The library was once one of the largest in Asia and a source of enormous pride for the Tamil community.
But the building was torched in 1981, during riots following the shooting of three Sinhalese police at a Tamil political rally. As result, almost 100,000 books were destroyed, including irreplaceable manuscripts written on palm leaves. A treasure trove of Tamil culture and history was lost forever.
Almost 20 years later, the library was fully rebuilt by the government.
However the restoration itself is generating controversy. Many local Tamils feel it is an attempt to whitewash the past, and believe the ruins should have remained as a permanent memorial.
Burning Memories – Documented by Mr.Someetharan. This is only a part. For full CD contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Culture Clash : Jaffna public Library
Vasu / June 1, 2012
This is again an evidence of our cultural demolition by SL chauvinistic state. We paid a lot as you see before staring our armed struggle. Today we have to talk not only about an ethnic cleansing, it is a cultural cleansing as well.
The building could be rebuilt, but the old books, plenty of them were unique, had only a copy, especially the aedus ( written in Palmera leaves )about literature, ayurvedic medicine and poems could not be repurchased and rewritten.
The perpetrators were not from criminal milieu, they were officially elected sinhala politicians from Govt. There are criminals. Only a uneducated ………. could burn books, don´t know the value of the education, independent from language in which there books were written. These people didn´t destroed us, they destroyed themselves
Renaming the Tamil names of roads, renaming the Tamil villages, manipulating the history, planned colonization, expelling Tamil people from their houses, creation of home guards and delivering arms for this grouphs, Everything is just normal in Sri Lanka!
w.m.k.Samarasekara / June 1, 2012
WHY THIS SORT OF DESCRIMINATION?
YOU DIDN’T OMIT THE CHANCE TO ELLOBORATE IN JAFFNA LIBRAIY.
BUT YOU PURPOSELY OMITED TO REMEMBER THE ARANTHALAWA BUDDHIST MONK ASSISINATION. DO YOU REMEMBER TO DAY IS THE 25 YEAR REMEMBERANCE OF ASSASINATATION OF 31 UN ARMED BUDDHIST MONKS BY LTTE TERORISTS. IF YOU TAKE IT IS THE SO SIMPLE THING TO NOT TO REMEMBER. WE WOULD NOT TAKE ANY PARDON OR FOGET.
Rory Winter / June 1, 2012
Chauvinists always confuse the LTTE with the Tamil people, conveniently forgetting that the LTTE was NOT supported by the entire Tamil community. In fact the Tamil community itself was terrorized by the LTTE whose only interest was power for itself.
This confusion is clearly deliberate because anyone with the slightest intelligence would understand that the Tamils were not the LTTE and the LTTE were not the Tamils.
WMKS uses the same tactic here to somehow justify the burning of the Jaffna Library, one of the wonders of the world. The finger-pointing tactic is a common one we all know is used to cover up guilt. It’s a tactic that no longer works … outside perhaps the mind of he who uses it.
There is NO excuse for the burning of the Jaffna library. It was an act of gross, racist vandalism which will be remembered in history together with the Nazis’ burning books in Hitler’s Third Reich.
Thrishantha / June 2, 2012
The value of a public library is known to people who value the culture around reading, writing, and free thought, but not to street thugs or unprofessional law enforcement officers with guns. I felt the shock of seeing my village library in Galle burnt down during riots after signing the Indo-Lanka peace accord. I went to the site and looked at the book shelf that held my first childhood romantic fiction – Lorna Doone. Then I looked at the place I read reader’s digest and Times magazines now in ash. I returned home in tears. I can imagine how somebody in Jaffna who used to cherish the memory of at least passing by those original palm manuscripts must have felt, for it should have been more than just reading and knowledge, but one closely woven with one’s cultural heritage. The shock for me is that 31 years have gone past. None of the Sri Lankan Governments dared to launch a credible investigation into this to find out the culprits. Maybe they are too well known that makes an investigation a joke? And, the renovation efforts could have left at least one room untouched in its burn down state to tell the sad story. In fact such a left over bit would have been an archive of books of our brutal past on it’s own. In my view, the best way to avoid this happening again is to teach all our children the value of books, documentation, and manuscripts to any ethnic group. May Sri Lanka be blessed with politicians who value these basic human traits in the future.
Kathir Puvanachandra / June 2, 2012
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for compiling the information on our beloved library. The old building and the new one when it was opened is still etched in my memory. The part that library played in the intellectual development of our community in general and mine in particular cannot be over emphasised.
The burning of the library is a blatant attempt at cultural genocide and compares well with what the Nazi’s did. One can call all Sri Lankan Tamils terrorists to manipulate the ” war on Terrorism ” to justify all the atrocities but the educated and rationally thinking people know who did what to the Tamils. LTTE is not Tamils and the world knows it. The views are changing. Poland became free and is now a democratic nation despite what was done to the people and the culture of that nation. So will Thamil Eelam be one day. Conceptually it is already a reality. Some how we have to build the library to its former status if at all possible. The Sinhala nation never understood the ethos that fuels the Tamil nation which is simply it’s desire to improve one’s intellectual capacity and enhance the level of education of the whole community. An otherwise peace loving nation was pushed into violence, an unfortunate blip in our rich history, but it was inevitable when such state sponsored pogroms were repeatedly unleashed on a community whose pre occupation was pursuit of knowledge and use it to the betterment of fellow beings.
William J Watson / May 15, 2013
Thanks for publishing this. I remembered the Jaffna Library tonight and searched online for its history and stumbled across this site. It brought tears to my eyes.