The Nallur Kovil festival commenced on August 8 with the hoisting of the flag (Kodiyetram) and will conclude on September 1 with the water cutting ceremony (Theertham).
The major festivals during the span of 25 days are the Manjam, Thirukkarthikai festival, Kailasavahanam, Vel Vimanam, Thandayuthapani festival and Sapparam. This span of 25 days, revered by all Hindus and devotees of Lord Murugan, is one of the highlights of the social, cultural and spiritual millieu of Jaffna society. Despite the "Hinduness" of the religious festivals, the Nallur Kandasamy temple festival has its secular festivals as well which draw all sections of Jaffna society, cutting across religion and caste. Commercialization, the characteristics of other religious festivals all over the island is, likewise, quite pronounced at the Nallur temple festival.
Like most ancient places of worship, the antecedents of the Nallur Kovil is somewhat blurred.
The Yalpana Vaipava Maalai, an ancient text seen by many as containing the seeds of history of Jaffna, locates the construction of the temple to the 13th century and gives credit to Puveneya Vaku, a minister to Kulangai Arya Chakravarthy. Other interpretations link the temple to Sempahap Perumal or Buveneka Bahu in view of the name figuring in the Kattiyams ( daily recitations ) at the temple.
The controversy as regards its origins was accentuated with the destruction of the Nallur Kovil by the Portugese in early 17th century, following the defeat of the Jaffna King, Sangiliyan, by Philip de Oliviera. The present site of Nallur Kandasamy temple can be attributed to Don Juan Mappana Mudaliyar, a functionary in the Dutch administration, who erected a humble and modest place of worship for Lord Murugan.
The decendants of Mappana Mudaliyar, who were the temple trustees, took on the task of restoring the temple to its present splendour. This included the enlargement of the sanctum sanctorum, where the vel is enshrined. Similarly, gopurams were erected which gave the main gopuram an added splendour and significance. Bells were installed in these towers, which when rung in unison reverberated into a crescendo culminating in the "Om" sound - that denotes oneness with the universe. With the incorporation of the Theerthah Kerni (pond) and the shrine of Thandayuthapani, the extent of the Nallur Kandasamy kovil now spans several acres.
Another controversy surrounding the Nallur Kandasamy temple, like most other Hindu Kovils in the Jaffna peninsula, was the barring of members of the depressed castes from entering the temple precincts.
Following anti-caste agitations, which specially focused on the ban on entry to members of the depressed castes, the doors of the Nallur Kandasamy Kovil was thrown open to all in the late 50s, regardless of caste affiliations. The annual festival is replete with enactments of mythologies, symbolizing the destruction of evil, as well as the grandeur surrounding the adornment of the deity, Lord Murugan and his consorts.
The sheer splendour and colour associated with the adornment of the deity, led him to be called "Alankara Kanthan". One of the highlights of the festival is the "ther" festival, when the deity is taken to the chariot, which is then taken around the outer premises of the temple by thousands of devotees. The sound of "Aro Hara", the chanting of the myriad of names associated with the deity, Lord Murugan, and the "kavadi" dancers combine into an audiovisual effect that leaves devotees and sight-seers spellbound.
The Kavadies which are performed during the last two days of the festival evolved through various phases - with the hanging "kavadi" being of recent vintage.
Jaffna today, is celebrating the Nallur Kandasamy Kovil festival with gay abandon as well as reverence.
The war, and the destruction and deprivation associated with it, seems forgotten - at least for the time being.