Koneswaram - Thirukkonamalai - Sri lanka



The Temple of Shaankari Devi, there is a temple of Lord Shiva – TRIKONESHWARA Temple. The temple is located on the North Eastern coast of Sri Lanka in a city that is presently known as Trincomalee (a vulgarized form of Thirukkonamalai). The city is well connected by roads. The temple itself is reached by a rigorous hike up the Konamalai. Vehicles can also drive up to the very door step of the temple. The place is as much Tamil as any temple in Tamil Nadu, with even the priests and commoners speaking the language, which is a great convenience.

Legends :It is but a well known fact that there are a number of holy places referred to as the Shakthi Peethas where the Mother has manifested herself in various forms to offer protection and happiness to all her devotees who take refuge in her. As I have written earlier, these places were chosen by the goddess herself, for these were the spots where many of her Angas (body parts) fell when they were cut off the body of the burnt Dakshayani by Vishnu’s Sudarshana Chakra (See Daksha’s Yagna). However, there is much confusion and controversy over the number of these Shakthi Peethas and their specific locations. Some mention them to be 51 (Panchasat Shakthi Peethas) in number while others say that there are 18, still others maintaining that there are just 4 Adi Shakthi Peethas.

Turning to literary evidence, one of the most authoritative works that we can lay our hands upon is the AshtaDasaShakthiPeetha Shloka by Shankara himself. Starting with the verses “Lankaayam Shankari Devi”, Shankara details the locations and the names of 18 Shakthi Peethas strewn across the body of the subcontinent. The first amongst them is what he mentions as the Peetha of Shankari Devi in Lanka. This is believed to be the spot where the groin of Sati Devi is said to have fallen and is exalted as one of the most sacred spots in Sri Lanka. 

1) Ravana Legend : Long long ago, in the Tretha Yuga, Parvathi was suddenly hit with a strong desire. She wanted a house, a large palatial mansion, where she could live happily with Shiva and her children, Heyrambha and Skanda. Coyly, she approached Shiva. “Swami, I have one request to make of you” she said, her head hanging down with shyness.

Shiva smiled his all-knowing bubbly smile. “Devi, you know full well the repercussions of your previous request to me. But still, you have a desire. Speak away.”

“I want a house Swami. I want to live in a lovely mansion, attended by Yoginis and playing with our children. Please grant me this wish” said Parvathi.

Shiva laughed. “Shakthi, who are you speaking to? Have you forgotten that you are talking to me, who is extolled as the yogi of yogis, who has achieved supreme control over his senses and who sees no difference between the luxurious and the mundane.”

“I fully understand Swami, but it is you who does not understand my intentions for the goodness of this world. I want a house and I want it now.” said Shakthi with a hint of finality.

Shiva realized the thought behind Shakthi’s request and finally he gave his assent. Waving his hands in front of him he said, “Vishwakarma, I am in need of your help”. Lo, before him stood the Devaloka Architect, with a chisel in one hand and a hammer in the other. He bowed to the divine couple and awaited his instructions.

“Vishwakarma, build me the best palace ever seen in this world so that Uma can have her desire satisfied.” intoned Shiva.

In an instant Vishwakarma flew southwards and chose a beautiful spot on the island of Lanka. There he raised a magnificent structure, gleaming with gold and gems, cooled with water fountains and filled with the smell of any divine flowers in the garden, a palace that befit to be the residence of the Mother of the three worlds.

Parvathi was extremely pleased with the outcome and wanted to perform the Griha Pravesha of this beautiful palace with the help of the best of the Brahmanas. Shiva and Shakthi came down to Lanka to find a suitable brahmana for the Grihapravesha. It was then that the distant but powerful chant of “Om Namah Shivaya” reached their ears. Following the divine sound they came to a place where they beheld a ten-headed man, performing austere tapasya invoking Shiva. Shiva smiled at Shakthi and then spoke out.

“Ravana, you have achieved the purpose of your tapas. So strong was your tapa that it not only drew me to you but also attracted Shakthi along with me to the place of your penance. You will achieve all that you desire.” he blessed.

Realising that Ravana was the son of the great saint Vishravas and very well versed on all the four Vedas, Parvathi is suddenly sure that he would be the right brahmana to perform the Grihapravesha to her house. Ravana gladly accepts the invitation and sets a date for the auspicious entry into the palace (Ravana is believed to have been an authority in Astrology too and is said to have authored a separate book on Astrology titled Ravana Samhita)

On the prescribed date, Ravana performed the ceremony with much grandeur and splendor with the correct usage of all the mantras and shlokas. Shiva and Parvathi entered their mansion and added further sanctity to the spot. Parvathi was extremely pleased with Ravana’s prowess in the Vedas and offered him any boon that he wanted as dakshina for performing the ceremonies.

Shiva, however laughed silently besides Parvathi. “It is not proper for a Brahmana to ask what he wants for dakshina. He should be pleased with what the Yajamana or Yajamani gives him. However, as Shakthi herself offered you the boon, you may ask whatever you please.”

Ravana smiled at the couple and realized suddenly what he wanted. He had fallen in love with the palace itself. He had admired every piece of woodwork, every carving and every room that had been designed by Vishwakarma. “Jaganmata, I would like this house of yours in return for my ceremonies.” He asked.

Parvathi smiled at the play of fate and granted him his wish. Ravana was thrilled but at the same time guilt rattled him. He felt ashamed at robbing Parvathi of her house. “Devi,” he exclaimed, “do continue to live in Lanka as long as you please. This land is but equivalent to one speck of dust on your feet. Please give your consent to stay here and bless this land forever.”

Parvathi smiled again. “Ravana, I accept your invitation. My shakthi will always pervade this place. But on one condition- I will go away from the island the moment you disobey any of my commands.” Ravana agreed to her condition and with one last Tathastu, Parvathi returned to Kailasha.

Ravana built a gigantic temple, replete with architectural details, dedicated to the goddess Shankari Devi. The temple was located on the top a cliff that fell sharply into the magnificent sea below. Around the temple, Ravana set up a beautiful garden, one of the best in all of Lanka. The goddess smiled on the people of Lanka and the kingdom prospered.

Trouble began when Ravana, overcome by carnal desire, kidnapped Seetha and brought her to Lanka. Shankari devi was angered by this base action of Ravana. She asked him to leave Seetha and return her to Rama. But lust clung to Ravana like a leech and he did not obey Devi’s advice. Highly disappointed, Shankari left the island country and with her left all the peace and prosperity of the kingdom.

We are of course familiar with the remainder of the story detailing the Rama-Ravana war and the subsequent defeat of Ravana. When Vibheeshana was crowned by Rama as the emperor of Lanka, he prayed that Shankari devi once again take residence in the island nation. Shankari Devi accepted his prayers and re entered her temple, bringing glory to Lanka again.

2) Adisesha Legend :When this universe was born, Parameshwara had delegated various tasks to various gods and demigods and blessed them with the required powers. Adisesha was assigned with the duty of holding up the earth, steadily until the next Mahapralaya. Having heard about this Vayu, the wind god, was furious. “Sesha”, he taunted, “how can you, who is afraid of Garuda, be the perfect choice to hold up this earth”. Adisesha was livid. “I live just by eating you, oh Wind. I am much stronger than you are” he slashed back. Blinded by fury, they attacked each other. Adisesha coiled himself around Kailasha and sneered at Vayu. “If you are as powerful as you say, try blowing away one peak of this great mountain”. Vayu turned into a hurricane and attacked Kailasha. The worlds trembled at the force of this combat and the devas yearned for refuge at Shiva’s feet. Shiva then ordered Brahma to create another Kailasha to the south and then descended with Parvathi to reside at the Southern Kailasha.

“Adisesha,” said Shiva. “All this is another play of mine. I have decided to protect the people of Bharatha Khanda from the south too. This war of yours will end just as successfully in my favour. Listen to me.” Adisesha lifted three of his thousand hoods to look and listen to the lord. At that instant, Vayu broke away three peaks from Kailasa. By Parameshwara’s orders he placed these three in Thondai naadu(ThiruKaalahasthi), Chozha Naadu (Thirichirapalli {See Thayumanavar}) and in Eezha Naadu (Thirukkonamalai, Lanka) respectively. The third hill came to be known as Thirukkonamalai and lies along the same longitude as Kailasha, thus earning the nameDakshina Kailasha. This was where the famed Shankari Devi temple was located.

For those of you who did notice the past tense in the last sentence, it was not a mistake. Sadly, the temple no longer exists. All that remains of the magnificent temple, that was lovingly build by Ravana, is but one pillar.

3) Kethu Legend :Foraging around for legends, we came across a few that were vital to the temple. The Asura, Kethu, stealthily swallowed a portion of the Divine Nectar obtained by churning the Ocean of Milk, which would confer immortality on him alone. Vishnu beheaded him and Kethu wandered headless until Brahma took pity on him and transformed him into the planets Rahu and Kethu. Restless with the burden of sin, Kethu came to Ketheeswaram, propitiated Lord Siva and obtained moksha. Thus the place came to be known as Tiru — Kethu — eeswaram. 


Description :Built atop Swami Rock, a rocky promontory overlooking the Trincomalee harbor, the temple has lay in ruins, been restored, renovated and enlarged by various royals and devotees throughout its history.


Koneswaram is heralded as a grand seat of Shiva worship in the 6th-7th century CE Tamil hymn canon Tevaram. Its bronze idols date from the 10th century CE and reflect the high points of Chola art. The temple has been administered and frequented by Tamil Hindus and is located in Trinconamalee, a classical period port town with a mixed Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim population.

Koneswaram was developed in the post classical era, between 300 CE and 1600 CE by kings of the Pandyan and Chola empires as well as local Vannimai feudal chiefs with decorations and structural additions such as its thousand pillared hall furnished by kings of the Pallava dynasty and the Jaffna kingdom. 


In 1624 CE, the Koneswaram temple was largely destroyed by Portuguese colonials. Hindus built a successor temple at a nearby site in 1632 CE - the Ati Konanayakar temple in Tampalakamam - to house some of the destroyed temple's idols, where they are still worshipped. In the 1950s, the ruins of the original temple were discovered underwater beside Swami Rock. It was rebuilt of much more modest dimensions at its original site by local Hindu Tamils 450 years after its destruction.

Sinhalese Buddhists have claimed that the Tirukoneswaram temple was originally exclusively a Buddhist temple. They cite and interpret historical information of three Pagodas at the Koneswaram site as alluding to Buddhist temples. Buddhists have also claimed that the site was the location of the ancient Gokanna Vihara built by King Mahasena.

Solitary Pillar :The recently recovered Panchaloha idols are worshipped in the Vasantha Mandapam. There is a separate smaller temple dedicated to the goddess worshipped as Mathumai Ambal. Though many pilgrims worship her as Shankari Devi, the Peetha Nayaki of the Shankari Shakthi Peetha, she is not the ancient Shankari devi who was worshipped by Ravana and Shankara to whom the grandest temple on Lanka was built. 


The form of Shankari devi as described in the Dhyana shloka does not match the divine form of Mathumai Ambal. The original idol is lost forever. People worship the lone pillar standing at the summit of the hill as the only remnant of the grand Shankari temple. Many believe that the pillar itself marks the exact position of the Shakthi peetha though this is a debatable topic.

Mavaliganga Theertha :The temple theertha, the Mavaliganga, bubbles up from a well at the western portion of the hill, circumambulates the hill and empties into the Indian Ocean. It is believed that when Parvathi once examined Shiva’s matted locks, she caught sight of a woman’s face for a fleeting second. The terrified Ganga froze into and ice drop which was covertly scooped up and dropped into the sea by Shiva. It is believed that it is she who wells up in the Sivanolipadam hills on northern Lanka, flowing towards Thirukkonamalai as Mahabaliganga, towards Ketheeswaram (the only other Paadal Petra Thalam in Lanka) as Manikka Ganga and towards Kathirgama as Kaveri Ganga.

Bilva Tree :The temple offers a spectacular vista of the calm Indian ocean stretching out for miles. By the edge of the cliff, stands an ancient Bilva tree, under which Sri Rama is said to have meditated.



Nearby Attractions :


The Kannyayi Hot Springs :Among the sights of the place are the seven hot springs of Kanniyayi, on the road to Trincomalee. About a mile on a side road branching from the main route, the springs are worth a visit. A high wall assembles all the seven springs in a rectangular enclosure. Each enclosed in a dwarf wall forms a well of its own. The water is mildly hot; the temperature varies but slightly in each. In effect, a public bathing resort, the use of the springs is controlled by the neighboring Mari Amman Kovil who holds the lease of the wells. People believe that bathing in these well will refesh themselves.

Festival :Workers of the Sri Lanka Port Authority in Trincomalee will be holding the ‘Theppath Thiruvilazh’ (Boat Festival) as usual this year also on 13 April in the Dutch Bay Sea. Lord Konesar, chief deity of the temple with his consort Mathumai Ambal will be taken in boat around the temple from the Swami Rock via Back Bay Sea to the Dutch Bay Sea. Religious discourses and cultural items will take place throughout the night of 13 April in the Dutch Bay sea beach. Thereafter the deity will be taken to the temple next day early morning by road through the Fort Frederick entrance, the sources said.

Pathirakali Ambal Temple and some other Hindu Temples are holding their water-cutting festivals in the Back Bay Sea for several centuries.

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