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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrPtolemaeus, the Egyptian-Greek historian of II AD, mentions Nainativu under the name of Nāka Tivu and retells the wonders of the Naga people who inhabited the island and worshiped snakes. The Tamil people who live on Nainativu nowadays, have always been tightly connected with the population of the Indian province OF Tamil Nadu, in culture, language, and history.
Unfortunately, during the long Sri Lankan civil war from 1983 to 2009 Nainativu mostly remained out of reach for the Indian Tamils and for wider foreign public: its precarious position between India and Sri Lanka isolated Nainativu and left it stranded in the sea. However, these days the pilgrimage route is back to normal, and tourism industry is gaining more popularity in the area. Still, you might be the only foreigner to visit the island in the entire week, and the infrastructure on Nainativu is not exactly tailored for visitors.
Nagadeepa Vihare Shrine is an ancient Buddhist temple, testimony of the island’s Buddhist heritage. It is decorated with stunning wall art, statues of animals and various depictions of Buddha in a style very peculiar to the local art. Nagadeepa Stupa is painted in silver, unlike most of the stupas in Buddhist shrines, and decorated with depictions of the sun. This temple is one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites, famous as the island that Buddha visited during his journey on Bak Maha Poya Day. According to the legend, Buddha resolved a conflict between the king and son-in-law who were about to depictions of the sun.
Nagapooshani Amman Temple is visible as you are arriving to the island, right from the boat and the docks. Dedicated to the Hindu Goddess Parvati and God Shiva, the complex is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Tamil culture. It has 4 gateway towers and around 10,000 temples, and is mentioned in ancient Tamil literature. No wonder that thousands of pilgrims from outside of Sri Lanka visit the island every year. Inside, it is filled with statues of holy animals, and the gates are decorated with intricate and colorful figures of gods and flowers. Men and women in bright clothes walk around barefoot, wash their faces in the temple fountain and decorate the statues with blossoms. The ancient buildings of Nagapooshani Amman were destroyed by the Portuguese during the beginning of the 17th century, and rebuilt again a century later, in 1720-1790. The temple has undergone restoration in recent years which made it look newer than it actually is.
Best Time to VisitThe annual 16-day Mahostavam (Thiruvizha) festival celebrated in July attracts thousands of pilgrims who come to perform rituals at the Nagapooshani Amman Temple. Worldwide Hindu festivals, such as Navrati (end of September - October) and Shivrati (end of February - beginning of March), also attract many devotees and visitors from within the country and from across the sea.
15 priests perform rituals in the temple on a daily basis and for specific festive occasions. There are 6 pooja (rituals) held every day: sacred bath, decoration, food offering, and waving of lamps, all accompanied by musical instruments, around the giant mandala (circular pattern) in the center of the temple.
Accommodation and RestaurantsThere are no foreigner-oriented hotels in Nainativu. It is possible to stay at the temple housing (for about 150 LKR) south of the jetty, next to the Nagapooshani Amman Temple. However, you will end up sleeping on a thin floor mattress and will be served the most humble food, so this qualifies more as an ‘experience’ rather than ‘accommodation’. Usually, it is possible to visit Nainativu in one day and return to Jaffna for the night.
Wild camping on the island is accepted, the locals might be surprised but will definitely not prohibit you from pitching a tent on the beach. Moreover, there is a big chance that you will get invited to stay over in somebody's house, enjoy the cold bucket shower and homemade curry.
As for culinary delights, there are a few local eateries around the island, that usually double as souvenir shops. Nainativu serves typical Sri Lankan food: a lot of fried rice, coconut milk, dhal (lentils) and vegetables. Food here is mostly vegetarian, although fish curries and shrimp fried rice are also quite popular, accompanied with fried roti bread and eggs.
Getting ThereFrom Jaffna, local buses run to Kurikaadduvaan, where the ferry departs from (the crossing takes around 20 minutes). It is best to check the ferry schedule in Jaffna beforehand, otherwise you will end up waiting at the docks. Even if it is hot, there is an ice cream man who frequents the jetty for the joy of waiting passengers. The ferry itself is a rusty bucket, crammed with dozens of pilgrims, most of whom most likely cannot swim. Cross your fingers and hope for the best.
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Author: wilhelminamurray. Last updated: Nov 17, 2014