Ancient Thirukiteshwara Temple located on Mannar Island of Sri Lanka

Mannar is located at the end of Sri Lanka which is closest to India. Rameshwar is situated on the Indian side of the famous Ram Setu between India and Sri Lanka and Mannar is situated on the Sri Lankan side. Like Rameshwaram, Mannar is also a separate island from the mainland which is connected to the mainland by a bridge. Just as Rameshwaram Temple is situated on the Indian side of Ram Setu, similarly Thirukiteshwar Temple is situated on the Lankan side of Ram Setu. During the medieval period (5th century to 15th century), Mannar was a bustling port city, hence connected to other parts of the world by various transport routes. Presently it is a quiet coastal town that is popular with tourists.

It was evening when we reached Mannar by road from Colombo. We completed this long-distance journey by stopping for refreshments and short rest at some places on the way. Mannar is a small town. My rest house was also a small traveler’s accommodation with minimal facilities. In the morning I set out to visit the Thirukiteshwara Temple, which I was very eager to visit because I had read an entire book about this wonderful temple on the way. Now I was getting impatient to observe him.

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Mannar Thirukiteshwara Temple

Story of Mannar Thirukiteshwara Temple

The story of this temple connects it to the famous Sagar Manthan incident. When the nectar obtained from the churning of the ocean was being distributed among the gods, a demon also changed his form and sat in the row of the gods. As soon as Lord Vishnu realized this, he cut the demon into two pieces with his Chakra. But by then the demon had become immortal after drinking the nectar. Therefore, both parts of his body also attained immortality. His bodyless head was called Rahu and his headless body was called Ketu.

It is believed that Ketu used to worship Shiva at this place. It was he who established the first Shivalinga at this place. That is why this temple was named Thirukiteshwara Temple, that is, the temple of Lord Ketu.

Mannar is also called the birthplace of Lord Vishwakarma. Vishwakarma is a divine architect or architect who along with his sons has built many excellent places. Sri Lanka is also one of them. Traditional architects or architects consider themselves their descendants.

Ravana’s queen Mandodari also had a mysterious connection with Mannar. She was the son of Maharishi Kashyap and the adopted daughter of Mayasura, considered Vishwakarma of demons.

History of Mannar Thirukiteshwara Temple

It is said that at one time the grandeur of this temple was at the level of Rameshwaram temple located across the sea. Many dynasties of South India like the Chola dynasty patronized this temple. Many Tamil-speaking saint poets have written many poems in praise of this temple. But whether he visited this temple or not is not known. Even the Chinese traveler Xuanzang has mentioned this temple in his travelogues.

Later, in historical events, the Portuguese arrived and destroyed this temple. There was no sign left of the existence of this temple in the entire area. With time this area was converted into forest. Gradually this temple started disappearing from people’s memories. In the 19th century, a young man named Arumugam Navalar from Jaffna studied Shaiva theory and started the work of spreading it to the masses. During the same period, by chance, he had the privilege of reading poems written by Nayanmar Sampandar and Sundarar, in which the temple of the presiding deity of Ketu was beautifully depicted.

From that moment Navalar started searching for this temple with full enthusiasm. Also excavated forests at various places. Ultimately his hard work bore fruit. He discovered a huge Shivalinga from the Chola period, which is still worshiped in this temple. In a way, this was the rebirth of this temple. People initially built a small single-room temple here. Gradually they kept collecting more money and expanding the temple. Due to public movements in the medieval period, its construction work had to be postponed on several occasions. Many monasteries located around the temple were also damaged but fortunately, the main temple did not suffer any major damage. Due to the movements, people were not even allowed to enter the temple.

When I came here to visit this temple, its expansion work was in progress. I feel proud to write that the Government of India and the Archaeological Survey of India have also supported this noble work.

Visit to Mannar Thirukiteshwara Temple

Since the huge work of construction and expansion of this temple is in progress, this temple has been temporarily shifted nearby for some time. God is being worshiped continuously at this temporary place. I also saw a marriage ceremony taking place here.

As you approach the temple, the tall Raja Gopuram of the temple welcomes you inside the temple. On one side of this gopuram, there is a giant bell which has been imported from England. This is the unique feature of the temples of Sri Lanka. You will definitely see one or two bells on one or both sides of the Gopuram in the temples here. This may have been the influence of churches, especially when these bells were imported from European countries.

There is an ancient statue of Nandi inside the enclosure resembling a miniature temple outside.

A new Shivalinga has been installed inside the sanctum sanctorum, which has been brought from Kashi to Rameshwaram and then from Rameshwaram to here. I was thrilled to see the Shivalinga brought from Varanasi being worshiped here in Sri Lanka. Nearby, a small temple is dedicated to Gauri Amma, inside the sanctum sanctorum of which her beautiful statue is installed.

In front of the sanctum sanctorum, the newly built Sabhamandapa of 100 pillars has statues of Ketu, Mandodari, poets Nayanmar Sampandrar and Sundrar and Chola kings. There are also statues of two warriors riding horses as if they were protecting the temple. On other pillars, sculptures of different postures of Shiva Tandava and different forms of Ganesha, Vishnu, and Devi are engraved. Among these sculptures, there are also sculptures of divine dancers like Urvashi and Rambha. Navagraha, Surya, 12 zodiac signs, Kamdhenu and Shri Yantra are engraved on the inner ceiling of the temple.

The priest of the temple told me that Palavi represents Ganga here. He told that every night Lord Shiva goes to Parvati’s room. In the morning, he returns to his room where he meets Ganga as he is anointed with the water of Palavi. It is very interesting how the stories continue.

Temple water tank/lake – Palavi Tirtam

A temple is not complete without a water pond. This temple also has a huge water tank called Palavi Theertham. It is situated in the northern direction of the temple. It is believed that once upon a time it was a river that had the same status as Ganga. The water of this pond or lake is used in all the rituals of the temple. The consecration of Shivalinga is also done with the water of Palavi water pond. Even rituals like Shraddha are performed on the banks of this water body.

There is a pavilion built on one side of the pond. When the Lord of the temple comes out for the procession, he rests under this pavilion. Here you can also observe many types of birds.

There is also another water pond in front of the temple, near the cowshed.

Festive statue

This temple has a unique collection of ancient bronze statues which are decorated with beautiful silk clothes. Among them, I want to make special mention of the statues of Nataraja and Somaskanda of the Chola period. There are also statues of 63 Nayanmar poet-saints which you can commonly see in Shiva temples across Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka.

An annual festival of 10 days is organized in this temple which usually falls around the full moon day of Vaishakha month. Apart from this, other Hindu festivals like Shivratri, Navratri, Ganesh Chaturthi, Skanda Shashthi are also organized with great pomp in this temple.

meeting with the founder

The best gift I received after visiting this temple was a meeting with the founder of this temple, Selvanathan, and his wife Ponni. He supervised the construction works taking place in this temple, such as the current phase of expansion, the addition of other minor temples around the main temple, the construction of a new vimana over the sanctum sanctorum, also called superstructure, etc. I spent two days with him discussing the temple, which was a kind of important study for me. In the background of temple architecture, he gave me information about what planning has to be done in the construction of a temple.

Some of the information I received from him about temple architecture is as follows:

Types of stones used in the construction of the temple, the distinction between feminine rocks, masculine rocks, and neuter rocks. Each type of stone has a special use. As such, a Shivalinga can be carved only on a masculine rock.

Video of construction of Thirukiteshwar temple

There are different types of rules for temple conservation. There is some routine maintenance which is done after every 12 years. According to the original design of the temple, its expansion work is done in a planned manner. There are some rules of conservation that are used in special circumstances, such as the salvation of those temples that are no longer alive for some reason or the purification of those temples that have been contaminated under some conspiracy.

I learned about the music present in the temples and understood their stories.

I saw how they drew the outlines of figures on the rock and scraped out the unwanted parts. Even I got inspired to carve the stones and I also tried to work on the stones under the supervision of an expert.

Other Sightseeing Places in Mannar

Mannar Fort

As soon as we cross the bridge and enter the island city of Mannar, our sight falls on a small fort. The Portuguese had built this fort. Later the Dutch residents took over it. Ultimately the British established control over this fort. From this, you can imagine the colonial history of this fort.

You can visit the ruins of this fort and see its structure and ruined chambers. Here I also saw some inscriptions but I could not understand anything from them. The roofs of most parts of the fort are now destroyed.

Ram Setu

The ancient bridge connecting Sri Lanka to India is still visible in the form of sand dunes. Many water sports are organized on the nearby beach, such as paragliding. A unique fact that comes to mind here is that the water on one side is extremely calm, while the water on the other side is extremely aggressive.

When seen from here, many sand dunes are visible in the distance, behind which a small part of the shining sea water is visible. I was told that on days when the atmosphere is extremely clean, Rameshwar Temple is also easily visible from here.

In all the restrooms and canteens of Mannar, you can see pebbled stones full of holes which instead of sinking, float on the water surface.

Doric Bungalow near Mannar

There are ruins of an ancient bungalow on top of a rock on the beach. According to ancient texts, pearls were searched for in shells at this place for centuries. Over time, this industry passed into the hands of the British, who acquired immense wealth by trading the pearls obtained from here. An information board outside the building details the inhumane methods they used to retrieve pearls from the sea. They used local divers to collect shells.

Presently this building is in a dilapidated state. By climbing on top of it you can experience the amazing atmosphere. However, climbing it may prove to be a bit unsafe because, in case of an accident, there is no help available nearby. There is a structure similar to a lighthouse nearby.

Our Lady of Madhu Church

This is a popular church which is at a short distance from Mannar.

Warrior Viva

It is an ancient water reservoir dating back to the 5th century.

The Baobab trees located here are very popular among tourists. Since baobab trees are native to Africa, their presence here indicates trade relations with Africa.

Mannar and its surrounding areas are excellent for bird-watching. Due to the many salt fields located here, not only is the view amazing, many species of birds also gather here. Vidathalthivu is one such fishing town which is also popular for bird watching. Here you can see many heaps of salt which naturally collect and dry to form interesting circular shapes. The local villagers carry them away in baskets.

Try to find special donkeys of low height on the roads here. The reason for the existence of this species here could be the trade done with distant regions in ancient times.

travel tips

  • This is a small town. Therefore, limited tourism facilities are available here. There is a huge resort in Talaimannar. But most of the rest houses or hotels in Mannar are small and have limited facilities.
  • In most of the canteens here you will find typical South Indian food, like idli, dosa, vada, etc. Apart from these, noodles and fried rice are also popular here. There is also a thali tradition in some places.
  • Use the vehicles of any official transport center of Sri Lanka. Otherwise, arrange for private transportation.
  • 1 to 2 hours is enough time to observe this area.
  • Due to its proximity to the sea border, this area is sensitive from a national security point of view. The security officers here can stop you for investigation at many places.