around the Growing Rock.

This temple stood in the island until the invading Portuguese destroyed it in 1620. The present temple was built between 1720 to 1790.

The Growing Rock of Goddess Parvati is one of the most venerated holy relics in Sri Lanka. The Rock keeps on growing on its own and it is growing in the shape of cobra heads. Historians say that this is to pay homage to all the cobras who have been visiting the island for many centuries.

The Growing Rock is enshrined in a sacred room inside the Naagapooshani Amman temple and it is only shown to the public once every 22 years. Millions of devotees from around the world gather to this small island to witness this holiest of relics from the Old World which is a once in a lifetime opportunity. When you visit the Naagapooshani Amman temple, be sure to check out the beautifully carved doors which tells you the story of the cobra and the eagle in detail. There’re records of ancient Sri Lankan kings taking measures to protect this great temple.