June 2017


Point Pedro: At the Edge of Sri Lanka
June 2017




The lion flag stands a lone sentinel where the northernmost end of the Island peters out to sea

The north tip of the country is arid, with a legacy of bright colours bestowed by Hindu culture.


Words: Yomal Senerath-Yapa
Photography: Vishwathan Tharmakulasingham and Menaka Aravinda


Point Pedro is the topmost tip of the gaping dragon's mouth formed by the Jaffna peninsula on the Sri Lanka map. We found it all brilliant blue and light green, with a baking sun and a heat haze that positively shimmered. People here move as if they have all the time in the world, with no heed, it seems, to clock or time. A small fishing harbour was washed by a wave of painted boats ready to go to sea, and there we stopped to ask our way to the Point Pedro, the Northern most point of the Island, which is the very crown of Sri Lanka.


Point Pedro is marked with the lion flag painted on a concrete board. After the land peters out, the desolate Indian Ocean starts to stretch till the horizon. It was a curious feeling to be at the very farthest edge - not only of our country but of our selves, too, as each islander's soul is strongly bound to his country. We teetered on the last stones giving way to the sea, overwhelmed by this thought.


A lone boatman, a speck in the blue jelly like waters, paddled the ocean. The big nautical cousins of this frail craft used to sail in the horizon here at a bygone age. It was for their benefit that the chalk white, sturdy lighthouse was put up in the year 1916. The date inscribed above the door to the lighthouse is 30-6-1931, which was when this beacon was given a new lease of life and a fresh coat of paint. The lighthouse is a romantic landmark of the Point Pedro skyline towering against an otherwise impeccable beachscape of maritime nostalgia.


After swigging deeply chilled soft drinks (the heat made these imperative) we made our way to the most important and sprawling landmark of Point Pedro. The name ‘Vallipuram' today brings to mind a gopuram in the most intricate South Indian tradition, The Sri Vallipuram Alvar Kovil.

Mythos of the Sri Vallipuram Alvar Kovil says a woman called Ilavali, a firm Vishnu worshipper lived in a fising village in the area. The fishermen are said to have experienced great difficulty at sea. However as Ilavali travelled the seas, a fish jumped on to the boat placing on her lap a conch shell and disc. Illavali took the disc with her to the land. Later the Kovil was constructed with the disc enshrined within it.


Once the capital city of Jaffna, Vallipuram is believed to have been ruled by the Naga tribe till 303 BC and then the Lambakarnas till 556 BC. There is no consensus on how the name Vallipuram came to being. Some believe it was conceived by settlements of people from the Vadamarachchi area. Another theory suggests that as ‘valli' in Tamil refers to those who herd cows and goats and ‘puram' means kovil, the name was derived by what was of utmost importance to the people at the time, their livelihood and religion.


Archeologists too have made discoveries saying the first men of Vallipuram came from South India, they were Tamil Buddhists. With time they would change their creed to Hindu, however there was a phase, a long and peaceful one, when Tamil Vaishnavites coexisted with the Tamil Buddhists.


The Sri Vallipuram Alvar Kovil is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Today it straggles over a sandy land and is covered, hardly an inch spared, with a million allusions to Hindu legend and myth. Beginning with the gopuram itself: here tiers and tiers of benevolent gods, and goddesses, demons and demonesses stand in classic postures and motions, in faded hues that contrast sharply with the psychedelic brilliance you will find within.


Inside, where men should be shirtless, are a thousand curiosities to be noticed. The giant gilded doors are studded with big bells and bordered with thick pala-pethi scrolls. Under the high airy vaulted ceilings where crows freely flitted women in Manipuri silk were engaged in worship, their eyes full of devotion for the celestial. The floors of the kovil were patterned with floral shapes - abstract versions of kolam - and blue-skinned Vishnu with consorts was in evidence everywhere. One large wall had his ten majestic avatars emblazoned in bright colours. Lesser divinities were perched nearly everywhere. It was like one huge colourful map of the Hindu heavens.


Leaving Point Pedro and its many charms, we felt that we had touched the soul of this arid Northern paradise, and its many exotic colours had clung hard to us.

 

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    The lighthouse is a romantic landmark from the British days

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    A fishing harbour bustling at morning

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    The deep aquamarine waters at Point Pedro look calm and beautiful

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    Sri Vallipuram Alvar Kovil:a spiritual oasis

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    Vallipuram's interior is brilliantly warm and vibrant

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    The ancient Vallipuram Buddha statue bears testimony to the history of the island.It is currently placed at the Colombo National Museum.

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