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Tiruketeeswaram temple in the early 1930's

Tiruketeeswaram temple in the early 1930's.

Thiruketeeswaram is a pre-historic sacred kovil in Manthoddam situated in Mannar District about seven miles north of Mannar town. It is famous according to legends as the kovil where Ketu Bhagavan worshipped Lord Eeswaram. Hence this holy shrine acquired the name of Tiruketeeswaram.

According to Dr. Paul E. Peiris, an erudite scholar and historian, “long before the arrival of Vijaya (6th century B.C.) there was in Lanka five recognized ‘Eeswararns’ of Siva, which claimed and received adoration of all India. These were Tiruketheeswaram near Mahathitha, Munneswaram Thondeswaram, Tirukoneswaram and Naguleswaram.

The celebrated historian J.W. Bennet wrote (1843): “At Mantotte the antiquarian will find a field for research in the still extant remains of remote antiquity, amongst which are the vestiges of an immense tank (Giant Tank) arid the ruins of a former Hindu City, built of birch. The antiquity of the Hindus, by whom, I humbly presume, the island was originally peopled, and their civilization at the remotest period of history, are recognized by all the ancient Eastern Philosophers.”

Another well-known historian, Cassie Chetty, had this to say: “Manthoddam was a center of international trade. Greeks, Romans, Phoenicians, Arabs, Ethiopians, Persians, Chinese, Japanese, Burmese and others vied with each other at various times to monopolise the trade of North Ceylon.”

B.J. Perera, a reputed historian, wrote: “Although Mahathitha (Mathoddam) is first mentioned in connection with the landing of Vijaya’s second wife, a royal princess from the Pandyan Kingdom, there is no doubt that it was used as port by the Tamils long before the Aryan settlement in Ceylon. The existence of the Temple Tiruketheeswaram, the origin of which is not covered by existing records, is an indication of the antiquity of the port. Indeed Mahathitta is the only port in the Island which can be called a buried city. Mahathittha was a great port in the early centuries of the Christian era. Next we have the references in the Sangam literature of the Tamils describing Mahathitta as a great port.”

Pada Yatra pilgrims at Tiruketeeswaram temple, 1991
 Tiruketeeswaram temple in 1958.

Hugh Neville, another well-known researcher, said in 1887 on the illustrious city of Mathoddam a follows: “A renowned shrine grew into repute there dedicated to one Supreme God symbolized by a single stone, and in later times restored by Vijaya, a Saivaite after lying long in ruins. The temple was dedicate as Tiru - Kethes - Waram.”

This kovil, dedicated to the worship of the Supreme God Siva, has been the most venerated temple for centuries. This Temple and the holy waters of the Palavi Tank by its side are venerated in the sacred hymns of the two foremost Saiva saints Tirugnana Sampantar and Sundarar who lived in the 7th and 8th centuries respectively.

This great temple was completely destroyed by the Portuguese in the 16th century and the very stones of this Temple were used by them to build the fort at Mannar, the churches and also the Hammershield Fort at Kayts.

Sri la Sri Arumuga Navalar, who was responsible for renaissance of Saivaism in Sri Lanka in the nineteenth century, made the Hindus realize that they were duty bound to rebuild this historic temple. Following his appeal made in 1872, the exact location of the destroyed temple was traced and a land in extent of about 40 acres was purchased by Nattucoddai Chettiars on 13th December, 1893 at an auction held at Jaffna Kachcheri and some restoration work was done in the early part of the 20th century.

In fact, a small temple was re-consecrated on 28th June 1903. The central shrine which exists today was reconstructed and re-consecrated in about 1921 by the Hindu public servants working in Mannar and it was then that the Talaimannar railway line was constructed. It is also said that with the passage of time the management of the temple passed into the hands of the Nattucoddai Chettiars of Colombo who maintained the temple for a few years. However on 28th October 1948 an intensive agitation resulted in the formation of Tiruketheeswaram Temple Restoration Society, which repaired the temple and had the Mahakumbhabhishekam performed in August 1952.

The reconstruction of the temple reminiscent of the glory of its original position was planned by the Restoration Society with the advice of savants and sthapatis learned in the art of temple construction, according to the shastras with the foundation for it laid on 28th November, 1953. Nattucoddai Chettiars formally entrusted the temple to the Tiruketheeswaram Temple Restoration Society on the 14th September, 1956. The Mahakumbhabhishekam of the renovated temple was held on the 31st October 1960. It was the first phase of reconstruction.

Further renovations were done by the Tiruketheeswaram Temple Restoration Society. Another Mahakumbhabhishekam was held on the 4th July 1976.

The work for the next phase with granite work for the second phase commenced at the School of Architecture and Sculpture in Mahamalepuram in South India. While these preparations were in progress the Sri Lanka Army took over the Temple and its environs in August 1990 and continued to occupy the same for several years. Although they have left the temple premises, their occupation of its environs is a cause of concern to the Restoration Society, which has been urging the Government to remove the armed forces completely from the environs of the temple and declare the temple arid its environs as a sacred area.

It is in this background that the Tiruketheeswaram Temple Restoration Society representing the Hindus of our country in performance of its noble task and duty has accelerated the restoration work and plans to have the Mahakumbhabhiskeham in April/May 2003. Several millions of rupees are required to restore the temple to its original glory. It is the duty of each and every Hindu to generously assist the Tiruketheeswaram Temple Restoration Society in this task.

We therefore appeal to all of you to join us and perform this noble obligation.

May Tiruketheeswara Peruman bless you all.

Tiruketheeswaram Temple Restoration Society

Shri S. Arumugam was born in Nallur, Jaffna. He obtained a Science Degree from the University College, Ceylon in 1928 and then proceeded to Kings College, London, UK, where he obtained a Degree in Civil Engineering in 1931. After graduating, he worked for the Manchester City water supply works, and then returned to Sri Lanka in 1933 where he joined the Irrigation Department and finally retired as Deputy Director in 1965.

His work in the Irrigation Department required him to travel widely in Sri Lanka, and this gave him the opportunity to study about the ancient Hindu temples in all parts of the country. He has also studied Hindu temples in India during his several visits. Apart from his technical publications (he was President of the Institution of Engineers, Sri Lanka) his published works connected with temples include "Some Ancient Hindu Temples of Sri Lanka (1980), "The Lord of Thiruketheeshwaram"(1981), "Thiru Koneshwaram" (1990), "Stone Scupitures in Colombo Hindu Temple" (1990) etc
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