The divine aura of Keerimalai Naguleswaram Kovil, Jaffna

First Published on December 22, 2021

One dip in the Keerimalai pond was all it took
To convert the princess' disfigured face to a stunning look.
It wasn't the first magic in this place
And it certainly wasn't the last of that divine grace.

These are the stories of miracles that have always taken place at the Keerimalai Naguleswaram Kovil - a sacred and an offbeat part of the famous Ramayana trail of Sri Lanka. 

The Ramayana Trail of Sri Lanka is a familiar itinerary for many visitors to this island. The tour usually takes you to all those destinations rumored to have been blessed by the presence of Lord Ram, Sita, Laxman , Hanuman or even the king of Lanka – Ravana. However, the Keerimalai Naguleswaram temple is one site that is most often missed out on this popular itinerary. Located in the northern city of Jaffna, this temple too, has its share of mythological lore – one that not just goes back to Ramayana but continues through the continuing eras. And that, is what you will discover as you go through this tour of the Keerimalai temple in Jaffna.

Keerimalai Naguleswaram Kovil in Jaffna
Keerimalai Naguleswaram Kovil in Jaffna

To be honest, I wasn’t even aware of the story of the Jaffna Keerimalai temple. A mere mention of it on my Sri Lanka itinerary got me probing deeper and thus, came out the tales of miracles connected to the evergreen Keerimalai pond attached to thiis temple. Then came the resilient history of its construction and destruction and finally my visit let me experience the architectural glory of its present-day temple. Keerimalai Naguleswaram Kovil (temple) turned out to be quite an unexpected discovery – albeit a very interesting one.

Keerimalai Naguleswaram temple history

The Keerimaali temple history can be categorized into three major phases. The first takes you back to the mythological era of Ramayana, the 2nd takes you through the reign of Pallavas & Cholas and finally, the last phase is the most recent civil war saga. The temple has weathered centuries of change and despite that, the faith around it remains strong.

The Mythological history of the Jaffna Keerimalai temple

The infamous king of Lanka was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva and in his honor, had established five sacred Shiva Lingas. In the present day, these are referred to as the Pancha Ishwarams. These are along the circumference of Sri Lanka and are highly revered pilgrimage centers for Hindus. One of them is the Keerimalai temple in Jaffna.

Keerimalai hot springs where Lord Rama is said to have cleansed himself of the sin of killing Ravana
Keerimalai hot springs where Lord Rama is said to have cleansed himself of the sin of killing Ravana

It wasn’t just the Shiva linga that was considered auspicious but the Keerimalai hot springs next to it too. As the story goes, after killing Ravana and rescuing his abducted wife Sita, Lord Rama was all set to return home. However, a few saints advised him to get rid of the sin he had accumulated by killing Ravana. For the same, he visited all the Pancha Ishwarams. It is believed that he partook a bath in the holy Keerimalai pond and that is when he is said to have cleansed himself of all sins.

The powerful Keerimalai pond & its miraculous history

Early history has it that the temple was known by a different name – Tiruthambaleswaram. Its present name is attributed to a Sage Nagula who resided in a cave close to the Shiva lingam and the sacred pond. Turns out that with his age, his face and body shrunk to resemble a mongoose. One day he took a dip in the divine pond and he was instantly cured of the disfigurement. It is he who first constructed a shrine around the lingam and since then, the temple came to be known as Naguleswaram Kovil and the pond got the name Keerimalai. Nagula and Keeri refer to a mongoose in the local scripts.

A possible idol of Sage Nagula found near the ruins of the old Keerimalai Naguleswaram temple
A possible idol of Sage Nagula found near the ruins of the old Keerimalai Naguleswaram temple

Ancient texts have it that the first Sinhalese King Vijaya was the one who constructed a larger shrine at this place in the 5th century. Later during the Chola rule, a Pandyan princess by the name of Maruthapura Veeravalli heard of this miracle Keerimalai pond. Her face was disfigured like that of a horse and out of desperation, she came all the way to take a dip in the magical waters. As the legend goes, she was cured of the ailment when the facial features softened and made her attractive.

17th Century and later – history of Keermalai Naguleswaram temple in Jaffna

The marvels of the Keerimalai temple and the Naguleswaram Kovil continued over time and devotees poured in enough wealth to make it grander. So much that it did not escape the plundering eyes of the Portuguese. They invaded the temple and destroyed it during the 17th century. It remained abandoned till the 1890s when a famed scholar – Arumuka Navalar took up the cause. With the help of donations, he reconstructed the temple. Sadly a fire in the 1910s destroyed it again.

Ruins of the  Keerimalai Temple premises after the civil war bombing
Ruins of the Keerimalai Temple premises after the civil war bombing

The resilient faith helped rebuild the temple again and all was well until the 1990s. During a major festival, the civil war got heated and there was a major bombing by the Sri Lankan army that destroyed the temple. It remained in that state till 1997. Slowly and steadily the temple rose from its ashes and finally, in 2012 a grand Mahabhishekham ceremony was done to welcome thousands of devotees.

Ruins and Remains of the ancient Keerimalai temple in Jaffna

The very Ross-island like ruins of the Jaffna Keerimalai temple rest house
The very Ross-island like ruins of the Jaffna Keerimalai temple rest house

For one moment, I thought I was on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Island (formerly called Ross Island). Reclaimed by nature, the abandoned shells of the pilgrim rest house and the priest’s quarters shared the story of the devastation and destruction that the Keerimalai Naguleswaram temple had endured. A few carvings have somehow withstood the annihilation – one that I think might have been of the very Sage Nagula who gave this place its present-day name.

What is left of the carved entrance of the old temple structure at Keerimalai
What is left of the carved entrance of the old temple structure at Keerimalai

Defaced carvings of a Goddess and Ganesha stared back from what might have been a grand entrance to these quarters. There was nothing else left within the campus. Walking to the far end of these ruins, I finally reached the broken walls. Contrasting those dilapidated structures were the vibrant colors of the newly constructed Naguleswaram Kovil.

The newly constructed Naguleswaram temple as seen from the ruins
The newly constructed Naguleswaram temple as seen from the ruins

The newly constructed Keerimalai Naguleswaram Kovil

The gopuram of the Keerimalai Naguleswaram Kovil
The gopuram of the Keerimalai Naguleswaram Kovil

One look at the towering gopuram (gateway) of the Jaffna Keerimalai temple and you know it is a Dravidian style of architecture. However, unlike the Nagapooshani temple of Jaffna that I had shared earlier, this gopuram will seem a little less colorful. My guess – the 9 storied tower is yet to be painted fully and the reason I say so, is its preceding colorful arched gateway.

Arched entrance to the main Keerimalai temple in Jaffna
Arched entrance to the main Keerimalai temple in Jaffna
A glimpse of the main shrine inside Keerimalai temple
A glimpse of the main shrine inside Keerimalai temple
The colorful corridors of Keerimalai Naguleswaram temple, Sri Lanka
The colorful corridors of Keerimalai Naguleswaram temple, Sri Lanka

Another reason for my guess is the vibrant interiors. The central shrine has a small Shiva Linga and the entire setup is framed by golden doors. Around the shrine along the pradakshina (circumambulatory) path is smaller shrines including one of my favorite Hindu Gods – Ganesha. The freshly painted interiors of the temple add a certain positive energy to the whole place – allowing one to almost forget the destruction it had to face. That honestly, is the purpose of these divine destinations – to make one feel hopeful!

Raja Raja Gopuram - the tallest gateway to Jaffna Amman Temple
Raja Raja Gopuram – the tallest gateway to Jaffna Amman Temple

Nainativu Nagapooshani Temple

One of the 55 Shakthi peethas, the Nagapooshani Amman temple in Jaffna is another unmissable destination. Located on an island off the coast of Jaffna, this one will enthrall you with its stories and stunning architecture. Take a peek.

The legendary Keerimalai pond

A few meters away from this newly built Naguleswaram temple in Jaffna is the miracle Keerimalai pond. To find it, all you have to do is follow the sound of the waves. You will find the legendary pond right next to the Keerimalai beach. The entire scene is a contrast of visuals. Where the Keerimalai pond exudes a calm and soothing aura, the energetic waves of the ocean behind it adds a certain dynamism to the atmosphere.

To me, it felt as if the polar opposite nature of Lord Shiva was being depicted by this location. Where the Keerimalai pond could be compared to his meditative state, the ocean felt like the energy that he exuded when he did Tandav.

The sacred Keerimalai pond in Jaffna, Sri Lanka
The sacred Keerimalai pond in Jaffna, Sri Lanka

The Keerimalai pond has been divided into two separate bathing areas – the open public one for the men and a smaller enclosed area for the women. Every year, thousands of people come here for a dip. The mineral content of the Keerimalai hot springs is said to have many medicinal qualities. There is a belief that it even helps women who haven’t been able to conceive.

I wouldn’t know if that is true or not but I did dip a toe or two – just for good luck!

Keerimalai beach and the other buildings in the vicinity

The pavillion near Keerimalai pond in Jaffna
The Pavillion near Keerimalai pond in Jaffna

Between the Keerimalai pond and the Naguleswaram Kovil, there is a small rest house, priest’s quarters and a meditation hall of sorts. All these seem to be newly constructed. The Keerimalai beach is accessible from the bathing area of the pond itself. I am not too sure of its safety when it comes to swimming but it sure is a lovely place to just sit around and watch the waves splash around. Even that adds to the calm and divinity of this place.

Keerimalai beach and shore behind the hot springs
Keerimalai beach and shore behind the hot springs

While Keerimalai Naguleswaram temple might not be as elaborate as the other temples that you might see in Sri Lanka, it definitely deserves a visit if you are in Jaffna. No better way than to relive its glory through those tales of miracle and survival. Pin this up if you agree with me.

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Keerimalai Naguleswaram Temple
Keerimalai pond jaffna 1
Jaffna keerimalai temple

How to reach Keermalai Naguleswaram temple in Jaffna?

Jaffna has an airport of its own. It did have international connectivity but of late, there are fewer flights to Jaffna. Also, most of them are domestic.

Trains are the best way to reach Jaffna from Colombo. You can also, drive down from any of the cities in Sri Lanka. If you choose to drive or take a road trip, the journey can take around 10 – 12 hours. There are two major routes that you can follow.
Route One – 400 km
Colombo – Negambo – NarammalaBogoda – Wariyapola – Anuradhapura – Vavuniya – Elephant Pass – Jaffna

Route Two – 362 km along a coastal road
Colombo – Negambo – Madampe- Puttalam – Akattikkulam- Periyavilankuli – Vellankulam – Poonakary – Sangupiddi Bridge – Jaffna

Once in Jaffna, you can hire a tuk-tuk to take you to Naguleswaram temple located in a village called Keerimalai. This is approximately 20 km from the center and takes around 20 minutes to reach.

What is the best time to visit Jaffna Keerimalai temple?

Jaffna is best explored between January to October when it is not raining. The rest of the year, the city gets regular showers.

The Aadi Amavasaai and Masi Magam are two important festivals that take place at the Keerimalai temple in Jaffna. These are generally in the month of July or August. A good time to visit would be during this festival when you can take a holy dip in the pond. It is believed that the day of the New Moon is the most auspicious for the ritualistic bath.

Where can I stay in Jaffna?

Jaffna has a choice of hotels that you can online through the booking resources section below. My stay was at the North Gate by Jetwing in Jaffna. The place is quite central and has very comfortable rooms . Alternately, you can opt for the other property by Jetwing that is close to the market area. The Thinnai, The Valumpuri and The Green Grass hotel are some of the other good properties in the city.

What is the contact number of Keerimalai temple in Jaffna?

You can reach the temple authorities on +94 217 900 470

Travel & Photography Tips

  • Carry a change of clothes if you plan to take a dip in the Keerimalai pond
  • Women are required to cover their shoulders when entering the temple. Avoid wearing shorts or skirts when visiting here. Men too, should refrain from wearing shorts.
  • There is a lot of security around the temple. Do keep your travel documents with you at all times – just in case you are requested for an identity.
  • Photography is not permitted inside the temple. I managed a few shots in the premises on account of my trip with Sri Lanka Tourism.

Booking Resources

  • Booking.com is a good place to reserve your hotel in Jaffna. This link will help you get to the Jaffna hotel page and book your room.
  • If you are looking for car transfers between Colombo and any other city in Sri Lanka, you could book one through Klook.com. The website also, offers hotel bookings for Jaffna.
  • Another online resource that you can use to book cars and tours in Sri Lanka is GetYourGuide.
  • Amazon is a good resource to pick your travel requirements like bags, rain coats, trekking gear etc. Consider using my affiliate link to get to the site.
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P.S I visited Jaffna on invite by the Sri Lanka Tourism Board

Disclaimer: This article includes affiliate links. This means that at no cost to you, I will receive a small commission if you purchase through my link. Thank you for supporting me with this.
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22 thoughts on “The divine aura of Keerimalai Naguleswaram Kovil, Jaffna”

  1. Hi Ami,
    Nice Article
    Enjoyed reading it. The hot springs very close to sea (Indian ocean) seems to be really interesting. Most likely that will be free of salt just like the pond in Rameshwaram. Not sure you got a chance to explore the source of this hot spring (I mean geological facts) I am sure you can find them on Internet.
    I never knew this part of the story, where Sri Ram took a bath in a hot spring, after killing Ravana.

    Good to know the Sri Lankan Govt is rebuilding the temple which was damaged during the civil war.
    Interestingly newly build temple is very similar to what is there in South India.

    Since you are travelling across Sri Lanka and exploring the places, why not mark all the places related to Ramayana all link all of them under one heading. I mean the places which are related to Ramayana.
    As you already know there are lot of places in India related to Ramayana, you can link them too starting with RAmeshwaram, Hampi, Panchavdi in Nashik, Ayodhya, Valmiki Ashramam etc.

    Reply
    • Thank you so much Girish for those suggestions. I shall definitely look at creating a separate post for these. And as far as the source is concerned, I did not get much info while I was there. Still looking for the hot spring source

      Reply
  2. Visiting the Keerimalai Naguleswaram Kovil certainly will take you on a walk through so much history. So fascinating to see the partial ruins and imagine what these structures looked like when complete. The new building looks interesting with the many statues on each level. It will be great to go back and see if it is painted and a much more colourful display when completed. It definitely deserves a visit if we travel to Jaffna.

    Reply
    • If you ever get to Sri Lanka, do consider a trip to Jaffna and visit this temple. Trust me, it is different from what you will see in the rest of Sri Lanka

      Reply
  3. Hi Ami, I have always loved to read your detailed articles and guides. I have a plan to visit Sri Lanka and truly to speak Jaffna was not involved. Now, I am going to include this too as the history, temple and ruins have appeared as an era to me. Lovely pics too.

    Reply
    • Most of us tend to exclude Jaffna from our trip to Sri Lanka. Glad though that this time I did not have to do that and having visited it, I do believe that it is worth including into all our itineraries

      Reply
  4. The Jaffna Keerimalai Temple looks like a great addition to a Sri Lanka itinerary. Unfortunately I missed it on my trip to Sri Lanka. Great that the temple was restored after the bombings of the civil war. The Keerimalai pond looks fascinating – I would like to take a dip for good luck!

    Reply
  5. When I visited Sri Lanka I unfortunately missed Jaffna. I would have liked to go, as it’s such a beautiful destination. The Keerimalai Temple looks so beautiful and your article reminded me of all the other places I visited that had connections with Ravana and Rama. The Nagapooshani Amman temple in Jaffna looks similar with the Koneswaram Temple in Trincomalee, which is dedicated to Shiva.

    Reply
    • It is quite similar to the Trincomalee one which is built in Dravidian style. I am sure if you liked that one, you will enjoy this visit too.

      Reply
  6. I was planning a trip to Sri Lanka only a month back when all the trouble started there. Jaffna certainly would feature in our trip as well. Nice to know about the belief regarding the dip in the pond. Visiting the Keerimalai Temple would certainly be such a memorable occasion for a first time visitor like me.

    Reply
  7. I am yet to visit Sri Lanka but know of its beauty and history. Jaffna looks like a place I would enjoy as I love historic ruins and imagining what they may have looked like in all their glory. I would enjoy visiting the Keerimalai Temple, its structure reminds me of one I have visited in Vietnam – just beautiful.

    Reply
    • Jaffna is oft missed out in a typical Sri Lanka itinerary. I hope you include it when you get there. Trust me, it is a lovely destination.

      Reply
  8. What a fascinating and lengthy history! I love the stories of healing and faith associated with the Keerimalai Naguleswaram temple. The renovated temple is just stunning in all its color, art, and architectural detail. Plus, with the benefit of the healing waters beside it, I definitely want to experience this meaningful attraction in Sri Lanka for myself.

    Reply
  9. Wow, I so wanted to visit Jaffna during my Sri Lanka trip. I am aware that Jaffna has some political issues but learning about Keerimalai Naguleswaram Kovil temple makes me more interested in visiting the place now. It is rich in history and really so much to learn.

    Reply
    • It did have some political issues back then and hence, many avoided getting here. However, things are fine lately and I do hope you get to visit it for yourself.

      Reply
  10. I had been to Sri Lanka couple of years back however didn’t visit Jaffna. After reading your post, wish I had. Sounds like it is rich in history and despite the famed Hanuman temple we visited in Nuwara Elliya, Keerimalai appears fascinating too!

    Reply
    • Jaffna and its culture is very different from the rest of Sri Lanka and that is what makes it worth the visit. I hope you get another chance to get here.

      Reply

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