Nainativu, a small yet significant island located off the coast of the Jaffna Peninsula in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka, is steeped in folklore and historical significance. The name of the island, “Nainativu,” is derived from its legendary inhabitants, the Naga people.

Reaching the island requires a 20-minute boat trip from Jaffna town, with passenger boats departing approximately every 15 minutes during the day. Prior to reaching Nainativu, travelers must cross several islands via causeways and roads, taking about an hour. Along the way, visitors may explore Chatty beach and other islands, encountering colorful Hindu temples and architectural churches that add to the charm of the journey.

Nainativu is renowned for its Nagapooshani Hindu temple, dedicated to Nagapooshani, the consort of Lord Shiva. With a history spanning over a thousand years, this temple features a towering structure visible from several kilometers away. The temple’s architectural splendor, adorned with colorful sculptures, is a captivating sight. Additionally, the temple offers daily free meals, ensuring that no one in the village suffers from hunger. While historical records indicate that thousands of pilgrims from South India visited the temple annually in the past, nowadays, the yearly festival primarily attracts locals.

The island also hosts the Nagadeepa Buddha temple, which holds significance for Buddhists. According to Buddhist tradition, Lord Buddha visited Sri Lanka three times from India, and Nainativu was privileged to receive him during one of these visits, purportedly to settle a dispute between two rival factions.

Historical documents refer to Nainativu as “NakaTivu” or “Naka Nadu,” denoting the entire Jaffna peninsula. Buddhist myths associated with the island recount interactions with Lord Buddha, as described in Tamil Jain and Buddhist epics such as Kundalakesi and Manimekalai. These texts mention Manipallavam, an islet of Naka Nadu (Jaffna peninsula), visited by merchants seeking gems and conch shells. The Mahavamsa and Manimekhalai further describe Buddha resolving a dispute between two Naga princes over a gem-set throne seat on an island identified as Nainativu by scholars.

A 12th-century Tamil inscription at the Nainativu Hindu temple by King Parâkramabâhu I mentions the obligation to protect foreigners landing at new ports and stipulates that a portion of cargo from shipwrecked vessels carrying elephants and horses must go to the treasury.

Nainativu’s rich history, intertwined with folklore and religious significance, makes it a captivating destination for travelers seeking to explore Sri Lanka’s cultural heritage.