The tamil heartland of Sri Lanka

Jaffna is the capital city of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. Prior to the Sri Lankan civil war, it was Sri Lanka’s second most populated city after the commercial capital Colombo. The 1980s insurgent uprising led to extensive damage, expulsion of part of the population, and military occupation. Since the end of civil war in 2009, refugees and internally displaced people have started to return to their homes and government and private sector reconstruction has begun.

Historically, Jaffna has been a contested city. It was made into a colonial port town during the Portuguese occupation of the Jaffna peninsula in 1619 who lost it to the Dutch, only to lose it to the British in 1796. And during the post-Independence civil war the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) occupied Jaffna in 1986. The Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) briefly occupied the city in 1987. The LTTE again occupied the city from 1989 until 1995, when the Sri Lankan military regained control.

The majority of the city’s population are Sri Lankan Tamils with a significant number of Sri Lankan Moors, Indian Tamils and other ethnic groups present in the city prior to the civil war. Most Sri Lankan Tamils are Hindus followed by Christians, Muslims and a small Buddhist minority.

History of Jaffna

During the medieval times, the Kingdom of Arya Chakravarti came into existence in the 13th Century as an ally to the Pandyan Empire in South India. Politically, it was an expanding power in the 13th and 14th century with all regional kingdoms paying tribute to it. The Portuguese established Jaffna city in 1621 as their colonial administrative center.From 1590, Portuguese merchants and Catholic missionaries were active within the Jaffna kingdom. In 1658, Portuguese lost Jaffna to the Dutch East India Company (VOC) after a three-month siege.During the Dutch occupation, the city grew in population and size. The Dutch were more tolerant towards native mercantile and religious activities than the Portuguese had been. Most of the Hindu temples that the Portuguese had destroyed were rebuilt. A community of mixed Eurasian Dutch Burghers grew up. The Dutch rebuilt the fort and expanded it considerably. They also built Presbyterian churches and government buildings, most of which survived until the 1980s, but suffered damage or destruction during the subsequent civil war. During the Dutch period, Jaffna also became prominent as a trading town in locally grown agricultural products with the native merchants and farmers profiting as much as the VOC merchants.

Great Britain took over the Dutch possessions in Sri Lanka from 1796.Britain maintained many of the Dutch mercantile, religious, and taxation policies. During the British colonial period, almost all the schools that eventually played role in the high literacy achievement of the Jaffna residents were built by missionaries belonging to American Ceylon Mission, Wesleyan Methodist Mission, Saivite reformer Arumuka Navalar and others.Under British rule, Jaffna enjoyed a period of rapid growth and prosperity,as the British built the major roads and railway line connecting the city with Colombo, Kandy and the rest of the country. The prosperity of the city’s citizens enabled them to underwrite the building of temples and schools, and the library and museum.

Post-colonial history

After Sri Lanka became independent in 1948 from Britain, the relationship between majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils worsened. Residents of Jaffna city along with the rest of Tamil population of Sri Lanka were in the forefront of the political mobilisation behind Tamil nationalist parties. After the Tamil conference incident in 1974, the then mayor of Jaffna Alfred Duraiappah was assassinated by the leader of rebel LTTE, Velupillai Prabhakaran in 1975. Following further deterioration of political discourse, the Jaffna library was burnt down in 1981 by Police and other miscreants. Failure of the political class to find an adequate compromise led to full-scale civil war starting in 1983 soon after the Black July pogrom.

Geography and climate

The city is surrounded by Jaffna Lagoon to its west and south, Kokuvil and Tirunelveli to the north, and Nallur to the east. The entire land mass is flat and lies at sea level. Jaffna features a tropical rainforest climate with no true dry season month. Jaffna has the highest average temperature in Sri Lanka of 83 °F (28 °C). The temperature is highest in the months of April – May and August – September. The temperature is coolest in December – January. The annual rainfall is brought in by the North East monsoon and it varies from one place to the other and also from year to year.

Places of Interest in and around Jaffna

  • Nallur Kandaswamy Temple
  • Jaffna Fort
  • Cankili Thoppu Arcway
  • Jaffna Public Library
  • Manthiri Manai
  • Yamuna Eri
  • Clock Tower
  • Sangiliyan Statue
  • St Mary’s Cathedral
  • Keerimalai Hot Springs
  • Point Pedro
  • Nagadeepa Viharaya
  • Delft Island


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