Glories of ancient Jaffna kingdom | Sunday Observer

Glories of ancient Jaffna kingdom

3 October, 2021

I have a special attachment with Nallur, Jaffna where a considerable period of my early childhood was spent at my mother’s ancestral home. But the 30-year battle against terrorism forced us to leave our residence. According to historical records, ‘Nallur’ means the place where high caste people lived. High caste people were Vellalars or land owners and Brahmin (priests) also lived in that area. Literally, ‘nall’ means ‘good’ and ‘ur’ means city.

Lion city changed

The place got the name ‘Nallur’ in the 18th century. Earlier it was known as ‘Sinhai Nagar’ meaning ‘Lion city.’ In Tamil ‘Siham’ means ‘lion.’ In Sinhala also ‘Sinha’ means ‘lion.’ During the Tamil rule, all the royals belonged to the Aryachakaravarthi dynasty. After the fall of the Tamil kingdom at the hands of the Portuguese, they renamed the entire peninsula as Jaffna. Yet in Tamil the peninsula is called ‘Yalpanam’ and in Sinhala it is known as ‘Yalpanya’.

Kopay is a few kilometres away from Nallur and was considered the second capital of Jaffna. Nallur strongly abided by the earlier historical, religious, cultural links and ties. Nallur was the most popular ancient capital of Jaffna. A temple was founded in 948 AD. Later the Chief Minister of Kalinga Magha of Polonnauruwa ‘Pouvenaya Vaku’ built the temple for Lord Murugan at a place called Kurukal Valavu. ‘Kurukal’ means ‘priest’ and ‘Valavu’ means the compound.

In the mid-15th century, Sinhalese troops from Kotte were sent to capture the Jaffna kingdom. The operation was successfully carried out by the Sapumal Kumaraya also known as ‘Chempaha Perumal.’ He succeeded in expelling the Jaffna based King Kanakasuriya Cinkaiariyan. During the early years of his regime the temple was destroyed.

Arrival of Sapumal kumaraya

Later king Sapumal Kumaraya rebuilt the temple closer to the earlier location. But in 1467, due to the death of his father, Sapumal Kumaraya left Jaffna. Thereafter the Jaffna Kingdom regained its power after 17 years. In 1621 the Portuguese invaded Jaffna bringing the 400 years of Aryacakravarthi dynasty to an end. The Portuguese gave instructions to destroy the earlier temple at the present Muthuram Chanthai area, including the earlier royal palace and the surrounding area of earlier royal palace. They also destroyed many ancient monuments including the royal bathing pond called ‘Jamunari.’ Presently this location is often referred to as Changilian Thopu.

The present Nallur Church was originally built by the Portuguese where the Kandaswamy Temple was located. In 1817, under the British regime the church was converted into an Anglican Church. Today it is known as St. James Church or Nallur Church.

The land of the church belonged to the ancient king Chankilian who was often referred to as ‘Chankili.’ He built numerous Hindu temples in and around the Nallur city. After the fall of the Changili regime at the hands of the Portuguese the king was captured and sent to Goa along with his supporters. Some of his associates were assassinated. The queen embraced Catholic faith and donated her lands to the ruling authorities.

During the Dutch regime religious freedom was allowed to the local population to a certain extent. They granted permission to build Kandaswamy Kovil at Kurukal Valavu. The present Nallur temple was originally built in 1749 by Ragunarth Mapana Mudaliyar who was an administrative officer at the Jaffna Kacheri.

Today the Nallur temple is administered by the descendants of Ragunarth Mapana Mudaliyar. Strict traditional Hindu moral codes are practised and followed by the administrators. Today the Nallur area is very popular in the world due to the grand Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil. It attracts millions of devotees and tourists from all over the world.