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Jaffna is the capital city of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. Once 2nd largest city of Sri Lanka today Jaffna, with a population of 88,138, Jaffna is Sri Lanka's 12th largest city. Jaffna is approximately six miles away from Kandarodai which served as a famous emporium in the Jaffna peninsula from classical antiquity. Jaffna's suburb, Nallur served as the capital of the four centuries-long medieval Jaffna kingdom.

Prior to the Sri Lankan civil war, it was Sri Lanka's second most populated city after the commercial capital Colombo. Since the 1980s insurgent uprising, military occupation, extensive damage, expulsion and depopulation has happened. Since the end of civil war in 2009, refugees and internally displaced people are returning to their homes and government and private sector reconstruction has begun.

Historically, Jaffna has been a contested city. It was made into a colonial port town during the Portuguese occupation of the Jaffna peninsula in 1619. It changed hands to the Dutch colonials, who lost it to the British in 1796. After Sri Lanka gained independence 1948, the political relationship between the minority Sri Lankan Tamils and majority Sinhalese worsened and after the Black July pogrom, civil war erupted in 1983. Jaffna was occupied by the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 1986 and from 1989 until 1995. Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) briefly occupied the city in 1987. The Sri Lankan military gained control in 1995.

Majority of the city’s population are Sri Lankan Tamils, although there was a significant number of Sri Lankan Moors, Indian Tamils and other ethnic groups present in the city prior to the civil war. Most Sri Lankan Tamils are Hindus followed by Christians, Muslims and a small Buddhist minority. The city is home to number of educational institutions established during the colonial and post-colonial period. It also has number of commercial institutions, minor industrial units, banks, hotels and other government institutions such as the hospital. It is home to the popular Jaffna library that was burnt down and rebuilt. The city is anchored by the Jaffna fort rebuilt during the Dutch colonial period

Tours to Jaffna

Jaffna can be visited by road from Colombo Trincomalee or from Habarrna. The ideal will be to drive there one day and stay there do sightseeing and than return 3rd day. Contact us to book a tour to Jaffna

Post War tour to the northern Sri Lanka

History of Jaffna

Excavations that were conducted by Sir Paul E. Pieris during 1918 and 1919, that were utilised in the ancient Jaffna capital of Kantarodai and Vallipuram; a coastal town six kilometres from Point Pedro revealed coins called "puranas", and "kohl" sticks that dated back to 2000 B.C similar in style to the sticks used to paint pictures in Egypt, suggesting that the Northern part of Sri Lanka was a "flourishing" settlement prior to the arrival of Prince Vijaya.[2] In the chronicle Mahavamsa, around sixth century B.C, there are descriptions of exotic tribes such as the Yakkhas strictly inhabiting the centre of the island, and the Nagas who worshiped snakes inhabiting the northern, western and eastern parts of the island, which was historically referred to as "Nagadipa".[3] Jaffna city[citation needed], along with the rest of the Jaffna peninsula was part of the Kingdom of Tambapanni in 543 BC. Ancient Sinhala chronicles including Mahavamsa describes Jaffna city as a vital part of the island nation.[4] It Briefly come under the rule of South Indian Kingdoms, after several incursions it has been recaptured by Sinhalese Kings thereafter, last of which was Parakramabahu VI.[5][6][7]
Colonial history

Jaffna city was established as a colonial administrative center by the Portuguese colonials in 1621.[8] Prior to the military capitulation to the Portuguese Empire in 1619, the capital of the local Jaffna Kingdom, also known as the Kingdom of the Aryacakravarti was Nallur.[8] Nallur is close to the city limits of Jaffna.[9][10] The capital city was known in royal inscriptions and chronicles as Cinkainakar and in other sources as Yalpaanam in Tamil and Yapaapatuna in Sinhalese.

From 1590, Portuguese merchants and Catholic missionaries were active within the Jaffna kingdom. Impetus for a permanent fortified settlement happened only after 1619, when the expeditionary forces of the Portuguese Empire led by Phillippe de Oliveira captured the last native king Cankili II.[12] Phillipe de Oliveira moved the center of political and military control from Nallur to Jaffnapatao[13] (variously spelt as Jaffnapattan or Jaffnapattam), the Portuguese rendition of the native name for the former Royal capital.[14] Jaffnapatao was attacked number of times by a local rebel Migapulle Arachchi and his allied Thanjavur Nayakar expeditionary forces but the Portuguese defence of the city withstood the attacks.[15] Jaffnapatao was a small town. It had a fort, a harbour and Catholic chapels and other government buildings.[16] Portuguese merchants took over the lucrative trade of Elephants from the interior and monopolised the import of goods from Colombo and India thus disfranchising the local merchants.[15] Portuguese period was a time of population movement to the Vannimais in the south, religious change and as well as introduction of many European educational and health care methods to the city.

In 1658, Portuguese lost Jaffapatao to the Dutch East India Company (VOC) after a three-month siege.[11] During the Dutch occupation, the city grew in population and size. Dutch were also tolerant towards native mercantile and religious activities. Most Hindu temples that were destroyed by the Portuguese were rebuilt. A community of mixed Eurasian Dutch Burghers formed and became part of the city during this period. The Dutch expanded rebuilt the fort considerably, built notable Presbyterian churches and other government buildings most which survived until the 1980s and were destroyed or damaged during the Civil war.[18] During the Dutch period, Jaffna also became prominent as a trading town in locally grown agricultural products with the native merchants and farmers profiting as much as the VOC merchants.[19] Great Britain took over Dutch possessions in Sri Lankan from 1796.[20] Britain maintained many of the Dutch mercantile, tolerant religious and taxation policies. During the British colonial period, almost all the schools that eventually played role in the high literacy achievement of the Jaffna residents were built by missionaries belonging to American Ceylon Mission, Weslyan Methodist Mission, Saivite reformer Arumuka Navalar and others.[21][22] All the major roads and railway line connecting the city with Colombo, Kandy and the rest of the country were built. Under the British, Jaffna enjoyed a period of rapid growth and prosperity.[20] The excess wealth of the citizens of the city was directed towards building civic projects like temples, schools, library and the museum.

Post-colonial history

Jaffna Public library construction began in 1933.

After Sri Lanka became independent in 1948 from Britain, the relationship between majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils worsened. Residents of Jaffna city along with the rest of Tamil population of Sri Lanka were in the fore front of the political mobilisation behind Tamil nationalist parties. After the Tamil conference incident in 1974, the then mayor of Jaffna Alfred Duraiappah was assassinated by the leader of rebel LTTE, Velupillai Prabhakaran in 1975. Following further deterioration of political discourse, the Jaffna library was burnt down in 1981 by Police and other miscreants. Failure of the political class to find an adequate compromise led to full scale civil war starting in 1983 soon after the Black July pogrom.[23] Sri Lankan military and police were using the Dutch era fort as their encampment which was surrounded by various Tamil militants groups. Bombardment from air and land of the city led to damage to civic and civilian properties, death and injury to civilians and destruction the economic potential of the city. In 1986, the Sri Lankan military withdrew from the city and it came under the full control of the LTTE.

In 1987, the Indian forces brought to Sri Lanka under the auspicious Indo- Sri Lankan peace accord led an operation to take the city from the rebels. It led to incidents like the Jaffna university hellidrop and Jaffna hospital massacre in which patients and medical workers were killed by the Indian Army.[24] More than 200 civilians were also killed during attempt to take the city over by the IPKF.[25] After the departure of the Indians, the city came under the control LTTE once more, but were ousted in 1995 after a 50 day siege. The economic embargo of the rebel controlled territories in general also had a negative impact in Jaffna including lack of power, critical medicines and food. During the period of LTTE occupation, all Muslim residents were expelled in 1990 and forced evacuated all residents in 1995.[26] Since the end of civil war in 2009, refugees have begun to return and visible reconstruction has taken place. The Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora and business interests from Colombo has invested in commercial enterprises. Countries in Europe, US and India have shown an interest in investing in infrastructure projects and other economic activities.


The Jaffna Municipal Council governs the City of Jaffna. It was established under the Municipalities Ordinance Act of 1865. Although other cities such as Kandy, Galle and Colombo had elected municipal councils soon after the 1865 ordinance, Jaffna did not have an elected municipal council for many years. This reflected the desire of the British bureaucrats to govern the city directly rather than share power with a highly literate electorate.[27] The first elected mayor was Cathiravelu Ponnambalam.[28] Number of subsequent mayors were assassinated such as Alfred Duraiappah, Sarojini Yogeswaran and Pon Sivapalan.[29] There were 15 years without elections since 1983.

The post civil war elections were held in 2009 after a gap of 11 years. The municipal council consists of 29 members.[30] As the original municipal council building was destroyed during the civil war, a new building is to be constructed for the current municipal council in 2011


Historically residents of Jaffna city were Tamils, Moors (Muslims), Europeans and Eurasian Burghers.[11] Over time the composition changed with Tamils and Moors predominating and Europeans and Burghers either assimilating or moving away. Europeans and the natives lived in separate sections of the city. Most houses were modest in size and the streets were kept clean.[34] After 1900's the population increased and Sinhalese from the south also settled in Jaffna. Prior to the civil war there were Moors, Sinhalese, Indian Tamils and other ethnic groups living in Jaffna.

During colonial times Jaffna was Ceylon's (Sri Lanka) second largest city. Post-independence the city was overtaken by the growth of settlements near Colombo. But even in 1981 Jaffna was the largest city outside the Greater Colombo area. The population of Jaffna, like the rest of the North and East, has been heavily affected by the civil war. Many of its Tamil residents have emigrated to the West or moved to the relative safety of Colombo.[20] The city's small Moor and Sinhalese population have either been forcibly expelled or fled. As a consequence the city's population is significantly lower than it was 30 years ago. Many of the city's residents who left during the civil war have settled down elsewhere and are unlikely to return. There have been reports, particularly after the end of the civil war in 2009, about resettling those residents who wish to return to Jaffna but there hasn't been any substantive effort to do so yet.

Most Tamils are Hindus, professing the Saivite sect but might also propitiate many of the village deities. Most Christians are Roman Catholics with small but influential number of Protestants belonging to the Church of South India, the successor organisation of American Ceylon Mission and other colonial era Protestant churches. All Moors were Muslims with the Sunni sect predominating with a small number of Shias prevalent amongst mercantile immigrants from North India or Pakistan. There is a small community of Tamil Buddhists who converted to Theravada Buddhism during the 20th century due to the efforts of Maha Bodhi Society.[38] Most Sinhalese were either Buddhists or Catholics.
There was a small community of nomadic wanderers known as Kuravar who visited Jaffna seasonally and spoke a dialect of Telugu or Tamil. Tamils were also divided along the caste system but as an urban area class was more important than caste which was more pronounced in rural areas of Jaffna district.

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