For my second and last week without walls trip, I went up to Jaffna from Monday25th to Friday the 29th of January 2016. Jaffna was my first preference because I wanted to experience Jaffna’s rich and diverse culture. I thoroughly enjoyed being on this trip as I got to experience Sri Lanka, a country which has so much to offer. Jaffna is situated on the northern part of Sri Lanka and has a predominantly Tamil population and considered as a culture capital of Hindu Tamils in Sri Lanka. The locals of Jaffna are indeed wonderful and friendly people and making this part beautiful for the tourists. After years of war, now the peace seems to be back in Jaffna. But Jaffna will need a lot of time and money to regain its glory.
We took plane ride to Jaffna which was very exciting as it was the first time we took a plane within Sri Lanka. The plane ride to Jaffna was a prediction of the beauty we were to see once we reached Jaffna. I always read in my history books about the civil war which took place in Jaffna. It was the first time I was getting to see its actual consequences that affected majority of people. As Hinduism is a prominent religion there, I was also excited to see how Hinduism was adapted in Jaffna. Being a Hindu myself I was intrigued to explore it.
We landed in Jaffna and took bus for our next site. We stopped at one of the world’s deepest well. This was our first site where we interacted with the religious influence in Jaffna. Ms. Lenk recited the story of that well. She told us that that well is related to the Hindu story of Ramayana. Lord Rama came to Sri Lanka to find his wife Sita who was kidnapped by Ravana. Lord Rama in his anger stuck his sword into the ground and as a result this well was created. I personally like the story of Ramayana as this story tells us how good defeats evil and seeing a site which was associated with it made me get in touch with my religion and personal beliefs. After that we went to Point Pedro which is the northernmost point of Sri Lanka. During pre-colonial and colonial times Point Pedro was a trading post. We saw several Catholic churches built around Point Pedro along the coasts. The final thing we did that day was going to SOS village which is going to be mention in my next post.
Our religious exploration started the next day when we went to Nagadipa. We sailed by Ferry from Kayts to Nagadipa. The ferry ride was absolutely full of people, everyone perching at the sides of the boat to look over the stunning scenery. Nagadipa Temple was very peaceful and quiet, both the Buddhist and Hindu sections of it. I felt very grateful standing on a spot that once Lord Buddha stood on. We explored the temple fully and found out the story of it that Lord Buddha came to this site during his second visit to Sri Lanka, after five years of attaining Enlightenment, to intervene and mediate in setting a dispute over the possession of a gem-studded throne. Then we walked towards Hindu temple. Although there was chanting going on in the Hindu temple the chanting was very calm. One thing I found very fascinating is that being a Hindu myself I performed some rituals I always do whenever I go to a temple, one of them being touching the floor before getting into the temple. However I saw people going into temples without performing that gesture and some people were staring at me for doing that. I realized that my rituals are more familiar to Hindus from the north of India. I did not think that within one religion there would be different ways of conducting yourself in a temple and a variation in rituals, and this was something I found very interesting. We passionately explored the intersection of culture/religion/politics at the temples on the island. After spending half of day in Nagadipa we went to Malay Café for lunch where we learned about authentic Jaffna Cuisine and ate Dosai off of Banana leaves.
Then we drive to Jaffna Fort to watch the sunset. The fort has only recently been opened to the public. Originally built by the Portuguese in 1619 and re-built by Dutch. It was the center of many battles. I could never imagine that this place so quiet and peaceful could have sounds of cannons and machinery booming in it. The sunset view was awesome. That night we went to Rio Ice Cream Parlor. Rio is a must visit in Jaffna. Through the conflict Rio Ice Cream always stayed open and was one of the only places people could go to enjoy themselves and it spread cheer. Something about Rio Ice Cream just puts you in a good mood. We all enjoyed our delicious ice-creams.
Next day we started with pooja in Nallur temple. Nallur temple is Jaffna’s premier place of Hindu worship. It is characterized by a golden arch and elaborate gopuram attracts hundreds of worshippers. After temple visit we went to Jaffna library. Jaffna library was one of the best libraries in Asia before being burned down by some Sinhala extremists. Now most of it is restored and it is open for public viewing. It is one of the monumental buildings in Jaffna as well. We talked to one of the librarians who worked in library through its restoration. We asked her questions related to the reconstruction of library and then she introduced every section of library to us. I realized how important learning and education was in their culture. After this we went to visit a temple carver who makes statues of god out of wood for all big temples. Again his story was interesting that how he work entire day and fully passionate for his profession. Then we went for shopping in Jaffna town that walk through Jaffna market gave us a great insight into how the people of Jaffna lives every day.
On our last full day, on our drive to Myannar we went to Elephant Pass, Kilinochchi and Mullativu. These areas were all affected during the war. It was thought- provoking to see how each war memorial was different in a way to other and the language which was used to describe the purpose of that memorial was showing different views. Also Kilinochchi memorial. It features a cracked concrete wall with a mock grenade shell embedded in it. It was very interesting to know that how LTTE made their weapons from scratches, which lead me to think about how innovation has no limits.
Then we headed to Myannar where we just chilled in a private beach of hotel in which we stayed that night. We had conversations where we shared our thoughts about this trip.
Over the trip I learned that Jaffna is a city which is full of culture, heritage, people, their traditions and as all know Jaffna was an integral part of the war but I don’t think that it’s the only thing it is known for as there are so many beautiful aspects of it that speak louder about Jaffna then the war does.Another recurring thing I felt in Jaffna was how much touch I felt with my Indian side. Every little experience brought something to me or helped me grow. With every experience I had a story to tell about Jaffna. It was life long experience for me.
Photo credits- Shlaok and Mr. Kisho