Photo of Tiruketeeswaram temple taken in the early 1930's.


Tiruketeeswaram, near Mannar, is the sthalam where thousands gather on Shivaratri night for veneration of Lord Shiva. They perform their sin dispelling ablutionary teertham baths in the sacred waters of Pal Teertham, the following morning.

The location became hallowed from the mythological era for it was here that Ketu Bhagavan performed tapas and obtained the benign vision of Lord Parameswara and Ambal Devi; hence the site became known as "Tiru-Ketu-Ishwaram".

Agastya Maha Munivar

It is said that the Sage Agasthiya Maha Munivar, in his pilgrimage to Shiva sthalams in the South, paid homage at Tiruketeeswaram also before proceeding to Dakshina Kailash (Koneshwaram).

Matotta a great Sea Port

Matotta (or Matoddam), the celebrated city that Maha Tuwadda pounded became a great Sea Port and marketing centre of world renown. Babylonians. Egyptians,Greeks, Chinese and Japanese bartered their goods at Matotta. Tiruketeeswaram Temple received much support. The Pallava era, which created a magnificent temple at Koneshwaram, created an upsurge of Hinduism in the country, from about the 5th century. It was then that Saint Tirugnana Sambandhar and later Saint Sundarar each offered a patikam of Tevaram verses to the Lord of Tiruketeeswaram. These are precious verses that are recited by every Hindu, almost daily.

Pada Yatra pilgrims at Tiruketeeswaram temple, 1991
Pada Yatra pilgrims at Tiruketeeswaram temple, 1991.

The Chola dynasty ruled over all of Ceylon for 72 years in the 10th century; their activities were mostly at Polonnaruwa, their capital city and in the Trincomalee region. A temple with the name of Veera Rameswaram was erected here during the regime of Sundara Pandiyan, in the 13th century.

The Decline of Matoddam

With the silting up of the Gulf of Mannar by Manal Aar (Malwattu Oya), and the discovery of the mariner's compass which made navigation in mid-ocean possible, the fortunes of Matoddam as a sea port declined (and was never regained). Finally, with the advent of the Portuguese in Mannar and the consequent warfare, all pujas terminated at Tiruketeeswaram Temple in 1589. The Portuguese Governor was seen supervising the transport of the temple stones for building the Mannar Fort.

Rebuilding the temple at Tirukeeeswaram

After a lapse of over four hundred years, Arumuga Navalar, who urged the people to rebuild the temple, revived the subject. An effort was made during the early years of the century and a small shrine was built in 1910. With the restoration of the ancient Palavi Teertham in 1949, a major effort was made and a proper temple was completed in 1976.

Teertha Kavadi

Teertha Kavadi is a special ritual here. To be permitted to perform linga abishekam is the greatest aspiration of any pious Hindu. This is possible only in Kasi and Tiruketeeshwaram. It is not simply taking water from Palavi and pouring over the Maha Lingam. It is performed with devotion and in keeping with the seven requirements laid down, saying "Let us all gather to anoint Him who had been distressed and in that process wash our sins away".

Courtesy: Shruthi Laya Shangam, London and Shri S. Arumugam
from the presentation of the Kalakshetra dance drama "Pancha Ishwaram of Lanka" at the University of London on 16 October 1999.

Shri S. Arumugam was born in Nallur, Jaffna. He obtained a Science Degree from the University College, Ceylon in 1928 and then proceeded to Kings College, London, UK, where he obtained a Degree in Civil Engineering in 1931. After graduating, he worked for the Manchester City water supply works, and then returned to Sri Lanka in 1933 where he joined the Irrigation Department and finally retired as Deputy Director in 1965.

His work in the Irrigation Department required him to travel widely in Sri Lanka, and this gave him the opportunity to study about the ancient Hindu temples in all parts of the country. He has also studied Hindu temples in India during his several visits. Apart from his technical publications (he was President of the Institution of Engineers, Sri Lanka) his published works connected with temples include "Some Ancient Hindu Temples of Sri Lanka (1980), "The Lord of Thiruketheeshwaram"(1981), "Thiru Koneshwaram" (1990), "Stone Scupitures in Colombo Hindu Temple" (1990) etc.

Tiruketeeswaram Temple for Kethu dedicated to Siva at Mannar

The ancient shrine of Lord Kethu — Thiruketheeswaram — in Sri Lanka, which has an interesting history dating back to several centuries, is now being restored to its original glory, writes Bharatanatyam exponent, V. P. DHANANJAYAN, whose Bharatakalanjali presented a programme there recently.

The awe-inspiring deities at Thiruketheeswaram ...

TIRUKETEESWARAM IS an ancient temple in Manthottamam, in Mannar District, about seven miles north of the Mannar Town. According to legend, it was at this ancient temple that Kethu Bhagavan worshipped Lord Easwaram (Shiva). Hence the shrine acquired the name of Thiruketheeswaram.

According to scholar and historian, Paul E. Peiris, "... long before the arrival of Vijaya (6th century B.C.), there were five Eeswarams of Siva in Sri Lanka — Thiruketheeswaram near Mahathitha, Munneswaram dominating Salamatte (Chillaw), pearl fishery Thondeswaram near Dondra, Thirukoneswaram near the great Bay of Kottiyar (Trincomalee) and Naguleswaram near Kankesantural".

In 1887 Hugh Neville, another well-known researcher, spoke about the city of Manthoddam as follows: "A renowned shrine grew into repute there, dedicated to one Supreme God symbolised by a single tone, and in later times restored from ruins by Vijaya, a Saivite. The temple was known as Thiru — Ketu — Iswaram."

A symbol of beauty and religiosity ... the Thiruketheeswaram temple.

This temple dedicated to the worship of the Supreme God Siva has been the most venerated for centuries and the holy waters of the Palavi Tank by its side are venerated in the sacred hymns of two great Saivite saints, Thirugnana Sambandhar and Sundarar, who lived in the 7th and 8th Centuries respectively.

This great temple was completely destroyed by the Portuguese in the 16th Century and the stones from here were used to build the Fort at Mannar, the churches and also the Hammershield Fort at Kayts.

Lord Siva is the Supreme God at Thiruketheeswaram ... hence the Lingam is of great significance.

Arumuga Navalar who was responsible for the renaissance of Saivism in Sri Lanka in the 19th Century made Hindus realise that they were duty bound to rebuild this historic temple. Following his appeal made in 1872, the exact location of the destroyed temple was traced in 1894 and some restoration work was done in the early part of the 20th Century.

In fact a small temple was re-consecrated in June 1903. The central shrine was reconstructed and re-consecrated around 1921. It was then that the Talaimannar Railway Line was constructed. It is said that with the passage of time the management of the temple passed into the hands of the Nattukottai Chettiars of Colombo who maintained the temple for a few years.

However it was in October 1948 that an intensive agitation resulted in the formation of the Thiruketheeswaram Temple Restoration Society, which renovated the temple and performed Kumbhabishekam in August 1952.

Where devotees converge to be blessed by Kethu Bhagawan ...

The reconstruction of the temple, so as to restore it to its original glory, was planned by the Restoration Society with the advice of savants and stapathis learned in the art of temple construction according to the Sastras, and the foundation for it was laid on November 28, 1953. The Nattukottai Chettiars formally entrusted the temple to the Thiruketheeswaram Temple Restoration Society in 1956. The Kumbhabishekam of the renovated temple was held on October 31, 1960. It was the first phase of reconstruction.

The Thiruketheeswaram Temple Restoration Society did further renovation and another Kumbhabhishekam was held on July 4, 1976.

The work for the next phase with granite work commenced at the School of Architecture and Sculpture in Mahabalipuram (Maamallapuram), near Chennai, in South India. While these preparations were in progress the Sri Lankan Army took over the temple and its environs in August 1990 and continued to occupy the same for several years. Although they have left the temple premises their occupation of its environs is a cause of concern for the Restoration Society, which has been urging the Government to remove the Armed Forces completely from the scene and declare the temple and its surroundings a sacred area.

Stories about the divine grace of the Lord here are aplenty.

There have been umpteen incidents that reveal the divine grace of the Lord granting the wishes of devotees and this is the right place of worship for those with Kethu dosham (problems caused by planet Kethu).

The Thiruketheeswaram Temple Restoration Society representing the Hindus of Sri Lanka has accelerated the pace of the restoration work and plans to have the Maha Kumbhabishekam in April/May 2003. Several millions of rupees are required to restore the temple to its original glory. It is the duty of religious minded people to generously assist the Thiruketheeswaram Temple Restoration Society in the task.

The reconstruction committee recently organised a fund raising Bharatanatyam programme featuring two Saivite stories, "Shiva Shakti Vel" and "Nandanar Charitam" of Gopalakrishnabharati, produced and presented by the Chennai-based Bharatakalanjali. Those who wish to contribute to the restoration of the temple may contact: V. Kailasapillai, 24, Deal Place, A. Kollupitya, Colombo 00300. Ph: 941575566. email:

Courtesy: The Hindu (Chennai) of Friday, Dec 06, 2002

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