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On studying the various civilizations of the world we come to know their architectural
heritage their temples, tombs, palaces, and other public buildings which can be considered
as the products of high civilizations. Although these buildings reflect the technological
developments and the economic and social power of the ruling elite of the respective
periods, they rarely have any relevance to the culture and the economic realities of the
majority common masses. Domestic houses and other smaller buildings of the ordinary
people reflect the soul of the common man's culture, as these building types had evolved in
the respective communities for longer periods through trial and error and generally retain
the basic characteristics unchanged for longer time . The above characteristics make these
buildings as potential sources for information relevant to longer period back in history. They
also may provide valuable information related to the origin of various sections of the
community, composition, migration patterns, social structure etc. Above all, these buildings
contain ideas and solutions for design and planning problems to suit the local culture and
climate which can be useful in designing future buildings. Further it is very important to
strengthen the traditional elements of the unique culture of any community in all its aspects,
if we want to maintain and improve the bond between the community and its members.

Building Types of Jaffna

We can categorize the traditional buildings existing in Jaffna region into the following types.

Domestic houses.
Resting houses or 'Madams'.
Buildings of religious worship.
Other miscellaneous buildings.

This site will present some information mainly on domestic houses and to a lesser extent
about the resting places.
Domestic houses of Jaffna can be grouped into the following categories.

Village houses or huts.

Traditional Court yard houses or 'Natsar' houses.
Court yard houses with colonial period influences.
Houses built by Dutch.
Houses of modern period.

Only the first three types will be discussed here for now. The other two will be kept for
another discussion later.

Historical Background
Majority of the Jaffna population have their origins in Southern India. The earliest migration
may have taken place a couple of thousands years back. Since then there had been inflow
of people time to time from various parts of old Tamil country which included the modern
Indian states of Thamilnadu and Kerala. Some groups had come to Jaffna in recent times
during European occupation. They were mainly traders, artisans, musicians and similar
categories. Almost all of them seems to have come from various parts of Thamilnadu. Apart
from the movement of people as permanent residents in Jaffna, there would have been
continuous exchanges of cultural ideas between South India and Jaffna, since the time of

establishment of the early Tamil settlements. Therefore the developments of Jaffna in

complete isolation from South Indian influence could not have been possible.
However there are other conditions which would have affected the development of Jaffna
different from that of South India. one of the main factors would have been the large
number of Sinhalese population which is said to have lived in this regions mingled with
Tamil people for a long period. Further the influence of Singhalese kingdoms of Southern
Srilanka, longer period of colonial rule under three different western powers would have had
their share of impact on the cultural developments in Jaffna.
In the olden days village houses were built using locally available material mostly by the
would be occupants themselves with the help of the neighbours. This practice is still in
existence in remote villages. Therefore the early settlers in Jaffna would not have had any
problems in building residences and other buildings exactly the same way as they had in
their former land. The well to do families among them would have had their houses built by
the other settlers. In the course of time when the settled community acquired the necessary
sophistication and more and more wealthier sections such as trader communities from
South India decided to settle in Jaffna they would have brought in professional builders
from their home land. There are evidences in the recent times for such practices.
Considerable number of people belonging to a section of Chetty community were living in
Vannarponnai in Jaffna, mostly concentrated along present Kankesanthurai road. A portion
of this road had also been called as "Chetty Theru" (Chetty Street) a few decades ago.
Their settlement in Jaffna seems to have been there since at least from the later part of
18th century. A considerable number of houses and at least four temples along this road
had been built by them. Whether Vaithilingam Chettiar who built the well known
Vaitheeswaran Temple in Vannarponnai in the later part of the Dutch occupation, belongs to
the same Chetty community or not is yet to be varified. The Kathiresan Temple in Jaffna
which is well known for its elaborately decorated wood work also built by a Chetty
community. An elderly builder in his sixties in 1974 who was still continuing as a builder
claimed his decendency from "sthapatis" (traditional builders) came from Tamilnadu who
built many houses for chetty community in Jaffna.
According to traditions some of these houses were built about 200 years back. In all
possibilities these houses would have been built based on South Indian proto types used by
chetty community in their former home land. However we can easily reject the notion that
this houses were of an entirely new type unknown to the Jaffna people at that time,
because the concept, the design principle and most of the major design elements are
surprisingly similar to the traditional village houses which are found almost everywhere in
the Jaffna region. Martin, John. H. in his book 'Notes on Jaffna; Chronological; Historical;
Bibliographical etc.', included a note on Thissaweerasinghe Mudaliyar who was an official
under the Dutch government in Jaffna during the later half of 18th century.
"Thissaweera singhe Mudaliyar lived in an old fashioned stone-built four sided, tiled house
with an open yard in the centre, letting in plenty of light......A stone built four-sided, tiled
houses was the best form of the rich or respectable native habitation. Similar houses of
mud wattle covered with coconut or palmyrah "olas" and built by the middle class was
This statement indicates that the court yard houses were known and popular among Jaffna
people even before the later part of 18th century. The above houses made out of temporary
materials can be considered as a predecessor to the house types built in Vannarponnai, on
the time line of evolution of Jaffna houses. It also is not difficult to recognize an evolutionary
relationship between the type mentioned earlier and the village houses of Jaffna.

Therefore the development of Jaffna buildings would have taken place simultaneously with
the development of similar buildings in South India in the same direction, at least until the
beginning of European rule.

Village Houses
At present one cannot see much differences between houses built in villages and the ones
built in urban areas within Jaffna peninsula, as the houses built out of concrete blocks with
clay tiles or asbestos roof covering are common in villages and urban areas alike. Till about
50 years back, majority of the village houses were shelters, built out of temporary materials
such as clay for walls and coconut or palmyrah leaves for roof covering. These type of
shelters are still in use in many villages in Jaffna peninsula and in the main land area which
is called Vanni.
Typical shelter of an average middle class Jaffna villager was a cluster of mostly small
structures of temporary materials and other utilities, built within an enclosure of high live
fence clad with palmyrah leaves or stalk or woven coconut leaves. This enclosure was
entered through a wooden gate, which in some
cases set to open out side, and fitted with a
simple self closing mechanism consisting of a
counter weight. This gate is named as
"Sangadap padalai in Tamil, which literally
means " a difficult gate", makes it difficult for the
stray animals to enter in to the enclosure.
The number of constituent structures and other
elements, of the cluster within the enclosure,
depends on the affordability and social status of
the occupants. An average village house cluster
would include three main spaces as separate
compartments, namely ;

1. Main house or "Veedu" in Tamil language.

2. Visitors' and male occupants' space or "Thalai vasal" and
3. Kitchen.
Other than these three basic elements the following additional elements also may be seen
within the enclosure.

1. A well with a lever mechanism for drawing water.

2. Cattle sheds
3. Storage sheds for agricultural produce and implements
4. A lavatory
The main house or "veedu"

The most important element of a village house is "veedu" which means house. Mostly this
is a one room shelter, rectangular in plan, completely
covered with thick clay wall with an entrance door
provided almost in the middle of the longer side. This
wall is normally kept low, in some cases less than
even an average person's height. The roof is always
fairly steep and the centre part of the room always
get adequate clear height. Out side this room on
either side of the entrance with the external wall wide
platforms are constructed for sitting, sleeping etc.
The lower floor between these two platforms function
as a walkway towards the entrance to the room. This
structure is generally used by female occupants and
for keeping valuable possessions. In the case of
families from lower economic strata, the house may consists of only this single structure
within the live fence enclosure.

"Thalai vasal"
This structure is covered only on top by a roof, clad with
leaves of palmyrah or coconut palms, supported by four
or more Jungle wood posts. Around the space a low,
wide wall is constructed for people to sit or lay down on
it. This space is mainly used by male occupants and
also used to entertain guests. The name "thalai vasal"
litteraly means main entrance. This may be so because
the space functions as a transitional space between out
side and inside and it is an entry point for the
relationship with the internal areas.

Kitchen also has a thatch roof supported on four or
more posts and a half wall is built around the space.
A screen made out of palmyrah stalk is provided
above this low wall. The screen protects the kitchen
from birds and animals entering in, but facilitates air
flow through the gaps between palmyrah stalks. A
built-in traditional hearth is provided at the floor level
in the north eastern corner of the room.

Lay out of elements

The three main covered and semi covered structures are arranged around a central open
space in such a way that all these three shelters face towards this central court yard which
is called a "Muttam" in Tamil language. Although the covered structures are small in size
and seems inadequate for larger family sizes of the past. Our thinking is based on the
present day notion of the living spaces which incorporate different set of priorities. The
priorities of the village communities are different. The concept of living space in a village
house does not limit itself with the covered spaces but includes court yards and other open
spaces around it and the climate of Jaffna allows for such an extension of activities to open
spaces during most part of the year. Further the concept provide for better control and

coordination of activities within the enclosure. The mother cooking inside the kitchen can
keep a watch on her child playing around, the old grand mother doing some work sitting on
the 'thinnai' can keep an eye on agricultural produce that is allowed to dry in the court yard.
This concept work well with their economic condition also.
Another important factor influencing the layout is the astrology and certain rules based on
the traditional Hindu building codes known as "Vasthu sasthra". However in village houses
very simple rules are followed. Before someone start building a house he should first
determine the location for the well within the plot. Generally the well is located within the
north eastern sector of the plot. However the final location of the well depends on the
locations of the kitchen and the main house. The well has to be to the north east of the
kitchen and the kitchen to be located to the north east of the main house. Certain
astrological considerations which depend on the time of birth of the chief occupant of the
house have an effect on the orientation of the main house. "vasthu sastra" does not
recommends any structure in the centre of the plot, which corresponds to the concept of
central court yard. It seems that, as this requirement already had been incorporated as part
of the proto type design, it had not been insisted separately. This may have made it easy for
the removal of the central court yard in later houses once the earlier proto types became
"out of Fashion"

Round House of Jaffna

As a variation to the main stream rectangular village structures, we can come across round
shaped shelters as the main element of the cluster in certain areas of the Jaffna peninsula
and Vanni. During the early part of 20th century these
round houses had been found in many villages in the
divisions of Thenmaradchi, Vadamaradchi and
Pachchilaippalli in Jaffna peninsula and in the
Mullaitivu district of Vanni. At present this house type
has been vanished from most of these villages. In
1975 we visited the village of Ampan in search of
round houses and found only two one of which in
almost abandoned condition. As per the village head
man who guided us to these houses, there had been
numerous houses of this type about ten years earlier.
Two or Three years later some students of
architecture who were involving in a study of these
houses found more of them in "Thanneeroottu"
village and nearby areas in Mullaitivu District.
It seems that in no other Regions of Srilanka round houses are presently in use or had
been used in the past. Therefore a proper study on this subject may reveal interesting
information on the migration of people from out side the island and the composition of
Jaffna population.
Except for the shape and the construction method of
the roof structure, the round houses are in many
ways similar to the village shelter found elsewhere in
Jaffna region. The use of the elements such as
"thinnai" (raised platform) and "nadai" (lowered
walkway) are also similar. There are no differences in
the concept of cluster arrangement and the spatial
relationships with different elements of the cluster.

Court Yard Houses

The houses with central court yard had been in use as a popular house type in Jaffna for
several centuries till around the mid 20th century. As the early houses were built with
temporary or decomposable materials, no houses of these types are survived to this date
anywhere in Jaffna region. During the period of Jaffna Kingdom, possibilities are that, only a
few big temples and some royal residences would have been built out of permanent
materials. The stories confirm that the Muslim settlement and the Mosque, which were
burned by Portuguese, were constructed of temporary materials. Sketches drawn during
Portuguese period and early Dutch period show that many of the early churches, which
had been built with the help of local people, were of temporary construction. After the
construction of the fort and the Dutch town of Jaffna, during the the second half of The
Dutch rule, many local officials may have ventured to build their houses with permanent
materials. It is logical to think that these officials who derived their authority from their
affiliation with the colonial government, may have allowed some characters of the Dutch
buildings in their houses, to reflect the newly gained status. However the traditional proto
type plan, with the central court yard, had not been entirely dropped. This trend had initiated
a new direction in the development of Jaffna houses.
During the later period of Dutch rule, by taking advantage of the leniency in the government
policies, several Hindu groups started building temples in Jaffna. Among the earliest, the
"Perumal" temple built among weavers community and the "Vaitheeswaran" Temple at
Vannarponnai are noteworthy. One of the notable aspects are both of these temples were
built by communities recently migrated from South India. They still had contacts with their
home country. They brought builders ("sthpathis") from Thamilnadu. It seems that some of
them, who came for the construction of temples, had found more work and settled in Jaffna.
They would have played an important role in building the houses in the "Chetti" community
settlement near "Vaitheeswaran" Temple.

Court Yard Houses of Vannarponnai

General Planning
A basic court yard house of Vannarponnai consists of rooms and open halls, arranged
around an open court yard in such a way that all these spaces are looking towards the court
yard. Window-less rear walls, of these rooms
and halls, form a solid enclosure around these
spaces. This enclosure has an entrance door
towards the road side and a back door to the
rear compound. These houses have raised
platforms ('thinnai') between the front wall and
the road. A walk way, a few inches above the
level of the road, provides access to the main
entrance door from the road, divide the front
"thinnai" into two parts, one on either side of the
entrance door. This walk way is called a

"Nadai" in Tamil, which means walk. This walk way runs through the entrance and divides
the raised floor of the interior to form "thinnais" on either side, until it reaches the central
court yard. Two more walk ways are usually provided from the court yard, one to the main
room and the other towards the back door. Out side the back door, a verandah is provided
along the rear wall. The kitchen is usually provided on one end of this verandah.
The portion in front, which consists of the "thinnai" and the walk way, is covered by a roof
which is an extension of the roof of the interior. This roof, always slopes towards the road, is
supported by short wooden columns. The eaves at the
entrance is usually lower than a person's height. The elders of
the locality explain this feature as a system to make, those
who enter the house, to bow down in respect. However,
technical shortcomings also can be attributed to this
Around the court yard which is open to the sky, there are wide
open spaces. These are multi-purpose areas and
accommodate most of the day to day and occasional
activities. Rooms, which are generally not very big, arranged
in a row of three on one side and open to this multi-purpose
space. The main room is generally located in the middle and one of the other two is
designated as a shrine room. Additional rooms are provided depending on the size of the
house at other locations within the house. All these interior spaces are covered by the roof,
which is designed in such a way to slope towards the central court yard on all four sides
and supported on short wooden columns located along the edges of the court yard, to
protect the open living spaces from heavy rains.

Cultural Influences
Small sizes of the completely covered rooms are notable features in these houses as well
as in the village houses. The provision of small
rooms in this type of houses, where lager rooms
could have been affordable, can only be
attributed to reasons pertaining to the cultural
priorities of the community. Someone spending
most of his or her time in a private room was
unheard of. High level of interaction and bond
between members of the family and close
relations were valued high. Large, common,
multi-purpose spaces could have been more
suitable than fragmented private spaces. Rooms
may have been required mainly to keep the
valuables safe.
During the days of these houses, loose furniture such as tables, chairs, beds etc. were not
used in houses. "Thinnais" were used as built-in seats as well as beds. This also is a
common feature, in both village houses and the court yard houses of Vannarponnai, which
again is attributable to the culture of the people.
The front "thinnai" was open to the public road. This space was used for several purposes
including business related activities, receiving and entertaining guests who were not close
to the family, leisurely informal conversations etc. Apart from the usage by the owner this
space provided much needed rest for a passer-by for a short while and some times for an
over night stay for a long distance traveler.

Considerations related to Astrology And "Vastu sastra".

"vastu sastra" and astrological considerations were reflected in the planning of most of
these these houses exactly the same way as it was in the village houses. As the main room
is considered as the "veedu" or house, for all requirements related to orientation and
location the corresponding attributes of the main house was taken into consideration. In
many houses, one can very clearly recognize a village house arrangement. However these
considerations seem disregarded in some other houses. The reason for this is not clear.
Possibly a more sophisticated set of rules may have been followed in planning those

Houses with two internal court yards

Some larger houses of more affluent members of this community had two court yards.
The front "thinnai" had been
completely separated from the
inner house and the second court
yard was provided between these
two areas. The front structure was
expanded by adding one more set
of "thinnai" and rooms inside the
main door. This arrangement
introduced a new semi-private
space probably for better business
dealings and completely separate
the family spaces for more
privacy. The planning of the inner
house is similar to the basic court
yard house which was discussed
As a variation another type of court yard
houses also found in Vannarponnai area,
where the second court yard was added out
side the back door. The kitchen and other
related spaces and rooms were arranged
around this court yard. This court yard was
entered from out side through a separate
The reason for these two different types of
concepts in expansion of the houses is not
very clear. Specially the two court yard house
type referred later need further studies to
understand the logic behind the importance
given to the kitchen department.

Construction and Building Materials

Most of the load bearing walls were built out of random lime stone rubbles with lime- sand
mortar as a binder. Materials needed for such wall construction was abundantly available in
Jaffna region. However it has been noticed clay bricks too had been used in wall
construction in a limited way, in many places mixed with random lime stones. Clay bricks

found here were not manufactured to standard size. Clay for making bricks was very scarce
in Jaffna peninsula. It is said that only in the village of Irupalai, bricks were made in limited
quantities. Elders say a few decades back bricks were imported to Jaffna from South India.
The logic behind the use of bricks in small quantities mixed with lime stone is not clear.
Does this indicate the use of salvaged bricks from older buildings which were replaced by
the new ones?
Another local material extensively used in the construction of these houses are timber from
palmyrah palm. This provides almost entire roof frame work of these houses. Heavy hard
wood timber had been used for columns and beams. Timber had been used for thick
decorated doors and heavy door frames, exposed ceiling frame work, ceiling boards and
column capitals.
Originally the roof cladding of most of these houses were half round tiles which were
imported from India. These types of tiles had been replaced later by flat "Calicut" type tiles
which also was imported from South India.

Colonial period influences on traditional

In fact this subject deserve a separate study. Many houses built during British rule are still
existing in all parts of Jaffna region. A very careful study is necessary to understand all
aspects of these houses. I do not have much information for a study of this nature. This
chapter will deal, only superficially, with a few types of changes made in the design of
traditional court yard houses during this period.
When local officials, who were working for the colonial governments under Portuguese and
Dutch, started building their houses to suit the newly found life-style, some changes may
have been introduced in the traditional house types. The need to introduce European style
loose furniture may have prompted the elimination of the the level changes inside the
house. The level changes in the traditional houses were necessary to create "thinnai" and
"nadai" combination, which functioned as built-in seats and the designated lowered walk
ways to keep the sitting areas clean. This arrangement had become unnecessary with the
introduction of loose furniture, and at the same time the floor space, fragmented with so
many levels, was not convenient enough for the arrangement of furniture.
Another notable change had been the improvement of conditions related to the ventilation
and lighting. Windows which were generally not found in traditional houses had been
provided. The roof had been raised to create more space within the interior spaces. Front
"thinnai" had been replaced by deep verandah which was a prominent element in the
houses built for the Dutch residents of old Jaffna town.
There had been changes in the external
appearance of the houses. Split levels in
roof, decorated walls raised above the
roof at gable ends and raised front walls
with plaster decorations and motifs
related to western concepts had become
common in later period houses.
The changes that took place in the
domestic houses of local people of
Jaffna during the 150 years under British

rule were mostly cosmetic in nature. Including a few houses with an upper floor, which had
been built by a few locals who had earned new wealth from Malaysia and Singapore,
almost all houses considered as ideal, by the locals, had the concept of court yard
unchanged. This trend had continued for less than a decade after the independence in
The factors that contributed for the decline of the demand for court yard houses and the
introduction of a new type of houses are yet to be studied. A traditional system which had
survived about 350 years of foreign rule had been almost immediately dropped by the
locals once they achieve their independence seems very strange.
In the post independence period, even the court yard
houses of Vannarponnai had been renovated to suit the
new attitudes and life-style. "Thinnais" and "nadais" had
been broken down to create one level inside the house.
The front "thinnais" which were open to the public earlier
had been closed with iron grills etc., and converted into a
semi-private verandah. Moreover usage of this area as a
temporary resting place for passer-by had vanished. The
traffic started moving fast and the need for a short rest
was no more a consideration.

Miscellaneous Building Types

This chapter will only introduce a few traditional buildings and building types. No analysis is
attempted as the information available with me now is inadequate. This page will be
updated later when further information become available.

Resting Houses or "Madams"

In these pages the 'resting house' or 'resting place' means all the buildings which are
referred by the Tamil word "Madam". The resting houses found in Jaffna can be categorized
into the following types.
2. Resting houses near market centres and
3. Resting houses near Temples or pilgrimage

Way-side resting places

Numerous resting houses which belong to this category
had been found along all major roads in the Jaffna
region. Many of these are now in ruins or demolished.
Many place names such as "Ottu madam", "Aarukal

madam", "Saanthaiyar madam", "Madaththadi" "Maruthanar madam" etc., still remind us

the way-side resting houses once stood there.
In those days, when many people used to travel even long distances by foot, sometimes
with their agricultural produce on their heads, these resting places were very much useful.
Many others who use bullock carts for traveling and transportation of goods also needed
such places to feed their animals and give them some rest on the way specially during hot
summer months.
. A standard way-side resting place of Jaffna consisted of the following elements
"Madam" proper
The simplest form of this is a shelter with its floor, raised by about 2' 6" above the ground
level, the edge of which functions as a
comfortable seat or bed for a tired passer
by. Generally four or more columns
provided to support a roof, covered with
clay tiles or leaves of coconut or palmyrah
palms. At a higher level of development of
the way side resting places, this building
was provided with one or two lockable
rooms and in design it resemble the front
portion of a traditional court yard house
with elements such as "thinnai" and
"nadai". "Poothar madam" at Kopay along
Jaffna- Point Pedro road and "Sellap
Pillaiyar temple madam" at Nallur can be
cited as good example for this type. The first, I hope is still standing in a dilapidated condition
and the other had been demolished about ten years back.
Most part of the Jaffna peninsula has good ground water at comparatively lower depths. As
Jaffna has no river, the wells are the major source of good water. Therefore wells form an
essential part of way-side resting places in Jaffna. These wells were generally provided with a
lever system called "thula", to draw water manually from the well, and other related elements.
In addition to the wells, "Sellap Pillaiyar" temple "madam" and some other similar resting
places had tanks, resembling ablution tanks found in Hindu temples of South India and
Water tank
One can see a small built-in water tank next to these wells meant for stray animals such as
cows and goats and similarly for animals, like bulls and horses which accompany those who
travel by animal drawn carts.
"Sumai thaangi"
"Sumaithangi" is about 2 feet thick and 5 to 6 feet wide stone built wall like structure, top of
which is shaped to look like a victory stand used in sports events. This structure was intended
as a place to temporarily unload burden carried by passers-by on their heads or shoulders.

Therefore the height at it's maximum point is made to level with an average person's height to
ensure an easy transfer of loads between the platform and the bearer's head without other's
help. Similarly the lower level is meant for loads carried on shoulders.
It is said that, in those days the "sumaithangi" structures were built in memory of women who
die during pregnancy or delivery.
"Aavuronchi kallu"
A lime stone piece, made into a tapered cylindrical shape of about 3 feet and 6 inches high,
can be seen erected near the water tank, was meant for the cattle to rub their body. This is
referred as "Aavuronchi kallu" in Tamil language.
A large tree
It is logical to state that the large shady trees were the simplest form of resting places. They
represent the inception of later developments. In all probability the well and other structures
would have been built next to the trees, which were already in use as resting locations, as
extensions to the then existing facility. However the shady trees continued to remain part of
the complex, as they were useful in keeping the environment cool and pleasant and they still
provided the much needed shade for the accompanying animals to rest.
Sellap Pillaiar Temple "Madam"
The information related to the historical
background of this building was not
collected. However the layout and the
construction of the structure indicate the
origin of this as a typical way-side resting
place. Two separate roofs can be seen in
the section on the left. The one at the rear
looks like a later addition as a congregation
hall, when the spot gained prominence
more as a temple than a resting place.
This building had been completely
demolished to give way for a typical
present day temple shelter.

Resting houses near market places

It seems that in those days many market centres had resting places closer to them.
Agricultural and other produce were directly brought to the markets by the farmers from
distant villages also. Some traders too had to travel from one market place to another as
many of the Jaffna's major markets did not function daily. They functioned once or twice a
week only, but in a staggered schedule. These traders ended up in traveling many kilometers
daily with their goods. Therefore resting places near the market places would have been a
very essential item.
Resting house near Jaffna market

An interesting and comparatively big building known by the name of "Ganga Saththiram"
( "Saththiram" is another Tamil word for "Madam" - a resting house) was standing near the
Jaffna old market at Kankesnthurai road, Hospital road Janction till about two decades ago.
The above junction was referred as "Saththiraththu Santhy" after this resting house.
The building reflected the colonial architectural style adopted for traditional planning concepts.
A well in the centre of an open space covered by a circular arcaded high wall with a series of
arched openings at the higher level provided a very interesting architectural space. In fact the
space had been divided by a wall which ran through the middle of the well to make provision
to use it from inside the building as well as from out side. Part of the building was of two floors.
The concept of "thinnai" found in most of the traditional buildings had been utilized here too.
The building consisted of several rooms. When I visited in 1974, this building was being used
for purposes different from which it was intended for. The information gathered did not throw
much light on the original functions of internal spaces. However there was evidences of the
provision of cooking facilities.
Further there were some paintings based on Hindu religious themes on the interior walls. The
period of these paintings is not known. Probably they were done much later after the
completion of the building.
Unfortunately I do not have a plan of this building with me at present. I have done some
sketches of the plan if not a measured drawing. If my documents are intact back at home, in
future this document can be updated with the above plan.

Resting places near Temples and pilgrimage centres

Resting places of various sizes with different types of facilities are found near many temples in
Jaffna peninsula. Some are being out of use at present and others still function with reduced
scopes. Among others the resting places near "Selva sannathy" temple at Thondamanaru are
well known. Similarly, The resting places at Keerimalai near the historic stream and the
"Naguleswarar" temple also are known throughout Jaffna peninsula and out side.
"Vaithilingam Madam" and "Srappar Madam" at Keerimalai are noteworthy. I have no
knowledge on the present condition of these buildings.
Vaithilingam Madam
This building had been partially in neglected condition, long before the area lost its importance
as an active pilgrimage spot.
There are about 25 small rooms all laid out around a
large, open central court yard. These rooms are
overlooking the court yard through a verandah. As
the rooms are very small these would have been
intended for safe-keeping possessions of the
pilgrims. A columnar pavilion is located in the centre
of the court yard. It seems that this had been a venue
for lectures and other events during days of special
religious significance. The building is entered through
a porch onto the front verandah. From here a door
way leading to the court yard area through a small
On the left side of the building the cooking spaces
are arranged around a narrow court yard. This

arrangement resemble a type of houses with two court yards, found in Vannarponnai, which
was discussed under the heading "Court yard houses" in this document.

The information that was discussed in the previous pages show that, while the traditional
buildings of Jaffna represent, a now forgotten aspect of the culture of old Jaffna, they also
remain as probable evidences of a common conceptual base that shaped the culture of a
larger region covering South Indian states of Thamilnadu and Kerala together with Jaffna.
As the information on similar South Indian buildings is inadequate, a proper comparative
study was not possible.
Similarly no attempt was made to compare the Jaffna buildings with the buildings of
Singhalese communities of southern Srilanka. Many scholars believe that the Jaffna
peninsula was occupied by the Singhalese people before the arrival of Tamils in to this land.
They point out that, most of the place names in Jaffna and Vanni are in fact Tamilised
versions of Singhalese names. Some of them also say that for such a large scale adoption,
of the Singhalese names by the Tamil community, would have only been possible, if they
had lived together in this region for a long time. If this is true, it is logical for someone to
expect a considerable influence of Singhalese culture in the Jaffna buildings. No such
influence is openly visible. However a through comparative study may throw some light in
this matter.
The present day houses in Jaffna may be neater, durable and suitable for some of our
modern requirements. However it is not difficult for someone to observe several
contradictions in the relationship between the modern houses and the life-style of the
people. The traditional houses and other buildings, which are more sympathetic towards the
local, socio-cultural, economic and physical conditions, can provide conceptual basis for
new buildings.
Apart from the changes caused by 'Time" and the life-style based on western notions, the
war situation also has taken toll of many of the valued buildings. Hundreds of such buildings
are still existing all over Jaffna region. We should at least record information related to
these buildings in suitable formats such as measured drawings, photographs, videos,
descriptive texts etc. for the use of future generations.

Architect R.Mayooranathan