The legendary Nainativu Nagapooshani Amman Temple

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.

The Nainativu Nagapooshani Amman Temple as seen from the ferry
The Nainativu Nagapooshani Amman Temple as seen from the ferry

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.

A little about the location of Nainativu Nagapooshani Amman Temple

Nagadeepa Purana Viharaya - a Buddhist temple in Jaffna
Nagadeepa Purana Viharaya – a Buddhist temple in Jaffna – the other landmark on 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.

Naga Pokuna with the Banyan tree and Bodhi tree next to it

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).

Shiva carrying the remains of Sati
Shiva carrying the remains of Sati Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

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.

Manikarnika Ghat in Varanasi - the main cremation ghat.

Manikarnika Ghats

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.

A close up of Goddess Nagapooshani
A close up of Goddess Nagapooshani

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

The Dravidian architecture of Nainativu Amman Temple
The Dravidian architecture of Nainativu Amman Temple

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).

The South entrance of the Nagadeepa Amman Kovil
The South entrance of the Nagadeepa Amman Kovil

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

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

Close up of the Raja Raja Gopuram
Close up of the Raja Raja 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.

South East gopuram that is close to the Nagadeepa Buddhist temple
South East gopuram that is close to the Nagadeepa Buddhist temple

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 South Gopuram against the tallest Raja Raja Gopuram of Nagapooshani temple in Jaffna
The South Gopuram against the tallest Raja Raja Gopuram of Nagapooshani temple in Jaffna

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.

Nandi Mandapam

The passage through the Raja Raja Gopuram of Nagadeepa Amman Kovil
The passage through the Raja Raja Gopuram of Nagadeepa Amman Kovil

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.

The Lotus ceiling in the Nagadeepa Kovil gopuram
The Lotus ceiling in the Nagadeepa Kovil gopuram
Nandi Mandapam just outside the Raja Raja Gopuram of Nainativu Amman temple
Nandi Mandapam just outside the Raja Raja Gopuram of Nainativu Amman temple
The Nandi faces the garba griha of Nagapooshani Jaffna temple
The Nandi faces the garba griha of Nagapooshani Jaffna temple

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

Pooja in progress in front of the Moola murti shrine of Nagapooshani temple
Pooja in progress in front of the Moola murti shrine of 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.

The South entrance that opens to the Utsavmurtis in the Garba Griha
The South entrance that opens to the Utsavmurtis in the Garba Griha

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.

The Vimana of the Garba Griha of the Jaffna Amman temple
The Vimana of the Garba Griha of the Jaffna Amman temple

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.

The vibrant corridor inside Nainativu temple
The vibrant corridor inside Nainativu temple
Ganesha shrine along the pradakshina (circumambulatory) path of Amman temple at Nagadeepa
Ganesha shrine along the pradakshina (circumambulatory) path of Amman temple at Nagadeepa

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 stepwell with the Nagapooshani Amman statue
The stepwell with the Nagapooshani Amman statue

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.

One of the chariots that is used during the annual festival of the Nagapooshani Amman temple
One of the chariots that is used during the annual festival of the Nagapooshani Amman temple

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.

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Nagadeepa Amman Kovil

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 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.
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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2 thoughts on “The legendary Nainativu Nagapooshani Amman Temple”

  1. 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.

    Reply

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