BATTICALOA, Sri Lanka, city of lagoons
Batticaloa, diagonally 300 km across from Colombo on the eastern coast has the centerpiece known for the ‘singing fish’ and together with a very fertile soil for any vegetation the Tamils who are a majority here call it ‘a land of the singing fish flowing with honey’. The name derives from the Tamil version meaning a flattened Muddy Swamp enveloping the lagoon. It’s regaining the age old lure after the 30 year old civil war in the country and more so a rise from the devastating Tsunami that struck in December 2004. The cosmopolitan populace of Batticaloa is hailed for their hospitality.
Whilst Tamil speaking community is predominant amongst them you would find Muslims, Malays and the Java (Indonesian) types who are all basically Islamists. Nevertheless concentrations of Islamic communities are settled in certain townships from Kathankudi to Kalmunai who have certain cultural genres specific and esoteric. So, there are numerous mosques to cater to this religious society, just as the temples would serve Hindus. Hence, the political and civic landscape in the district is multifarious and mixed although distinct lines are prevalent, showing during cultural and religious festivities. Nonetheless, unity among diversity is demonstrated often which makes life and culture pleasurable here. Many missions particularly the Jesuit Priests and Methodist Missions have left their indelible marks through their churches and more so by the Schools and institutions.
Of the ancient history of the district it is noted that Mukkuva an immigrated people group settled establishing villages. The names of the some villages and towns in Batticaloa still bear much evidence of this ancient Batticaloan settlers. The same could be said of them settling in Puttalam another coastal city in the western side of the Island above Negombo. However the records mention that the Sinhala Kings were benefited during regional wars as they helped as mercenaries. So were those soldiers of the South Indian Cheran (another of the three South Indian dynasties) Kings. From Cape Comorin (South India) a Dutch Admiral namely, Spitzburgen came passing the Southern Port Galle that was heavily fortified by the Portuguese, made for Batticaloa, where he finally anchored. Capitalizing on the rivalry between the Kandyan kings he gained access to the Royalty at Kandy, consolidating his presence against the Portuguese. Thus the Portuguese fort at Batticaloa was captured by the Dutch situated in an island, still preserved.
Tamils of Batticaloa too have distinct lingual difference in terminology and style, compared to the Tamils of other regions in Sri Lanka. Culture, traditions and socializing besides have salient features as the language. In fact Batticaloa Tamils are known for their exemplary performance in arts such as Drama, Song and Dance. The dance form is usually the South Indian Bharath Natyam together with folk styles as the Sinhalese have the Kandyan Dance and Sothern Dance forms for their repute. The ‘bow song’ is a specialty of the Batticaloans. Beside, mingling among the ‘Batti’ community are the Burghers (European mixed generation) and some of immigrant Chinese mix. As it is a coastal city, fishing is the way of life for the coastal folk. Batticaloa boasts of the tastiest crustaceans such as crabs, lobsters and prawns of the sea and lagoons, having a distinct flavour. The Batti preparations of dishes of these kinds too are much relished by the visitors.
The Batticaloa Lagoon (56 km long, 162 square km area) has within itself several islets the main ones being Puliayantheevu, Buffalo Island and Bone Island. Bridges built across the lagoon linking the landmasses and the islets make transport easier for trade and social mobility . The Puliayantheevu is the metropolitan place of the city. The biggest bridge of all is Lady Manning bridge located at Kallady (about 2 km from town), which is the main access path to the city from the southern places of the district and presumed to be the longest in Sri Lanka. This bridge is also famous for Singing fishes which was considered musical sounds heard in the Kallady lagoon in the full moon day. A priest named Father Lang recorded this musical marvel and broadcast it in the 1960s via the Radio Ceylon (SLBC, today). The lagoon in the center of the town also is a heaven for these singing fish. There is a another novelty in this lagoon for, Phosphorus floats on the surface of the water and any particle thrown on it a bright blue glow appears which is a pleasant sight in the night.
Batticaloa beaches are sandy and stretch along a 4 km coastline from the city and further extended through adjoining villages. Prominent and popular along this coast are Kallady beach, Pasikudah and Kalkudah which attract locals and foreigners. Pasikudah is a bay secluded from the ocean, and has a flat and sandy bed about 150 to 200 meters from the main shore. hence it is a preferred safe bathing spot for families especially during extreme hot seasons. So is Kalkudah too.
Batticaloa has both tropical wet and dry climates, ideal for rice and other crops together with livestock farming. Although temperate throughout the year from March to May is the warmest time o the year, the maximum temperature averages could reach just 320 C (880 F). However, during the monsoon season (November to February) heavy rains with strong gale is expected and the average temperature drops to15°C. So choose the necessary gear appropriately while travelling or bike riding. Biking is very popular in the region, from school kids to old men.
For tourists it would be more than an excitement if they could be at Arugam Bay, a few hours from Batticaloa, the most popular surf spot in Sri Lanka and one of the best in the world and it’s growing prominently in fame. The beach is flat year-round and possesses warm-water shallow-lagoons aptly complemented by inexpensive hotels and exclusive culinary delights.
As for the access to this amazing city, all modes of transport are available. Only that even though there is an airport, it is utilized for military purpose and there are plans afoot for this utility to be developed for cargo as well as passenger transport, in the near future The Batticaloa railway station is the terminus for the eastern line.