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Munneswaram temple (Tamil: முன்னேசுவரம் கோயில்) is an important regional Hindu temple complex in Sri Lanka. It has been in existence at least since 1000 CE, although myths surrounding the temple associate it with the popular Indian epic Ramayana, and its legendary hero-king Rama. The temple is one of five ancient temples (Ishwarams) dedicated to Shiva in the region.

The temple complex is a collection of five temples, including a Buddhist temple. The central temple dedicated to Shiva (Siva) is the most prestigious and biggest, and is popular amongst Hindus. The other temples are dedicated to Ganesha, Ayyanayake and Kali. The Kali temple is also popular with Buddhists and Roman Catholics who frequent the complex. Post-19th century, most of the devotees of all temples in the complex belong to the majority Sinhala Buddhist ethnic group; the temples, excluding the Ayyanayake and the Buddhist temple, are administered by families belonging to the minority Hindu Tamils.

The temple is located in Munneswaram, a village with mixed Sinhala and Tamil population situated in the historic Demala Pattuva ("Tamil division") region in the Puttalam District. The main Shiva temple owns extensive property in the surrounding villages, ownership of which was affirmed when the region was part of the medieval Kotte Kingdom. The temple was destroyed twice by the Portuguese colonial officers, who handed over the properties to the Jesuits. Although the Jesuits built a Catholic chapel over the temple foundation, locals reconstructed the temple both times. Due to religious and demographic change after the late 18th century, most surrounding villages and towns are not directly associated with the temple administration and maintenance. However, the villages of Maradankulama and Udappu are associated with organizing the main temple festival.

The main festivals celebrated at the temple include Navarathri and Sivarathri. The former is a nine-day long festival in honour of the presiding Goddess, while the latter is an overnight observation in honour of Lord Shiva. In addition to these two Hindu festivals, the temple has a festival of its own, the Munneswaram festival, a four-week long event attended by Hindus, Buddhists, Catholics, and Muslims.


Timeline of Munneswaram temple                      (1000-1963)

Founded as a village guardian shrine to Munisvaran(1000)

Temple converted into a Siva temple                              (????)

The Siva temple issues its own coins                             (1100)

Renovations by Parakrama Bahu VI                 (1450 or 1453)

Renovations by Parakrama Bahu IX                    (1509 - 1528)

Destroyed by the Portuguese                                            (1578)

Rebuilt by Rajasinghe I.                                                       (????)

Second destruction by the Portuguese.                          (1600)

Restored by Pattuva Villagers                                            (???? )

Renovations by Kirti Sri Rajasinghe                                 (1753)

Renovations by Cumarasamy Kurukkal                           (1875)

Renovations by concerned Tamils.                     (1919 & 1963)

Animal sacrfices banned                                                    (2011)

Munneswaram temple is situated in Munneswaram village, the center of the spiritual and religious life of the people dwelling in a medieval administrative division called Munneswaram Pattuva ("Munneswaram division"). For most of the temple's existence, Munneswaram Pattuva has had over 60 villages for which Maradankulama provided political leadership. The Pattuva belonged to an even bigger medieval division called Demala Pattuva ruled by semi-independent Tamil chiefs subject to Sinhalese kingdoms.[3] The presiding deity is called Sri Munnainathar ("Lord of antiquity" alluding to its ancient roots) and the goddess is called Sri Vativampika Devi ("goddess of beautiful form" another name for Mother goddess Ambal)

The temple has historically been associated with the nearby pearling and fishing town of Chilaw, as well as the landed gentry of the surrounding villages who provided the resources to maintain the temple. Proximity to the trading routes and to the port provided an opportunity for transmission of ideas and people from India to Sri Lanka. The Pattuva has many temples dedicated to the higher echelons of Hindu or Buddhist deities, and to village guardian deities such Ayyanar or Ayyanayake, Viramunda, Kadavara and Bandara. Anthropologist Rohan Bastin speculates that the main Siva temple was once a minor shrine dedicated to village guardian deity Munisvaran that was transformed into a major Siva temple due to royal patronage. The temple was already an established temple by the 11th century CE, as it had issued coins by then.  The temple began under the patronage of Pattuva chiefs and was probably constructed during the early part of the 10th century CE. A ferry transported traders, pilgrims and chroniclers such as Ibn Battuta from Tenavaram temple, Tevan Thurai to the Chera and Chola kingdoms of Tamilakam, stopping at Puttalam of the Jaffna kingdom and sailing the Gulf of Mannar during the 14th century CE.

The Siva temple is historically attested in grants and in local literature. The Kali temple is a popular sorcery and cursing shrine associated with animal sacrifices and spirit possession. Spirit possession of devotees was noted by the Jesuit priests who left behind records of it in the 16th century. The temple dedicated to the Sinhala deity Ayyanayake (Aiyyanar to the Tamils) is administered by a local Sinhalese family.[9] The Buddhist temple Pushparamaya Vihara is a post-19th century CE addition. The Ganesha temple, located to the south west of the main temple is the newest amongst the Hindu temples and was built during the early 19th century by artisans from South India.

Munneswaram, along with Koneswaram (Trincomalee), Naguleswaram (Keerimalai), Thiruketheeshwaram (Mannar) and Rameswaram (India), forms the five ancient temples (Ishwarams) dedicated to Shiva in the region including Sri Lanka.

Renovation and destruction,


The first known reconstruction of the temple was recorded in a grant made by Kotte Kingdom King Parakrakrama Bahu VI (1412/1415 - 1467). The grant was made in Grantha script in Sanskrit. In his thirty-eighth regnal year (1450 or 1453) he summoned the chief priest of the temple, Vijasamagava Panditha(r), and reaffirmed the lands that had belonged to the Siva temple. The villages mentioned as belonging to the temple are Ilupaideni(ya), Kottaipitti and Tittakatai. Revenue accrued from this land grant was exempt from tax. The grant was inscribed on a granite slab and installed as part of the renovated temple.  The conquest of Jaffna kingdom by Sapumal Kumaraya, a military leader sent by the Kotte king in 1450, was celebrated in the Kokila Sandesaya ("Message carried by Kokila bird") written in the 15th century by the principal monk of the Irugalkula Tilaka Pirivena in Mulgirigala. The book contains a contemporary description of the country traversed by the road taken by the cookoo bird, from Tenavaram, Tevan Thurai (referred to as Devi Nuwara - "City of Gods") in the south to Nallur ("Beautiful City") in the North of Sri Lanka. It mentions the Munneswaram temple.  The second set of grants to be recorded were by another Kotte King, Parakramabahu IX (1509–1528), who donated extensive lands to the temple and recorded the deed in a copper plate inscription.

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