Jaffna – A major trading center

Jaffna developed into a major trading centre. This might have been due to the imaginative efforts of the rulers who, seeing that revenues “from land and other sources were limited, devised ingenious methods of collecting substantial income from commercial activities. They “exercised a monopolistic control over the trade of some important items and organized fleets for transporting merchandise to foreign countries”. In the fourteenth century, exploiting the political weakness of the Sinhalese Kings, the rulers of Jaffna “seem to have succeeded in directing the flow of supplies in cinnamon through a port under their control”.

New ports came into being and the old ones were expanded. Kayts became a center for shipbuilding and ship repairing.

velanai sea Jaffna   A major trading centerPearl fishery off the coast of Mannar was in the hands of the King. Elephants from the Vanni region were exported from Jaffna to India. Traders were also present in the southern parts of the Island. It is a tribute to the trading expertise of the Tamils of the Kingdom of Jaffna that an inscription of a Chinese admiral named Chen Ho is found in three languages: Chinese, Persian and Tamil.

Many industries flourished. Dyeing with chaya root was a notable occupation. A class of people became experts in digging up large quantities of chaya root in the Islands of Delft and Karaitivu and in the mainland villages such as Chulipuram and Ilavalai, and this occupation became their trade.

Another caste of people called Chayakkarar (dyers) dyed new clothes.

Women were engaged in cotton industry.

Palmyrah leaves were dyed with bark from trees such as blackberry (naval) and tulip to obtain purple olas or leaves. These were used for decorative designs in the production of mat and basket.

Weaving was a hereditary industry. Vannarpannai was one of the major centres of weaving in the Peninsula. Silk worms were reared for the purpose of weaving silk clothes.

Rope making from the fibres of Palmyrah and the barks of arththy  was also a flourishing industry.

Saivism was elevated to the status of the kingdom’s official religion. Kandaswamy temple in Nallur was the royal temple while the temple at Vallipuram near Point Pedro became popular.

The temple was the centre around which an ur or village was built. It is an accepted axiom of the Tamils that one should not live at a place where is no temple.

It is true to say that in the field of architecture, no original tradition developed partly because of the constant wars and partly because of the vital link with South India. Temples built during this period exhibit a special feature: ornamented and expensively sculptured tower called gopuram at their entrance.

In the field of education, both temple schools and village schools under schoolmasters were engaged in the task of imparting basic education.

In the literary sphere, an Academy of Tamil Literature was founded at Nallur in the fifteenth century by the King. Kings, some of whom were poets of no mean calibre, were patrons of writers and poets.

Study of medicine and astrology was greatly encouraged and the native system of medicine called siddha, considered best suited to the climactic conditions of Jaffna, flourished.

All in all, before the conquest of Jaffna by the Portuguese, the Tamils of the North with their center in the Jaffna Peninsula were living in a well-defined area “which they had carved out as their permanent home”.” To bolster their identity, they had developed distinctive social structures, economic institutions and a way of life which they could call their own.

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