Tranquillity Amidst Urbanity

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By Sanuj Hathurusinghe 

The cultural heritage in the Jaffna Peninsula is mostly dominated by Tamil and Hindu as well as colonial heritage. However, that doesn’t mean that traces of Buddhist cultural heritage are not found in Jaffna. One fine example for this is the Nagadeepa Raja Maha Vihara. This historic temple located on the small isle of Nagadeepa is a popular tourist destination among both Buddhist and non-Buddhist travellers.   

Getting to Nagadeepa is a bit of a hassle since one has to take a ferry ride which is not necessarily frequent. However, there are other popular and historical Buddhist places of worship in Jaffna which one can visit without going to the trouble of taking multiple modes of transportation. 

Located in the heart of Jaffna town is Sri Naga Vihara International Buddhist Centre. Despite the hustle and bustle that surrounds the temple, the temple premises remain calm and tranquil, and surprisingly cool, perhaps courtesy  of the Bo tree that hovers over the almost entirety of the temple premises. Popularly known as the Naga Vihara of Jaffna this international Buddhist centre looks relatively new, with almost all of its buildings looking newly-constructed. Coupled with the fact that the temple spans a small area of land with the building occupying the majority of the land area, one might think that the temple has no historical roots that run deep. However, looks can be deceiving and the temple in fact, boasts a rich history. 

Folklore suggests the history of Naga Vihara dates back to the time of King Devanampiyatissa (247 – 2017 BCE) of the Anuradhapura Kingdom. When the sacred Bo sapling was brought to Sri Lanka by Arahat Sanghamitta Theri the King went to Dambakolapatuna – the port Arahat Sanghamitta Theri reached – to welcome the Bo sapling. The plan was to bring the sapling in a procession to Anuradhapura Mahamewna Uyana where it would be planted but the nagas – a local tribe living in the North at the time – had requested the King to keep the sacred Bo sapling in Jaffna for a few days for them to venerate it. It is believed the sacred Bo sapling was planted at Naga Vihara for a week for veneration before it was brought to Anuradhapura.

Apart from a replica depicting the arrival of the sacred Bo sapling, there isn’t much historical evidence found at the temple proving the popular belief but that doesn’t mean Naga Vihara isn’t a place worth a visit. In fact, visiting Naga Vihara on a hot day can be the ideal blissful escape you need to rejuvenate and organise your thoughts. Make sure to include Naga Vihara to your destinations list the next time you plan to visit Jaffna.       

(Pix by Kelum Chamara)