Jaffna Public Library

Marked as the hub of Tamil literature and a true literary reflection of the Tamil heritage is the Jaffna Public Library, one of the notable landmarks of Jaffna. Standing tall on the Jaffna-Point Pedro road, its Neo-Mughal era architecture visibly striking from a distance, the library opens its doors to all, to immerse in and experience a site which is of great historical significance to this very day. The Jaffna Public Library prides itself on its expansive collectible of literary works, a feature which earned itself, upon its establishment in 1933, a reputation as one of the largest libraries in Asia.

Best Known For

  • Being an important Tamil cultural centre and historical institution. The Jaffna Public Library housed more than 90,000 volumes; archived documents written in palm leaf manuscripts, the original records of the occurrences in the political history of Sri Lanka and newspapers that date back to hundreds of years ago.
  • Being a world-renowned hub of literary significance; the sheer expanse and importance of literary records provided made it out to be the benchmark against which alternative literary hubs of such stature and cultural focus were compared against. The library was used as a source for research by researches from across the globe.

Interesting Facts

  • The origin of the library is an impressive reflection of the communal harmony in Jaffna in the early 1930s. The idea for a thriving public library originated by K. M. Chellapah, a local resident, sharing his private collection of books amongst friends, eventually leading to a limited library being opened in a room at Hospital Road, Jaffna which then moved to a rented house. Funds were raised for a fully-fledged library by way of a carnival, with varied communal figures tirelessly working to create and sustain what would soon come to be known as the Jaffna Public Library.
  • All efforts were taken to construct the Jaffna Public Library with nothing but the best. S. R. Ranganathan, the leading expert in library science considered the ‘Father of Indian Library Science’ developed the library to meet international standards and the famed Dravidian architect V. M. Narasimhan designed it.
  • The library covered roughly 15,910 square feet and was claimed to be bigger than the Colombo Library of Metropolitan Sabha.
  • Features include a reference section, a section for novels, a children’s section, acquisitions and lending sections, a conference hall and an art exhibition hall complete with art galleries.
  • One of the key individuals who made extensive contributions to the birth of the library was Rev. Fr. Timothy M. F. Long, Recor of St. Patrick’s College, Jaffna and a statue was erected in his honour right in front of the library which can be seen to this day.
  • One particular event stands out in the history of Jaffna Public Library as a crucial turning point in the Sri Lankan civil war: the burning of the Jaffna Public Library. On a rampage from May 31st to June 1st, 1981, certain police and military figures burned down the library, destroying thousands of priceless items and works.
  • Historically significant scrolls, manuscripts of renowned philosopher Ananda Coomaraswamy and intellectual Dr. Isaac Thambiah, the works of figures who significantly contributed to the preservation of the Tamil culture and irreplaceable documents such as the only copy of the Yalpanam Vaipavama, a narrative on the history of Jaffna were lost as a result.
  • Re-construction efforts commenced; Jaffna Library Public Week was sponsored by the community and thousands of books were collected.
  • Repairs were underway when the Black July conflict began. After renovation, the library was damaged once again by bullets and bombs by rebels.
  • Official reconstruction of the library by the government began in 1998 with local and foreign aid and over 25,000 books were collected. The building was completed in 2001 but its re-opening was delayed due to LTTE opposition. The library was eventually re-opened in 2003 with the backing of communal support.

Times, Seasons and Tips

  • Entrance to the library is free of charge.
  • Apart from the predominant Tamil literary works, collections in English and Sinhala can be found as well.
  • The visiting hours are from 4:30pm to 6:30pm on the weekdays.
  • Note that one may observe the expanse and significance of the works preserved up close, however may not be permitted to use the literary works itself.

The Jaffna Public Library is marked as being the very epitome of the cultural identity of the Tamils. Originally published tens or hundreds of years ago, every piece of paper and book displayed documents the rich history of the Tamil culture; the realness and magnificence of their heritage captured in pages which stand the test of time. One of many things to do in Jaffna, the library is one of the most prized cultural possessions of the Tamils and is well worth a visit, for if not to peruse the works themselves, to immerse in the glory of a vibrant culture.

Title image by: KNOWSL The information displayed is provided by Jaffna Public Library


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