Mantri Manai: Jaffna’s historical abode of a minister | Sunday Observer

Mantri Manai: Jaffna’s historical abode of a minister

A short drive away from the Jaffna town centre lies the once majestic Mantri Manai (Minister’s Abode). Believed to be the home of a palace official during the time of King Cankili II, the last ruler of the Jaffna Kingdom, the remains of a sprawling palace compound among 86 similar other sites was declared and gazetted as places of historical importance by the Sri Lanka Government after the end of the war in 2009.

Today, Mantri Manai is promoted by many tour operators of the North as a place to visit. But as after war, the surrounding area has once again become urbanised, Jaffna citizenry say the site of archaeological importance remains dilapidated, while becoming a haunt for wayward youth and other illicit activities during the night. Private ownership of the lands on which many monuments stand has also become an obstacle for their conservation and protection.

The Mantri Manai in particular, which showcases Dravidian architecture with Dutch as well as British influences has each and every wall marked with writings and scribbles of visitors. Though some inscriptions appear to be from bygone years, in recent times newer inscriptions have also cropped up with names and various doodles defacing the walls of the historic monument despite the Antiquities Ordinance decreeing heavy fines for such acts. Garbage such as discarded wrappers of all sorts lie strewn about including empty cans of beer. While the roof in some parts has caved in with no sign of restoration work being done, the well within the compound shows signs of being used.

According to a Jaffna youth, Amarthanathan Mukunthan, youth in the area often use the site to consume alcohol discreetly, pointing to the beer cans lying about as proof for such activities. “We have heard that other things take place here too” he says questioning as to why the monument cannot be better protected and its conservation ensured.

The Yamuna Eri (Yamuna Pond) in the vicinity is also in a sorry state. A pond where once royalty is believed to have bathed is littered with garbage and is only a disappointment to visitors who arrive hoping to see a pond worthy of the many legends shared about it.

But according to the Director of Archaeology of Jaffna, Palitha Weerasinghe, since the end of war the department has been actively conducting conservation of archaeological sites in the North. As one of the first departments to establish itself in Jaffna after the end of the war he says, stage 1 of the conservation efforts have been completed while stage 2 is now ongoing.

As for walls of the Mantri Manai being defaced, Weerasinghe says most of it had taken place prior to 2009. “These are common even in other areas and its difficult for us to change the attitudes of the people” he said. However, in a bid to stop such events taking place further Weerasinghe says as of recent times two officers from the department have also been assigned to ensure its protection during the daytime when most people visit the site. “It is now only we received the necessary human resources for the purpose” he said.

Admitting that in the past there were complaints and reports of the site being used for illicit activities, Weerasinghe says this too has now been stopped. “We have also directed the Archaeology Protection Division of the Police to patrol the sites at night to ensure that nothing untoward is taking place in the area” he said.

While he says the department hopes to carry out the restoration and conservation of the site, Weerasinghe also said that the department is expecting funds from the Megapolis Development Plan in the North under which archaeological sites will also be conserved and protected. “Once funds are received under the project we could either only remove the graffiti or it will automatically be removed during the further conservation and renovation process” he says.

But according to experts, protection of historical monuments in Jaffna also has a unique challenge with many historically important monuments being located on privately owned land. Archaeologist Prof. P Pushparatnam, Head of the Department of History, Jaffna University says officials have been attempting to impress on the land owners the need to protect these sites. “Some sites are on government land but others are on privately owned land” he clarifies adding that meetings were held between government officials and these landowners to address issues of conservation. “Majority of the people too have shown keen interest in conservation of these sites” he said. According to him landowners also must support the department in their efforts.

However, there has been no such meetings between officials and the owners of the land on which the Minister’s Abode is located on. Weerasinghe says they are believed to be residing abroad and have not yet come forward to claim ownership. According to sources however, there are records of the owners paying their annual taxes to the local government authorities.

But the situation has also become an obstacle in conserving the monument. While under the Antiquities Ordinance land owners and officials can come to an agreement on restoration and conservation efforts, their failure to present themselves means no such agreement has yet taken place.

“Therefore, there are some complications in enforcing its protection” Weerasinghe says. For example, with the monument being on private land, the department is not able to limit the use of facilities located on it by the public, such as the well. “Therefore, it is difficult for us to control their actions” he said. However, a fence has now been erected surrounding the monument while earlier it was freely open to trespassers. The officers, Weerasinghe mentioned appeared also to be on duty.

However, while the department has been trying to preserve the heritage of the North despite the many adversities, Weerasinghe says there is no danger to the Mantri Manai even if the owners now do present themselves to lay their claim. “According to the law any renovations or purpose they intend to use it for will have to be within the archaeology related laws and guidelines” he assured.

Pix:Thilak Perera

Comments

Who decide some buildings sites are right to be saved protected . Once decided action plan must be started to make the diet and surronding area safe secure and appropriate action taken for others to see enjoy with donation from government public etc to make it

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