Uppuveli Beach in Trincomalee city, a coastal resort city, with Konesar Malai in background
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Trincomalee which is a natural deep-water harbour has attracted seafarers, trader and pilgrims from Europe, Middle East, Africa, China, East Asia and Australasia since ancient times. Trinco, as it is commonly called, has been a seaport and Hindu pilgrimage center since 400 BCE. The earliest epigraphical inscriptions found in Trincomalee city are in the Tamil language. The Tamil settlement at the port of Trincomalee was one of the oldest settlements on the island.S. Pathmanathan. . The Kingdom of Jaffna. Volume 1. pp.136 One inscription from 900–1000 CE belonging to the Chola Dynasty excavated near where the promontory's first temple stood is from a sluice and also concerns Koneswaram, as do the 10th century Nilaveli inscriptions.http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?artid=32850&catid=13On palaeographical and other considerations this epigraphic record could be assigned to the late 10th or early 11th century. It records a grant of 250 veli of land on the coast, to the shrine of Nilakanta Mahadevar at Matsyakesvaram on Konaparvatam of Tirukonamalai for conducting daily worship and rituals. Nittavinotapuram, Patiyana Aipolilpattinam, Makalana, Vikkiramacalamekapuram, Matottamana Iramakulavallip pattinam are some of the merchant towns where archaeological remains of monuments datable to the period of Chola administration have been found.
The ancient texts, as well as an inscription unearthed by archeologists, call it Gokarna in Sanskrit.Professor K. Indrapala, Early Tamil Settlements in Ceylon. PhD Thesis, University of London, 1965.page 331 The Vayu Purana refers to a Siva temple on Trikuta hill on the eastern coast of Lanka in the 3rd century.H.N. Apte, Vayupurana, Chapter 48 verses 20-30, Poona, 1929 The Mahavamsa documents that the King Mahasena destroyed a Deva temple and built a Buddhist shrine in its stead to expiate for an earlier heresy on his part.Mahavamsa. Chapter 35. Verses 40-47 This explains the Buddhist archeological remains in the region. The South Indian Tevaram of Tiru-gnana Sambandar makes mention to the Siva temple in Trincomalee once again in the 6th century.Thirunanacamptanta Cuvamikal Arulicceyta Tevarattiruppatikankal, Saiva Siddhanta publishing works Ltd, Madras, 1927
The earliest known literary reference to the Siva temple of Gokarna bay however is found in the Mahabharata, the Hindu epic written between 400—100 BCE, noting that Koneswaram is at Gokarna bay, in the middle of the ocean and is the island shrine of Uma's consort Shiva, known in the three worlds and worshiped by all peoples from the subcontinent, the rivers, ocean and mountains.Mahabharata. Volume 3. pp. 46–47 It continues that the shrine is the next pilgrimage spot for Hindus en route south following Kanyakumari of the early Pandyan kingdom and Tamraparni island (Kudiramalai)."Listen as I now recount the isle of Tamraparni, gemmed upon the ocean. The gods underwent austerities there, in a desire to attain greatness. In that region also is the lake of Gokarna. Then one should go to Gokarna, renowned in the three worlds. O Indra among kings! It is in the middle of the ocean and is worshipped by all the worlds. Brahma, the Devas, the rishis, the ascetics, the bhutas (spirits or ghosts), the yakshas, the pishachas, the kinnaras, the great nagas, the siddhas, the charanas, the gandharvas, humans, the pannagas, rivers ocean and mountains worship Uma's consort there". Mahabharata. Volume 3. pp. 46–47, 99 In the same time period, the Ramayana in written form describes how King Ravana and his mother had worshipped Shiva at the shrine, when the former wanted to remove the temple of Koneswaram when his mother was in ailing health around 2000 BCE. This literature continues that as the king was heaving the rock, Lord Shiva made him drop his sword. As a result of this a cleft was created on the rock, today called Ravana Vettu – meaning Ravana's Cleft. Upon her death, her last rites were performed at the Kanniya Hot Springs in the Kanniya suburb of Trincomalee city.
The Siva-worshipping Siddhar Patanjali's birth at the city in 180 BCE and its connections to another Siddhar Agastya from the 5th–4th century BCE suggests that Yoga Sun Salutation originated on the promontory of Trincomalee.
Another mention is found in the 5th century CE Mahavamsa stating that in the 4th century BC, King Vijaya got his youngest son Panduvasdeva to land at the bay. The Yalpana Vaipava Malai asserts that King Vijaya restored the Koneswaram temple and the other four Eswarams upon arrival. The Mattakallappu Manmiam of Batticaloa confirms Trincomalee's sacred status for all Hindus.
Early Tamil dynasties continued to employ the city as the prefectural capital of the Trincomalee District, allowing administrative duties to be handled by elected Vanniar chiefs. The Pallava kings, including Simhavishnu and Narasimhavarman I were important in the early history of Trincomalee because of the increased significance of the city to Hinduism and trade in the early centuries of the common era, making sure to contribute elements of their unique style of Dravidian architecture to the city. During the reign of Mahendravarman I in 600, as one Aggabodhi II of Anuradhapura took steps to attack the Vanniar chiefs between Trincomalee and Mannar, Tevaram hymns were composed on the two holy cities, one of which, written by Sambandar, lauded the deity of the temples and lamented the schemes of other heretical faiths encroaching on Trincomalee. Mahendravarman I proceeded to build a twin temple called Kokarneswarar Temple, Thirukokarnam in Pudukkottai, Tamil Nadu.KAN Sastri, A History of South India, p412
Following the conquest of Parantaka I in 950, Rajaraja Chola I and Rajendra Chola I oversaw the city's development when under their empire. Trincomalee was used by Chola king Ilankesvarar Tevar as his eastern port in the 11th century and prospered under the Vannimai chieftaincies of the Jaffna kingdom.N. Parameswaran . Medieval Tamils in Lanka = Ilankai. pp. 13 Two powerful mercant guilds of the time – the Manigramam and the Five Hundred Lords of Ayyavolu emerged in the region during Chola trade with the far east and conquest of Srivijaya of the Malay archipelago and Indonesia.Chola-era inscriptions record the activities of Tamil mercantile communities in Padavikulam. The mercantile groups referred to were the Ticai Aayirattu Ain Nurruvar (Velupillai, Ceylon Tamil Inscriptions, 1971) and the Ayyavole. Taniyappan, a mercant from Padavikulam, laid a foundation stone for a Siva temple there. A Tamil inscription by Raja Raja Chola refers to Ravi Kulamanikkeswaram Siva Temple in Padavikulam. (K. Indrapala, Epigraphia Tamilica, Jaffna Archeological Society, 1971 – page 34). A 13th century Sanskrit inscription excavated here mentions a Brahmin village in the area. The paddy fields of Padavikulam were watered by the Per Aru river.Abraham, Meera (1988). Two medieval merchant guilds of south India. pp. 132 The Koneswaram temple compounds, the city and its adjacent region, from Periyakulam and Manankerni in the north, Kantalai and Pothankadu in the west, and Verugal in the south, formed a great Saiva Tamil principality of the island's state Mummudi Chola Mandalam. Residents in this collective community were allotted services, which they had to perform at the Koneswaram temple. Following some benefaction of the shrine by Gajabahu II, his successor King Parakramabahu I used Trincomalee as his eastern port, to launch a successful invasion of Burma in the 12th century. The city was governed by Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan I and Jatavarman Veera Pandyan I of the Pandyans in the 13th century, despite invasions from and the eventual subduing of Chandrabhanu and Savakanmaindan of Tambralinga of Thailand; it then remained in the Pandyan empire of Maravarman Kulasekara Pandyan I and remnants of Pandyan art and architecture still stand in Trincomalee.
Magha's reign ousted Parakrama Pandyan II and re-consolidated Tamil sovereign power in the island's north, north west and north east in Trincomalee by 1215; during Magha's reign, the temple and city underwent rich development in the name of a Chodaganga Deva on Puthandu, 1223. After the fall of the Pandyans of Tamilakam due to invasions by Muhammad bin Tughluq of the Delhi Sultanate, Trincomalee rose in status in the Jaffna kingdom, often visited by King Singai Pararasasegaram and his successor King Cankili I in the following centuries. Trincomalee served a similar purpose to its west coast sister city, Mannar. King Jeyaveera Cinkaiariyan had the traditional history of the Koneswaram temple compiled as a chronicle in verse, titled Dakshina Kailasa Puranam, known today as the Sthala Puranam of Koneswaram Temple. Building blocks from the city were used to expand the Kovil at Rameswaram under the patronage of king Gunaveera Cinkaiariyan.Gnanaprakasar,A Critical History of Jaffna, p.99-102Kunarasa,The Jaffna Dynasty, p.67-68 At this time, Trincomalee was trading pearls, precious stones, vessels, elephants, muslins, baqam and cinnamon, and was passed by Chinese voyager Ma Huan by ship, eight days from the Nicobar islands, on his way to Tenavaram temple.J R Sinnatamby (1968). Ceylon in Ptolemy's geographyGerolamo Emilio Gerini. (1974). Researches on Ptolemy's Geography of Eastern Asia. Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd. (reprint). Ma Huan calls the headland hill as being Ying-ko tsui Shan or Ying-Ko Tswei Shan – a hawk-beak shaped hill on the east coast The Tamil country had established a strong alliance with Yemen and the Delhi Sultinate under Martanda Cinkaiariyan which attracted seafaring merchants from East Africa and the Middle East to its ports.Ci Patmanātan, S. Pathmanathan (1978). The Kingdom of Jaffna, Volume 1. pp. 237 An inlet of Trincomalee, Nicholson Cove became the site of a small Arab settlement by the 13th and 14th century. The Nicholson Cove Tombstone inscriptions at Trincomalee refer to the deceased as the daughter of the chief Badriddin Husain Bin Ali Al- Halabi, showing that her family hailed from Halab (Aleppo) in Syria.Asiff Hussein (2007).Sarandib: an ethnological study of the Muslims of Sri Lanka The Tamil Bell of New Zealand assigned to the Pandyan era belonged to sea traders that likely originated from Trincomalee. The city even attracted Arunagirinathar in 1468, who traversed the Pada Yatra pilgrimage route from Nallur Kandaswamy temple to Katirkamam while stopping to pay homage to Koneswaram's Murukan shrine.
By the late 16th century, Portuguese Ceylon was beginning to influence the operations of the princely Trincomalee district. The city had become one of the richest and the most visited place of Hindu worship in the world, declared the "Rome of the Pagans of the Orient" by the Portuguese. It hosted the Hindu funeral of Bhuvanekabahu VII of Kotte. Koneswaram is described by Jesuit friars at this time as being a "... massive structure, a singular work of art. It is of great height, constructed with wonderful skill in blackish granite, on a rock projecting into the sea, and occupies a large space on the summit".Perniola, V. “The Catholic church in Sri Lanka. The Portuguese period”, vol. II, p. 366. The Trincomalee and Batticaloa chiefdoms starting paying direct tributes to the Portuguese commander in Mannar from 1582 as Portuguese influence over the entire North east gained momentum. An annual sum of 1280 fanams was levied from the Koneswaram temple, and they collected a duty on areca nuts exported through the Trincomalee and Batticaloa ports.Jorge Manuel Flores; Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian. (2007). Re-exploring the links : history and constructed histories between Portugal and Sri Lanka. pp.36 Jaffna had given minimal logistical access to its Trincomalee and Batticaloa seaports to the Kandy kingdom to secure military advantages against its enemies; this was used by their influential European overlords to consolidate power in the region. In 1603, the first Dutch fleet arrives at Trincomalee and Batticaloa ports.Robert Montgomery Martin. (1839). Statistics of the Colonies of the British Empire,... . pp.370 In 1612, D. Hieronymo de Azevedo, after great difficulties due to torrential rains, arrived at Trincomalee with a Portuguese contingent from Kandy. Here de Azevedo "was keen on building a fort" to the scope; he called in aid from King Ethirimana Cinkam of Jaffna but not seeing him, he abandoned the enterprise and he marched towards Jaffna.Perniola, V. “The Catholic church in Sri Lanka. The Portuguese period”, vol. IIPerniola, V. “The Catholic church in Sri Lanka. The Portuguese period”, vol. III The early death of Cankili I brought upon by the Portuguese conquest of the Jaffna kingdom saw all the territory of the kingdom of Jaffna, comprising both Trincomalee and Batticaloa, assigned to the "spiritual cures of the Franciscans". The Jesuits followed the Portuguese soldiers to Trincomalee and Batticaloa when they occupied the two localities.This decision was taken by the bishop of Cochin, Dom Sebastião de S. Pedro. Later, an other decree of the same bishop dated 11 November 1622, tracing the one indicated in 1602, entrusted newly to the Jesuits the spiritual cure in the districts of Jaffna, Trincomalee and Batticaloa, giving to them possibility to build churches, to train the sacraments and to convert souls.
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The buildings of Trincomalee were of masonry, thatched with leaves of bamboo and rattan, although the Pagodas and the Palace of the King were covered with copper, silver and gold. The metropolis had grown with well-built houses and streets that were cleaned regularly and were well adorned. The Danish arrived in Trincomalee to the end of 1619 with a first ship, called "Øresund" under the command of Roelant Crape. This small expedition was the vanguard of another Danish fleet, composed of four vessels and 300 soldiers, commanded by Ove Giedde, that reached the island in May 1620. They wanted to try their fortune in the Asian seas; the Danish expedition occupied Koneswaram temple. It was here that the Danes began the works for the fortification of the peninsula.
Following the destruction of the Koneswaram compound and the Fort of Triquinimale built from its ruins, Trincomalee had a Portuguese force during the reign of Rajasinghe II of Kandy. Constantino de Sá de Noronha who destroyed one of the temples had a copy of the oldest inscription in Tamil Brahmi sent to Portugal for the purpose of identification. The Tamil inscription contains a prophecy on the city and its temple, a copy of which was sent and is retained in The Hague. In a 1638 letter to Dutch Colonial Governor Anthony van Diemen, an officer mentions that Trincomalee is a "fort built rather strongly of hard stones from an old pagoda round the hillock. On each side there is a sandy and rocky bay and it is like a peninsula". Rajasinghe finally formed an alliance with the Dutch, who captured the Fort of Triquinimale in 1639 and handed it to the Kandyans for destruction in 1643. In 1660, the Dutch built the present Fort Fredrick at the foot of the promontory which they called Pagoda Hill, and another fort at the mouth of the harbour home to Dutch officers, Fort Ostenburg. An English sea captain and his son, the writer named Robert Knox, came ashore by chance near Trincomalee and were captured and held in captivity by the Kandyan king in 1659. The Kandyans then pursued a scorched earth policy to try and oust the Dutch and take Trincomalee and Batticaloa on the east coast. The French set up base in Trincomalee in the Spring of 1672, and tried to make overtures to the Kandyans, but an alliance was not sealed; by July 1672, Trincomalee was retaken by the Dutch fleet.
The city had rejoined the Coylot Vanni Country by the start of the 18th century, with much of the city's population having moved across the district following the temple's destruction. It was about three centuries after Norochcho and Knox that serious attempts at translating the temple's ancient writings were made. The Dutch ruled the Tamil country with increased focus on districts like the Vannimai, Trincomalee and Batticaloa; the Vanniar chiefs of Trincomalee and the rest of the Vanni became subordinates and were put back under the commandment of Jaffna with a large degree of autonomy, but forced to pay forty elephants a year to the Dutch company. As tributaries, they recovered from Portuguese rule slowly under Dutch rule, and the Batticaloa district served as a dependency of the Fort of Trincomalee until 1782. The state of the region and the Tamils fears for the town and the Kantalai tank is described in considerable detail by the Dutch Governor of Trincomalee, J. F. Van Senden, in the diary of his visit in June 1786 with a view to revitalising agricultural production around the Trincomalee district. The population was a shadow of what it had been in times of prosperity. What he saw were people who had lost much of their traditional skill and often living close to subsistence level. Van Senden made the first record of the Kankuveli Tamil inscription dealing with a large field dedicated to Koneswaram temple. He was struck by the contrast between the prosperity signified by the inscription and what he then saw in the village. Trincomalee town remained under Vanni administration.
Late modern and contemporary
Marble beach, Trincomalee
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Jacob Burnand, a Swiss soldier in the service of the Dutch and the Governor of Batticaloa, composed a memoir on his administration there in 1794, noting Trincomalee to be an important fortified town in the Tamil nation.J. Burnand helps with the suppression of the revolt against the Indian amildars, administrators brought from Madras to Ceylon. He drafts another 'memoir' on the North and Northeast, in which he locates the origins of the Sinhalese in Siam and mentions that from time immemorial Sinhalese and Tamils had divided the rule of the island between the two of them. The English translation of Burnand's memoir of 1798 becomes known as the Cleghorn minute. Trincomalee's fort was occupied by the Dutch for most of the 18th century, and subsequently by the French who fought and won the Battle of Trincomalee as part of the American Revolutionary War in 1782 at the city.
On 8 January 1782 the British captured Trincomalee's forts from the Dutch, the first place on the island they captured. The French recaptured it on August 29 of the same year after the Battle of Trincomalee. In 1783 the French ceded it to the British and subsequently, Britain ceded Trincomalee back to the Dutch Republic under the Peace of Paris (1783 Treaty of Versailles). In 1795 the British recaptured the city and held it until Sri Lanka's independence in 1948, with a claimed aim of "preventing Napoleon invading the colony" if left under the Dutch. Their rule is sealed with the Treaty of Amiens, and the last Vanniar, Pandara Vannian is executed by the British – a pension is paid to his widow, the Vannichi, until the late 19th century. The British officer Alexander Johnston discovered a stone epigraph, the oldest of the province of Trincomalee District, in ancient characters concerning the traditional founder of Trincomalee and the temple, Kullakottan Chola. The French admiral Pierre André de Suffren de Saint Tropez, when with his fleet in the city in 1781 had sent a copy of the inscription to Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron of France for translation.Johnston, Alexander (1827). An Account of an Inscription Found Near Trincomalee in the Island of Ceylon.
The HMS Trincomalee ship was built during the early 19th century by Indian workers to aid them in the Napoleonic Wars, and named after the city. The importance of Fort Fredrick was due to Trincomalee's natural harbour. Through Trincomalee, it was believed a strong naval force could secure control of India's Coromandel Coast and the rest of the Indian Ocean. The British admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson called Trincomalee "the finest harbour in the world", while the British Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger called the city "the most valuable colonial possession on the globe, as giving to our Indian Empire a security which it had not enjoyed from its establishment" and the harbour "the finest and most advantageous Bay in the whole of India". In the 19th century, the Trincomali Channel of British Columbia, Canada was built and named after the city's name.G. Philip V. Akrigg, Helen B. Akrigg (1997). British Columbia place names. A Tamil press is established in Jaffna in 1820; a report on Trincomalee laments its sorry, poverty-stricken state and recommends 'colonization with intelligent settlers'. By 1827, The Return of the Population 1824 is published, giving the total population figures for Trincomalee as 19,158 – Tamils and among them 317 Sinhalese. The Vanni, counted under Mannar, has 22,536 inhabitants, among them 517 Sinhalese.
Before the Second World War, the British built a large airfield to house their RAF base, called the RAF China Bay and fuel storage and support facilities for the British fleets there. After the fall of Singapore, Trincomalee became the home port of the Eastern Fleet of the Royal Navy, and submarines of the Dutch Navy. Trincomalee harbour and airfield were attacked by a carrier fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy in April 1942 in the Indian Ocean Raid of the war. However, the installation later served as an important launching point for British naval operations in 1944 and 1945.Brian Lavery, Churchill's Navy: The Ships, Men and Organisation, 1939–1945, page 183, 2006.
One of the places inhabited by the British was Fort Fredrick, now occupied by the Sri Lankan Army. Some of the old buildings in the fort were used as residences, including one previously occupied by the Duke of Wellington. In the early 1950s the British Government built groups of bungalows within the fort specifically for their employees. These bungalows today provide accommodation for the Sri Lankan Army. There was a large Naval Hospital which catered for sick and injured British naval personnel from all over the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf.
With the turn of the modern era, English authors and poets used Trincomalee as inspiration for literature and poetry and became connected with the city. Arthur C. Clarke, who discovered the temple's underwater ruins with photographer Mike Wilson, described the city and the ruins in Reefs of Taprobane and would go on to write 2001: A Space Odyssey based on his experiences in the city. Trincomalee's Bhadrakali Amman temple provides a setting in Wilbur Smith's novel Birds of Prey. Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories feature multiple settings in the city, including in A Scandal in Bohemia and A Singular Affair at Trincomalee. Jane Austen's younger brother Charles Austen of the British Royal Navy is buried in Trincomalee.
Sri Lankan naval ship at Trincomalee
In 1950, one of the original shrine's gold and copper alloy bronze statues from the 10th century CE of a seated figure of Shiva Shiva as Chandrasekhar, his consort goddess Parvati, a statue of the goddess Mathumai Ambal and later Lord Ganesh were found by the Urban Council of Trincomalee buried 500 yards from the promontory's end while digging for a water well. They were taken in procession around the region before being reinstalled amid opening ceremonies in one of the newly restored shrines of the compound on 3 March 1963. The naval and air bases were taken over by Sri Lanka in 1957. Following independence from Britain, the political relationship between Tamils and Sinhalese deteriorated across the island. Interest surrounding Trincomalee was increased due to its geostrategic position and the discovery of its underwater and land Hindu ruins. In 1968, the unity government of majority Sinhalese dominated United National Party and the minority Tamil dominated ITAK Federal Party collapsed over disagreements about declaring the holy Hindu site a protected area. A committee appointed by a Federal Party Minister to study the viability of declaring the site protected was disbanded without consultation by the Prime Minister at the time, Dudley Senanayake. The Federal Party withdrew its support to the government following that action. According to journalists like T. Sabaratnam, this incident had severe repercussions alongside the contributing factors of the civil war. The city and its district were severely affected by the 30 year civil war that followed.
In the mid 1980s, India became concerned that the US Navy might gain access to Trincomalee. India was suspicious about goodwill visits by the US Navy to the port and Sri Lankan proposals to contract out the refurbishment of oil storage tanks and modernisation of port facilities at Trincomalee.
Today SLNS Tissa and SLN Dockyard are used by the Sri Lankan Navy, while the Sri Lanka Air Force is based at China Bay Airport. The Sri Lanka Army has its Security Forces Headquarters - East in Trincomalee. The Trincomalee War Cemetery is one of the six commonwealth war cemeteries in Sri Lanka. It is maintained by Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence on behalf of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The base is home to a naval museum called the Hoods Tower Museum. The name refers to a watchtower built on a hill commanding a 360-degree view of the harbor and the bay.
In the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, Trincomalee was a focal point for relief efforts on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka.