'Jaffna' or Yaalpaanam (யாழ்ப்பாணம்)

'Jaffna' or Yaalpaanam (யாழ்ப்பாணம்)




The Northern Sri Lankan city of Jaffna has a written history of 2000 years. Along with
the Mahavamsa and Chulavamsa, The Yalpana Vaipava Malai, Kailaya Malai,
and Irasamurai are some of the books containing historical facts of Jaffna. The Abitta Jataka in the Pali canon refers to the Brahmin sage Akitta (Agastya?) who had visited the island of Kara adjacent to Nagadipa. This is identified by some as the present Karaitivu or Karainagar.
The Mahavamsa mentions that Lord Buddha used his iddhi 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 to 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 in 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.

The Jaffna Kingdom

The development of the Dravidic tribes in the past twenty centuries gave rise to states like the Pallava, Pandyan, Chola, Chera and Vijayanagar kingdoms in Southern India. From time to time one or the other of these Dravidian states reached pre-eminence, but undoubtedly the greatest of these was the Chola Empire, which encompassed not only south India but Sri Lanka and the Maldives to the south to outposts in the Andaman islands, Malaya and Sumatra in the east.
Mudaliyar C. Rasanayagam of the Ceylon Civil Service in his "''Ancient Jaffna''" published in Madras in 1926 maintains that there were chiefs in Jaffna who intermittently ruled independently from fourth century CE to eighth century CE though more often under the Kings in Anuradhapura. He cites evidence in the Sangam era literature of the Tamils, Ptolemy, the Periplus of the Erythrean Sea, Near Eastern travelers (Abu Zaid, El Edirisi and Ibn Battuta) and the Mahavamsa. The early Arab travelers referred to the kingdom of Zapage (Yalpaanam?) in north Ceylon. The historical validity of his conclusions remains to be confirmed.
The political, socio-economic and cultural impact and influence of the Chola empire under the kings Parantaka, Aditya, Raja Raja and Rajendra was extensive. It had a lasting politico-socio-economic and cultural impact and influence on Sri Lanka. The Cholas had annexed the northern half of the island of Ceylon in 993 CE but were evicted by a resurgent Sinhalese power in Polonnaruwa allied to both the Pandyas and Kalinga (Orissa) in 1070 CE. However, the Chola inter-regnum consolidated the Tamil presence in the northern districts of Ceylon as researched by Professor K. Indrapala in his PhD thesis - ''Early Tamil Settlements in Ceylon'' - submitted to the University of London.
S. Pathmanathan in his "''Kingdom of Jaffna''" published in Colombo in 1978 attributes the origins of the Tamil Hindu Kingdom in north Sri Lanka to Magha of Kalinga (Orissa) who had invaded the Polonnaruwa kingdom in 1215 CE and destroyed the economic underpinnings of the old Sinhalese hydraulic civilization that had been weakened by earlier Chola onslaughts. Magha depended on South Indian troops. The destruction of the Polonnaruwa kingdom facilitated the rise of the Kingdom of Jaffna.
According to Yalpana Vaipava Maalai (which was written by Mayilvagana Pulavar, during Dutch period), the first king in turn assumed the throne of Jaffna Kingdom in 1215 CE as "Segarajasekeran Singhai Ariyar Chakravarti" (Kulasekara Segarajasekeran Seliyasekaran Vijeyar Singhai Ariyar Chakravarti: 1215-1240).

By the end of his rule, he had subjugated most of Sri Lanka. The Batticaloa chronicle states that Segarajasekeran captured Polonnaruwa. The Chulavamsa and the Rajavaliya, another Sinhalese chronicle, mention that Segarajasekeran stationed troops at Trincomalee, Koddiyaram, Kantalai, Padavikulam, Kaddukkulam, Kayts, Pulachery and dominated Rajarata, the heartland of what had been the Sinhalese hydraulic civilization until then.
After Segarajasekeran's death in 1240, his son Kulasegaran succeeded to the throne under the name Pararajasekeran and ruled from Nallur in the Jaffna Peninsula.
In 1247 Chandrabhanu invaded the Island with the aid of Indianized armies from the Malay peninsula and inflicted heavy damage. Most probably the mercenaries under Chandrabhanu came from Kedah as it was a Hindu Javanese outpost though Chandrabanu himself appears to have had Buddhist antecedents. Kediri was a Hindu kingdom based in East Java from 1045 to 1221 that influenced Kadaram. Chandrabhanu’s invasion was repulsed in 1263.
Kulathungan succeeded his father and reigned until 1279 under the name Segarajasekeran II. Vikraman, son of Kulothungan, reigned from 1279 to 1302. He was known under the throne name of Pararajasekeran II. Varothayan succeeded his father and reigned from 1302 to 1325 under the name of Segarajasekeran III. Varothayan's son Marthanda Perumal became the ruler as Pararajasekeran III. He reigned from 1325 to 1348.
When the Pandyan empire in Tamil Nadu - successors to the Chola - in turn collapsed as a result of inroads from the Delhi Sultanate in the early 1300s CE, waves of Tamil immigrants moved to the peninsula. The Yalpana Vaipava Malai documents this in considerable detail.
Gunapushanam succeeded his father and reigned as Segarajasekeran IV from 1348 to 1371. In 1371, Virothayan followed his father and reigned until 1380 as Pararajasekeran IV. From 1380 to 1410, Jeyaveeran, son of Virothayan, reigned as Segarajasekeran V. Virothayan's son Kunaveeran held the throne as Pararajasekeran V from 1410 to 1446.
The Jaffna Kingdom had control over the Jaffna Peninsula, Northern Vanni Districts, Mannar, Pearl rich western Puttalam coast and at times even Trincomalee port.
Late medieval Sinhalese texts such as the Rajavaliya and the Nikaya Sangrahaya refer to the tax collectors of the Arya Chakravarti in Biyagama in what is today close to the Colombo airport and to naval attacks on Panadura south of Colombo. The Sinhalese turned to Alagakonara, a military genius of Kerala origin, to contain the inroads of the Arya Chakravarti. The tide changed with the Sinhalese temporarily occupying Jaffna under Parakrama Bahu VI in the 1400s CE.
The Tamil Hindu Kingdom of Jaffna had its distinct traditions of jurisprudence referred to as the Tesavalamai which has been documented by Dr. H.W. Tambiah's "''The Laws and Customs of the Tamils of Jaffna''" reprinted in Colombo in 2000.

Invasion and Colonization by the West

Colony of Portugal

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 had took him to Goa in India along with his sons. After 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.

Colony of the Netherlands

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 the later colonial English ruler reigned approximately 3 centuries in length with each ruling for approximately 150 years. The Jaffna Tamil has several Portuguese and Dutch words still in usage.
The islands of Palk Straits are renamed during Dutch rule in Dutch as Leiden, Kayts and other cities of the Netherlands. Dutch priest Rev Philippus Baldeus has written 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. Still at the Point Pedro Market Square a granite stone inscription marks the place where Rev Baldeus has preached to the Tamils under a big tamarind tree. This tamarind tree was uprooted during the cyclone of 1963.

Colony of Great Britain

The British started their rule in 1798. Many eductional institutions were established during this period. 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 and 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 education became the hallmark of Jaffna. Jaffna Tamils became loyal subjects of the ever-expanding British Imperialism and took the middle-level positions in public service throughout South East Asian countries of the British Raj (Burma, Malaya, Borneo and Singapore) in the late 1800s/early 1900s.


The general area of Jaffna peninsula boasts a written history dating back to circa 4th century BC. Yakshaganam is a type of music found in India. Yazhpanam may be a similar name for Yakshaganam. Nagapatnam is a city 40 kilometers North across the Palk Straits in India. Mahavamsa is full of references to Yakshas, Nagas and Tamilas as Kings of Lanka at various times.
A prominent port in the area was known as Yapa Patuna in Sinhala and Yaalpaana Pattinam in Tamil since the medieval times. In the local Tamil dialect it currently spelt as Yaalpaanam and some local Tamils believe the term Yaalpaanam is derived from Yaal and Paanam meaning land of the lute player alluding to a myth of a blind lute player receiving the land as a royal grant. Currently in Sinhalese, it is known as Yapanaya. Jaffna may be a latter-day simplification of the names either Yapa Patuna or Yaalpaana Pattinam.


Prior to the civil war most residents of Jaffna were Tamil speaking, Sri Lankan Tamils, with a notable Muslim(Moor) and Sinhalese presence.
Thus the 1981 Census gives: Tamils 800,000; Moors 14,000; Sinhala 5,000. compared to 20,514 Sinhala speakers in 1971 and none by 1988.
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 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.


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 art of 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.


A poet called Eelattu Poothanthevanar is mentioned in the ancient Tamil
sangam existed 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 manuscript 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 stitled classicism of the past with his freer use of words. He had translated the Bible into Tamil and then researched Hindu doctrine. Navalar had written 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 1970s. Many of them disappeared after the ethnic tension in late 1980s.
The term ''Pulampeyar Ilakkiyam'' is the literature of the Tamil speaking people migrated away from their native places. ''Viduthalai Ilakkiyam'' is the literature of various Tamil nationalist organizations.

Economic activities

Sea products, red onion, and tobacco are the main products in Jaffna. Prior to the civil war it was a place of many small scale industries manufacturing household items as well as packaging and food processing for export. Most industrialists have left or closed shops. The present Jaffna economy is facing setbacks because of the unstable connectivity with the south. The prices of goods in Jaffna are relatively very high compared to the south. Currently the primary economic activity is related to trading. The foreign remittance from the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora sustains many people.

Jaffna Harbour

The pending Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project may increase the productivity of the Jaffna Harbour positively. 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.


The first newspaper in Jaffna, Uthayatharakai (Morning Star) was published in 1841 by C.W. Thamotharampillai[1]
Today it has number of newspapers including 'Eelamurasu' and 'Uthayan'.

Educational instituitions

Jaffna is considered to be the most literate district in the whole of Sri Lanka, which has a very high literacy level to begin with. In early days (before 1970s') Sri Lankan universities were dominated by Jaffna students but currently their enrollment is minimized due to the effects of district based quota system introduced in 1970s as well as the effects of the civil war. However, in 1974 the government opened the University of Jaffna which is ''de facto'' reserved for students from the region, while they have a quota based access to the other Sri Lankan universities as well.
Peter Percival was a Wesleyan Missionary who started several schools in Jaffna including Jaffna Central College, Hartley College, Vembadi Girls School, and Methodist Girls High School. The first translation of 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 had 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 1930s and 1940s. American missionaries also founded many other institutions of higher learning that are still functioning today. Today most students are locals.

Ethnic conflict

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; prior to 1995 it was under control of the LTTE. Due to ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, many residents had moved out of the city, and thus the population has been 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 political and military organization seeking the establishment of an independent Tamil Eelam for Tamil-speaking people in Sri Lanka. However, it is now under the control of the government of Sri Lanka.
The Jaffna Public library was burnt down by a Singhalese mob in June 1981, when ethnic tensions in the country were building steadily towards war. It was renovated in 2003 by the government of Sri Lanka. [2]

Mass exodus and ethnic cleansing

Many of the Tamils from this region have moved out to other parts of the island or to foreign countries. This exodus of Tamils from Jaffna has 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 renew in the future.

Christian missionary activity

Jaffna also has 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. Some notable missionaries are

Eliza Agnew, Presbyterian missionary from New York City[1]



Sojourn in Jaffna : A traveller's paradise

Nallur Rajadhani: City Layout

Marakkala: the Sri Lankan Moors

History of Sri Lanka (13th to 15th Century)

A Brief History of Jaffna Kingdom

History of Jaffna Kingdom from Jaffna Website

History of Jaffna Kingdom by Dr. Mathi Chandrakumar

The Civil Wars of Sri Lanka during 13th to 15th Century

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