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 Post subject: "Oh Jaffna! My Jaffna!!"
 Post Posted: Thu Aug 04, 2005 4:03 am 
Oh Jaffna! My Jaffna!

By D. B. S. Jeyaraj

"Yarlpanam Ponenadi - Ponnamma ! Yarlpanam Ponenadi" ( I went to Jaffna , Oh Ponnamma, I went to Jaffna ). The chorus of a popular Jaffna song.

Almost everyone who schooled in Jaffna during the sixties and seventies will remember the lilting melody and somewhat ribald words of Yarlpanam Ponenadi. It was a must in every student sing-song of those happier times.

Recalling the words now is a sad exercise as most of the Jaffna landmarks mentioned in the song are either no more or remain in ruins. Tell-tale signs of the endless war that has enveloped Jaffna from the eighties. The conflict continues. Jaffna diminishes.

It is extremely frustrating for journalists who want to write about happenings in Jaffna now. Even though your information is accurate and your sources reliable you simply cannot write anything because of the on-going censorship. What is particularly saddening is being unable to focus on the plight of the civilian population in these times of strife and turmoil.

In spite of these constraints, Jaffna is still the focal point of most journalists trying to report on the war. A patently visible aspect in most current commentaries is the confusion of what or which Jaffna is. This is very clear from the expressions like, "Ariyalai is 5 km from Jaffna" or "the 500,000 plus residents of Jaffna town" etc. These mistakes stem from basic ignorance about the rudimentary facts about Jaffna. What is lost sight of in the references to Jaffna is that it is not a single entity in all spheres. There are several - the district, peninsula, electoral district, electoral division, municipality and town area.

The revenue district of old Jaffna encompassed what are today the administrative districts of Kilinochchi and Jaffna. Geographically this constituted the Jaffna peninsula, outlying islands and the upper portions of the northern mainland known as the Wanni. The Jaffna district of old was 964 square miles in area. The islands were 71 sq miles. There were 13 large and several islets or atolls. Of the larger ones only eight were inhabited.

The area of the peninsula excluding the islands was 365 square miles. The mainland parts were 528 square miles. If the northern most point of old Jaffna district was Point Pedro the southern point was Murigandy. This was significantly illustrated by the worship proffered at the Murigandy Pillaiar temple. The predominantly Hindu Jaffna Tamils travelling by road beyond Murigandy will alight here and seek divine protection for the journey. Likewise those returning would express their gratitude for returning safely. Many are the coconuts dashed in front of Pillaiar.

In 1983 the Jaffna district was bifurcated. The mainland part as well as the Pachilaippalli Assistant Government Agent division in the south of the peninsula were formed into the administrative district of Kilinochchi. The upper portions of the peninsula and the islands continue as the Jaffna district with the secretariat at Chundikuli, Jaffna.

Even though Jaffna and Kilinochchi districts are separate administrative districts , they comprise together the Jaffna electoral district. Both these voted as one single Jaffna electoral district in the 1994 parliamentary and presidential elections . The number of registered voters in 1994 were 596,000. Since the greater part of Jaffna was under the control of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam then, only about 10,000 most of them in the islands were able to vote.

The last official census of 1981 placed undivided Jaffna population at 959, 000. The re-demarcation of Jaffna, the constant upheavals and resultant displacement etc. have wrought massive demographic changes. An unofficial survey projects the current Jaffna district population figure at 515, 000. A worrying prospect from a long term perspective is that the under four years segment of the district is comparatively the smallest figure for a district in percentage terms in the country.

Jaffna in a geographical sense is the peninsula. The gateway to it by rail and road is of course the now well known Isthmus of Elephant Pass. The topography of the peninsula is greatly different to that of the mainland. The limestone soil and brackish water are also differentiating features. A distinctive landmark of the Jaffna landscape is the stately palmyrah or panai as it is known. The Jaffna man was referred to in fun as the panankottai or palmyrah seed in the past. Now he is called "puli."

The Jaffna man identifies with a virtue of this tree. It is said that the palmyrah in a storm may sway dangerously but never bend like the reed or naanal and survive. It would prefer to break than bend. The people of Jaffna compare and perhaps attribute their indomitable spirit and courage in the face of adversity to this trait of the palmyrah. Jaffna district comprises the Vadamarachchi, Thenmarachchi, Valigamam and island regions.

If a person from Jaffna is asked by an outsider where he or she is from, the reply would be Jaffna. Only a secondary question "where in Jaffna?" would elicit the name of the particular village. A tertiary question "where in the village" would reveal the locality or neighbourhood.

Apart from the peninsula there is Jaffna city. This again gives rise to ambiguity. The Jaffna City comprises what is old Jaffna town as well as several other areas. Together they all form the Jaffna municipality.

The old Jaffna town consists of the areas around the old Jaffna fort, the old and new markets, the cross streets, main street, hospital, railway station, bus stand, secretariat and main roads etc. The larger municipality consists of this old town and several other areas like Ariyalai, Navanthurai, Colombothurai etc. So when news reports state the names of places like Ariyalai and Colombothurai etc. and say they are so many km's far from Jaffna, one is certainly flabbergasted because they are all within the Jaffna city. Perhaps what these reports refer to as Jaffna is the city centre or in North American parlance "downtown."

Jaffna city is not a planned city. It developed gradually incorporating the villages around old Jaffna as extended neighbourhoods. If those old residents of Jaffna are asked where they are from they will state their particular locality along with that of Jaffna. The current crisis has changed the population patterns but in earlier times particular castes were concentrated in particular localities.

Another confusion about Jaffna is the electorate or electoral division. In the early years of independence Jaffna electorate consisted of present day Jaffna and Nallur. In 1960 it was carved up into Jaffna and Nallur electorates respectively. Yet the Jaffna Municipality comprises several areas of what is present day Nallur electoral division. So Jaffna remains ambiguous and confusing to the unfamiliar. This is because it is at one and the same time a town, a municipality, an electorate, electoral division, an administrative district and geographically a peninsula.

Jaffna derived its name from the Tamil name Yarlpanam. According to etymologists Yarlpanam became Yappanam , Jappanam., Jappanam Jaffanam and finally Jaffna etc. over the passage of time during the Portuguese and Dutch periods. Finally during British times Jaffna became the official name for Yarlpanam.

There are various interpretations about the name of Yarlpanam itself. The most common and widely accepted one by the people of Jaffna is steeped in legend and folklore. It is said that a wandering minstrel or panan from Tamil Nadu came with his lute like instrument the yarl ( a stringed instrument with a bowl shaped body and a long neck) and sang before the king of the then Uttara Desam or northern country. The king, very pleased with the aesthetic performance presented him with the peninsula then known as Manattri or sandy tract. The yarlpanan or minstrel with the lute returned with settlers and populated Jaffna. Although this story has no historical basis, literary works like the vaipava maalai, vaiaapaadal and kamuthi et lend credence. In any case the oral tradition adds weight and value to this belief.

Other legends and traditional folklore prevalent in Jaffna testify to the antiquity and pedigree of its inhabitants. The story of Vediarasan in Neduntheevu or Delft and the stories attached to Maviddapuram and Keerimalai are but some instances. Myths they may be to the academic oriented and the rational. But words cannot describe the emotions of an innocent seven year old who bathed for the first time in the springs of Keerimalai after imbibing all the fables about the princess whose horse shaped features and the king whose mongoose face assumed beautiful human form after bathing in the same water. In any case the temple at Naguleshwaram in Keerimalai is attributed by Sir Paul Peiris to be one of the five Eeshwarams existing in the island when Vijaya landed on its shores.

The vicissitudes of history in the island demonstrates that the process of Tamilization in the north received a tremendous boost after the Chola conquests of Raja Rajan and son Rajendran. Several important families of Jaffna trace their ancestry to one or more of the twenty two aristocratic families and their retainers who migrated from Thondaimandalam in South India and established fiefdoms in Jaffna. Continuing migration from both the Coromandel as well as Malabar coasts of India saw the Jaffna population increase. Intermingling and "cross fertilising" with the existing population, a new Jaffna population speaking Tamil emerged and developed.

The South Indian influx was however not exclusively Tamil but a mixture from other Dravidian regions speaking Malayalam, Telugu, Thulu and Kannadam.

Several place names in Jaffna indicate this. In addition there is a Sinhala composition too. A main caste group and a sub caste are said to be of Sinhala origin in the same way that at least three main castes and a particular clan among the Sinhala people are of South Indian origin.

The Kerala contribution to Jaffna is particularly impressive. Present day Kerala was the Chrea Naadu of the Tamils in the classical era. Migration apparently started from then. But the distinctive Jaffna Tamil accent has strong Malayalam connotations apart from the dialect that has substantial Malayalam words. In addition, the method of cooking as well as the matrilineal system are more common to Kerala than Tamil Nadu. Several place names like Nagar Kovil, Kovalam, Alvai, Idakkadu, Oorikkadu, Kilaly, Achelu etc. also have Kerala origins. Also when the Dutch codified the laws and customs of Jaffna Tamils as the Thesawalamai the preamble referred to the "Malabar inhabitants of Jaffna."

If these are illustrative of recent history there are other indicators of an ancient Tamil tradition in Jaffna. Certain words in usage like muhil (cloud) or nirai (row) etc. are of Sangam period (BC 300 to AD 300) vintage. These words have gone out of use in Tamil Nadu but retained in everyday usage by Jaffna Tamils. Likewise there are other instances of grammatical usages in the spheres of "Sutteluthu, Vinaaveluthu and Vinaiaalanaium Peyar" etc. where Jaffna Tamils adopt in everyday life certain words and usages that have gone out of use in Tamil Naadu. (This is too complicated for me to explain in English). This has led to Tamil Nadu scholars comment in amazement about the chaste Tamil spoken and used by Jaffna Tamils.

Jaffna emerged as a separate and independent kingdom in the 11th century. Kalinga Maga or Segarajasekeram the first established it. The Singai Aariyar or Aariya Chakkaravarthydynasty that ruled thereafter was founded By Kulasekera Singaiaariyar or Pararajasekeram the first 1240 - 1256 AD. Several kings named as Segarajasegarams and Pararajasegarams ruled while dutifully adhering to the Aariya Chakravarty name by having Singai Aariyan attached as a suffix to different names. At one point the Jaffna kingdom was powerful enough to levy tribute from the south. It was Alageswara Konar or Alageswara of Kotte fame who revolted against the Jaffna king first, later Senbagaperumal alias Sapumal Kumaraya led an expedition to the Wanni first and then Jaffna. After ruling in Nallur, the seat of the Jaffna kings for 17 years, he returned to Kotte and captured the throne crowning himself as Buvanekabahu.

The conquest of Jaffna by Sapumal Kumaraya is the only instance of an army from the south conquering a Jaffna king. The ruler of the day Kanagasooriya Singai Aariyan fled to Thirukovilloor in Tamil Nadu. But after Sapumal returned to Kotte after installing Vijaya Bahu in Jaffna , Kanagasooriya Singai Aariyan returned with an army, killed Vijayabahu and recaptured his kingdom. His son Singai Pararajasekeram was succeeded by Sangili Segarajasegaram, a son of a concubine. Sangili killed his brothers to succeed to the throne.

The Portugese advent to the north was during Sangili's rule. One consequence of the tensions that evolved was the massacre of a thousand converts to Catholicism in Mannar by Sangili. Other kings, not all of them from the Aariya Chakravarthy dynasty, followed. Portugese pressure was prevalent. Ethirmannasingan's infant son Leuke Kumaran was baptised as a Catholic.

Ethirmannasinghan died after appointing Sangili Kumaran or Sangili the second as regent and guardian of Leuke Kumaran. Sangili killed the royal household with the exception of Leuke and his sister. The Portugese allowed him to function as regent from 1615 to 1619. Sangili revolted in 1619 and tried to obtain the help of the Tanjore king to fight the Portugese. A Portugese army led by Philip de Oliveira routed Sangili in 1619. He was taken to Goa and beheaded. A minor rebellion by the Jaffna feudals or mudaliars was routed in 1621. The Jaffna kingdom was well and truly extinguished.

The Portugese and the Dutch who took over Jaffna in 1658 administered it as a separate entity known as the Jaffna Commandery. The upper portions of Mullaithivu and Mannar as well as the maritime provinces of Trincomalee and Batticaloa including Amaparai district were also administered within this unit. It was the British who dispensed with this system of separate administrations and brought all of the then Ceylon under a single unified administration in 1832. This was how the independent entity of Jaffna became part of a united Ceylon.

Under British rule, missionaries began setting up schools in Jaffna. The American missionaries were allowed to function only in Jaffna along with the British. The Jaffna Tamils took to education in a big way to gain upward mobility. The first Tamil newspaper Uthaya Tharakai was started in Jaffna before Tamil Nadu. Two of the first three graduates of the Madras University , Thamotherampillai and Visuvanathapillai were from Jaffna.

It was Jaffna that raised the cry of independence against the British in the 20th century when the Jaffna Youth Congress inspired by the Indian National Congress demanded Poorana Swaraj (complete self rule). Jaffna attempting to simulate the Indian Congress boycotted the State Council elections of 1931. This prompted Philip Gunewardene to write "Jaffna has given the lead. The rest of the country must follow." That did not happen. The boycott was a failure and Jaffna entered the State Council in 1934. Using the Tamil poetess Auvaiaar's metaphor of a turkey trying to imitate the peacock, the scholar Jane Russel described the boycott as the dance of the turkey cock. It was the Jaffna Youth Congress again that defied the Union Jack and raised the Nandhi or crouched bull flag of the Jaffna Kingdom in Jaffna. Jaffna also boycotted the visit of the Prince of Wales.

Events of the post-Independence period are well known. After decades of non violent struggle to regain lost rights, the Tamil people demanded a separate state and also started turning to an armed struggle. The historic resolution for Eelam was passed by the Tamil United Liberation Front in Vaddukkoddai, Jaffna. The 1877 elections saw the Tamils overwhelmingly vote for the TULF. The Jaffna district in particular registered about 85% in favour. As armed militancy developed Jaffna gain became the theatre of conflict. A DDC was set up in Jaffna in 1981. In 1981 the Jaffna district voters destroyed the principle of proportionate representation by electing all ten members of the District Development Council on the TULF ticket. Something deemed impossible under the PR system.

As the conflict escalated the greater part of Jaffna district and Jaffna city came under the control of the Tamil armed groups in 1985. After internecine warfare the LTTE ascended into sole control of "liberated" Jaffna by 1987. The 1987 Indo - Lanka accord and subsequent conflict with the Indian army saw Jaffna city being taken over by the Indian army after Operation Pawan' that lasted from October 10 to 25th. The Indian army advanced on Jaffna city from five directions.

After the Indian army left in 1990 Jaffna came under LTTE hegemony again. In 1995 the first stage of Operation Riviresa from October 1st to December 5th saw Jaffna city coming under the direct writ of Colombo again. Ratwatte raised the lion flag at a ceremony at Thuraiappa Stadium. The district flag of Jaffna, the Nandhi or crouched bull was raised by a retired government official Ramalingam. The man was later assassinated. Ratwatte also presented a scroll in a casket to Kumaratunga in a medieval type ceremony to illustrate the conquest of Yapapatuna.

Now the conflict continues and as the official press releases indicate fighting rages on in Jaffna.

This is the time in Jaffna when the north east monsoon gives way to the south west monsoon. The koel cuckoos' sweetly in the morning. The fragrance of the pure white mallihai or jasmine pervades the air in May. The luscious mangoes ripen from green to red, orange and yellow on the trees. The overripe jak fruits fall to the ground after chunks get pecked out by flocks of birds. The blue-black naval palam or jaumoon plums are strewn all over the white sands. The red and red - black kundrumani or crab's eye seeds dot the cadjan curtain like fences. The plantain trees by the welside spread the green leaves outward and upward. The mathulai or pomegranate fruits are wrapped in cloth to dissuade the greedy squirrels. Oh what bliss to view the setting sun on the western horizon through a silhouette of palmyrah trees and then gulp down in the fading twilight the milky ambrosia of kallu or toddy.

These are but sweet images and memories of a by-gone period that linger and will continue to linger. Wherever the children of the Jaffna soil may live now their thoughts of Jaffna will ever remain. The tragedy of the times and the question mark over its fate trouble these feelings.

"O Temporas! O Mores!" cried out Cicero. "O Captain. My Captain!" said Whitman. I , along with those of the Jaffna Diaspora can only wail, "Oh Jaffna! My Jaffna!!"

 Post subject: Authentic Jaffna cooking
 Post Posted: Sun Aug 07, 2005 6:38 pm 
Authentic Jaffna cooking
Serving a platter of Jaffna delights

By Smriti Daniel
@ Sunday Times / 07Aug2005

The fragrance surrounds you as you take a deep breath and then another. Instantly your body reacts – you begin to salivate, your stomach rumbles, your fingers itch to reach out towards the food. You give in; you tear off a piece of the hopper and dab it in the accompanying curry. As you begin to chew, the flavour of authentic Jaffna cooking fills your mouth, and in that moment of culinary ecstasy you wholeheartedly concur with Gerard Nathaniel when he says that “this food is out of this world”.

Mr. Nathaniel, the man behind the trendy restaurant on Nawala Road called ‘The Peninsula’, will be the first to admit to having a lifelong affair with Jaffna cooking. He talks of how when he was a young and somewhat difficult adolescent, his parents decided to send him to a boarding school in Jaffna. There he not only found himself “thrashed into shape”, he also discovered the Jaffna curry. “I made friends with the cook,” narrates Mr. Nathaniel, “and offered him a little added incentive to hide an extra jar of mutton curry in the bushes behind the kitchen”. Later that night, the young connoisseur would scamper out and gleefully lay claim to his extra rations. Decades later, Mr. Nathaniel still maintains that “they in Jaffna have created a cuisine that is as distinctive as it is delicious”.

This appreciation of a uniquely Sri Lankan flavour was something he took with him when he went to England to study engineering. Many young men in the same predicament would have chosen to simply wait until they got back home to their mother’s cooking, but Mr. Nathaniel was unwilling to do without his favourite food for years on end. Instead he began to teach himself how to cook, experimenting and practising until he could recreate with accuracy the flavours and fragrances that he had come to love so much. As a student with a small budget, meat was out of the question, it was simply too expensive. Instead he used potatoes to imitate the mutton curries. “Cooking became my hobby,” he says, looking back .

Nothing changed in the next few years, even though Mr. Nathaniel married and settled in Germany. “We had two kitchens,” he reminisces, “my ex-wife had one upstairs for her German cooking and I had my kitchen in the basement, where I would cook Sri Lankan food”. Often his ex wife would abandon her cooking and come downstairs when she got a whiff of his curries. The same was true of their friends. “I would find myself cooking for 20 people on the spur of the moment,” explains Mr. Nathaniel. How did he manage to find the ingredients he needed? Often he would buy them wholesale in Sri Lanka and then keep them frozen so that they stayed fresh.

After he retired, he decided to come back to Sri Lanka. He soon discovered – much to his dismay – that none of the Jaffna restaurants in town met his exacting standards. “This tongue of mine,” he says ruefully, “needs to be excited about what it’s eating”. So he got together with some friends and opened The Peninsula. Today, the restaurant has been in business for over a year, with both residents of the area and visiting tourists singing its praises.
Guests say that they come to The Peninsula for more than just the food and the atmosphere – the extensive beverage menu, which includes nearly a hundred cocktails is a big attraction. Mr. Nathaniel, who boasts that the margueritas served at the restaurant are the best in the island, gives all the credit to his two bartenders. Having whisked them away from a five star hotel in Dubai, he now offers their expert services to the guests who frequent his beautifully decorated restaurant.

Mr. Nathaniel, who even now remains deeply involved in the everyday running of The Peninsula, is often to be found in the kitchen - tasting and analysing the efforts of his chef. He pays particular attention to the curries, claiming that “the secret of a good curry lies in the curry powder”. When he dons the chef’s hat, he tackles each dish individually, and simply refuses to abandon it until it has reached the desired level of perfection. It soon becomes obvious that Mr. Nathaniel treats the enterprise not as a business but as a way to share the sheer joy of Jaffna food with his guests. To him, cooking is obviously something of an art.

Interestingly, this engineer turned restaurant owner never makes the mistake of underestimating the importance of good cooking. Straight faced, he explains how helping people here in the Western Province enjoy Jaffna cooking is one way to contribute to the unification of the island’s people. “Intermarriage is one way, and the other is food,” he says convincingly, and as you swallow another mouthful of his delicious food, you can very well imagine why

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