Jaffna is different. This is the capital of the Tamil territory in Sri Lanka. If you ask any of the very proud locals they will answer that their culture is different. Moreover, you will find it not only different but amazing. Indeed, Jaffna is a must in your visit to Sri Lanka just because you will be able to catch up with a unique multicultural way of living and understanding life. Let’s see why in this article.
The city of Jaffna is located in the extreme north of Sri Lanka. We can agree that is far from everything but definitely worth it to go. This oceanside town has been closed to tourists for years. The civil war in Sri Lanka ended in 2009, but it was most intense in the north of the country. Therefore, tourists were not allowed to enter this region. Still nowadays the north of Sri Lanka remains much less visited than the south and the presence of military controls and their barriers are more intense there. Even though, you will have not problems at all to get in the territory nor any hustle at any of these controls, either you go with public transport or your own rented vehicle.
A bit of ancient History of Jaffna
For a long time the north of Sri Lanka was under the control of the different Sinhalese kingdoms that ruled the island. In 1214, a military leader called Kalinga Magha from the powerful Pandian Empire of South India, conquered Polonnaruwa and created the Kingdom of Jaffna, establishing the capital in Nallur, currently a neighborhood of present-day Jaffna. Kalinga Magha was famous for his cruelty, and during his reign much of the Sinhalese population fled south. So the Tamil culture and the Hindu religion consolidated its inflluence in the north of the island with very little opposition.
In 1323, Jaffna achieved its independence and flourished thanks to the income obtained from the export of elephants and the cultivation of pearls. Meanwhile, in the south of Sri Lanka, the Kingdom of Kotte was gaining power. In 1450 King Parakramabahu VI sent a military expedition to the north that defeated the Jaffna troops and re-established Sinhalese rule in all of Sri Lanka.
However, very soon, in 1505, the Portuguese landed in Sri Lanka and ended the local fights concentrating the power on their colony. Nevertheless, the Portuguese control lasted barely 40 years, it was enough time to destroy the main Hindu temples and impose the mandatory Catholic religion. Later, both the Dutch and the English were much more tolerant in terms of religion but more effective in economic exploitation. Fortunately for everybody, the temples were rebuilt and Jaffna prospered, evolving to be the second largest city in Sri Lanka.
The Civil War in Sri Lanka
Independence arrived in the country in 1948. The government was Sinhalese-majority and tensions were rising between Tamil and Sinhalese communities. The conflict led to the creation in 1976 of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), an armed group that called for an independent Tamil state in the north and east of the island.
The tension in between the two sides increased. In 1981, an organized mob of Sinhalese individuals lit Jaffna Public library on fire. It was one of the most violent examples of ethnic biblioclasm of the 20th century. The library was one of the biggest in Asia, containing over 97,000 books and manuscripts.Soon, a series of terrorist acts ended in the Black July of 1983. The revenge of angry Sinhalese was to murder hundreds of Tamil citizens and destroying their property all around the country.
The consequences were terrible, forced masive inmigration and an awful Civil War that lasted 26 years, until the defeat of the LTTE in 2009. Along the way, historians estimate that some 100,000 people died in the conflict. The government was temporarily supported by India, which feared a similar independence movement in its state of Tamil Nadu. Meanwhile, the LTTE created a specialized suicide bombing group called Black Tigers. This group managed to assassinate the President of the government, former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, responsible for sending troops to Sri Lanka.
The city suffered a lot during the war by devastating battles. This is still visible in the streets. There are destroyed houses, bombed-out churches and bullet-riddled buildings revealing pieces of bloody fights. However, Tamil people are currently aiming to the future rather than to the past. They are restoring the city and the region, repairing temples and infraestructures. Although the region is still incredibly poor and undeveloped, Jaffna and its surroundings are safe and very interesting.
What to do in Jaffna
- Nallur Kovil: This is the most important temple in Jaffana. It is located in Nallur, a suburb of the city of Jaffna. The Nallur Temple stands on a structure in the form of a golden arch with its gopuram, the monumental entrance of Hindu temples, as its main attraction.
- Temple Road: Actually is the street of Nallur Kovil Temple but also the street of many other temples. They are currently renovating some of them from the damages of the Civil War bombings.
- Jaffna Fort: The Portuguese built in 1618 under the orders of Filipe de Oliveira the awesome Jaffna Fort. It was the background of different clashes during the Sri Lankan Civil War. Currently, this is a very popular place to relax on the grass just in front of the Ocean next to a great historic building. It is often crowded with groups of young people, families and tourists interested in history. However, this is a visit you cannot miss in the city.
- Jaffna Market: All kind of tropical fruits and vegetables available in Jaffna Market. It can be an awesome experience but we cannot expect a set up for tourists. It is colorful and vivid and, definitely, the best place for fresh vegetables and fruits in town.
The best activities of Jaffna in Sri Lanka
Where to eat in Jaffna
The gastronomy in Jaffna is excellent like in the rest of the country. Jaffna is the capital of the Tamil territory and it is the closest city to India. Don’t miss the occasion to taste Indian Food. There are some Indian restaurants with Indian cooks and workers where you can taste very good Indian food. If you want to know what to eat in Sri Lanka take a look at our complete review about the gastronomy in Sri Lanka.
- Mango Indian Veg: This is the perfect place to eat dosas and to drink amazing lassis. It is very clean and the food is very good value for your money. It is popular among locals and tourists. The cooks are proper Indian. They don’t serve alcohol.
- Green Grass Hotel & Restaurant: This a place where to get some extra services suitable to top hotels for a budget price. They have a rooftop restaurant and they serve beer. Don’t expect such a luxury at any place you go.
Where to stay in Jaffna
Jaffna has a large offer of hotels and accommodations to make your vacation confortable. Take a look on our map!
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