First Published on December 10, 2021
Her body severed into 51 pieces. Each of these fell on to the earth, sanctifying the spot and turning it into a powerful Shakthi Peetha. It was her anklet that dropped onto a remote Naga island off the coast of present day Jaffna. It was that which gave birth to the holy Nainativu Nagapooshani Amman Temple.
The legendary Nainativu Nagapooshani Amman Temple attracts thousands of devotees every year to the tiny Nagadeepa island in Jaffna. One can say that it is because this Amman temple in Jaffna is one of the 51 Shakthi Peethas in the World. That is definitely true but for me, there was more to the temple than just its history. The cultural vibrancy and the architectural beauty of this Nainativu temple are definitely two more reasons. I am sure that as you go through this virtual tour of Nainativu Nagapooshani Amman Temple, you will find more excuses to add this to your ever-growing travel list.
Many of you might be wondering what a Shakthi Peetha is and what do these tongue twister names mean. Frankly, it is the explanation for all this that is going to make the Nainativu Amman temple attractive to you. I suggest you get ready to be trapped in this world of stories. At the end of these tales, I hope to have you immersed in the virtual walk-through of the Jaffna Nagapooshani temple and finally, at the end of it all you have the tips to plan your own visit here. So, get ready to enter this world of stories.
- 1 A little about the location of Nainativu Nagapooshani Amman Temple | Nagadeepa Island
- 2 Nagadeepa Buddhist temple
- 3 History of Nagapooshani Amman Temple in Jaffna
- 4 Manikarnika Ghats
- 5 Architecture of Nainativu temple in Jaffna
- 6 The Gopurams of Jaffna Nagadeepa temple
- 7 Nandi Mandapam
- 8 Garba Griha of Jaffna Nagapooshani temple
- 9 The various attractions of Nagadeepa Amman Kovil
- 10 Common Faqs about Nagapooshani Amman Temple
- 11 How to get to Nagapooshani Amman Temple?
- 12 What are the ferry timings for Nagadeepa Amman Kovil?
- 13 What is the best time to visit Nainativu Kovil?
- 14 What are the Nagapooshani Amman Temple Pooja Timings?
- 15 What is the Nainativu Nagapooshani Amman Temple contact number?
- 16 Travel and Photography Tips
- 17 Booking Resources
A little about the location of Nainativu Nagapooshani Amman Temple | Nagadeepa Island
Nainativu is actually the name of the isle on which this temple is located. The island has another popular name – Nagadeepa. It is located just off the coast of Jaffna in North Sri Lanka. Nagadeepa island is not just renowned for the Nagapooshani Amman temple. It, in fact, has another historical landmark – a Buddhist temple called the Nagadeepa Purana Viharaya. This Nagadeepa Buddhist temple is revered for it is one of the 16 places that Lord Buddha himself, has visited. Most Hindu devotees to the Nagapooshani temple do pay a visit to the Buddhist one as it is just a few meters from its premises.
Nagadeepa Buddhist temple
A Buddhist temple that was established after Buddha himself visited the place. Why he visited the place and what makes it special till day – all in this blog article
Originally the Nagadeepa island or Nainativu was inhabited by the Naga people (snake worshippers). However, now this tiny island has a population of 2500 of which the majority are Sri Lankan Tamilians and the rest are Sri Lankan Muslims.
History of Nagapooshani Amman Temple in Jaffna
The story of the Nainativu temple goes back to the mythological tale of Lord Shiva and Sati. Sati’s father – King Daksha was quite upset that his daughter had married an ascetic. He arranged for a grand Yagna and called all the Gods and celestial beings except his son-in-law Shiva. Sati felt insulted and confronted her father about the same. This enraged King Daksha even more and he continued to insult Lord Shiva. Unable to bear this humiliation, Sati jumped into a burning pyre and immolated herself (That is how the practice of Sati came about).
The news reached Lord Shiva and by the time he reached the place, Sati was dead and her body charred. Enraged, Lord Shiva took on a fierce form and began mass destruction. The other Gods appealed to Lord Vishnu and requested him to intervene and help calm Shiva. To break the grief, Lord Vishnu took his Sudarshan chakra and sliced Sati’s remains into 51 pieces that scattered across the earth. The action broke the fury in Lord Shiva and he finally calmed down to retreat into grief.
The places where Sati’s body pieces fell came to be known as Shakti Peeth. It was her anklet that fell in Nainativu island and made it a powerful pilgrimage center. Before she died, Sati prayed that she be reborn to kinder parents and find Lord Shiva again as her consort. It is believed that she was later reborn as the famous Goddess Parvati.
Read about another Shakthipeetha in this post about Varanasi ghats. The place and its story have been detailed in my book – When Places Come Alive.
Years later, Lord Indra is said to have come to this Shaktipeetha to escape from a curse. Turns out he was amorous towards Sage Agasthya’s wife Ahalya and attracted a curse that covered his entire body with yoni (the female reproductive organs). Repentant, he came to the island and created an idol of Goddess Parvati (Nagapooshani). He prayed for her help and so the Goddess appeared and blessed him. The Yoni on his body was removed and the curse taken away. Folklore has it that the same idol created by Lord Indra was later worshipped by Ravana.
There was a temple built for Nagapooshani Amman (Nagapooshani means covered and clothed by snakes) much before the current structure. However, that was partially destroyed by the Portuguese in the 1600s. The new temple was built was in 1720 and continued to expand until 1790. It is renovated every now and then and today, what greets you is a grand temple built in a typical Dravidian style.
Architecture of Nainativu temple in Jaffna
One step towards the Jaffna Nagadeepa temple and I almost felt as if I had entered one of those temples in Karaikudi (Chettinad region of India). Vibrant and colorful, the Jaffna Nagapooshani temple is built in a typical Dravidian style. If you have ever been to the Madurai Meenakshi temple, then you will be able to draw similarities in its architectural layout. Four large gopurams (gateways) surround the main temple with its vimana. Around the main building are several mandapams including a Kalyana mandapam (marriage hall) and Annapoorneshwari mandapam (food hall that distributes free food every day).
Every corner of these elements in the Nainativu Amman temple is either covered with rich carvings or has vibrant paintings. As you go along this tour of Jaffna Nagadeepa temple, you will get to see it for yourself.
The Gopurams of Jaffna Nagadeepa temple
The four gopurams of the Jaffna Nagapooshani temple are of varying heights and are quite a distance from each other. The tallest one is called Raja Raja Gopuram. This is the one that faces the jetty on Nagadeepa island and is 108 feet tall. In fact, on a clear day, when you board the ferry from the mainland in Jaffna, you will be able to see this gopuram.
The gateway is 9 storeys tall and at the top of the tall gateway are nine golden kalasas (golden pitchers with coconut). Each storey has numerous carvings of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Interestingly, there are a lot of Goddesses dominating the carvings. Two huge dwarapalas (gatekeepers) dominate the base, held up by the traditional ganas (dwarves). Along its sides, you can see huge carvings of elephants. The elephants face away from each other and create imagery of them attempting to pull the gates open. This gopuram was built in 2010 and was inaugurated during a grand festival in 2012.
I initially entered the Nagapooshani Amman temple through its southeast entrance. This one faces the Nagadeepa Buddhist temple – the other important place to visit on Nainativu island. This gopuram is much smaller than the main gopuram. In fact, when you enter through this entrance, you will almost disregard it. It feels quite insignificant against the larger gopuram that you can see in its backdrop. This too, is a recent addition to the temple.
The other two gopurams are older and away from these two entrances. They have been built in the 1970s. The newer gates emulate the same style as these gopurams.
There is no missing out on the painted ceilings that greet you when you walk past the tall doors of the Raja Raja Gopuram. The lotus flower one, in particular, impressed me with its very 3D imagery. They triggered my train of thought and got me back to the splendid Karaikudi temples in Tamil Nadu, India.
At the end of that stretch of the painted canopy, you finally land at a lone Nandi (the divine bull). Usually, Nandi faces the Shiva Lingam in Hindu temples. In this case, it faced the main shrine that has the main idol of Nagapooshani Amman (Parvati) and her partner – Nayanar Swami (Shiva). The statue of Nandi is around 8 feet high and they say that it is one of the largest in Sri Lanka.
Garba Griha of Jaffna Nagapooshani temple
With a prayer session in progress, I could not get too close to the Garba Griha (the inner sanctum) of the Amman temple in Jaffna. However, it was lit enough for me to see its unusual moolamurtis (main deities). There is Goddess Nagapooshani with a hooded cobra above her and next to her is a Shiva Lingam. In fact, right in front of the main chamber is another humungous Shiva Lingam facing the moolamurtis.
Unlike the interiors of famous Chola temples like the Brihadeeswarar temple in India, this one is quite well lit and vibrant. The entire passageway is brightly colored – quite like the rest of the temple interiors. You will find the various sculptures of the Goddess on the pillars around the passage. The painted ceilings continue to weave in that kaleidoscopic effect while the simple flooring adds that little bit of somberness to the bright interiors.
There is another smaller shrine that faces the South entrance of this temple. This shrine also, has the idols of Goddess Nagapooshani and Lord Shiva but in a slightly more festive get-up. These deities are called utsavamurti (festival deities) and are taken out on chariots during a festival.
Both the shrines are covered by an elaborate vimana which is around 10 feet high. Similar but smaller than the gopuram tower, you can catch a glimpse of this when you take the circumbulatory path around the shrine. One good place to see it in its entirety is just outside the southern entrance of the temple. From here you will be able to actually compare it against the towering Raja Raja Gopuram.
While following the circumambulatory path, you will also, come across a few other shrines including that of Lord Ganesha and Karthikeya – both sons of the divine couple who are the main deities in the Nainativu Nagapooshani Amman temple. The passage walls are filled with scenes from various mythological and devotional stories. The explanation of these stories is written in Tamil and hence, I wasn’t able to decipher them by myself.
The various attractions of Nagadeepa Amman Kovil
The Jaffna Nagapooshani temple includes a few other buildings and mandapas that are located within 1 – 2 kms on this island. These include a Kalyana Mandapa (marriage hall), Annapoorneshwari mandapa (dining hall) and a dance pedestal that is used for various performances during festivals. The temple also, has a pushkarni or a stepwell. This stepwell has a huge statue of Goddess Nagapooshani next to a Shiva lingam and a hooded cobra stands right behind them. The entire scene has been created atop a pedestal with a 10-headed Ravana. This entire stepwell was renovated and currently, no one is allowed to step into it.
The story of this particular Shakthipeetham goes beyond its mythological connection. In fact, every corner of this beautiful Hindu whispers a tale – some by way of the paintings, some through its sculptures and the others with the sheer devotion and divinity that exudes in the atmosphere here. What is more, is the journey to this place is itself a tale to tell. So go on and pin this up so that you can experience it all for yourself.
Common Faqs about Nagapooshani Amman Temple
How to get to Nagapooshani Amman Temple?
Jaffna is the closest airport to Nagadeepa island. It is also, the closest railway station and major city to the island. The best way to reach Jaffna is via road or take one of the many trains from Colombo. Once in Jaffna, you can hire a local cab, auto or get into a public bus to Kurrikaduwan jetty on Punkudutivu Island.
The boat ride is from the jetty to Nagadeepa island is just 15 minutes. There are regular boat services to Nainativu or Nagadeepa island. Nagadeepa island has two jetties – one in front of the Buddhist temple and the other in front of the Nagapooshani Kovil – the Hindu temple. You can hop onto either of them. If the boat stops in front of the Nainativu Nagapooshani Kovil, then you can directly enter the temple through the Raja Raja Gopuram. Else you will have to walk down or take an auto from the other jetty that is in front of the Buddhist temple.
What are the ferry timings for Nagadeepa Amman Kovil?
The Ferry service starts at 7 am to 6 pm everyday at the Kurrikaduwan jetty. You will be able to get one every half hour. The price per person is LKR 40 per person. An entire one can be booked for LKR 5000
What is the best time to visit Nainativu Kovil?
January to October is the best season to visit Nainativu island and the temple. The rest of the year sees rainfall that tends to make the sea rough.
Nainativu Nagapooshani Amman temple is open from 6:30 am to 7:30 pm. However, it closes between 12:30 pm and 4:30 pm. There is a major festival called Thiruvizha that takes place every year around June. It is a 15 day festival and is quite grand with chariot processions and several performances. One can plan a visit during the same or you can head there during the popular Hindu festivals like Shivaratri.
What are the Nagapooshani Amman Temple Pooja Timings?
There are three major poojas in Nagapooshani Kovil. These are at 7 am, 12 pm and 6 pm everyday.
What is the Nainativu Nagapooshani Amman Temple contact number?
You can contact the temple authorities on +94 213 207 785
Travel and Photography Tips
- You will have to leave your footwear outside the main gopurams to visit this temple. There are no temple socks available. You may have to carry some of your own.
- Women cannot wear short dresses or sleeveless. You will need to cover your shoulders when in the temple. Men have to enter the temple bare chested.
- Photography of the exteriors is allowed. However, there is no photography allowed within the temple. I managed these pictures as a special case on account of my trip with Sri Lanka Tourism.
- To capture the exteriors, one should carry a wide lens and a kit lens.
- Keep a waterproof bag handy as it tends to rain here.
- 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.
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.
Popularly referred to as a Restless Ball of Energy. My Mom refuses to entertain my complaints about my equally restless daughter & assures my husband that I was born with a travel bug.
I am a Post-Graduate in Marketing by qualification and a travel blogger by passion. Besides travel, I enjoy photography and if you don’t find me at my desk, I would be out playing badminton or swimming or just running. I believe in planning for every long weekend through the year. And when I cannot travel physically, I travel virtually through this travel blog. My travel stories have also, got published on various websites and magazines including BBC Travel, Lonely Planet India and Jetwings. I have recently published my first book – When Places Come Alive – a collection of stories that are based on legends, landscapes, art and culture of a place which is available in both ebook and paperback format.
24 thoughts on “The legendary Nainativu Nagapooshani Amman Temple”
A super detailed article on one of the most venerated Hindu temples of Sri Lanka. Great job with the documentation and photographs. This is probably one of the most well-written article on the Nagapooshani Amman Temple that I have come across.
Thank you Soumya. I guess it did get covered in detail given my last trip to Chettinad and the comparisons that arose of them.
Amazingly detailed article !! Makes you want to go there !!
Thanks Milind. I hope you can plan a trip soon
I as a worshipper as this temple as family deity (kuladevi: nagapooshani) find this article the most informative and very detailed with pictures.
Thank you Micky. Looks like I did do some justice to the visit and the facts. Do share the same around
The stories you share are incredible. This is the first I have heard of Jaffna’s Nainativu Nagapooshani Amman Temple but I think I have read about Lord Shiva on your site before. Vibrant and colorful is an accurate description for this temple, your images are gorgeous. I think this is my favorite temple you have shared so far and definitely a must visit for me
Thank you Sherianne. Yes, you have read and commented on one of the many Shiva temples on the blog and am so happy that you remember the same.
The architecture of these vibrant and colorful Hindu temples is amazing! But to me the legends behind them is even more fascinating. Like the story of Lord Shiva and Sati, who later reincarnated in Goddess Parvati. Hope to make it to your beautiful country someday, Ami. There is so much to see there!
Thanks Anda. Sri Lanka and India do share a lot of common things including this part of the culture. It was fun discovering it here.
The most interesting aspect to me is always understanding the architecture. I love the vibrancy and how colourful the Jaffna Nagapooshani temple is. It makes me want to learn more about the Dravidian style. The history is an interesting one too. I always believe there is some truth to these old legends based down through the centuries.
Dravidian architecture has so much of detail. I am glad that you have taken a liking to it. Thanks for stopping by Renee.
I can see that there are many reasons to plan to visit the Nainativu Nagapooshani Amman Temple. I always love to read more about the fascinating history of such temples. The different gopurams are interesting and worth the walk between them. I love that you got to see the colourful interiors too. Good to know about restrictions for photos inside if you are not part of a sponsored trip.
Thanks Linda. The temple felt as if I were back in India with all those rituals but yet there was a difference. Am glad that you too, found it interesting as I did.
Another incredible temple you have introduced us to Ami! The architecture is unlike anything I’ve seen before and the legend behind it is so fascinating. The rules for visiting, apart from the shoes, are similar here in Italy when visiting the church. So interesting!
This one is similar to the architecture found in South India. You should now come here and see these for yourself. Trust me, you will love the architecture throughout.
I have always loved the architecture of South Indian temples as they are so different from our North Indian temples and ones in East. It’s so nice to see something similar in Jaffna. Loved reading the history of this temple as history of a place has always fascinated me. Look forward to visiting Sri Lanka soon and would certainly visit while there.
I am sure you will find so much of similarity between Jaffna and South India. From the culture to the temples and food – this one is just a glimpse of it.
I have always been impressed with the effort and devotion that goes into creating beautiful temples like this. It is a tribute to the pilgrims and the local people and culture! Nagadeepa is surrounded by amazing stories. Are they part of the regional religious beliefs or are they considered folklore?
It is a combination of both – folklore and religious legends.
The Nainativu Nagapooshani temple conjures fascinating images on Indian mythology and how the 51 shaktipeeths cane into existence. The colorful Dravidian style architecture surrounded by gopurams is a treat to watch.Also it’s nice to see that the Nagapooshani temple faces a Buddhist temple.
Indeed, the temple and its legends are very fascinating. Hope you get around to visiting it.
The Nainativu Nagapooshani Amman Temple is another amazing temple in the north of Sri Lanka I did not know about. I visited Sri Lanka and enjoyed it very much, but we could not visit the north as it was rainy season there. However I want to go back for another visit!
I do hope you can get to it. It is so different from the rest of Sri Lanka