Trincomalee is one of the most beautiful natural harbours in the world. There are only four or five others comparable to Trincomalee, among them Sydney harbour and Buenos Aires harbour in Argentina. Trinco today is the fifth largest natural harbour. The name comes from Trikona/likoona (triangle) and malai (hill or rock in Tamil). The rock on the promontory is like a triangle or the hill surrounding the place form a triangle. The earlier name was Gokanna also known as Gonaka. The Greek cartographer Psolemy marked the harbour as Bokana on his map. The harbour was known to mariners from very ancient times. Badda Kachchana, the Sakyan princess who was sent to Lanka to be the bride of king Panduvasdeva landed at Gokanna according to recorded history. As a point of interest there is a legend going further back. Two merchant brothers Tapassu and Bhalluka, were the first to serve some food to the Buddha soon after his Enlightenment. The Buddha gave them some strands of hair, perhaps as a memento. the two brothers carefully carried this memento, with them. They were sea-faring merchants. When they dropped anchor at Gokanna, they deposited some or all the strands of hair in a mound somewhere north of Gokanna. The Girihandu Seya in Tiriyaya is said to be this chetiya or shrine. The Shewedagon in Rangoon in Myanmar is said to contain the hair-relics of the Buddha. Perhaps the brothers Tapassu and Bhalluka deposited only some strands of hair in the chetiya at Tiriyaya and took the rest with them to Myanmar.
There was in times, long past a magnificent temple dedicated to Konath or Konasir on the cliff. 400 feet above the sea, at the Southern extremity of the peninsula that separates the inner from the outer harbour. British and other European writers of the 18th and 19th centuries refer to this shrine as the "Temple of a Thousand Pillars." What was its original name and who built it? According to a Tamil legend, a Hindu Prince, having learned from the Puranas that the rock now known as Swami Rock was a fragment of the holy Mount Meru hurled into the present site during a conflict of the gods, came over to Lanka and erected upon it a temple to Shiva. Being one of the main harbours in which seafarers in the Bay of Bengal dropped anchor, Trincomalee or Gokanna as this place was known earlier, must have been, from very early times, a settlement of Indo Aryan migrants. Later the Pallavas and the Pandyan and Chola dynasties that ruled the Deccan (dhakkina desha) must have been closely associated with the up-keep of the Temple, lavishing wealth to maintain it in all its glory. It is said that pilgrims from all over India came to the temple. One writer has said that it was more frequented by pilgrims than Rameswaram or the Jaganath Temple in Orissa. The temple was razed to the ground by the Portuguese general Constantine de Saa in 1622 and he built a fort there using the stones of the demolished temple. A temple has been built on Swami Rock (God's Rock) which is inside Fort Fredrick. It is held in high veneration by the Hindus, and frequented by Buddhist pilgrims too.
The brick wall which runs along the moat and Bogambara lake is known as water waves wall. Holes in this wall are build to light coconut oil lamps. The main entrance gates which lies over the moat is called Mahawahalkada. At the foot of Mahawahalkada steps there is a Sandakada pahana (moonstone) which is carved in Kandyan architectural style. Mahawahalkada was totally destroyed in a 1998 bomb blast and rebuilt afterwards along with sandakada pahana other stone carvings.Elephants are depicted in stone on the either sides of the entrance. A Makara Torana and two guardian stones are placed on -top of the staircase. Hewisi drummers' chamber is situated in front of the main shrine. The two storeys of main shrine are known as "Palle malaya" (lower floor) and "Udu malaya" (upper floor) or "Weda hitina maligawa". The doors of the Weda Hitana Maligawa are carved in ivory. The actual chamber which the tooth relic is kept is known as the "Handun kunama". The golden canopy built in 1987 over the main shrine and the golden fence which encircles the main shrine are other notable features. The tooth relic is encased in seven golden caskets which engraved with precious gemstones. The caskets have a shape of a stupa. The Procession casket which is used during the Esala Perahera is also displayed in the same chamber
In the early period of their rule, the Portuguese were not in the least interested in taking possession of Trincomalee; but after the appearance of the Dutch on the east coast and their making an alliance with the King of Kandy , Constantine de Saa became alarmed and took control of the two ports on the east coast, Trincomalee and Batticaloa. In 1622, he ruthlessly destroyed the Temple of a Thousand Pillars and used its stones to build a fort on the site it stood.Some fragments of carved stone work and slabs bearing inscriptions were to be seen in the walls of the Fort in the mid 19th century. (Facsimiles of three inscriptions were published in the Journal of Asiatic Society Bengl Vol 5) In 1960, 440 years after Constantine de Saa razed the temple to the ground, workers of the Trincomalee UC digging a well for public use, found three statues all turned upside down. Constantine de Saa built the Fort in 1624 and it was successively held by the Dutch French until it was taken over by the British in 1795. The British named the Fort, FORT FREDRICK after the then Commander in Chief the Duke of York.
The hot springs of Kannya are about five miles north-west of Trincomalee and about half a mile off the Anuradhapura Road. As with most places of interest in and around Trincomalee these hot springs also have their legend, which goes back to pre-Vijayan times, when Ravana was Lord of Lanka. The legend as told to Bella Sydney Woolf, Sister of Leonard Woolf and recorded in her 1914 publication "How to see Ceylon," is as follows: "Vishnu wished to prevent Ravana from setting forth on some undertaking, and he appeared to Ravana as an old man bearing the false news that Kannya (his mother) was dead. Thereupon Ravana determined to put off his project and, perform the rites for the dead, asked where he could find water for the ablutions. Vishnu disappeared and the hot springs burst forth where he had stood. Since then they have been called after Kannya."
The spotted deer that roam within the Fort is one of the charming sights in Trincomalee. The herd had grown from a pair brought as pets in the early years of British rule. A few years back it was reported that the deer were dying. Feeding on the food thrown away by pilgrims the deer had consumed polythene sheets as well. The vets of the Wild Life Department had to perform operations to relieve the deer of their indisposition.
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