Jaffna (Tamil: Yalpanam, Sinhala: Yāpanaya) is the capital city of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. It is the administrative headquarters of the Jaffna district located on a peninsula of the same name. With a population of 88,138, Jaffna is Sri Lanka's 12th largest city. Jaffna is approximately six miles away from Kandarodai which served as a famous emporium in the Jaffna peninsula from classical antiquity. Jaffna's suburb, Nallur served as the capital of the four centuries-long medieval Jaffna kingdom.
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. It changed hands to the Dutch colonials, who lost it to the British in 1796.
The majority of the city’s population are Sri Lankan Tamils, although there was 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. The city is home to number of educational institutions established during the colonial and post-colonial period. It also has number of commercial institutions, minor industrial units, banks, hotels and other government institutions such as the hospital. The city is anchored by theJaffna fort rebuilt during the Dutch colonial period.
Excavations that were conducted by Sir Paul E. Pieris during 1918 and 1919 at the ancient Jaffna capital of Kandarodai andVallipuram, a coastal town six kilometres from Point Pedro, revealed coins called "puranas", and "kohl" sticks that dated back to 2000 BCE similar in style to the sticks used to paint pictures in Egypt, suggesting that the Northern part of Sri Lanka was a "flourishing" settlement even before the birth of Prince Vijaya, the legendary founder of the Sinhalese
Early historic period
In the chronicle Mahavamsa, around sixth century B.C, there are descriptions of exotic tribes such as the Yakkhas strictly inhabiting the centre of the island, and the Nagas who worshiped snakes inhabiting the northern, western and eastern parts of the island, which was historically referred to as "Nagadipa".
The 6th century CE Tamil epic Manimekalai speaks of the prosperous Naga Nadu. According to Schalk, Naga Nadu was a not an independent kingdom, but a Tamil Buddhist fief in the North of Sri Lanka
During the medieval times, the Kingdom of Aryacakravarti came into existence in the 13th Century as an ally to the Pandyan Empire in South India. When the Pandyan Empire became weak due to Muslim invasions, successive Aryacakravarti rulers made the Jaffna kingdom independent and a regional power to reckon with in Sri Lanka. Nallur a suburb of Jaffna served as the capital of the kingdom.
Politically, it was an expanding power in the 13th and 14th century with all regional kingdoms paying tribute to it. However, it met with simultaneous confrontations with theVijayanagar empire that ruled from Vijayanagara, southern India, and a rebounding Kotte Kingdom from the southern Sri Lanka. This led to the kingdom becoming a vassal of the Vijyanagar Empire as well as briefly losing its independence under the Kotte kingdom from 1450 to 1467. The kingdom was re-established with the disintegration of Kotte kingdom and the fragmentation of Viyanagara Empire. It maintained very close commercial and political relationships with the Thanjavur Nayakar kingdom in southern India as well as the Kandyan and segments of the Kotte kingdom. This period saw the building of Hindu temples in the peninsula and a flourishing of literature, both in Tamil and Sanskrit.
Jaffna city was established as a colonial administrative center by the Portuguese colonials in 1621 Prior to the military capitulation to the Portuguese Empire in 1619, the capital of the local Jaffna Kingdom, also known as the Kingdom of the Aryacakravarti was Nallur. Nallur is close to the city limits of Jaffna The capital city was known in royal inscriptions and chronicles as Cinkainakar and in other sources as Yalpaanam in Tamil and Yapaapatuna in Sinhalese
From 1590, Portuguese merchants and Catholic missionaries were active within the Jaffna kingdom. Impetus for a permanent fortified settlement happened only after 1619, when the expeditionary forces of the Portuguese Empire led by Phillippe de Oliveira captured the last native king Cankili II. Phillipe de Oliveira moved the center of political and military control from Nallur to Jaffnapatao (variously spelt as Jaffnapattan or Jaffnapattam), the Portuguese rendition of the native name for the former Royal capital Jaffnapatao was attacked number of times by a local rebel Migapulle Arachchi and his allied Thanjavur Nayakar expeditionary forces but the Portuguese defence of the city withstood the attacks. Jaffnapatao was a small town. It had a fort, a harbour and Catholic chapels and other government buildings. Portuguese merchants took over the lucrative trade of Elephants from the interior and monopolised the import of goods from Colombo and India thus disfranchising the local merchants Portuguese period was a time of population movement to the Vannimais in the south, religious change and as well as introduction of many European educational and health care methods to the city.
In 1658, Portuguese lost Jaffapatao to the Dutch East India Company (VOC) after a three-month siege. During the Dutch occupation, the city grew in population and size. Dutch were also tolerant towards native mercantile and religious activities. Most Hindu temples that were destroyed by the Portuguese were rebuilt. A community of mixed Eurasian Dutch Burghers formed and became part of the city during this period. The Dutch expanded rebuilt the fort considerably, built notable Presbyterian churches and other government buildings 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 Dutch possessions in Sri Lankan from 1796. Britain maintained many of the Dutch mercantile, tolerant 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, Weslyan Methodist Mission, Saivite reformer Arumuka Navalar and others. All the major roads and railway line connecting the city with Colombo, Kandy and the rest of the country were built. Under the British, Jaffna enjoyed a period of rapid growth and prosperity. The excess wealth of the citizens of the city was directed towards building civic projects like temples, schools, library and the museum.
The Jaffna Municipal Council governs the City of Jaffna. It was established under the Municipalities Ordinance Act of 1865. Although other cities such as Kandy, Galle and Colombo had elected municipal councils soon after the 1865 ordinance, Jaffna did not have an elected municipal council for many years. This reflected the desire of the British bureaucrats to govern the city directly rather than share power with a highly literate electorate. The first elected mayor was Cathiravelu Ponnambalam.
Geography and climate
The city is surrounded by Jaffna Lagoon to its west and south, Kokkuvil and Thirunelveli to the north, and Nallur to the east. Jaffna peninsula is made of limestone as it was submerged under sea during the Miocene period. The limestone is grey, yellow and white porous type. The entire land mass is flat and lies at sea level. Within one mile of the city center is the island of Mandativu which is connected by a causway. Palmyrah groves can be seen where land has not been used for construction. Other notable vegetation is a leafless shrub called talai (alae africana) and koddanai (oleander).
Jaffna features a tropical rainforest climate with no true dry season month. Jaffna has the highest average temperature in Sri Lanka – 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. The average rainfall is 50 inches in the western part of Jaffna peninsula.
Historically residents of Jaffna city were Tamils, Moors (Muslims), Europeans and Eurasian Burghers. Over time the composition changed with Tamils and Moors predominating and Europeans and Burghers either assimilating or moving away. Europeans and the natives lived in separate sections of the city. Most houses were modest in size and the streets were kept clean. After 1900's the population increased and Sinhalese from the south also settled in Jaffna. Prior to the civil war there were Moors, Sinhalese, Indian Tamils and other ethnic groups living in Jaffna.
During colonial times Jaffna was Ceylon's (Sri Lanka) second largest city. Post-independence the city was overtaken by the growth of settlements near Colombo.
Most Tamils are Hindus, professing the Saivite sect but might also propitiate many of the village deities. Most Christians are Roman Catholics with small but influential number of Protestants belonging to the Church of South India, the successor organisation of American Ceylon Mission and other colonial era Protestant churches. All Moors were Muslims with the Sunni sect predominating with a small number of Shias prevalent amongst mercantile immigrants from North India or Pakistan. There is a small community of Tamil Buddhists who converted to Theravada Buddhism during the 20th century due to the efforts of Maha Bodhi Society. Most Sinhalese were either Buddhists or Catholics.
There was a small community of nomadic wanderers known as Kuravar who visited Jaffna seasonally and spoke a dialect of Telugu or Tamil. Tamils were also divided along the caste system but as an urban area class was more important than caste which was more pronounced in rural areas of Jaffna district.
Jaffna city was founded as a trading town by European merchants. Although a historic port used by the native Jaffna kingdom was already in existence when the Portuguese arrived, it was the European mercantile activity that made it prominent. In colonial times, production of clothes, items of gold and silver, processing of tobacco, rice and other related activities formed an important part of the economic activities. In modern times, the port was its principal source of revenue but it has declined drastically. Currently it survives as a fishing port. The city had a wide range of industries, including food processing, packaging, making of household items, and salt processing
Jaffna city has number of education institutions founded by the missionary efforts and Saivite revivalism during the British colonial period. Peter Percival a Wesleyan Missionary started several schools in Jaffna city including Jaffna Central College and Vembadi Girls’ High School.
Most historic buildings such as Temples, Saraswathy Mahal library and palaces in the royal city of Nallur and the rest of Jaffna peninsula were destroyed by the Portuguese colonials. Materials from destroyed buildings were used in the construction of the Jaffna fort and other fortifications Cankilian Thopu or entrance of the palace of Cankili I and Mantri Manai or minister's palace are few of the pre-colonial buildings still standing in the royal quarters of Nallur. Within the Jaffna city proper, the Dutch fort is an imposing structure followed by many Dutch era homes, churches and civil buildings. There are number of British colonial era building such as the Indo-Sarasenic style clock tower and the Public library that are notable. Almost all Hindu temples in Jaffna including the socially important Nallur Kandaswamy temple were reconstructed during the Dutch and British period.