Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Koneswaram Temple, Trincomalee

Koneswaram Temple
Koneswaram Temple (also known as Thirukkoneswaram Kovil) is a famous Hindu Kovil/temple in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka. The temple has been built on the top of a rock situated on the brink of the sea and can be reached through the main entrance of Fort Fredrick. Koneswaram is traditionally considered as one of the ancient Saiva shrines in Sri Lanka.

The origin of the Koneswaram temple is obscure (Gunasingam, 1975). However, its history can be combined with the nearby Trincomalee harbor, one of the ancient sea-ports in the country. Trincomalee was a well-known harbor in the region and Koneswaram may has been built on this sea-port to fulfill the religious needs of the Hindus of the area as well as the merchants who landed at the port. The Indian Hindu text Vayu Purana (this ancient work is generally assigned to the first half of the 1st-millennium A.D.) mentions about a temple of Siva named Gokarneswaram located on the eastern coast of an island (Gunasingam, 1975).
"30. In that island, on the eastern shore of the sea there is Gokarna, the great shrine of Sankara."
Reference: Tagare, 1987. p.311. 
This Siva temple is believed by some as the present Koneswaram temple (Gunasingam, 1975).

The Sri Lankan Pali chronicle Mahawamsa refers to the existence of a temple of God on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka during the reign of King Mahasena [(277-304 A.D.) Gunasingam, 1975]. According to Mahawamsa (Chapter XXXVII: 40-41), King Mahasena founded three Buddhist Viharas at Gokanna, Erakavilla, and Brahman Kalnda by destroying the temples of Brahmanical gods (Geiger, 1912). The Mahavamsa Tika reveals that the Gokanna Vihara was on the coast of the eastern sea while the other two in the region of Rohana (Geiger, 1912). The Gokarna temple of Mahawamsa is thought to be the same one mentioned by Vayu Purana (Gunasingam, 1975).

Daksina Kailasa Manmiam, a section of the Sanskrit Skanda Purana (about 8th century A.D.) mentions that from very ancient times nine sacred shrines were famous for the Hindus. Among them, two were in Sri Lanka namely Koneswaram and Tiruketheeswaram (Navaratnam, 1998).

A slab inscription known as the Nilaveli record was found within the premises of Pillayar temple in Nilaveli, a small town located 14 km northwest of the Trincomalee town (Gunasingam, 1975). This record contains 14 lines of writing indited in an admixture of Grantha and Tamil characters and has been dated to the early 11 century A.D.; the beginning of the Cola rule in Sri Lanka (Gunasingam, 1975). According to Gunasingam, the palaeography of this inscription very closely resembles that of the periods of Rajaraja I (c. 985-1014 A.D.) and Rajendra I [(c. 1014-1044 A.D.) Gunasingam, 1975].

This inscription records about a donation of two hundred and fifty Veli of irrigated and unirrigated lands to a temple named Maccakesvaram at Tirukonamalai (present Trincomalee) to meet its daily expenses (Gunasingam, 1975). The Maccakesvarama temple, referred to in the inscription, is said to be the present Koneswaram temple (Gunasingam, 1975).

Besides the Nilaweli inscription, another reference to the Koneswaram is found in the Manankeni inscription of Cola Illankesvaradeva, the representative of Sri Lanka of Cola King Rajendra I (Gunasingam, 1975).

Portuguese Period
The Koneswaram temple was looted in 1624 by Portuguese and then it was completely demolished by Constantine de Sa in order to employ its materials for the building of the fort (Navaratnam, 1998). Some of the statues in the temple were taken by locals to Thambalagama where later a temple to the lord of Koneswaram was built by King Rajasinha II [(1635-1687 A.D.) Navaratnam, 1998]

Dutch and British occupation
During the Dutch occupation of Trincomalee, the site was not allowed for the public to perform their religious activities (Navaratnam, 1998). However, the permission was given to them by the British when they displaced the Dutch in 1795 (Navaratnam, 1998).

Present temple
The present Koneswaram temple was constructed by the Hindus on 3 March 1963.

In 1944, two images of Vishnu and Lakshmi were unearthed inside the fort area (Navaratnam, 1998). Several bronzes of deities such as Ganesha (standing) and Parvati (seated, standing), Siva (seated), and Chandrasegara were also discovered from the site, later (Navaratnam, 1998).

A fragmentary slab-inscription of the reign of Rajaraja I
Koneswaram inscription

Reign       : King Rajaraja I (985-1014 A.D.)
Period      : 10th-11th centuries A.D.
Scripts      : Medieval Tamil
Language : Medieval Tamil

This inscribed fragmentary slab was discovered in 1961, by under-water explorers who searched antiquities of the demolished temple at the bed of the nearby sea (Gunasingam, 1979). It is presently preserved in the premises of the Koneswaram Temple.

The remaining slab is about one foot long and six inches wide and contains 9 lines of writing (Gunasingam, 1979). A portion of the meykkirtti (prasasti) of King Rajaraja I (a South Indian king who reigned from 985 to 1014 A.D.) is found recorded on the slab (Gunasingam, 1979).

Lovers' Leap or Ravana's Cleft at Swami Rock temple entrance. baby cots
1) This image (Koneswaram inscription Pandyan era) has been released into the public domain by its creator, Dushipillai.

1) Geiger, W., 1912. The Mahavamsa or The Great Chronicle of Ceylon, translated into English by assisted by Mabel Haynes Bode. p.270.
2) Gunasingam, S., 1979. Trincomalee inscriptions series, No. 2: Three Cola inscriptions from Trincomalee. Published by the author. Peradeniya. pp.1-3.
3) Gunasingam, S., 1975. A Tamil slab inscription at Nilaveli. The Ceylon Journal of the Humanities. Colombo. pp.61–71.
4) Navaratnam, C.S., 1998. Koneswaram: A temple of a thousand columns. North-East Sri Lanka- A compendium: 50th anniversary of Sri Lanka's independence 1948-1998. North-East Provincial Council. pp.159-171.
5) Tagare, G.V., 1987. The Vayu Purana: Part I. UNESCO collection of representative works: India series. p.311

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This page was last updated on 31 March 2020
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