The Name


yazh 002 The NameAccording to C. Rasanayagam, the author of Ancient Jaffna, the musician (Yathpparuzn) returned to India after getting the reward and persuaded some poor families of his caste of lutists to migrate to two areas of the Jaffna Peninsula known today as Karaiyur and Passaiyur “settlements in remembrance of the lutist Yalpanan. Coming to be so known to the mariners and traders who called at the ports close by, it would have lent its name in course of time, particularly among such strangers, to the chief town and ultimately to the district itself”.

M.D. Raghavan agrees with the view that the name Yazhppanam became popular after the Portuguese, who knew the story of the minstrel Yazhppanan, had built the town near the panan settlement, which was named Jaffnapatnam.

In order to assess these various arguments, it may be helpful to consider the following:


  • The story appears locally for the first time in the Vaiya Pedal, a Tamil work composed by Vaiyapuri Aiyar, the royal poet of King Segarajasekaran(l519-1565).
  • The name Jaffna appears not only in Sinhalese literature mentioned earlier, but also in certain Tamil inscriptions of South India belonging to the Middle Ages.
  • The caste of Panar exists to this day in South India. It consists, however, of an ever-dwindling group of singers, exorcists and physicians who conduct ceremonies in the Naga shrines of southern Kerala.
  • The story of Yazhppanan may point to a process of early and progressive colonization and settlement of the arid sandy tracts of the North by people of South India. In fact, Vaiya Pedal enumerates flutists, cymbal players, drummers and other instrumentalists as emigrating from India as settlers.


  • It may be no coincidence that yazh, which was one of the ancient and revered instruments of the Tamils, has been connected with the name Jaffna. Lutes and lutists recall to one’s mind not only the place lute played in the life of the ancient Tamils who lived in pre-Sangham and Sangham periods but also the religious veneration with which lutes were held in lands such as Egypt, Sumeria, Chaldea, Crete, Greece, Italy, Spain and perhaps even in Mohenjo-daro (Indus Valley).


  • The theory advanced by Swami Gnana Prakasar that the legend of the lutist is a clear example of a tendency to explain the origin of names such as Yazhppanam, Maviddapura (a Chola princess, Maruta Piravika Valli, born with a horse-face was cured of her deformity by bathing in the miraculous springs of Keerimalai, which once again denotes the abode of a sage with mongoose-face), Thondamanaru (visit paid by Thondaman, the brave general of Kulotunga Chola) and Senthankulam (Senthan was a notorious pirate) may be partly true. However, Swami Gnana Prakasar himself admitted that Yazhppanam may “correctly” be called a “country connected with a Yalppanan” who might be considered ” the colonizer of our peninsula”.


  • Swami Gnana Prakasar may again be right in asserting that there exists “no evidence for the lute having ever been on the standard of the kings of Jaffna. This was stated in the context of refuting C. Rasanayagam that the lyre flag mentioned in the Tamil work Kalinkkattup Parani referred to the Kingdom of Jaffna 20 Indeed, Bull and Setu (the latter connotes the Island of Rameshvaram in South India) are generally accepted to have been the emblems of the Jaffna Kingdom both on its flag and on its coins.

In sum: All the objections against the legend of Yazhppanan do not diminish in the least the possibility of an oral tradition preserved in folklore and legend about the origins of Jaffna connected with a “musician”. Besides, one has to admit the need for and indeed the right of, a people with a common language, religion and culture to remember and preserve their misty past in myths and legends. Yazh means, in the view of the author of Leela Katbai, H.S.David, beautiful and resplendent, and so will it remain in the hearts and minds of the people of laffna.

Finally, it is appropriate to note that the Jaffna Peninsula seem to have been designated also by other names:

Erumaimullaitivu, derived from a plant known as erumaimullai – prenna serrarifolio – that grew abundantly in the eastern portion of the Peninsula which was then an island, Naganadu or the country of the Nagars, Manipallavam, Manipuram, Manavur, and Manalur.

It was also known as Ilam, a name designating the Island, perhaps due to the fact that the inhabitants of the region spoke a language called Elu.

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