Manthai (Tamil: மாந்தை, romanized: Māntai) is a coastal town and an ancient harbor situated in the Mannar district, of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka.


Manthai is located in Northern Province
Coordinates: 8°59′22″N 79°59′53″E / 8.98944°N 79.99806°E / 8.98944; 79.99806
CountrySri Lanka
DS DivisionManthai West
 • Chairman(TNA)
Time zoneUTC+5:30 (Sri Lanka Standard Time Zone)

Historically known as Manthottam in Tamil or Manthota in Sinhalese, it is an important religious site in the island for the Hindus, due to the Ketheeswaram Kovil, one of the five Ishwarams dedicated to Shiva in the island.[1]


Manthai the present day name given by the locals for the town, is possibly a derivation from the ancient Tamil name Manthottam which may translate into Garden of the Deers.

The term Manthottam is mentioned in many ancient Tamil epics.[2] Sinhalese epics refer to both the town as well as the town of Mannar by the term Mahathittha.

The place was also known as Rajarajapuram when the northern part of Sri Lanka was ruled by Raja Raja Chola I in the 10th century AD as mentioned in an inscription of the Cholas found in Manthai.[3]


Ancient historyEdit

During the ancient period, Manthai was a center of international trade with trading contacts to the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, East Africa, Far East and Greater India as testified with archeological excavations.[4][5] Coins of the Pandyan dynasty and Chola dynasty of the Sangam period were discovered in Manthai.[6] With the likes of Arikamedu and Karaikadu of Tamil Nadu, Manthai was a major exporter of beads since the early first millennium AD.[7][8] The Kuruntokai of Sangam literature mentions the Chera king Kuttuvan of Manthai, suggesting that Manthai was ruled by Senkuttuvan.[9]

It is believed that Vijaya, the first Sinhalese in the island, landed at Manthai during the 5th Century BC.

According to Dr. Paul E. Peiris, an erudite scholar and historian, Thiruketheeswaram in Manthai was one of the five recognized Eeswarams of Siva in Lanka very long before the arrival of Vijaya in 600 B.C [10]

Rule of the CholasEdit

During the reign of the Cholas, between the 10th and 11th Centuries C.E., the town had developed into a major port, with many highways and served as an important link between the island and the mainland Chola kingdom.[11]

Somewhere around 1070, Manthai, which was a thriving Chola seaport town came under attack from Vijayabahu, a Sinhalese monarch leading a military campaign to expel the Cholas from the island. The Cholas, who by then had lost control of most of the island, withdrew from Manthoddam, thus ending their century-long rule in the island. Under the rule of Raja Raja Chola I and his son Rajendra Chola I, was a Shaivite Hindu temple built known as Rajaraja Ishwaram Kovil, named after the king.[12]

Buried cityEdit

Mathoddam is currently viewed as the only port on the island that could be called a "buried city," with much of the ancient ruins under sand today. The existence of the Thiruketheeswaram temple attests to the antiquity of the port. Manthoddam finds mention as "one of the greatest ports" on the seaboard between the island and Tamilakam in the Tamil Sangam literature of the classical period (600 BCE - 300 CE).[2]

Historical SitesEdit

Thiruketheeswaram templeEdit

The Ketheeswaram temple situated at Manthai, is one of the five major Saiva temples in the island and among the 275 Paadal Petra Sthalams of Lord Shiva in the continent. The temple remains as a significant religious center for the Hindus in the country.

The shrine's initial installment is credited to the indigenous Karaiyar Naga tribe, The Karaiyars claimed to be related to several classical period public figures hailing from the international port town, including the creator of the oldest extant Tamil literature by a Sri Lankan Tamil, the Sangam poet Eelattu Poothanthevanar.[13][14] Though there has been no substantial confirmations regarding the temple's original date of construction, the shrine is believed to have existed for possibly more than 2400 years together, with inspirational and literary evidence of the postclassical era ( 600BC - 1500AD) attesting to the shrine's classical antiquity.[10]

The temple along with other major Hindu and Buddhist shrines of worship, was destroyed by the Portuguese conquests of the late 16th century and its very stones were used to build the Mannar fort, a Catholic church and the Hammershield Fort at Kayts.

The local Tamils under the urging of the famous Hindu reformer Arumuka Navalar rebuilt the present-day temple at its original site. Since outbreak of the Sri Lankan Civil War, the town and the temple has come under the occupation of the Sri Lankan military.

Palavi TankEdit

The Palavi Theertham is a tank situated near the Thiruketheeswaram temple.

The Palavi tank is prospered by the river Palavi, which had been the outlet of Matale waters via Malwattu Oya and other natural waterways of the extensive basin. The sacred Palavi Theertham which was described in ancient Tamil hymns as sacred as the river Ganges, is used by the Hindus to offer rites and rituals for their ancestors.

An effigy of Lord Ketheeswarar is immersed in the scared tank as a part of the ritual bath, during the annual temple festival.


The town is situated on the A32 Highway that runs between Mannar and Jaffna. The town of Adampan is located 5 km east of Manthai. Other towns in close proximity are Vankalai, Uyilankulam, Achchankulam, Andankulam etc.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Arumugam pp-15
  2. ^ a b Perera
  3. ^ Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka. Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka. 1992. p. 114.
  4. ^ Cassie Chetty, Simon
  5. ^ Jacq-Hergoualc'h, Micheal (2002). The Malay Peninsula: Crossroads of the Maritime Silk-Road (100 Bc-1300 Ad). BRILL. p. 277. ISBN 9004119736.
  6. ^ Lanka), National Museum of Colombo (Sri; Kiruṣṇamūrtti, Irā; Vikramasiṃha, Senarat (2005). A Catalogue of the Sangam Age Pandya and Chola Coins in the National Museum, Colombo, Sri Lanka. Department of the National Museums. p. 14. ISBN 9789555780179.
  7. ^ Heitzman, Associate Professor Department of History James; Heitzman, James (2008-03-31). The City in South Asia. Routledge. p. 82. ISBN 9781134289639.
  8. ^ Francis, Peter (2002). Asia's Maritime Bead Trade: 300 B.C. to the Present. University of Hawaii Press. p. 31. ISBN 9780824823320.
  9. ^ Pillay, Kolappa Pillay Kanakasabhapathi (1963). South India and Ceylon. University of Madras. p. 33.
  10. ^ a b PaulEPieres, 1917
  11. ^ Sastri, pp 172–173
  12. ^ Seneviratna, Anuradha; Depārtamēntuva, Sri Lanka Purāvidyā (1998). Polonnaruva, medieval capital of Sri Lanka: an illustrated survey of ancient monuments. Archaeological Survey Dept. p. 34. ISBN 9789559159032.
  13. ^ Xavier, J.T. (1977). “The Land of Letters”. 8-13
  14. ^ Muthuthampipillai. (1915). 56


  • K.A. Nilakanta Sastri, K.A (2000) [1935]. The CōĻas. Madras: University of Madras.
  • Arumugam, S (1980). "The Lord of Thiruketheeswaram, an ancient Hindu sthalam of hoary antiquity in Sri Lanka". Colombo: 15. OCLC 10020492. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  • Dr.Paul E.Pieris declared in 1917, at a meeting of the Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch), there was in Lanka five recognized ‘Eeswararns’ of Siva, which claimed and received adoration of all India. These were Tiruketheeswaram near Manthottam, Munneswaram, Thondeswaram, Tirukoneswaram and Naguleswaram. Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch)
  • Perera, B.J. “Although Mahathitha (Mathoddam) is first mentioned in connection with the landing of Vijaya’s second wife, a royal princess from the Pandyan Kingdom, there is no doubt that it was used as port by the Tamils long before the Aryan settlement in Ceylon. The existence of the Temple Tiruketheeswaram, the origin of which is not covered by existing records, is an indication of the antiquity of the port. Indeed Mahathitta is the only port in the Island which can be called a buried city. Mahathittha was a great port in the early centuries of the common era. Next we have the references in the Sangam literature of the Tamils describing Mahathitta as a great port.”