Nagadeepa Island


Nagadeepa Island is a small island located close to Jaffna in the northern part of Sri Lanka. It is also recognised as Nainativu and is assumed to have been inhabited by the Naga tribal personalities. Two famous temples are found on this island, the Hindu shrine of Nagapooshani Amman Temple and the Buddhist shrine of Nagadeepa Viharaya.
From Jaffna journey along the Jaffna-Pannai-Kayts Road and the Valukkairaru-Punkudutivu-Kurikadduwan Road up to Kurikadduwan Harbor to get the Kurikadduwan Jetty which provides passengers in a 15-30 minutes long trip to the Nagadeepa Island.

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Historical References

The rich history of Nagadeepa finds mentioned in ancient Tamil Sangam literature from nearby Tamil Nadu, such as Manimekalai, where it was referred to as Manipallavam. It is also entrenched in ancient Buddhist legends of Sri Lanka, as depicted in the Mahavamsa. Additionally, Ptolemy, the Greek cartographer, described the islands around the Jaffna peninsula as Nagadiba in the first century CE.

Early History

In historical documents, Nagadeepa was known as Nāka Tivu / Nāka Nadu, encompassing the entire Jaffna peninsula. Buddhist myths recount the interactions between the people of Nagadeepa and Buddha. The Tamil epics of the second century, Kundalakesi and Manimekalai, describe Manipallavam as an islet of Nāka Nadu, from where merchants sourced gems and conch shells. The protagonists of these stories visit the island, and the sea goddess Manimekhala brings the heroine to Nagadeepa, where she worships Buddha.

Legends and Mythology

Among the legends associated with Nagadeepa, one stands out—the story of Buddha settling a dispute between two Naga princes over a gem-set throne seat. This incident occurred on an island known as Manipallavam or Nagadeepa, identified as Nainativu by several scholars. An inscription at the Nainativu Hindu temple from the 12th century CE mentions the arrival of foreigners at new ports, their protection, and the customs associated with shipwrecks.

The Story of Tondaiman Ilamtiraiyan

The epic Manimekalai narrates the tale of the Chola king Killi, who fell in love with the Naga princess Pilivalai during his visit to Nagadeepa. Their union gave birth to Tondaiman Ilamtiraiyan. Entrusting her son to a merchant named Kambala Chetty, who traded in woollen blankets, the princess sent him to the Chola kingdom. However, the ship carrying the young prince was wrecked in rough weather. Miraculously, he survived with a Tondai twig wrapped around his leg, earning him the name Tondaiman Ilam Tiraiyan, telling the young one of the seas or waves. As he grew up, Tondaiman Ilamtiraiyan governed the northern part of the Chola kingdom, which came to be known as Tondaimandalam and eventually led to the establishment of the Pallava dynasty.

The Naga People

According to Ptolemy's descriptions, the Naga people were known for their snake worship, a Dravidian custom, and they spoke Tamil. They likely also said Prakrit, a language associated with the Amaravathi village in the Guntur district, which had strong cultural relations with the early Tamils of Jaffna during the classical period. Archaeological findings support the Nāka clan and serpent worship in the Dravidian parts of India and Sri Lanka during the megalithic period.

Sangam Literature and Nāka Clan

Sangam literature reveals the division of ancient Tamil people into five clans based on their professions. The Nāka clan, responsible for border security and guarding the city wall and distant fortresses, inhabited the Coromandel Coast, South Tamil Nadu, East Tamil Nadu, and North Sri Lanka. The name Nāka may have been derived from the word Nayinaar or attributed to their serpentine deities, with their head coverings resembling a hydra-headed cobra. Some historians even consider the Nākas an offshoot of the Nayars of Kerala. The Manimekalai and Mahavamsa both mention a dispute between two Naga kings in northern Sri Lanka, further solidifying their historical significance.

The Decline of Naga Identity and Assimilation

Over time, the Naga people, also known as Nayanair, assimilated into the Tamil language and culture, becoming one of the descendants of the Sri Lankan Tamils. However, they continued to worship their patron deity, Nayinaar, represented by a five-headed cobra, and Nagapooshani Amman, within the sanctum sanctorum of the Nainativu Nagapooshani Amman Temple.


1 Is Nagadeepa accessible to visitors?

    • Yes, Nagadeepa is accessible to visitors. It is a famous pilgrimage site for both Hindus and Buddhists.

2 What are the main attractions of Nagadeepa?

    • The main attractions of Nagadeepa include the Nagapooshani Amman Temple and Nagadeepa Purana Viharaya.

3 Can I visit Nagadeepa by boat?

    • Yes, Nagadeepa can be reached by boat. There are regular boat services available from the mainland.

4 Are there any accommodation options in Nagadeepa?

    • While there are limited accommodation options in Nagadeepa, visitors can find comfortable places nearby Jaffna.

5 Is photography allowed in Nagadeepa?

    • Yes, photography is generally allowed on Nagadeepa, but it's advisable to respect the sanctity of the religious sites and seek permission if required.



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