Thai Pongal celebrations in Jaffna

One of the most important festivals for Tamil-Hindus, Thai Pongal, takes place every year on 14 January. Apart from being celebrated in Tamil Nadu, it is also celebrated by Tamil-Sri Lankans all over the country.

Thai Pongal is part of a 4-day harvest festival celebrated to thank the Sun God for its contribution to a successful harvest. In Tamil, ‘Pongal’ means 'overflowing’, as in an abundance of something. Thai Pongal is followed by Maatu Pongal, a day when the cows are in turn celebrated for their contribution to the working of the land. 

On the morning of Thai Pongal, families traditionally prepare a Pongal dish (rice, milk and spices) in the morning which they then share with relatives and neighbours. Most families will then visit a Kovil to attend a Puja and make offerings.


Nallur Kandaswamy temple is Jaffna’s most famous. It was impossible to get shots of the Puja here as photography inside is unfortunately strictly prohibited.


One of the first devotees to visit Nallur temple in the early morning on Thai Pongal makes a prayer after having smashed a coconut. This ritual is symbolic of course, the coconut representing one’s own ego which should regularly be 'smashed’ to attempt to remain humble.


Looking into Nallur Kandaswamy kovil.

In order to get some shots of Puja on Thai Pongal, I visited Nallur Sivan Kovil, just across the road. The local, charismatic Swamy was extremely welcoming and with only a small crowd was present, the experience was much more accessible to a non-Hindu foreigner than in the busier Nallur Kandaswamy temple. After the Puja, the Pongal dish was served to all present and musicians played traditional Hindu music on the nadaswaram (long flute) and thavil (percussion), before an Indian violinist visiting from the UK played for a good half-hour.


Many children helped out with the Puja in Nallur Sivan Kovil.

The Swamy pours water to thank the God of Water for contributing to the harvest. 


The Swamy lights candles which he holds to the sky, thanking the Sun God for its contribution to the harvest.

See all photos and more in large by clicking here.



The Sangupiddy Bridge on the new A32 which runs from Mannar to Jaffna.

Jaffna has, unfortunately, pretty much become synonymous with the Sri Lankan civil war which plagued the island for 26 years. There are many obvious links. For instance, Prabhakaran grew up in Valvettithurai, a town a few kilometers outside of Jaffna. It was also nearby that the LTTE ambushed a patrol of the Sri Lanka Army, killing 13, on 23 July 1983. This attack sparked ’Black July’; generally regarded as the start of the war between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. And perhaps most notably, it was occupied by the LTTE on two occasions during the war, for a total of 6 years.


One of the many abandoned houses on Jaffna peninsula. 

Traveling through Jaffna peninsula one can’t but notice the numerous abandoned houses, some of them shelled and bullet-ridden, others overtaken by the vegetation and many simply left to slowly decay. Despite these regular reminders of the war, Jaffna’s rich cultural heritage and diversity are still prevalent.

For over 300 years Jaffna was once a Kingdom until the Portuguese invaded in 1620. Not long after the Dutch took over, and the city became an important port in the region. The British came in at the tail-end of the 18th century and stayed till Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948. It was during the British rule that more Tamils were brought over from India as they were considered more cooperative and hard-working than the Sinhalese. Before the war the population was still considerably mixed though, with Tamils, Moors and Sinhalese. During the fighting the Moors and Sinhalese were forced out and many Tamils also left, choosing to flee. In the span of 14 years the population nearly halved. Nevertheless, Jaffna remains Sri Lanka’s Hindu-Tamil cultural and religious centre and is now trying to rebuild a future after years of seeing progress being stifled by the war.


This home belonged to this man’s parents and he grew up until the land became a High Security Zone and was occupied by the Sri Lankan Army in the eighties. 25,000 people were evacuated in total. 20 years later the house and surrounding land was handed back to him after he provided all the necessary documentation to prove his ownership. The house is in disrepair so he is forced to rent a place. He now uses the land to run a small timber mill.

Jaffna, downtown

A street cobbler waits for customers on the steps of Jaffna’s central market.

Beach road, Jaffna

Children play near a Church on Beach road, Jaffna.

Beach road, Jaffna

A young teen watches two fishermen bring a boat in, on Beach road, Jaffna.