The capital of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka, Jaffna is the administrative headquarters of the Jaffna district. It is located on a peninsula of the same name and is Sri Lanka’s 12th largest city.
Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil is a huge Hindu temple that is topped with a towering god-encrusted, golden-ochre gopuram. This temple is one of the most significant Hindu religious complexes in Sri Lanka. Its sacred deity is Murugan or Skanda and offerings are made at certain times during the day. In shrines surrounding the inner sanctum are other Hindu deities like Ganesh. The temple is located about 1.5 km northeast of the center.
The kovil’s present structure dates back to 1734 and it is comprised of huge compound shelters, decorative brass work, huge murals, pillared halls and a colonnaded, stepped holy pool. You can find priests here who speak English and can tell you about the temple and its traditions. Visitors must remove their shoes and men must remove their shirts as well. Prayers can be said at the sacred tree in the temple’s southern courtyard. You can get a piece of gold-threaded cloth from outside the temple, wrap some coins in it and tie it to the tree along with a prayer. Afterwards, don’t forget to ring the big brass bell. The enormous and spectacular Nallur Festival occurs here in mid-summer.
The Jaffna Public Library was one of the major buildings, rebuilt after the 2002 ceasefire. In reconstruction it was rebuilt in the original neo-Mughal design. The library was an important Tamil cultural center and historic institution that was inaugurated in 1841. The library’s world-renowned collection included over 90,000 volumes among them irreplaceable Tamil documents like the one surviving copy of Yalpanam Vaipavama, a history of Jaffna. Unfortunately this all went up in flames. Out in front you’ll see a statue of Saraswati the Hindi goddess of knowledge.
Jaffna Fort stands overlooking the Jaffna lagoon. This was once one of the greatest Dutch forts in Asia. It has been recently restored but still remains largely in ruins. The fort was built in 1680 over an earlier Portuguese original and defensive triangles were added in 1792 to produce the classic Vaubanesque star form. This citadel once housed thousands of troops and civilians. Still hidden beneath overgrown slopes you can see the walls of the fort constructed from coral, stone, brick and mortar. During the war, government forces used the fort as an encampment.
You can take a look at war ruins. Jaffna is rebuilding bit by bit and attempting to repair the damage left behind by the war. East of the fort was the city’s former government district and some ruined structures, such as the former kachcheri (administrative office). Ruins are slowly becoming moss-encrusted. The fishing community between Beach Rd. and the lagoon were also damaged and this became a restricted area for years. Today you can take a look at this friendly neighborhood.
Nallur was the capital of the Jaffna Kingdom for 400 years and a few weathered structures remain like the Royal Palace. The palace is worth looking at. Some of the things that can still be seen are – Yamuna Eri, a U-shaped pool made of carved stones and the Cankili Thoppu Archway, which was one of the palace’s original entrances.
The SJV Chelvanayakum Monument is an unusual looking top-heavy pillar erected near the Jaffna Library, celebrating the founder of the Tamil Federal Party. His statue stands beside the monument.
Amazingly large and built along classical Dutch lines is St. Mary’s Cathedral. It has corrugated-iron roofing and impressive wooden vaulting.
An unusual piece of architecture is the Clock Tower with a Moorish domed top.
Fort Hammenhiel stands on a rock at the entrance to Jaffna lagoon, surrounded by the sea on all sides. This fort stood on the north, guarding the passage by water to the Key Fort in Jaffna. It was built by the Portuguese in the 17th century on a small island between the island of Kayts and Karaitivu of Jaffna Peninsula. Fort Hammenhiel was captured later on, rebuilt and renamed by the Dutch in memory of a “heel of the ham”. In more recent history it was used as a correction facility for naval personnel but has since been refurbished and turned into a resort and restaurant. An interesting place to stay where old Dutch prison cells have been turned into rooms to give everyone a prison cell experience.
The Keerimalai Hot Water Springs have therapeutic value and contain healing waters. The spring water flows through the crevices and fissures of the carbonated rocks, acquiring residues of minerals and encounters sea water at its surface. Hindu Tamils gather at these springs on the new moon day of July as the dip into the waters and pay tribute to the souls of departed ancestors.
Take an interesting look at Point Pedro and surroundings. The lighthouse at the coastal village of Point Pedro marks the northernmost point of Sri Lanka.
To the west you’ll find the infamous coastal village of Velvettiturai. This village for decades was the stronghold of petty local smugglers and the landing point of illegal immigrants from South India.
5 km 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. This was once a principal city of Jaffna peninsula and is home to the second largest Hindu kovil in the country. This shrine is one of the very few in Sri Lanka that has been dedicated to the god Vishnu.
The Manalkadu Sand Dunes begin at Point Pedro. This is a sparsely populated coastal stretch with isolated villages centered around a village well. There are acres of sand dunes covered with thick bush and beyond the dunes you can see one of the most beautiful beaches of the Northern Province.
Nagadipa Viharaya is an ancient Buddhist temple located in Nagadipa, one of the islands clustered close to the western coast of Jaffna Peninsula. The stupa commemorates the Buddha’s third visit to Sri Lanka. The Image House next to the stupa is home to a fine golden Buddhist statue.
Vaitheeswara Kovil in Jaffna located along the KKS Road hosts a couple of annual festivals. The Shivan Festival for twenty days ends with the full moon day in March, the Ambal Devi Festival for ten days ends with the new moon day in July.
Take the time to visit the wonderful Wilpattu National Park. It has been named for the hundreds of willus or ponds scattered about its 131,693 hectares. This is one of the oldest national parks in Sri Lanka. The dominating animal here is the leopard. Wilpattu is among the top national parks world renowned for its leopard population. Other species of mammals here include the sloth bear, water buffalo, sambhur and spotted deer.
Among the bird population you’ll find the painted stork, the open bill and little cormorant. There are also many species of owls, terns, gulls, eagles and kite buzzards. Among the wetland bird species are the spoonbill white ibis, large white egret, Cattle egret and Purple heron.