Ancient archaeological findings at Thiruketheeswaram | Sunday Observer

Ancient archaeological findings at Thiruketheeswaram

2 May, 2021

The ancient world famous Hindu temple at Thiruketheeswaram is located in the Northern province of Sri Lanka. During the prehistoric period the Thiruketheeswaram temple was known as Mahathuvadapuri. With the passage of time the place was named Matota. Later, Matota came to be known as Mantota. However, the Sinhalese called it Mahatitta. It is believed that before the arrival of Vijayan in the 5th century BC, trading was carried out between India and Lanka by the Tamil people.

Historical evidence

It is worthwhile to note that there are numerous references to historical evidence. In 1575, a Portuguese historian Do Couto said some workers engaged in excavation work found an iron chain at the lowest level of a foundation. He said that such chains were not seen anywhere else in India.

According to another historical reference, the Sacred Tooth Relic was brought from Kalinga Desha to protect it from a hostile king. The bearer of the Sacred Tooth Relic landed at Mathota and spent the night at a Hindu temple. It is believed that the Hindu temple was the Thiruketheeswaram temple. However, the name of the temple has not been mentioned in any history book.

The Pali Dathavamsa did not mention the name of the port where the bearer landed with the Sacred Tooth Relic. It has simply mentioned the name of the place where the bearer landed as Lankapattuna. Another important fact regarding the temple is found in the Sambavakkurippu written by Vishvanartha Sastriyar of Jaffna. He has mentioned how the temple area was engulfed by the sea on numerous occasions.

The sea caused damage to the temple in 1540. According to him, poojas continued to be held till 1589. The Portuguese captured Mannar 1591 and built a fort. They conquered the Jaffna kingdom in the same year. It is assumed that the demolition of the Thiruketheeswaram temple took place only after 1591.


The Portuguese could not find metal to make a bell for their need in Mannar. They ordered the local people to find metal for the bell promising to give them clothes. A few days after the announcement, somebody had informed them that a piece of metal was found on the surface of the ground. When they dug the ground they found about 18 pieces of different images of Hindu deities.

An inscription found in Mathodam indicates that another temple named Thiruvirameswara Udaiya Mahadevan Kovil existed in the early days. It is believed that Rajendra 11 had made an endowment to the temple. Thiruketheeswaram was known as Mahadevan Kovil during the Chola regime.

They named Mathodam as Rajarajeswaram. The Chola regime in Sri Lanka was during the 10thand 11th centuries. During that period the Thiruketheeswaram temple had been maintained properly. Even the port city had been maintained beautifully. According to a Chiddambaram inscription I of the 13th century, the Thiruketheeswaram temple had been built by a Pandya king known as Sundara Pandyan 1 in a typical Pandyan style. In the 19th century, Alexander Johnstone, an outstanding scholar and eminent Chief Justice, indicated that in the city of Manthai numerous Romanian coins belonging to different periods along with specimens of pottery, gold and silver chains were found. In 1887, W.J.S. Broke read a paper at the Royal Asiatic Society titled

The Excavation of Mantai. He praised the port. The original temple site had been razed to the ground. All the valuable items including the ancient Siva Lingam of the temple were buried. In the past the coastal towns were robbed by pirates. Even the Kanniya Kumari was stolen in 1847. The Javanese also pirated a temple at Thambalagamam.

Massive excavation

After a few decades, the Archaeological Commissioner A.M. Hocart made a massive excavation in Manthai and the surrounding areas between 1925 and 1928. He found a handful of items. In 1950, numerous excavation projects were carried out.

During an earlier excavation valuable materials were found. The most interesting material found was a variety of pottery belonging to different countries such as China, Rome and Arabia.

The former head of the Archaeological Department Sanmuganathan started the excavations in 1950 but he passed away. Some of his works were published in the same year.

According to him when Anuradhapura was the capital, Manthai was one of the important ports. In Sinhala Manthai is often referred to as Mathoda.

Many ancient literary works indicate the importance of the sea port Mahathoda. They indicate that the city was encircled with a parapet wall and a ditch round a fortification. Periodically numerous excavations had taken place in Manthai. It is said that in 1887 Broke had done an elaborate survey in the Manthai area.

In 1925 and 1928 more excavations took place on Manthai. Even the seventh century Tamil hymns of Saiva saints, especially Thirugnansamanthar, and Suntheramoorthy Nayanar mention Thiruketheeswaram. Another excavation took place on April 18 in 1950. It revealed the existence of a 40 feet eastern path way.

Besides, another parallel narrow path was also found.

A few decades ago a big Sivalingam was found inthe vicinity surrounded by century-old buildings.