Saturday 29 February 2020
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1981, Jaffna Public Library and the Cruellest Cultural Genocide: A Holocaust staged by the Racist Sinhala Government 36 years ago

1981, Jaffna Public Library and the Cruellest Cultural Genocide: A Holocaust staged by the Racist Sinhala Government 36 years ago

The cruellest cultural Holocaust in the history of the ethnic conflict was staged on this day 36 years ago.

97,000 books and 1,800 Ola-manuscripts saw their last in blazing flames lighted by the UNP racist Ministers of that day and cruelest Goons they brought from the south, while a murderous curfew was in force. This unforgivable and unforgettable Anarchy had embedded itself as a historical record in the hearts of all Tamils.

History of the Library – Very Ancient

The Jaffna Library has a long history. During the period of the Jaffna King and one of the Sinkai Ariya Ckakawarthikal, Segarasasekaran (1380 -1414), a library had existed in the name of SARASWATHY MAHALAYAM. The scholars who came from India brought with the several volumes of books.   This is the first ever library of the North and considered to be the origin of the Jaffna Library which gained much glory in the later years to come.

The Secretary of High Court, F. C. Greenier opened a Public Library in 1842. This was not used widely. There was another library with in the Courts, used by only lawyers, it gradually went into un-use.

The concept of establishing a public Library was first suggested by a benevolent and learned personality, Chakkadaththar Ka. Mu. Chellappa from Puthur West in as early as 1933. When this concept was presented to other intellectuals they whole heartedly supported a move for establishing a public Library. They all met on 1934 June 9th and formed committee for this purpose consisting of Justice C.Kumarasamy as the chairman, Rev. Dr. Isac Thambaiah as the Vice-Chairman, C.Ponnambalam as the joint Secretary.  The untiring efforts of Ka. Mu. Chellappa brought in donations amounting to Rs.1,184.22. This amount served as the Initial Capital of the Library.

This Association came to be known as the Free Tamil Library Society, Jaffna (Ilavasa Thamizh Nool Nilaya Sangam). Lending section of this Library had 844 books. 150 books  out of this were newly purchased books. The 694 were donations from well-wishers, members and the public. Agents selling magazines and newspapers, provided free copies of them to the Library.

The Library inaugurated by Tha. Ka . Mu. Chellapa was taken over by the Jaffna Municipal Council  on 1st January 1935. A shop located on the Hospital Road to the south of Power House was rented and the Library started operating in it. Later a frontal shop in the Abubucker building was venue for the library. The Library was transferred from 1936 to the upper floor of Saiva Vidya Viruthy Sanagam lying to the south of the Jaffna Rest House renting it out from Puthur Mazhavarayar Family for a monthly rent of Rs.65/=.

When  the Jaffna local authority expanded into a Municipal Council in 1949, seeds of constructing a large Library which will reflect the Jaffna Culture was sawed by its Chairman and a Jaffna Central Library Board was formed.

jaffna public library 1

The esplanade south of the famous Muniyappar Kovil was selected as the location for the new Library. Foundation laying Ceremony was held on 29.03.1954. It is notable that British Ambassador for Ceylon, H.Y.Philip Crawl, and the First Secretary for the Indian Ambassador to Ceylon, Srisith Tharththasari participated in this event.

Then then Mayor was unable to complete the construction of the Library. However a later Mayor, Alfred Thuraiyappa, speedily completed one stage and declared the library open on 11.10.1959.

By the untiring efforts of groups consisting scholars and personalities in the likes of Rev. Fr. M.F.LKong, the then Rector of St.Patrick’s College, Jaffna and Sam Sabapathy  who was the Mayor of Jaffna in 1936, the library grew stage by stage , renovated  and with an addition of a new block , into  the glorious Position.

The burning of the Library

Gamini Dissanayake and Cyril Mathew, two most racist Ministers of the Cabinet of the First Executive President, J.R.Jayawardene descended on Jaffna with their goons from south for the sole purpose of destroying the legacy of Tamils, the Jaffna Library.

The Mayhem started by the UNP rulers with the intent of uprooting the aspirations for freedom and decimating  the education  commenced late in the night of May 31st  well   into the 1st of June.

Next on the agenda of the UNP Ministers to go under fire was the news Paper Eelanadu. It was bombed and burnt by the cohorts of the Ministers.

This was followed by a murder attempt on then MP of Jaffna V.Yogeswaran and his wife. However they succeeded in escaping the marauders but their house with belongings and their car were burnt down by the goons from the south.

Jaffna town was burned. The shops around the bus stand, notable among them was Poobalasingam Book Depot, TULF Head Office on the Main street, all were burned down systematically the Library being the main target. No one was allowed go near it till all were burnt to ashes, with the aid of an un-official curfew and Police standing guard around the library preventing any attempt to extinguish the fire.

Rev. Fr. David , a multi linguist of 36 languages who was watching the burning library dropped dead with a heart attack unable to bear this Cultural Genocide.


The people of Jaffna were informed into shock by Eelanadu printed in another press regarding high level state arson. They came in their hundred to see the Library in ashes and stand aghast.

Although a white-washing committee was appointed to inquire into the event of the day, and that committee recommended a compensation of Rs. 12 Million , the Government did not pay a single cent.

After 35 years,  Ranil Wickremasinghe accepted that the rulers burnt down the Library in the Parliament and apologized to Tamil people.

History will never forgive this cultural Genocide. While the Library will remain  a unique identity of the Eelam Tamils, likewise, the Burning down of the Library will remain a perpetual stain on the Sinhala race.

This article was originally written in Tamil by M. Eelaththamilmani and published in Uthayan Newspaper in Jaffna on 31 May 2017                                                                                                                                                                            

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