I took lodgings at Thinnakural Rest. A room with AC is expensive at Rs.2750, 00 per day. A room without AC would have been half that price but they said only rooms with AC were available. I therefore had no alternative. The room was tolerably clean. I turned off the AC as the heat without was supportable. The personnel were kind and friendly. Though the Rest as a rule did not provide meals, dinner and breakfast could however be ordered in advance. It was at Tinnakural Rest I saw the Udayam paper, I had heard of its racist and separatist view with news twisted to attack the Government, and the Army.
I was tired after the long journey by bus from around six thirty in the morning on the 25th April and did a shower and rested a while before I went out for dinner. I was told by the friendly Rama at the desk that I could have a good Jaffna style dinner at Mango, a restaurant owned by a Jaffna Tamil from Canada.
I walked to the Nallur Subramaniam Temple. It is a very impressive brick coloured structure with a large three arched entrance standing on white carved pillars with a beautifully sculptured Gopuram. There are several other temples around it and it has a large sanded court yard where the people come to sit on the sand and talk. It is an old temple with lot of history, originally constructed on the instruction of the King of Kotte. In the evening there are lots of devotees who enter the Temple with offerings.
I met a man from Colombo with his driver. They had come to pay their respect to God Murugan. They spoke to me and when I said I was going to a restaurant called Mango and said I don’t know where it is . The young man called a woman coming to pray in the temple and asked her for directions. I was later to meet them again at Nagadeepa. Jaffna is after all a “small place” !
I went to the Mango Restaurant and had a Dosai. The servers were very kind, a young girl who served me said her name is Priya and that she speaks a little Sinhala. They were all friendly and pleasant except the owner a Tamil man from Canada, I smiled at him and wanted to speak to him but he ignored me. I thought coming from Canada he may be one of those “ diaspora Tamils” The young girl who served me said that the boss has many restaurants in Canada. May be he has some LTTE connection as well.
I came back to my hotel and had a chat with Rama at the desk. He spoke to me about the Indian Delegation and said that the delegation had asked the government to have talks with the TNA. I said, that the delegation had asked the President Mahinda Rajapakse to persuade TNA to come for discussions. It is not the President who should persuade them but the Indian Delegation as TNA is more apt to listen to the Indian Delegation than the President.
Rama then said yes, the delegation will persuade the TNA. Then a man who was reading the Udayam said that the Dambulla mosque has been demolished. I asked him whether the information is in the Udayam and if so it is likely not true and we will have to await confirmation. Rama said it is probably unconfirmed information.
As political discussions are better left out in such places, I wished Rama good night and went into my room.
To-day the 26th April, I had decided to go to Nagadipa. I got up in the morning and went to Nallur town to have my breakfast. It is a busy day the buses, cars, three wheelers ,motor bicycles and bicycles had hit the roads. The roads were full of school children riding their bicycles. I had never seen a town before where there are so many women and school girls on bicycles, and motor bicycles. It was a lovely sight to see the women in their saries, churidhars and kameez with fluttering shawls whisk past you without a care in the world. I went into a small way side restaurant and ate two piping hot dosai with curries, washed it down with plane tea without sugar.
Walking back I saw number of bicycles stopped at the gates of the Nallur Sbramaniam Kovil within on the court yard there were people worshiping with their hands held over their heads. I moved carefully through the morning crowds, cars, buses, bicycles, vespa scooters and motor cycles. I walked into a small boutique with vegetables and fruits. There was a woman at the counter. I asked her for some plantains and incense sticks in Sinhala. I showed her the plantains and showed her my four fingers for four bananas. She did not know the Sinhala word “suvanda kuru”. I demonstrated it and she laughed and brought me a packet. How easy it is to converse with people even if you do not know the language ? How can therefore, there be an ethnic problem ?
I went to the hotel and asked Rama to get me a three wheeler to go to the bus stand to take the bus to Nagadeepa. The three wheeler came soon after Rama told him to take me to the bus stand for me to take the bus to Nagadeepa. The three wheeler did not know Sinhala or English, he said to Rama I had to take the bus to Kurikattuvan. Rama said that the three wheeler is called Mahesh and he will show me the bus to take. Mahesh not only took me directly to the bus and helped me to get in , but also spoke to the driver, probably to say “ he is aSinhala handle him with care”.
When I got in to the bus which was full, a woman got up to give me her seat, I sqaid no, no in Sinhala, with a smile and said I will remain standing. Then a young man got up and gave me his seat. How kind they were ? In Kandy no one showed me that kindness to respect me for my old age.
I looked around the Bus stand to see whether there were soldiers with or without guns. There were none, nor did I see any on my way to the bus stand, but yet TNA speaks of the Army interfering into the lives of the people in Jaffna.
The roads interior are still under construction and the bus trip was a bit too tiring. The bus stopped at a village area where most of the travellers descended. I asked someone whether we had arrived at the destination and the man said no and said that he will tell me when to get down. After a while the bus came to a stand on the way in to the boarding area where we had to take a boat to Nagadeepa.
The place was controlled by men and women of the Navy. They were kind but doing their work without discrimination. Everyone is treated equally. There was no harassment. We were asked to wait until the return of the boats that had gone to Nagadeepa. When the time came for us to board, the Navy personnel asked us to follow one after the other and put on a safety gear before we get into the boats. Every one did as was asked and soon the boats began moving.
It took about fifteen minutes to reach the other shore. We walked along the paved path and stood before a heavily decorated entrance with a multi coloured gopuram to a Hindu Temple. We had to take our shoes out and enter and to, my surprise the entrance was to look at a huge “backside of a cow lying in a sleeping position”. That must be some thing sacred to the Hindus. I could neither hear nor see any sign of the presence of a Buddhist temple.
The place was crowded with tasteless sculptures of gods goddesses and animals sacred to Hindus. I asked a man where is the Buddhist temple . He asked me to walk down the tarred road and the temple is at the end of it. The sun was shining spreading its heat all over. I had left my shoes at the entrance to the Kovil I did not bother to walk back to collect them. I walked bare foot on the tarred road heated in the sun. It was very hot but nevertheless I continued until I reached the Nagaddeepa temple with its bo trees. The place was simple and far more attractive than the multicoloured Hindu Temples.
On both sides of the road leading to the temple were boutiques run by the Sinhala and Tamils selling delicacies of Jaffna , palm based sweets and dried heart of young palms fronds. Childrens’ dresses , bottled water and fruit juices.
The temple is completely renovated. The place is clean, with attractive shrine rooms. There is a large lodgings for the priests. But the place is markedly absent of yellow robes. There was a chain of devotees from South, coming and going away but not a priests was present to see them and speak to them. Which is of essential religious significance to the Buddhists. In the hall of a shrine room were displayed the photos of VIPs with the Priest the The President , the Prime Minister and other Government Ministers and Namal Rajapakse.
The High Priest who may have gone through lot of suffering under the terrorists, has finally been relegated to a prominent place and the ordinary Buddhsits are perhaps not considered important to be met by him. If so he may have got a junior priest a Samanera to be present at the premises for the people to make their respects and make them observe the five precepts. What is important to the Buddhists is to be in the presence of Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha. The people return from Nagadeepa unfulfilled of that Buddhist tradition.
The army is constructing a different entrance and a quay for future boats that would come directly to the temple.
After spending few hours meditating before the Dagaba and the Bo tree, and having had not the pleasure of meeting a priest, I came away. On the way I was called by a Navel Officer in his quarters. He invited me to have lunch. As I was not hungry enough to have lunch at the time I refused thanking him profusely for his kindness and generosity. He invited me inside and offered me a cold glass of water which I relished. He told me that the place is protected by the Navy and they have a contingent of about 20 Navy personnel.
I asked him whether people object to the presence of the Army in Nagadeepa. He said they have not received any complaints by the people. He showed me a medical centre they have and said they are there to help the people in case of accidents or even if a boat were to capsize. All the boats that bring in pilgrims are maintained by the Navy, and all who come whether they are Buddhists, Hindus or Christians are taken care of by the Navy personnel. Therefore there is no reason for the people to complain. If there are complaints those are through political interests , but the Navy or the Army are not politically motivated.
I asked him as Nagadeepa is of Buddhist interest why there shouldn’t be more Sinhala families settled in the area. He said it would not be appropriate to bring people specially to settle down in the area, but as there are already Sinhala people running shops and boutiques on the sides of the road leading to the temple, some of them may eventually acquire land and bring down their families, which is a far better way of having Sinhala settlements.
I told him that Sinhala government servants do not like to serve in Jaffna considering it a remote area. He said it is “remote” to the extent to the weather which could be extremely hot and the water which has a salt mixed taste. But he said after drinking that water for some time one gets used to it. In the case of the navy personnel they get fresh water brought to them. Once you get used to the place Jaffna is not different from the south. And the land he said is vey fertile and could easily grow any agricultural product.
He said he is from Ratnapura and his colleague from Ampitiya, but they are quite adopted to the place. I thanked them and took leave of them, The officer asked me not to miss Dambakolapatuna where Venerable Sangamitta landed with the sapling of the Bo tree. The place has no Buddhist Monk but is maintained completely by the Navy personnel. I promised him I would go there and continued my walk on the unbearably hot surface of the road moving from time to time on to the shaded areas on either side of the road.
To my great relief at last I found my pair of shoes. Having put them on I joined the out bound queue of people to Jaffna. We took the boat back to Kurikattuwan and the bus from there to Jaffna.
After returning to Jaffna, I walked the busy streets to see the Jaffna town. There are small and big shops on broad streets. The streets crisscross without a set order. There is a huge yellow painted building a shopping mall, where boutiques are jammed full of ware from glass to fabrics. The bicycle is a common means of transport used equally by men and women. Small shops selling all sorts of items hobnob with banks , restaurants , shoe shops, and shops of dresses for men, women and children.
I walked up to the only Buddhist Temple in Jaffna town, the Nagadeepa . It is in the centre of the Jaffna town. There is a pilgrim’s lodge in front of the Temple, where I saw for the first time two soldiers guarding the place. The Priest was telling a group of Sinhala visitors that the terrorists had razed the temple to the ground, and cut all the branches of the bo-tree. It has been rebuilt since, largely from the contributions received from Buddhist pilgrims and donations by people.
The Bo tree has sprouted again and grown back to be a strong healthy tree proud to be reborn into a “hateless society” to bring the communities together through trust and affection. The priest says he does not go alone to the town to avoid any possible incidence, he goes accompanied by a soldier.
Speaking to the people around the temple, I found no animosity towards the temple. When I asked for directions they willingly showed me the way to the “Sinhala temple”. I found a three wheeler not far away from the temple. I was feeling tired. I had been told that you could have the best ice cream in Jaffna at a place called Rivoli. I asked the three wheel driver to take me to Rivoli the Ice Cream parlour.
He started off by switching on a music cassette. To my surprise it was Sinhala music he was playing. At the moment I did not say any thing. He took me to the Rivoli. I paid his fare and invited him to come and have an ice cream with me. He agreed and we ordered ice creams. I asked him why he played Sinhala music.
He said he loves Sinhala songs. He says he cannot sing the songs but he loves the music. He can play musical instruments and play the tabla. He plays music with his friends and some time even for wedding receptions. He prefers to play Sinhala music. He drives a Jaffna –Colombo bus during day time and in the night he takes out his three wheeler. He can speak a little Sinhala but he would like one day to sing Sinhala songs. But he said, he is to be married. His girl friend is in France. She will come to India and he will meet her and get married in India, and then he will go to France with her.
It is wonderful I thought to meet and speak to people. From what ever back ground we come there is always some thing that binds us, and in conversation you find that basically we are human beings with interests not too far apart from each other. To understand that inane similarity one has to love people for what they are, without colouring the relationship with prejudice. My hotel was not far away from Rivoli, and the three wheeler offered to take me there.
Rama was at the desk. I told him that Mahesh the three wheeler he booked for me was very good, and that I would like to have him the following morning to take me to the bus stand for me to take the bus to Keerimalai. I asked Rama whether he could get me dinner that night. He called the man who takes orders and asked what he could give me. He asked me whether I want a fish curry, I said that I would prefer a vegetarian meal. He agreed to prepare me string hoppers with a potato curry. I agreed. I retired to my room to take a wash.
Thereafter I returned to have my dinner, and after having taken a cup of tea, went back to my room and slept.
The following day the 27th April, the three wheeler came as arranged, it was not Mahesh but another. He took me to the bus stand and showed me the bus to Keerimalai. I managed to find a seat. Soon more people boarded the bus, the conductor wanted to fill the bus with as many people as he could . The heavily loaded bus heaved off from the bus stand and on the way the conductor determined to take every one into his bus, pushed and shouted at the people already crammed in side the bus to make way for others.
Eventually we came to Keerimalai. It was an empty abandoned place, where you feel lost. There is an old lonely Na tree with its huge trunk and spreading branches. There was a half broken down hut , and empty sandy space extending to no where. A little way off was just a decorated entrance to a Kovil . In side was an old Kovil being re-constructed. There was no body any where to be seen? Near a broken down Kovil further away I saw a three wheeler, as I approached it I saw the passengers getting down.
They were a family from Colombo. The old gentleman is a retired accountant of a Bank. Keerimalai was where he had lived as a child. He was with his wife and daughter. He wanted to show Keerimalai to his family. He showed me the broken down houses and Kovils, these are the result of destruction by the terrorism he said, what good did it serve destroying them he asked me. They have to be rebuilt again, “ they were very sacred places to the Tamils” he said.
I asked him where is the famous Keerimali pond where the water is not salty despite being next to the sea. He told me that they were going there. I accompanied them. This is the first time he is visiting the place after the end of terrorism. He was happy at least now he can come and see the place where he was born without any fear.
The pond is very large and half of it is separated for women. It is clean and covered with a wall around it. There is a gaping hole on one side through which fresh water seems to come. It is a must for the Hindus to bath in it. We looked at it from outside and went to the area where there were rests for pilgrims. The old gentleman had hired a three wheeler. I had to find some sort of transport myself.
I took leave of them and wandered away. I met a police man who said that I may be able to get a three wheeler from where the dilapidated half broken hut stands. I walked up to the place. I saw a three wheeler having a cup of tea, and asked him whether he could take me to Dambakolapatuna. He said he will come but I should pay three hundred rupees , it was worth double that sum under the circumstances I was in at that god forsaken place destroyed by the terrorists. We took a very good well carpeted road to Dambakolapatuna. I asked the three wheeler to stay for me until I finish visiting the temple and then take me to the bus to Jaffna . The man agreed.
The place is worth a visit. It is a well preserved area with a Dagaba, a Shrine room and a place for a priest to live. There is no priest, but the place is maintained by the Navy. They have even a replica of the boat in which Venerable Sangamitta had come bringing along with her the sapling of the Bo tree. The sea is a beautiful opal green. The beach is clean and beautiful. There is a Navy officer to explain the significance of the place.
There are very clean toilets, a shop where one could buy biscuits or such other immediate necessities and a place you can have a free drink -an infusion of “beli kola” . After visiting the place and having a pleasant conversation with the Navy personnel I took the three wheeler to the bus to Jaffna.
There are no villages close to the Dambakolapatuna. There were large stretches of uninhabited land. There were no army personnel any where. I wondered why in that situation TNA complains that the Armed Forces are interfering into the life of the people in Jaffna. And all these visiting foreign delegates are gullible to accept these “lies” accentuated by TNA to mislead them.
I took the bus back to Jaffna. I took a three wheeler to Mango restaurant . I asked for a Madras style Thali. A tray served with an assortment of different curries and rice. I did not like it, but it filled my stomach. That evening I went there again for dinner and had idly, a typical Jaffna Tamil dish.
On my way back to Hotel I met my friend , who presented me his friend Janana. We came to hotel and sat out side the hotel and chatted until it was night. I slept well that night.
The following day I called the three wheeler who took me to the hotel the previous night. He spoke a little English. I wanted him to take me to Jaffna Library I asked the three wheeler to come back to take me to see the bottomless well in Nilaverai .
The original library had been burnt and a new one has been built thereafter. The building is a remarkably beautiful edifice. The garden that surrounds it accentuates the scenic beauty of the place. Even there there were no armed soldiers to guard the place which falsify TNA’s claim of the Army’s interference into the life of Jaffna people.
The library books are in a sorry state. Some of them are torn and in bad condition. It appears that the library lacks a workshop to re condition the books, by re binding them and putting new covers. Having books in shelf is not enough if the books themselves are not a pleasure to handle. The interior of the library has to be refurbished to make it worthy of its reputation. The library personnel are pleasant and showed a readiness to help. I had expectation of seeing a really good clean library with shelves full of good books, well arranged according to some order. I was really disappointed with the library which has such a reputation.
I came out of the Library and met the three wheeler, who said he cannot , unfortunately take me with him as he has another hire. He had however, not to disappoint me, asked his brother to come with his three wheeler to take me any where I would like to go. It was very considerate of him I thought, and hired his brother to take me to the “ bottomless well” at Nilaverai. He did not speak either Sinhala or English. But now I am used to being with these friendly Jaffna Tamils who I could trust to take me and bring me back safe.
I remember when I told my Jaffna friend that my family said that I should not go alone to Jaffna as it is not safe, his friend laughed loud and said, “ they must be thinking that we are all terrorists in Jaffna.”
We went a long way on very good roads to Nilaverai. The land with red earth is undoubtedly fertile. We came past land cultivated with all types of vegetables, papaws , tobacco and numerous other fruits. The land which were uncultivcated, I later learnt were those that belong to people who had left Jaffna to foreign countries.
After a long drive we came to the famous well. It is not very large. The water is a beautiful blue like the blue of a sapphire. It is protected with a wall. There were two Soldiers guarding it. I spoke to them. One of them said that the fresh water it contains is enough for the whole of Sri Lanka, “ it is after all a bottomless well .” No body uses that water just now. Eventually the water may be used for drinking purposes said the Soldier.
Now from there I wanted to go to Kandurodai, where there had been archeological excavations in which they had discovered 56 little dagabas. The three wheeler had no idea where it was . I asked the Soldier and he promptly went to a small boutique near by and asked a man. He gave us the directions and we continued our way. The roads were good and carpeted. We finally came to a junction of three roads.
The driver asked some young men on the road side for directions, and I told in Sinhalese the place name and there being a Buddhist temple. They did not understand Sinhala. They called another man who knew Sinhala, and he told the driver where the temple is. I was very happy that the young men were kind enough to call some one who could speak Sinhala to help us, without saying carelessly they did not know .
We finally arrived at the Kathurogoda Ancient Vihara. There was already a bus and a Van. The Sinhala man to whom I spoke was not very friendly, he may have thought I was trying to ask him for a lift in his van. Sometimes I observed a contrasting difference between the Jaffna Tamils and the visiting Sinhala I met in Jaffna .
The temple is without a priest. There were two shrine rooms. The special attraction at the temple is a number of small dagaba like constructions of different sizes spread about the place within a short distance from each other. There are 56 of them. The area is surrounded by bushes and palm trees. The ground around which the structures are, is neatly covered with green grass. The whole place is covered with this same grass and the path ways have been neatly cut through the green grassland. There was a soldier who takes care of the place. He told me the significance of Kthurugoda.
The lord Buddha visited Nagadeepa to settle a dispute between two kings. Returning to India after settling the dispute, he came to this place, Kathurogoda to rest a while. The Monks who were residing at Nagadeepa heard that the Buddha had come to rest at Kathurogoda. Then sixty of those monks who were Arahants came to keep the company of the Buddha. After some time the Buddha left them and went to India.
The sixty monks continued to stay at the place. The King of Jaffna at the time was Sangilia. He did not like the presence of the Buddhist Monks at Kathurogoda. However as the people in the villages around were pleased to look after the monks King Sangilia could not send them away. One day the monks were served with a meal with a mushroom curry. After partaking the meal all the sixty monks died.
The people cremated the bodies in sixty different places , and built the dagaba like structures over the remains. The different sizes of the structures indicate the seniority of the monks. They have found only 56 tombs and four others have still not been found. It had been suspected that the King Sangilia had got the food prepared for the monks poisoned before they were offered by the people.
There is a strange phenomenon surrounding the place. The green grass in the place remain the same size whether there is rain or not. And they do not get discoloured under the hot sun during the dry season. In the evening the area surrounding the structures remain cold, some times very cold while just out side this area it is very hot.
After hearing that sad story, I prayed before the graves of the 60 Arahants and departed. I came to Jaffna late in the evening. I came to the hotel, took a wash and slept. I got up and after another wash dressed. It was the last day of my Visit to Jaffna and my friend in Jaffna had invited me to spend the evening with him, his family and the members of his group The Quantum Studies.
The following morning I asked Rama to get me a three wheeler to go to the bus stand to take the eight thirty bus to Kandy. It was Mahesh who came to take me and I was happy. Rama left his desk and came out to wave me good bye and to ask me to come again. And such were the friends I made in Jaffna.
The terrorists occupied Jaffna from 1986 to 1995 and they were chased away by the Sri Lanka Armed Forces in 1995. There after Jaffna was under the protection of the Army and hence Jaffana did not suffere from terrorism.
Now there is no observable military presence in the north. There are camps but they are discrete and the soldiers do not interfere into the lives of the Jaffna people. As my friend said the Sri Lanka Armed Forces are not unknown to the Jaffna Tamils as they had been there for 30 years and some of them are friends of the Jaffna Tamils and visits them as friends. It is the TNA goons that make stories to discredit the Armed Forces