Nallur sans Allure
By Sanuj Hathurusinghe
The pandemic has changed our day-to-day lives in many ways. Never even in our wildest imagination would we have ever envisioned some of the changes brought by COVID19. Who would have thought cross streets of Pettah would be deserted for days or schools will be closed for almost a year. Who would have thought Colombo streets will be busless and temples will actually close its doors on devotees. As the world clocks in nearly two years since COVID-19 broke out and started to wreak havoc, most of these scenes have now become the ‘new normal’ but sometimes, even with the realisation of how things are now, it is hard to grasp these drastic changes forced into our lives.
When the pandemic started to raise its ugly head in Sri Lanka the Western Province suffered the brunt of its adversity but now it is as if nowhere in the country is safe. Deserted scenes are not just in pettah but almost everywhere. Hundreds of miles away from the commercial capital of the country, the Jaffna Peninsula too observes no difference. Ceylon Today was recently in Jaffna and managed to capture these familiar and yet unique, expected and yet rather unbelievable clicks in one of the most popular places of religious observance in Jaffna.
Standing on arid lands of Nallur, rising through the hot Jaffna air in its unique, characteristic golden hue is the majestic Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil, dedicated to Skanda or Murugan – the Hindu god of love, war, and beauty. Originally founded in 948 CE, the iconic kovil gained popularity in the 13th century when it was rebuilt by Puvaneka Vaahu, a minister of the Jaffna king Kalinga Maha. The Kandaswamy temple was built for a third time by Senpaha Perumal (also known as Sapumal Kumaraya) only to be destroyed by the Portuguese in 1624 to make way for churches.
The current temple was built in 1734 by one Don Juan but not necessarily on its original grounds. It is said the location of the original temple is now possessed by St. James Church, Nallur. It may have deviated from its original place but it hasn’t affected the popularity the Hindu temple garners in the least. What forcefully reduced and eventually stopped the devotee visits to the temple is the pandemic. This iconic travel destination in Jaffna was completely closed and all the entry roads were barricaded to further discourage even the most devoted.
However, there are still devotees who walk up to the barriers and perform their rituals from afar as receiving blessing from Lord Murugan is a part of their daily routine. Not just the kovil but all the shops close by were closed owing to the islandwide quarantine curfew. Although there were quite a few civilians roaming in the city of Jaffna, Nallur was practically deserted since even passing through wasn’t allowed.
The iconic ice cream shops, souvenir stalls, and the peanut cookie stands were all closed so we had only these pictures to show for our visit to Nallur Kovil. At the time of writing this article, the quarantine curfew was still in place. Hopefully, the curfew will soon be lifted so not only can devotees get to pray, chant, and perform their religious rituals but the countless businesses that solely depend on the crowd the Nallur Kovil attracts can finally earn a decent living, much needed during these trying times.
(Pix by Kelum Chamara)