The Koneswaram Temple in Trincomalee on the east coast of Sri Lanka lies on a high rocky promontory surrounded on three sides by the sea, and has a history spanning three millennia.
This beautiful and historical Hindu monument is what remains of what once was a sprawling temple city equal to the ancient city of Madurai, in India, and takes its name from the main deity of the temple, the Hindu God Shiva.
Koneswaram was one of the five Eeshwarams that dominated the ancient landscape of Sri Lanka, according to the 16th Century Portuguese historian Diogo de Couto, and the original temple city complex covered most of Trincomalee as it is now.
The pilgrimage path was 225km long and was traditionally travelled by foot. There were separate shrines and temples for gods and goddesses like Ganesha, Padrakali, Vishnu/Thirumal, Shakthi, Suryan (Sun), Murukan and also King Ravana.
The main temple of Koneswaram was created, on the summit of the rocky promontory, with hard black granite (Karungal) which was skillfully carved with classical temple bas relief sculptures by Indian temple architects and sculptors.
One of its finest features was its thousand-pillared hall, which was used to host religious and cultural events. The hall was so famous that the Portuguese who visited temple called it the Temple of a Thousand Pillars.
The fame of Koneswaram continued to rise through the next millennium. The temple was one of only two non-Indian temples that were praised by the great 6th century AD Hindu poet-saint Sambandhar in his Tevarams, the other temple Thiruketheeshwaram also being in Sri Lanka.
Records from the Kingdom of Anuradhapura in the 4th to 7th century AD and the Kingdom of Jaffna which rose between the 12th and 17th centuries AD; as well as records from the Chola, Pallava and Pandya Kingdoms of India show that kings from over a millennia both donated, contributed and made renovations for Koneswaram.
Koneswaram was destroyed on the 14th of April 1622, during the Tamil New Year Day festival massacring many devotees who had been attending the religious ceremonies.
The bare promontory was later called Swami’s Rock. During the Dutch era, no ceremonies were allowed on the rock, but the British revoked the ban, and pilgrims once again trod the land as they did for many millennia.
By the mid 19th century the site was once again famous as worshippers gave their offerings and prayers to the ruins of the temple in the sea below.
The temple is reached by a long road which was once part of the original pilgrimage path. The entrance has a huge old arch which appears to be from the time of the Portuguese.