The center of an independent kingdom from the 13th to the 15th cent., Jaffna was occupied by the Portuguese (1617-1658) and the Dutch (1658-1795) until the British conquest. Since the 1980s it has been the center of violent Tamil resistance against Sinhalese dominance in Sri Lanka. Guerrilla groups, particularly the Liberation Tigers, which has controlled portions of the peninsula at various times since 1986, have tried to transform the peninsula and E Sri Lanka into an independent nation called Tamil Eelam. Indian troops occupied the peninsula from 1988 to 1990 in an attempt to help quell the rebellion. In 2009 Sri Lanka forces again reopened a land route along the peninsula to the city of Jaffna. The Dec., 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami caused destruction and loss of life on peninsula.
Jaffna or Yazhpanam (யாழ்ப்பாணம் in Tamil meaning யாழ்=harp, பாணம்=town of harper) is the capital city of the Northern Province, Sri Lanka. Most of the residents of Jaffna are Sri Lankan Tamils with a presence of Sri Lankan Moors (muslims). Almost all Sri Lankan moors were driven off from Jaffna by the LTTE in the 90s, as a result of the ethnic conflict which started in the 1970s which leaves Jaffna exclusively Tamil, apart from the military personnel. It was the second largest city in the country for several decades, until the recent civil conflict.
85% of the population of the Jaffna and Kilinochchi districts were Hindus. The Hindus followed the Saivite tradition. The remainder were largely Roman Catholic or Protestant. The Tamils were divided along caste lines with the farmer-caste Vellalar forming the majority. The maritime caste known as the Karaiyar dominated the coast.
Most Jaffna tamils belong to the Dravidian cultural group and the Pongal. The Hindu New Year in April, Christmas, Deepavali, Navaratri and Shivaratri are some of the religious festivals celebrated. During the colonial period Jaffna people were attracted to western culture and these features can be identified even today in the Jaffna society. Arts The traditional dance of the Sri Lankan Tamils is called Kooththu. These are a variety of stage dramas. Karthavarayan Kooththu, Sangiliyan Kooththu and Poothaththambi Kooththu are some of the famous Kooththus in Jaffna. The Poothaththambi Kooththu has been staged from the Dutch era. These arts are mainly focused on the historical values of the community and to entertain the people. The villuppattu is one of the famous arts of the tamils. Oyilaattam is a notable variety of dance in the jaffna peninsula. The South Indian dance and music is also indigenous to Jaffna. Noteworthy here would be Bharata Natyam and Carnatic Music in the classical high tradition of Hinduism. Literature A poet called Eelattu Poothanthevanar is mentioned in the ancient Tamil sangam in Madurai. He was most probably from the North of Sri lanka. The Chief Nalliyakodan of Mantai in what is today Mannar sponsored several Sangam era poets in the Tamil land. Kumanan, another chief from Kudiramalai, also sponsored poets. However, the precise identity of Nalliyakodan and Kumanan is under doubt. This is discussed in Mudaliyar C. Rasanayagam's "Ancient Jaffna".
The medieval Tamil court in Jaffna hardly produced any literature of worth except for the rare manuscripts on astronomy or ayurveda.
Turning to modern times, Arumuga Navalar was born in Nallur in December 1822. He died in 1879. He helped develop modern Tamil prose and freed the language from what had become the stilted classicism of the past with his freer use of words. He translated the Bible into Tamil and then researched Hindu doctrine. Navalar wrote many Hindu religious books and was an outstanding orator. He was the pioneer of religious reforms in the Jaffna Hindu society. C.W Thamotheram pillai, another native of Jaffna, was one of the first two graduates in the Madras Presidency. He obtained his degree from the University of Madras in 1858 and contributed to Tamil studies. Dr. Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy contributed extensively to the study of Indian art in its social context. He was born in 1877.
Mallikai, Sudar, Samar, Siriththiran, Alai and Kathambam were some of the Tamil magazines published in the 1970s. Many of them disappeared after the ethnic tension in the late 1980s.
The term Pulampeyar Ilakkiyam refers to the literature of the Tamil speaking people who migrated away from their native region. Viduthalai Ilakkiyam is the literature of various Tamil nationalist organizations.Media The first newspaper in Jaffna, Uthayatharakai (Morning Star) was published in 1841 by C.W. Thamotharampillai Today it has number of newspapers including Eelamurasu and Uthayan.
Jaffna Harbour The pending Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project may increase the productivity of the Jaffna Harbour. Enlargement of the harbour will bring benefits to Sri Lanka. The strategic advantages derive from obtaining a navigable sea route close to the coast, with a reduction in travel distance of more than 350 nautical miles (650 km) (for larger ships). The project is expected to provide a boost to the economic and industrial development of coastal Tamil Nadu in India. The project will be of particular significance to Jaffna, Kankesanthurai, Mannar, Point Pedro and Tuticorin harbour.
Peter Percival was a Wesleyan Missionary who started several schools in Jaffna including Jaffna Central College, Hartley College, Vembadi Girls School, and the Methodist Girls High School. The first translation of the Bible into Tamil was carried out by Fr Peter Percival and Arumuga Navalar.
The Jaffna Hindu College is one of the leading schools in Jaffna. This institution was established by a Hindu asscociation in 1890. The Hindu Board of Education established a network of grant-in-aid schools. Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan established Ramanathan College for Girls and Parameshwarar College for Boys.
Founded by American missionaries in 1819, Jaffna College has records of Malaysian, Singaporean, South Indian and even Japanese students enrollment in the 1930s and 1940s. American missionaries also founded many other institutions of higher learning that are still functioning today. Today most students are locals.
Due to the current civil war, the city has witnessed wholesale massacres, disappearances of the civilian population and a deterioration in the human rights situation. Currently it is occupied by the Sri Lankan Army, with full government control; between 1990 and 1995 it was under the control of the LTTE . Due to ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, many residents moved out of the city, and thus the population was reduced dramatically. According to the 2001 census, the population of the municipality is about 145,600 . The population of the district is currently estimated by the district administration at 600,000. Jaffna also functions as the economic and cultural capital of Sri Lankan Tamils.
Jaffna was once a stronghold of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a separatist outfit that seeks to set up an independent Tamil Eelam for Tamil-speaking people in Sri Lanka. Jaffna currently is under the occupation of the government of Sri Lanka.
The Jaffna Public library was burnt down by an organized mob in June 1981, when ethnic tensions in the country were building steadily towards war. The Sri Lankan government (United National Party) at that time was accused of letting the paramilitaries loose in Jaffa, following an incident where two Sinhalese policemen were killed by a Tamil group. The library was renovated in 2003 by the government of Sri Lanka. Mass exodus and ethnic cleansing Many of the Tamils from this region moved out to other parts of the island or to foreign countries. This exodus of Tamils from Jaffna occurred for a number of reasons.
The entire Muslim and Sinhalese population of Jaffna was forced to leave within 48 hours in 1990 due to an ethnic cleansing order by the LTTE allegedly to avenge the ethnic cleansing of Tamils in the East. There have been claims of human rights violations on both sides. Due to Jaffna becoming a constant battleground between the Sri Lankan military and the LTTE, many people have been displaced. The tense security situation over the years of the ceasefire has left Jaffna in a precarious position as it is likely to be a key target should the conflict reignite in the future.
The Mahavamsa mentions that Lord Buddha used his siddhi or yogic powers to visit Jaffna by air to resolve a crisis over a jewel between the Naga chieftains and introduced Buddhism to them. It refers to the port of Jambukola Pattuna, now known as Sambalturai, where ships embarked to India. The Mahavamsa Tika - a commentary on the chronicle, speaks of a Thera Dhammadinna in the island of Piyangudipa which is probably the present island of Punguduteevu. The Sangam era Tamil literature in the early centuries of the common era included poets from Mantai in what is today the Mannar District of Sri Lanka. The Tamil epic the Manimekalai refers to a place called Manipallavam which might well be Jaffna. The archeological ruins in Kantarodai might well confirm this literary reference.
In northern Sri Lanka, the Jaffna Kingdom (1215-1619; also known as the Kingdom of Aryacakravarti) began with the invasion of one Magha claiming to be from Kalinga in India. It eventually became a tribute paying client of the Pandyan Empire in India around the 1250s only to become independent with the fragmentation of the Pandyan control. For a brief period in the early and middle fourteenth century it was an ascending power in Sri Lanka with all major kingdoms becoming its tributaries only to become occupied by the rival Kotte Kingdom in the 1450s.
After it was reconstituted its rulers energies were directed towards consolidating its economic potential by maximizing revenue from pearls and elephant exports and land revenue. It was less feudalized than most of other Sri Lanka kingdoms of the same period. Important local Tamil literature was produced and Hindu temples were built during this period including an academy for language advancement.
The arrival of the Portuguese colonial power in Sri Lanka in 1505 and the understanding of its strategic location in the Palk Straight connecting all interior Sinhalese kingdoms to South India created political problems. Many of its kings confronted and eventually made peace with the Portuguese colonials. Eventually Cankili II (1617-1619) a usurper to the throne confronted the Portuguese and was defeated, thus bringing the kingdom’s independent existence to an end in 1619. Portuguese colony
After lasting for over 400 years, the Dravidian-influenced Jaffna Kingdom finally lost its independence to the Portuguese in 1621. The Portuguese captured the King of Jaffna Sangili Kumaran and took him to Goa in India along with his sons. After the trial, the Portuguese found him guilty of treason and hanged him along with his sons. With the Jaffna Kingdom’s demise, the only indigenous independent political entity that was not Sinhalese and Buddhist in character came to an end in the Island. The Portuguese built the Jaffna Fort and the moat around it.Dutch colony
The Tamils and the Kandyan Kingdom collaborated and conspired with the Dutch rulers of Batavia (today's Jakarta in Indonesia). The Dutch invasion from Batavia brought religious freedom for Tamils and Muslims.The Dutch and later the colonial English ruler reigned for approximately three centuries, with each ruling for approximately 150 years. The Jaffna Tamil has several Portuguese and Dutch words still in usage.
During the Dutch rule the islands of the Palk Straits were renamed after Leiden, Kayts and other cities in the Netherlands. The Dutch priest Rev Philippus Baldeus wrote a great historical record similar to Mahawamsa on the Jaffna people and their culture and it was immediately published in Dutch and German with several beautiful pictures. A granite stone inscription at the Point Pedro Market Square still marks the place where Rev Baldeus preached to the Tamils under a big tamarind tree. This tamarind tree was uprooted during the cyclone of 1963.British colony
British rule began in 1798. Many educational institutions were established during this period. The English language was taught to the locals. The Jaffna Tamils were given higher ranks in government institutions. At this time American missionaries and Anglican missionaries were in close competition with Catholic missionaries in establishing churches and schools in every nook and corner. The Hindu Board of Education in turn established its own network of schools. Several high schools and western style education became the hallmark of Jaffna. Jaffna Tamils became loyal subjects of the ever-expanding British Empire and took the middle-level positions in public service throughout the South East Asian countries of the British Raj (Burma, Malaya, Borneo and Singapore) in the late 1800s/early 1900s.Christian missionary activity
Jaffna also played an important role in the Roman Catholic religious administration of Sri Lanka. It also plays an important role in the administration of the Church of South India in Sri Lanka, a group of Protestant denominations.