August 2018


Experience the Jaffna Vibe
August 2018




A picturesque evening at Pannai Park overlooking lagoon waters and the Pannai Bridge

The northern peninsula of the island emerges amidst deep blue waters and bright landscapes. From exotic culture to religious fervour and delicious cuisine, experience the diversity and distinctive character of Jaffna.


Words: Keshini de Silva
Photography: BT Images


For the wanderer journeying to Jaffna by road, the first thrill is crossing over the Jaffna lagoon by the breezy causeways of either Elephant Pass or Sangupiddy with a view of endless lagoon waters woven with prawn nets and glimpses of fishermen. Passengers on the Jaffna-bound Yaal Devi or Yaal Devi Express trains too are able to enjoy this scene unfolding from the Elephant Pass Causeway. Upon reaching the northern shores, panorama upon panorama of vibrant landscapes with towering palmyrah trees and windmills welcome with the lull of village life. Within the town limits there is a buzz of trade and urban bustle. Yet, along suburban laneways, the distinct character of "Yalpanam" remains featuring traditional Jaffna houses or colonial structures with Victorian-inspired porches and Dutch gables.


Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil

From within the town emerges the hallowed Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil, an ancient Hindu temple with a legacy traced back to the Kingdom of Jaffna since the 13th century. The Kovil pays homage to Lord Murugan, one of the guardian deities of Sri Lanka, and strictly upholds the customs of Shaivism. The architecture of the kovil, especially of the entrance is distinct, and the sacred grounds are surrounded by ornate golden gopurams. The annual festival (Mahotsavam) with grand processions, elaborate chariots, fervent rituals and observances such as Kavadi draws impassioned worshippers from across Sri Lanka and the globe. All of Nallur reverberates with the chants "Haro Hara" during the festival, which will be held from August 16 - September 11 this year with the Ther (chariot procession) taking place on September 8.


Flavours of Jaffna

Savour all things palmyrah, the miracle tree of the North, which offers delicacies such as kuttan - palmyrah jaggery, odiyal - palmyrah tuber, and pinatu - a candy made from palmyrah syrup. Deep purple Jaffna grapes are a gift from the fertile crimson soil of the peninsula. Scrumptious food to relish include Paruthithurai (Point Pedro) vadai also called thatta (flat) vadai and Panangai Paniyaram - a fried sweet treat made from ripe palmyrah fruit, coconut milk and wheat flour. A signature dish that adorns the festive table during Hindu celebrations is odiyal pittu - a steamed mix of odiyal flour, ash plantain, jackfruit seeds, onions and green chilli served with pepper. Wholesome kurakkan (finger millet) pittu is another favourite in the North.


Perhaps the most distinctive culinary delight to emerge from Jaffna is Odiyal Kool - a nutritious dish prepared to offer sustenance and refreshment in the arid northern weather. It is essentially a wholesome soup or porridge, a combination of seafood, string beans, cassava, jackfruit seeds, leafy greens and of course odiyal flour. Tamarind, chilli and turmeric that add an exotic tinge of flavour to the famed Jaffna Kool - a hearty meal that is must have to cherish the flavours of the North.

Jaffna Kool is a hearty meal that is must have to cherish the flavours of the North.


Back in time

Throughout the Jaffna peninsula, ancient vestiges provide a glimpse of an illustrious history. These include the Sangili Thoppu - believed to be the arch of King Sangilian's palace, the Naguleswaram Kovil, Keerimlalai Hot Springs, Nilavarai Well and Kandarodai Viharaya. Dambakola Patuna is an ancient port, said to be the place where Sanghamitta Theri landed while bringing the Sacred Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi Sapling to the island. A temple constructed by King Devanampiyatissa and sapling of the Sacred Bodhi Tree are near the landing place. The Jaffna Fort, first built by the Portuguese and later expanded by the Dutch, is one of the largest forts in Asia. From atop the fortified bastions witness views of the ocean, township of Jaffna and the Pannai Park overlooking the Pannai Bridge - a place that is especially picturesque at dusk.


The edge of the peninsula

On the northern shore of the peninsula is Kankasanthurai (KKS), the railway terminus of the Northern Line - the ultimate destination of the Yaal Devi. The KKS beach is relaxing and overlooks sparkling sapphire waters while remnants of colonial times linger. An hour's drive away from KKS is the northern-most point of Sri Lanka - Point Pedro, marked by the National Flag and lingering amidst a bustling fishing hamlet.


Islands in the sun

The islands of Jaffna provide a glimpse of a simpler lifestyle as well as vibrant Hindu culture. They are hotspots for birdwatchers with causeways leading to the Kayts, Mandaitivu and Karainagar isles. Casuarina Beach, known for its silver sands and shallow waters, is located in Karainagar. Nainativu isle, which can only be reached by boat, is home to the ancient Nagadeepa Raja Maha Viharaya believed to have been a place hallowed by the Gautama Buddha during his second visit to the island. The Nainativu Nagapooshani Amman Kovil is surrounded by ancient legend and the kovil's great divine power draws worshippers from far and beyond. An hour's boat ride away is Delft Island with exciting sights such as a sprawling Baobab tree, colonial remnants including a fort, the Queen's Tower lighthouse and wild horses once bred on this island by the Dutch.


Jaffna is an enthralling destination filled with vibrant culture, warm hospitality and scenic landscapes; it is a place where there is much to discover and experience.

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    A traditional palmyrah-leaf fence in Jaffna

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    Yaal Devi Express at KKS station, the terminus of the Northern Line

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    Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil overflows with devotion for lord Murugan during the Mahotsavam

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    Odiyal Kool, the most distinctive culinary delight from Jaffna
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    Bountiful harvest of deep purple grapes
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    Odiyal or palmyrah tuber, a famous Northern snack
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    Kurakkan pittu is a wholesome Jaffna favourite
    Varnan Sivanesan

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    Witness breathtaking views from the great bastians of the Jaffna Fort

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    Glimpse a simpler life on the isles of Jaffna

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    The Nagadeepa Raja Maha Viharaya

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    Nainativu Nagapooshani Amman Kovil is immersed in ancient legend

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    Casuarina Beach in Karainagar is known for its silvery sands and calm waters

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