Jaffna is the capital of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province. The medieval Jaffna Kingdom lasted for four centuries. The city has a fascinating past and is the second largest city in Sri Lanka, after Colombo.
The Jaffna Lagoon surrounds the city to the south and west. Jaffna peninsula is made of limestone which was fully submerged, thousands of years ago. The entire land mass is flat and at sea level. A causeway connects Jaffna to the nearby island of Mandativu.
Sri Lankan Tamils are the principal population. However, a significant number of Sri Lankan Moors, Indian Tamils and other ethnic groups lived in the city before the civil war and are now returning. Most Sri Lankan Tamils are Hindus, but there are also Christians, Muslims and a small Buddhist minority.
The Tamils call Jaffna “Yalpanam”. The origin of the name can trace back to a local legend. A penniless, blind Indian man once visited the King of Ceylon. He was an expert singer and skilled musician, playing an instrument called a Yal, similar to a mandolin. The King, delighted by the music, presented the musician with a piece of land, near to the sea. The man went back to India and asked members of his tribe to accompany him to his “land of promise”. They returned and settled on the land, naming it Yalpanam (Panam means musician in Tamil).
Megalithic excavations reveal settlements on the peninsula. The discovery of a bronze Anaikoddai seal with Tamil-Brahmi and Indus script indicates that a clan lived in the Jaffna area during the Iron Age. Excavated South Indian ceramics date from the 2nd-century BC.
The Naga people are one of the earliest tribes of Sri Lanka. There is clear evidence of them living in the Jaffna Kingdom during the 5th-century. According to scholars, they adopted the Tamil language and culture.
During medieval times, the ancient Kingdom of Aryacakravarti was part of south India. After Muslim invasions, their rulers made the Jaffna Kingdom an independent regional power within Sri Lanka. At first, the kingdom prospered. However, simultaneous confrontations with the Vijayanagara also from south India and the Kotte Kingdom from southern Sri Lanka led to Jaffna losing power to both opponents in 1450. Seventeen years passed before the Kingdom of Jaffna could become re-established with the demise of both Kotte and the Vijayanagara Empire. The next period saw the building of Hindu temples and both Tamil and Sanskrit literature creating a multicultural society.
Battles continued for control of the city. The Portuguese invaded the port of Jaffna in 1619. Local rebels fought back several times, but the Portuguese held fast. Portugal eventually lost the region to the Dutch, who in turn lost it to the British in 1796. Sri Lanka became independent from Britain in 1948. Afterwards, the relationship between the Sinhalese and the Tamils worsened, leading to civil war.
The port served as a significant position during the recent 26-year long war. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) occupied Jaffna in 1986. The Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) briefly seized the city in 1987. The LTTE recaptured the town in 1989. The Sri Lankan military finally gained control in 1995. Since the end of the civil war in 2009, refugees and displaced people have begun to return to their homes. The government and private investors have provided funds for the reconstruction of the town.
Jaffna is 396 kilometres from Colombo, directly connected by train. The A-9 highway unites the city with the rest of the country. Flights from Colombo to Jaffna land at Palali Airport. There is an express ferry service to connect Jaffna with the Delft islands.
Jaffna has a tropical savanna climate. The dry season is February to August. The wet season is September to January. Jaffna has the highest temperature average in Sri Lanka, at around 28 °C in summer. The North East monsoon brings an average of 50 inches of rain per year.