Koneswaram temple of Trincomalee historically known also as the Thirukonamamalai Konesar Kovil, the Temple of the Thousand Pillars and Thiru-Konamamalai Maccakeswaram Kovil, is a Hindu temple in Trincomalee, Eastern Province, Sri Lanka venerated by Saivites throughout the continent. It is built atop Swami Rock, a rocky promontory cape overlooking Trincomalee, a classical period harbour port town. The primary deity is the Hindu god Lord Shiva in the form Konesar. There has been a kovil at this site since the 3rd century, possessing a hoary history with various dates of establishment and development attributed at different points before the classical era. At its zenith, the original Konesar temple was the main shrine of the Trincomalee Koneswaram Temple Compounds, one of three ancient connected Hindu temples on Swami rock with a considerably sized gopuram in a complex of nine major courtyard compounds. The Konesar temple stood distinctly in the middle of the cape at its highest eminence, with other shrines to deities Ganesh, Vishnu (Thirumal), Ambal-Shakti and Murukan stretching across the cape complex to its extremities. Heralded as one of the richest and most visited temple compounds in Asia, Koneswaram became one of the most important surviving and influential structures in the world by the early 17th century, inspiring a rich corpora of devotional and descriptive literature, inscriptions and art by royals and pilgrims.
Developed between 300 and 1600 by Tamil kings and artisans, key features combined to form its basic Dravidian temple architecture plan, such as its thousand pillared hall (Aayiram Kaal Mandapam) and the Jagati. Elaborate sculptural bas-relief ornamentation adorned the megalith, embodying the popular rock-cut architectural style of the subcontinent carved out of black-coloured granite with multiple gopuram towers, gaining it admiration from poets, pilgrims and sailors worldwide. The village of Thirukonamalai (Trincomalee) was located on the isthmus of the cape within the compounds. The Trincomalee District makes up the entire property and land of the city and the surrounding villages that the temple owned in its floruit, affirmed through several royal grants; the shrine thus gave the city and district its name and services including food were provided to Trincomalee residents with the temple's revenue. Koneswaram is the most famous Hindu temple of the island, and at its peak, revered as the "Rome of the Pagans/Hindus of the Orient" in Europe and the Middle East.
Largely destroyed in colonial attacks between 1622 and 1624, a fort was built at the site from its debris. The Ati Konanayakar temple built in 1632 houses some of the destroyed temple's idols. Its underwater ruins were rediscovered by Arthur C. Clarke and photographer Mike Wilson soon after local Hindu Tamils rebuilt the shrine in the 1950s of much more modest dimensions. This houses recently rediscovered sculptures and idols including the lingam, believed to be Swayambhu. Legends associate the temple compound with Ramayana and Mount Meru, home of the devas in Hindu mythology. Koneswaram is a Paadal Petra Sthalam, one of the 275 Shiva Sthalams heralded as a grand seat of Shiva worship in the 6th-7th century works Tevaram, hymns of the Tirumurai canon written by the Nayanar saints Thirugnana Sambandhar and Sundarar. This added greatly to its fame, as have its ancient bronze idols which reflect the high points of Chola art. Its longitudinal position and preeminence in Saivite belief earned it the epithet Dakshina/Then Kailasam (Mount Kailash of the South), while it is the easternmost shrine of the five ancient Iswarams of Shiva on the island, administered and frequented by Tamil Hindus throughout its history. The modern temple has been a source of conflict between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils due to its historic position in a geo-strategically important area. It is built based on classical Dravidian Hindu architecture at the cape end closest to the sea. The annual Koneswaram Temple Ther Thiruvilah festival attracts Hindus from around the continent and involves the Pathirakali Amman Temple of Trincomalee, the Pavanasam Theertham at the temple's ancient Papanasachunai holy well and the proximal Back Bay Sea (Theertham Karatkarai) surrounding Swami Rock. Jonathan Forbes and George Turnour state that it is probable there is no more ancient form of worship existing than that of Eiswara upon his sacred promontory, while in Kanda Puranam, the epic authored by Kachiyappa Sivachariar, Koneswaram is venerated as one of the three foremost Shiva abodes in the world, alongside Thillai Chidambaram Temple and Mount Kailash.
In the Tamil language, ancient temples are known as kovils,; thus the temple complex is known locally as Konecharam Kovil (Tamil: கோணேச்சரம்), the abode of Kona—Eiswara (the Chief Lord). The presiding Shiva deity's names are Konesar (pronounced Konechar or Konasir — a compound of Kona and Eiswara), Koneswaran, Kona—Natha and the goddess consort is called Mathumai Amman (another name for Mother goddess Amman).It later earned the title Thiru Koneswaram Kovil. The origin of the term Ko or Kone lies in the Old Tamil word for the terms "Lord", "King" or "Chief", which allude to the deity that presides here; this term appears in several Damili inscriptions of the 6th century BCE — 2nd century CE. Trincomalee, the coastal peninsula town where Koneswaram is located is an anglicized form of the old Tamil word "Thiru-kona-malai" (Tamil: திருகோணமலை), meaning "Lord of the Sacred Hill", its earliest reference found in the Tevaram of the 7th century by Campantar. Thiru is a generally used epithet denoting a "sacred" temple site while Malai means mountain or hill; Middle Tamil manuscripts and inscriptions mention the monumental compound shrine as the Thirukonamalai Konesar Kovil. Kona has other meanings in Old Tamil such as peak, while another origin for the term Koneswaram could come from the Tamil term Kuna (East). Therefore other translators suggest definitions of Trincomalee such as "sacred angular/peaked hill", "sacred eastern hill" or "three peaked hill".The temple was constructed atop Swami Rock, also called Swami Malai or Kona-ma-malai, a cliff on the peninsula that drops 400 feet (120 metres) directly into the sea.
The Trincomalee Koddiyar Bay, a circular natural harbour which the temple crowns towards the north, is sometimes referred to as Ko-Kannam or "Lord's Cheek", alluding to the cheek shape of Shiva's bull Nandi. Pathmanathan suggests that the Sanskrit equivalent of the port town's name is Go-Karna, meaning "Cow's Ear" or Gokarna Pattana and the deity's name Gokarneswara in Sanskrit. He offers an etymological link Thiru-Gokarna-Malai or Thiru-Gona-Malai based on this theory. Gokarna is also a place name in Karnartaka, India and Nepal associated with ancient Shiva temples and Ravana of the Ramayana, the former temple, the Mahabaleshwar Temple also earning praise in the Tevaram.A major shrine to the deity Bhadrakali exists within the Mahabaleshwar Temple complex, and similarly the Pathirakali Amman Temple of Trincomalee, dedicated to the same deity and significantly expanded by Rajendra Chola I, stands on Konesar Road before the entrance to Swami Rock.
Heralded as "Dakshina Kailasam"/"Then Kailasam" (Kailash of the South) because it lies on exactly the same longitude as the Tibetan mountain Mount Kailash (the primary abode of Shiva), Koneswaram's early black granite rock-cut architectural style shared similarities to Kailasanathar Temples of the subcontinent. Its traditional history and legends were compiled into the Sanskrit treatises Dakshina Kailasa Puranam — Sthala Puranam of Koneswaram, written in 1380 by Jeyaveera Cinkaiariyan, and the Dakshina Kailasa Manmiam — three chapters of the Skanda Puranam of unknown antiquity — manuscripts of which have been discovered and dated from the 5th — 7th century.It was in the Puranas that the shrine first found reference as Koneiswara Parwatia, motivating Kullakottan Chola who learnt of its sanctity to sail to Trincomalee and develop the temple.
Koneswaram was also referred to as the Thirukonamalai Macchakeswaram/Macceswaram Kovil in some Middle Tamil inscriptions such as the Nilaveli inscription of the 10th century, which some writers note to be a Tamil rendering of the Sanskrit Matsyakesvara.Its connection to the Hindu spiritual master and ardent Shiva devotee Macchendra Nath, who founded the school of Hatha Yoga based on Shiva's teachings, and solidified the Natha order of Saivite belief as a distinct sect that gained ground on the island between the 9th and 10 century CE might have contributed to this name.The temple's "Aayiram Kaal Mandapam" earned it the title Pagoda of Trincomalee — Temple of a Thousand Columns among Europeans.The rocky promontory is dedicated to Siva in his ancient form of Kona-Eiswara, and is a major centre of pilgrimage today. The worship of Eiswara is noted to have been the original worship of the island; Jonathan Forbes and George Turnour state that it is probable there is no more ancient form of worship existing than that of Eiswara upon his sacred promontory.
Origins and date of establishment
Lovers' Leap or Ravana's Cleft at Swami Rock (Konamalai). It is 350 feet above the sea level and looks straight down into the ocean below.
The exact date of the Koneswaram temple's birth is not universally agreed upon. The shrine is known to have existed for at least 2400 years, with inspirational and literary evidence of the classical and post classical era (400 BCE — 1500) attesting to the shrine's classical antiquity.Kaviraja Varothiyan's Tamil poem inscribed on the Konesar Kalvettu, the 17th century CE stone inscription chronicle of the temple, gives the shrine's date of birth as circa 1580 BCE.Its initial phase consisted of a rock cave, multi-layered brick shrine style popularly constructed to Tamil deities of a range of faiths during the Sangam period (see Religion in ancient Tamil country).
Legends of the Hindu epic Ramayana note that the King Ravana and his mother had worshipped Shiva at the shrine, and the former wanted to remove the temple of Koneswaram when his mother was in ailing health circa 2000 BCE. As he was heaving the rock, Lord Shiva made him drop his sword. As a result of this a cleft was created on the rock, which today is called Ravana Vettu - meaning Ravana's Cleft.
According to contemporary historians S. Pathmanathan and Paul E. Peiris, Koneswaram temple has a recorded history from 300.Peiris notes that Thiru Koneswaram was one of the five recognized Iswarams of the Hindu deity Shiva in Lanka before the 6th century BCE; a widely famous centre of deity worship long before the arrival of the mythical exile Vijaya to the island, attributed to the period 543 - 505 BCE.Pathmanathan differs from Peiris in his view on the shrine's birth however, stating that Koneswaram temple was most likely established as a Hindu shrine by the mercantile communities that frequented the island from the 4th century BCE Kalinga region in India, where another temple dedicated to Shiva in the form Gokarnasvamin at Mahendra mountains is found.The Yalpana Vaipava Malai, an 18th century Tamil chronicle, notes that the figure Vijaya and seven hundred of his followers extensively repaired the five Iswarams upon their arrival to the island, before mixing with native tribes on the island forming matrimonial links with the Tamil kingdom through Pandyan queens. The Encyclopædia Britannica currently appears to follow this view, although in volume 10 of the encyclopaedia, printed in 1974, the shrine's establishment is attributed to Tamil migrants. Encyclopedia Americana and New International Encyclopedia note that early Tamil rulers erected the temple of a thousand columns on the hilltop.
The prince Kulakottan of the Chola Dynasty extensively built up/renovated the Koneswaram temple and the Kantalai tank, responsible for irrigating plains belonging to the shrine. His reign is alternatively attributed to between 1580 BCE and 450.Due to royal patronage by various Tamil dynasties from the early classical to medieval era, the temple flourished in the first centuries of the common era. Hindus built at least three great stone temples with gopura on Swami Rock during Koneswaram's zenith, with the principal temple of the complex at its highest eminence.
Koneswaram is the easternmost shrine of the 5 ancient Iswarams of Lord Shiva on the island, the others being Naguleswaram (Keerimalai), Thiruketheeswaram (Mannar), Munneswaram (Puttalam) and Tenavaram (Tevan Thurai). Koneswaram has attracted thousands of pilgrims from across Asia, and from 644 — 660, has been glorified as one of 275 Shiva Sthalams, or holy Shiva dwellings on the continent.One of the other temples of the compound, the Kovil to the goddess Shankari Devi, was one of the 18 Maha Shakthi Peethas, those Shakti Peethas consecrated to the goddess which are mentioned in the Ashta Dasa Shakthi Peetha Stotram by the Hindu philosopher Adi Shankara (788 — 820). The historical literature Mattakallappu Manmiam (Batticaloa Manmiyam) that chronicles the history of Tamil settlement in Batticaloa, describes Koneswaram as one of the nine most important and sacred sites in the world for all Hindus.
Timeline of Koneswaram temple
(BCE - 1982)
Founded as a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva (BCE)
Destroyed by Mahasen (334-361)
Temple restored by Kankan ("Kullakottan") (438)
Mentioned by Campantar in Tevarams (Circa 700)
Mentioned in several stone inscriptions (Circa 1000 - 1200)
Mentioned in Dakshina Kailasa Puranam (1380-1410)
Visited by Arunagirinathar (1468)
Destroyed by the Portuguese (1645)
Successor temple built in Tampalakamam (1650-1690)
Mentioned in Konesar Kalvettu (1750)
Restored by Society for restoration of Koneswaram, Trincomalee (1952 )
Renovations by concerned Tamils (1982)
The Chola royal Kankan (Kullakottan), a descendant of the legendary King Manu Needhi Cholan of Thiruvarur, Chola Nadu, restored the Koneswaram temple at Trincomalee and the Kantalai tank after finding them in ruins. He was the son of the king Vara Rama Tevan, who had been a prolific benefactor of the Konesar temple. Kullakottan visited the Munneswaram temple on the west coast, before settling ancient Vanniars in the east of the island. According to the chronicles, he extensively renovated and expanded the shrine, lavishing much wealth on it; he was crowned with the ephitet Kulakottan meaning Builder of tank and temple. Further to the reconstruction, Kulakottan paid attention to agriculture cultivation and economic development in the area, inviting the Vanniar chief Tanniuna Popalen and several families to a new founded town in the area including Thampalakamam to maintain the Kantalai tank and the temple itself.The effects of this saw the Vanni region flourish. The Vanniar claim descent from this chief.Kullakottan's restorations took place despite interferences from the queen of the Pandyan King Pandia, who was absent from his throne in Anuradhapura on a visit to Jaffna.
The Yalpana Vaipava Malai and Konesar Kalvettu, as well as a 16th century Tamil inscription in Trincomalee and Tamil copper-plate inscriptions of the temple relate many details about Kullakottan's founding of Trincomalee and the Vanni.Modern historians and anthropologists agree as historically factual the connection of the Vanniars with the Konesar temple. Dating the reign of the king has proved difficult. The Konesar Kalvettu dates Kullakottan's renovations to specifically between 432 — 440. Other historians suggest that Kullakottan arrived to the island during the island's reign of The Five Dravidians of Pandyan descent, between 103 — 88 BCE, corroborating the Yalpana Vaipava Malai equation of his grandfather Manu Needhi Chola's identity with that of Ellalan Chola, a historical king who ruled the island from 205 — 161 BCE that shared many character traits with the legendary Manu Needhi. The Portuguese historian De Quieroz cited poetic and inscriptional evidence to date Kullakottan's renovations to 1589 BCE, based on a Tamil poem by Kavi Raja Virothayan he read which was translated into English in 1831 by Simon Cassie Chitty. Some consider the story of Kullakotan to be mythical based on the travails of historical figures such as Gajabahu II, Kalinga Magha or a Chola regent of Sri Lanka.
6th-7th century CE hymn, Pallava kingdom
In the 6th century CE, a special coastal route by boat travelled from the Jaffna peninsula southwards to the Koneswaram temple, and further south to Batticaloa to the temple of Thirukkovil.Koneswaram temple of Kona-ma-malai is mentioned in the Saiva literature Tevaram in the late 6th century CE by Thirugnana Campantar.Along with Ketheeswaram temple in Mannar, Koneswaram temple is praised in the same literature canon by the 8th century CE Nayanar saint Sundarar in Tamilakkam.Koneswaram henceforth is glorified as one of 275 Shiva Sthalams (holy Shiva abodes glorified in the Tevarams) of the continent, part of the "Paadal Petra Sthalam" group. The only other holy temple from Eela Nādu (the country of the temple as named in the Tamil literature) is Ketheeswaram.During this period, the temple saw structural development in the style of Dravidian rock temples by the Tamil Pallava Dynasty.This occurred after Pallava King Narasimhavarman I (630 - 668 CE) armies conquered the island and when the island was under the sovereignty of his grandfather King Simhavishnu (537 - 590 CE), when many Pallava-built rock temples were erected in the region and this style of architecture remained popular in the next few centuries.The 8th-10th century CE Kanda Puranam (a Puranic Tamil literature epic and translation of the Skanda Puranam) authored by Kachiyappa Sivachariar of Kanchipuram describes the Koneswaram shrine as one of the three foremost Shiva abodes in the world, alongside Chidambaram temple in Tamil Nadu and Mount Kailash of Tibet.Several inscriptions written in the Tamil and Vatteluttu scripts interspersed with Grantha characters relate to the temple from this period. Koneswaram temple is mentioned in the 10th century CE Tamil Nilaveli inscriptions as having received a land grant in the Tamil country of one thousand seven hundred and ten acres (two hundred and fifty four vèli) of dry and wet land to meet its daily expenses - revealing the temple's role in providing various services to the local community by 900-1000 CE.The fertile Koddiyapuram area of Trincomalee district paid one hundred avanams of rice to the shrine and was tasked with growing oil seed for Koneswaram annually.
10th-12th century CE Chola empire
Trincomalee figured prominently during the medieval golden age of the Tamil Chola Dynasty, due to the proximity of the Trincomalee bay harbour with the rest of the continent and its benefits for the Chola's maritime empire. The Koneswaram temple and the adjacent region formed a great Saiva Tamil principality.Residents in this collective community were allotted services, which they had to perform at the Koneswaram temple.An inscriptional record containing a praiseful poem of Raja Raja Chola I, who ruled the northern Malabar country from 993-1014 CE was discovered in the 1970s within the premises of the Koneswaram temple.The 1033-1047 CE Tamil inscriptions of the nearby Choleeswaram temple ruins of Peraru, Kantalai and the Manankerni inscriptions reveal the administrative practices of the Chola King Ilankeshvarar Devar (Sri Cankavanamar) with the Koneswaram shrine and the Trincomalee region at the time.The Palamottai inscription from the Trincomalee district, found amongst the inscriptions in nearby Kantalai, records a monetary endowment to the "Siva temple of Then Kailasam (Kailash of the South)" by a Tamil widow for the merit of her husband. This was administered by a member of the Tamil military caste – the Velaikkarar, troops deployed to protect shrines in the state that were closely associated to King Ilankeshvarar Devar.King Gajabahu II who ruled Polonnaruwa from 1131-1153 CE is described in the Konesar Kalvettu as a devout worshipper of Lord Shiva and a benefactor of the temple of Konamamalai.King Chodaganga Deva, a descendant of King Virarajendra Chola's grandson Anantavarman Chodaganga Deva - the progenitor of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty of Orissa/Andhra Pradesh - made rich donations after visiting Konamamalai on Tamil New Years Day 1223 CE, according to a Sanskrit inscription in Grantha script excavated on a door jamb at the Hindu temple.A 1000-year old Tamil inscription of the Chola Vatteluttu alphabet was discovered in October 2010 when digging for construction on an esplanade on the right side of Konesar Road leading up to the shrine.
Pandyan kingdom, 1200s
Pandyan era Koneswaram inscription
The Ananda Nilayam gopuram tower of the vimanam, the inner and outer gopurams of the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple, Tirupati, with Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan's Kalasam visible. Sundara Pandyan gold plated the gopurams and placed the kalasam atop the towers of both Tirumala Venkateswaram and Thirukonamamalai Koneswaram Kovils. Compared in the 1500s, Tirumala is now the richest and most visited place of worship in the world.
Drawing of a shrine/vimanam of the original Koneswaram Kovil Compounds of Trincomalee by Constantine de Sa de Noronha, who destroyed all three Koneswaram temple monuments on Swami Rock from 1622 - 1624. Published in 1687 dated The temporal and spiritual conquest of Ceylon by Fernão de Queyroz
While under Pandyan suzerainty in 1262 CE, Prince Jatavarman Veera Pandyan I, brother and leuitenant of King Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan I repeated his brother's 1258 conquest of the island to intervene and decisively defeat Chandrabhanu of Tambralinga, a usurper of the northern Tamil throne; he proceeded to implant the Pandyan bull flag of victory and insignia of a "Double Fish" emblem at Konamalai while he subjugated the other king of the island.Historically, the Pandyans were known to have sculpted two fishes facing each other on the ceilings of their multi-storey temple gopurams once they were completed (and left it with one fish in case it was incomplete). Sundara Pandyan had renovated the gopurams by gold plating the roofs and installing gold gilded Kalasam atop them, a work of art displaying affinity to Dravidian architecture. Swami Rock at this time is described as "Kona ma-malai, around which the ocean waves swept pearls, gold, precious stones, and shells from the depth of the ocean and heaped them along the shore." Local residents contributed to the wealth of the temple under the Pandyan's rule of the north of the island.The 13th century CE Tamil stone inscription in Kankuveli village records the assignment by Vanniar chiefs Malaiyil Vanniyanar and Eluril Atappar of income and other contributions from the rice fields and meadows of the Vannimai districts of the ascending Jaffna kingdom to the Koneswaram shrine.
Jaffna kingdom (1215 - 1620 CE)
The Tamil Aryacakravarti dynasty kings of the Jaffna kingdom paid homage to the Koneswaram shrine under its sovereignty, offering gifts of gold and silver. Among the visitors were King Singai Pararasasegaram and his successor King Cankili I. King Jeyaveera Cinkaiariyan (1380 — 1410 CE) had the traditional history of the temple compiled as a chronicle in verse, entitled Dakshina Kailasa Puranam, known today as the Sthala Puranam of Koneswaram Temple.The literature describes how from the middle of Sivanoli Padam Malai, three rivers or "kankai" were generated to rise out of Sivan’s foot print — Mavillie-Kankai flowing towards the North, reaches Shiva's abode at Trincomalee, and falls into the sea south of it. Manikka-Kankai flows towards the East and passes by the temple of Kadirkamam, dedicated to Muruga, son of Shiva, and then falls into the eastern sea. Kaveri-Kankai flows towards the West, and passes into the place of Shiva called Thiruketheecharam at Manthottam in Mannar. These three rivers are described as "highly meritorious streams". He shipped stone blocks from Trincomalee to the temple of Rameswaram to renovate its sanctum sanctorum. Jeyaveera Cinkaiariyan's successor Gunaveera Cinkaiariyan (Pararacacekaran V), a trustee at Rameswaram who also oversaw structural development of that temple and the promotion of Saivite belief, donated part of his revenue to Koneswaram.The powerful Jaffna emperor Martanda Cinkaiariyan (Pararasasekaram III) took the Morrocan traveller Ibn Batuta to Sivanoli Padam in 1344 CE along with four yogis who were in the habit of visiting the foot-mark on the mountain peak annually; and with these men they were also accompanied by four Brahmanas and ten of the king’s companions. In 1468 CE Saint Arunagirinathar Swamikal paid homage at Koneswaram during his pilgrimage from Jaffna's Nallur Kandaswamy temple to Kadirkamam. At Koneswaram, he offered a garland of Thiruppugazh verses in praise of the Sthalam. The population, he stated, at Koneswaram, where the deep ocean rolled its furious waves, was vast, the temple well organised and the priests well versed in the Four Vedas. The shrine of Muruga, adoring son of Konesar and his consort, was near one of the gopuram entrances of the complex.
A rich collection of local texts written since the 14th century CE record the traditions pertaining to the shrine, including Konamamalai temple's use of the alternate name "Maccakeswaram".A temple of a thousand columns, during this medieval period, Koneswaram attracted pilgrims from around the Coylot Wanees Country and across Asia, culminating in it becoming the richest and most visited place of worship in the world of any faith. The last rites during the funeral of King Bhuvanekabahu VII of Kotte, a Hindu monarch who signed all of his official proclamations in Tamil were conducted at Koneswaram in 1551. His closest religious official and most trusted ambassador was of Hindu faith. Historian Diogo do Couto described the Pagode of Triquinimale as a principle temple of its kingdom while Portuguese Catholic priest and author Fernão de Quieroz described it as the "Rome of the Hindus of the Orient more frequented by pilgrims than Rameshwaram, Tirumalai-Tirupati, Kilvelur, Kanchipuram, Jagannath in Orissa or Vaijayanti in Bengal." Furthermore, he described the splendor of the famous temple of Tenavarai at its zenith as similar in its greatness on the island to Koneswaram and how idolatrous navigators would descry Koneswaram from the sea.In a 1613 written letter by Jesuit fray Manuel Barradas, Koneswaram is described as 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.” King Ethirimana Cinkam had resisted a call by D. Hieronymo de Azevedo the previous year to aid the latter in building a fortress in Trincomalee. The enterprise was abandoned.With the defeat of King Cankili II, all of the territory of the kingdom of Jaffna, comprising Trincomalee and Batticaloa, was assigned to the "spiritual cures of the Franciscans." This decision was taken by the bishop of Cochin, fray Dom Sebastião de S. Pedro.By the end of 1619, a small Danish fleet had arrived at Trincomalee; in May 1620, the Danes occupied Koneswaram temple and began works for the fortification of the peninsula before being defeated.
1692 engraving by Wilhem Broedelet of Robert Knox's 1681 map with Trincomalee on the east coast of Malabar country
17th century destruction
The shrine was attacked and destroyed on April 14, 1622 CE, the Tamil New Years Day, by the Portuguese general Constantino de Sá de Noronha (who called it the Temple of a Thousand Pillars).Eleven brass lamps had been lit in the shrine and the main statues were taken out to town during the Ther chariot procession in the festive period, during which time Portuguese soldiers entered the temple dressed as Iyer priests and began robbing it. In an act of religious zeal, the temple was then levered over the edge into the sea. Fleeing priests buried some of the temple's statues in the surrounding area, and all remaining priests, pilgrims and employees were massacred. The final monument of the temple complex was destroyed two years later in 1624. Temple stones and its carved pillars were used to construct Fort Fredrick to strengthen the colonists' influence over the eastern seaboard of the island against other invading European armies, including the Dutch navy during the Dutch–Portuguese Wars. A new church and village were built in and around the fort. An extensive campaign of destruction of five hundred Hindu shrines, the Saraswathi Mahal Library and forced conversion in the Tamil country was conducted by the Portuguese upon their arrival to the island and conquest of the Jaffna kingdom; the temple had been paying protection fees of 1280 fanams a year to the Portuguese. Trincomalee witnessed several naval battles of Europe's Thirty Years' War under Phillip II's man Phillippe de Oliveira.Between 1639–1689 CE, the Ati Konanayakar temple was built in nearby Thampalakamam to house the idols on procession that survived.The destruction of the Konesar temple is historically viewed as the biggest loot of one of the richest temples of Asia. Gold, pearls, precious stones and silks collected for more than 1000 years were robbed within a few hours.A site plan by De Quieroz states: "On the first rise to the summit of the rock was a Pagoda, another at mid-ascent, and the principal one of them all at the highest eminence, visited by a concourse of Hindus from the whole of India."In his dispatch to Philip III, King of Portugal, Constantine described: "The land of the Pagoda is 600 fathoms long and 80 feet at its broadest, narrowing to 30 feet." Regarding a prophetic Tamil inscription de Noronha found at the site, he added "When I went there to make this Fort, I found engraved on the Pagoda, among many other inscriptions, one that ran thus: Kulakottan has built this pagoda..."
Swami Rock (18th - 20th century CE)
The first photograph of Swami rock and ruins of Koneswaram in 1870, prior to the reconstruction of the temple. Local residents offered services to a pillar from the original mandapam in memory of the destroyed temple
No ceremonies were permitted to take place on Swami Rock until British rule of the island, when pilgrims were permitted to return and worship Shiva at the fortressed sacred site. By the mid 19th century, sailors, the high priest and other pilgrims visited the rock, broke a coconut and said prayers, performing sacred rites every January. Fruits and other offerings were often cast over the edge of the cliff, falling to the ruins below.The first photograph of the shrine's remains and its promontory was taken in 1870. Literature on the shrine began to be written as the site began to regain popularity among pilgrims. Thirukonasala Puranam was written during the nineteenth century by Tamil scholar Masilamanipillai Muttucumaru on the temple and the Thirukonasala Vaipavam on Koneswaram was written by V. Akilesapillai in 1889, published sixty years later in 1952.
Idol recovery, ruins and 20th century reconstruction
In 1950, the original shrine's gold and copper alloy bronze statues from the 10th century CE of a seated figure of Shiva (in the form of Somaskanda), 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 Koneswaram site while digging for a water well.They were taken in procession around the region before being reinstalled at Koneswaram. Other Koneswaram statues that survived remain at the Ati Konanayakar temple.A pillar from the original temple stands under a decorated Vilvam (Aegle marmelos) tree on Swami Rock. In 1956, while scuba diving, photographer Mike Wilson and author Arthur C. Clarke uncovered ruined masonry, architecture and idol images of the sunken original temple — including carved columns with flower insignias, and stones in the form of elephant heads — spread on the shallow surrounding seabed.The pillar as well as the ruins display Tamil Pallava and Chola architectural influence of the 3rd-9th century era, corroborated by the discovery of Pallava Grantha and Chola script inscriptions and Hindu images found in the premises that suggest the dynasties took a keen interest in the temple.The divers retrieved the legendary Swayambhu lingam from the ocean floor, a large natural stone obelisk that, according to legend, was one of 69 naturally occurring lingams from time immemorial originally found on Mount Kailash of Tibet and housed in Koneswaram by King Raavan - his most sacred power object from mythological times. This lingam was reinstalled at the Koneswaram site. Publishing their findings in the 1957 book The Reefs of Taprobane, Clarke expresses admiration for Swami rock's three thousand year veneration by Hindus.Identifying at least three Hindu temples as having been built on and around Swami rock, Clarke describes the 10th century CE Koneswaram idols as "among the finest examples of Hindu bronze sculpture known to exist", the seated Shiva Chola bronze "a masterpiece" and the battered stone work at the foot of Swami Rock as "probably the most photographed underwater ruins in the world."350 years after its destruction, Sri Lankan Tamil Hindu people of Trincomalee rebuilt the Koneswaram temple in its present form in 1952.
Some of the artefacts from the demolished temple, including De Sa de Noronha's translation of the prophesy sent to Portugal, are kept in the Ajuda Library of Lisbon (Bibliotheca da Ajuda), along with a painting and map of the original shrine. The chronicler António Bocarro shows three temples of the Trincomalee Koneswaram Temple Compounds on the extremity of the peninsula in his map of the Livro das plantas das fortalezas cidades e povoaçois do Estado da India Oriental document of 1635, but these temples are missing from the copy of the document stored at the Paço Ducal di Vila Viçosa library in Lisbon. The stone inscription discovered by the temple's destroyer has a Double-Fish insignia and its engraved prophesy, translated from ancient Tamil script, warns of the "coming of the Franks" after the 16th century. The prediction reads "O King! The franks shall later break down the holy edifice built by Kulakoddan in ancient times; and no future kings of this island will rebuild it! Following the successive reigns of the cat eyed, the red eyed and the smoke eyed nations it will voluntarily revert back to the Tamils."Pandyan king Jatavarman Veera Pandyan's insignia of the old Koneswaram temple and a portion of the prophetic inscription are seen today at the door entrance to Fort Fredrick.
Location and layout
Location of one of the three Koneswaram temple monuments as Trincomalee was beginning to be fortified by European colonials in 1620. The fort visible is where a colossal monument of the Konesar temple stood on Konesar Malai (Swami Rock) before destruction in 1622; the final Pagoda monument was destroyed in 1624. Portuguese drawing/sketch published c. 1650.
Trincomalee Koneswaram temple compounds
The shrine was known to Europeans as the Pagoda of Trincomalee - Temple of a Thousand Columns. The main shrine was built upon the jagati while its thousand pillared hall was the Aayiram Kaal Mandapam - a distinctly thousand pillared platform close to the vimana of the koil that forms a distinct part of the site plan of classical Dravidian temple architecture. Ruins of this feature at Koneswaram indicate that the hall was a structural addition erected by Pallava artisans, dated between 537 — 668. It formed one of the nine prakara or major courtyard compounds of the Koneswaram complex. Two other temples were prominent compound monuments at Koneswaram, and these may have been prolific gopura structures of the complex. A site plan by De Quieroz states: "On the first rise to the summit of the rock was a Pagoda, another at mid-ascent, and the principal one of them all at the highest eminence, visited by a concourse of Hindus from the whole of India."In his dispatch to Philip III, King of Portugal, Constantine described: "The land of the Pagoda is 600 fathoms long and 80 feet at its broadest, narrowing to 30 feet." Koneswaram of Konesar Malai is located 152 kilometres directly east from Kudiramalai, the ancient royal district and southern emporium of the Thiru Ketheeswaram temple, Mannar.
20th century restored Koneswaram temple
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The Koneswaram temple is well known for its celebration of the traditional Ther chariot festival, the Navaratri and Sivarathri functions. The Ther Chariot Festival lasts for twenty two days in April and focuses on preparing the deities and the community for Puthandu, the Tamil New Year. Navaratri lasts for nine days and is dedicated to various aspects of the presiding goddess, whereas Sivarathri is dedicated to Siva. Devotees visit the temple to attend the daily pujas and make their offerings. Booths are erected outside for the sale of food, drink, brassware, pottery, cloth and holy images. These functions primarily attract Hindus to the temple.
The main Thirukoneswaram Ther Thiruvilah Festival, the twenty two day annual chariot festival begins with the hoisting of the temple Nandi flag. This is followed by temple processions of Lord Konesar and his consort Mathumai Ambal, installed and pulled in an ornate chariot temple car while deities Pillayar and Murugan with his two consorts Valli and Theivayanai are taken ahead in two other decorated chariots. This is conducted throughout Trincomalee district, and follows Kulakottan's stone scriptures detailing how Hindus in Tamil villages like Sambaltivu, lands which historically belonged to the temple, are entitled to hold poojahs as their Upayam during the annual festival period. Until April 1624 the Koneswaram Ther Festival occurred around Puthandu in April annually with five chariots and this tradition was reintroduced in April 2003, three hundred and seventy nine years later.The water-cutting Theertham Thiruvilah festival (holy bath) takes place annually in the centuries old Papanasachunai holy well (Papanasam Theertham) on Swami Rock during the Ther festival period. The deity and other holy artifacts are bathed in the water of the well in the complex's sacred precincts. Devotees are sprayed with the holy water following the Theertham.The Theppath Thiruvilah Boat Festival consists of Lord Konesar and goddess Mathumai Ambal taken in a boat around the temple from Swami Rock via the Back Bay Sea to the Dutch Bay Sea. Religious discourses and cultural items take place throughout the night before Puthandu at the Dutch Bay Sea beach. Thereafter the deities are taken to the temple early morning the next day on Puthandu by road through the Fort Frederick entrance. The Trincomalee Pathirakali Amman Temple - expanded by Rajendra Chola I - and other Hindu temples have held their water-cutting Theertham festivals in the Back Bay Sea (Theertha Kadatkarai) for several centuries.The Koneswaram Poongavanam Festival - the Temple Garden Festival is held during this twenty two day festival period.
An annual three day procession follows Maha Sivarathri Day, observed every year since 1951 following the rediscovery of the bronze idols in 1950. Occurring in three stages, on each day of the festival, the images of the chief deity Konesar, the presiding consort goddess Mathumai Amman, Ganesh and Murugan are brought from Swami Rock to the entrance of Fort Fredrick in decorated Ther temple cars before being paraded through the whole Periyakadai of the Trincomalee town. The chariot cars are pulled by devotees through a decorated route while singing religious hymns. Devotees hold Poorna kumbham outside their houses along the route and worship as the procession moves. On the second day of the festival there is a procession to the Pathirakalai Ambal Temple where the images are kept for the evening. On the final day of the festival, the large chariots are pulled back to Koneswaram along a route through Trincomalee, accompanied by traditional Nadeswaram and Thavil musicians.
Iconography of Ravana, the mythical king of Lanka depicted on the temple walls
According to one Hindu legend, Shiva at Koneswaram was worshipped by Indra, king of the gods.
King Ravana of the epic Ramayana and his mother are believed to have worshiped Lord Shiva in the sacred lingam form at Koneswaram circa 2000 BCE; the cleft of Swami Rock is attributed to Ravana's great strength. According to this tradition, his father-in-law Maya built the Ketheeswaram temple in Mannar. Ravana is believed to have brought the swayambhu lingam in the temple to Koneswaram, one of 69 such lingams he carried from Mount Kailash.
With the legend of the smiling infant, James Emerson Tennent describes "one of the most graceful" of the Tamil legends connected to the Temple of the Thousand Columns atop Swami Rock. An oracle had declared that over the dominions of one of the kings of the Deccan impended a great peril which could only be averted by the sacrifice of his infant daughter, who was committed to the sea on an ark of sandalwood, eventually reaching the island, just south of Trincomalee at a place that in the mid 19th century was still called Pannoa (smiling infant). After being adopted by the king of the district, she succeeded over his dominions. Meanwhile the Hindu prince Kullakottan, having ascertained from the Puranas that the rock of Trincomalee was the holy fragment Koneiswara parwatia of the golden mountain of Meru, hurled there during a conflict between gods, arrived at Swami Rock and constructed a temple of Shiva. The princess, hearing of his arrival, initially dispatched an army to expel him, but ended up marrying the prince to end the war, and later attached vast rice fields of Thampalakamam and built the great Kantalai tank to endow the temple and irrigate the surrounding plain. Upon her death, the prince shut himself inside the pagoda of Swami rock, and was later found translated into a golden lotus on the Shiva altar.
The Dakshina Kailasa Manmiam, a chronicle on the history of the temple, notes that the Sage Agastya proceeded from Vetharaniam in South India to the Parameswara Shiva temple at Tirukarasai — now in ruins — on the bank of the Mavilli Kankai before worshipping at Koneswaram; from there he went to Maha Tuvaddapuri to worship Lord Ketheeswarar and finally settled down on the Podiya Hills.
Dutch legends connected with the Hindu pillar from the ruins on Swami Rock concern an inscription found engraved on the reerected monument dated to 1687. The inscription reads: "Tot gedaghtenis van Fran- cina van Reede, lofr. van Mydregt, dezen A° 1687 M April opgeregt", or in English : " This has been erected on the 24th April 1687 to commemorate Francina van Reede, Lady of the Manor of Mydrecht". The Dutch Governor of Ceylon Gustaaf Willem van Imhoff mentions the pillar in his diaries of 1738, visiting "Pagoodsberg" or "Pagoda Hill" on a trip from Jaffna to Trincomalee to meet Vanniar chiefs in the region. There he notes on his visit on 31 May, the "name of Francina van Reede, daughter of the late Commissaris Generaal van Reede was found cut on a shaft, with the year 1687, which shows that she too came as far as this. Nothing else worth mentioning...". The girl's father was Hendrik van Rheede, commander of Jaffna during Dutch Ceylon, and sailed from Trincomalee to Point Pedro on the 23 April 1687. Historian Jonathan Forbes writing in 1810 in his book Eleven Years in Ceylon describes the pillar as a memorial to Francina's suicide, having flung herself off the edge of the cliff into the sea having seen her lover, a young Dutch officer to whom she was betrothed, sail away to Holland. Some historians describe this story as a conflation with practices that Queyroz claimed occurred with pilgrims at the site as idol worshiping sailors venerated the site from the sea. Historical records from closer to the period indicate Francina van Reede remarried in 1694. Writers describe the intentions of the person who re-erected the old Hindu pillar and carved the inscription on it as being to commemmorate Francina having climbed the crag to wave goodbye to her father as he sailed past, and a token of human affection. Ravana's Cleft is also known as Lover's Leap in reference to this legend.
Another tradition holds that during his rule in 113 CE, King Gajabahu I marched from his southern strongholds to the Konesar Kovil with the intention of demolishing it and converting it to a Buddhist temple. When nearing the Kantalai tank, he is believed to have been miraculously cured of his blindness by a Hindu, and henceforth converted to Hinduism. The tank is said to be named on this account Kandalai meaning "eye grows" in Tamil.
Buddhist claims and conflict
A temple dedicated to a deity in "Gokarna" city is mentioned in a 5th century CE religious and historical literary work called Mahavamsa. It mentions that Mahasena (334–361) a Mahayanist zealot known for his temple destructions, who ruled a central kingdom of the island from the southern city of Anuradhapura destroyed temples dedicated to a deity in Gokarna and built Buddhist Viharas in its place. A 12th century commentary on Mahavamsa indicates that the destroyed deity temple had a Lingam - a form of Shiva in it.The interpretation of deity temples into specifically a Siva temple by the commentary on Mahavamsa is disputed by Sinhalese writers such as Bandu De Silva.
Sri Lanka has had a history of conflict between its minority Hindu Tamils and majority Sinhalese Buddhists since its political independence from Great Britain in 1948 which led to the Sri Lankan Civil War. Since the 1950s Sinhalese Buddhists have claimed that the Tirukoneswaram temple was originally exclusively a Buddhist temple. They cite and interpret historical information of three Pagodas at the Koneswaram site as alluding to Buddhist temples. Buddhists have also claimed that the site was the location of the ancient Gokanna Vihara built by King Mahasena.It was also based on an assertion made by historian Senarath Paranavithana in reading a 13th century Sanskrit donative inscription in Grantha Tamil script made by a Chodaganga Deva found in the Hindu temple's premises. The inscription reads that Deva landed in Gokaranna in 1223. No evidence, archaeological or otherwise, supports the claim the Vihara existed at the site. Other sources indicate that the complex may have had Hindu and Buddhist sections prior to its destruction.In 1968, the unity government of majority Sinhalese dominated United National Party and the minority Tamil dominated 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, after receiving a letter of complaint from a prominent Buddhist monk who objected because the temple area would "get into the hands" of those "who are neither Sinhalese or Buddhist". The Federal Party withdrew its support to the government following that action. According to journalists like T. Sabaratnam, this incident had negative repercussions towards the future cooperation between Tamil and Sinhalese communities. The temple and its environs are currently occupied by the Sri Lankan Army, which maintains a base at Fort Frederick.
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