Jaffna (Tamil: யாழ்ப்பாணம் Yalpanam, Sinhala: යාපනය Yāpanaya) is the capital city of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. It is the administrative headquarters of the Jaffna district located on a peninsula of the same name. 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, Nallurserved 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 rebelLiberation 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.
The 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.
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. In the chronicleMahavamsa, 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". Jaffna city, 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. 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.
Jaffna city was established as a colonial administrative center by the Portuguese colonials in 1621. 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. Nallur is close to the city limits of Jaffna. The capital city was known in royal inscriptions and chronicles as Cinkainakar and in other sources as Yalpaanam in Tamil and Yapaapatuna inSinhalese.
Entrance of Jaffna Fort that was originally built by the Portuguese and renovated by the Dutch on 1680.
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. Phillipe de Oliveira moved the center of political and military control from Nallur to Jaffnapatao (variously spelt as Jaffnapattan or Jaffnapattam), the Portuguese rendition of the native name for the former Royal capital. Jaffnapatao was attacked number of times by a local rebel Migapulle Arachchi and his allied Thanjavur Nayakkar expeditionary forces but the Portuguese defence of the city withstood the attacks. Jaffnapatao was a small town. It had a fort, a harbour and Catholic chapels and other government buildings. 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. 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.
St. James Church
In 1658, Portuguese lost Jaffapatao to the Dutch East India Company (VOC) after a three-month siege. 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. 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. Great Britain took over Dutch possessions in Sri Lankan from 1796.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. 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. The excess wealth of the citizens of the city was directed towards building civic projects like temples, schools, library and the museum.