History of Northern Province, Sri Lanka

Northern Province
வட மாகாணம்
උතුරු පළාත

Sunset over a lagoon
Official logo of Northern Province

Location within Sri Lanka

Coordinates: 09°12′N 80°25′E / 9.200°N 80.417°E / 9.200; 80.417Coordinates: 09°12′N 80°25′E / 9.200°N 80.417°E / 9.200; 80.417

Country Sri Lanka
Created 1 October 1833
Provincial council 14 November 1987
Capital Jaffna
Largest City Vavuniya
 • Type Provincial council
 • Body Northern Provincial Council
 • Governor Major General G. A. Chandrasiri
 • Chief Minister Elect C. V. Vigneswaran
 • Total 8,884 km2 (3,430 sq mi)
 • Land 8,290 km2 (3,200 sq mi)
Area rank 3rd (13.54% of total area)
Population (2012 census)[2]
 • Total 1,058,762
 • Rank 9th (5.22% of total pop.)
 • Density 120/km2 (310/sq mi)
Ethnicity(2012 census)[2]
 • Sri Lankan Tamil 987,692 (93.29%)
 • Sri Lankan Moors 32,364 (3.06%)
 • Sinhalese 32,331 (3.05%)
 • Indian Tamil 6,049 (0.57%)
 • Other 326 (0.03%)
Religion(2012 census)[3]
 • Hindu 789,362 (74.56%)
 • Christian 204,005 (19.27%)
 • Muslim 34,040 (3.22%)
 • Buddhist 30,387 (2.87%)
 • Other 968 (0.09%)
Time zone Sri Lanka (UTC+05:30)
Post Codes 40000-45999
Telephone Codes 021, 023, 024
ISO 3166 code LK-4
Vehicle registration NP
Official Languages Tamil, Sinhala
Flower Kaanthal
Tree Maruthu
Bird Seven sisters
Animal Male deer

The Northern Province (Tamil: வட மாகாணம் Vaṭakku Mākāṇam; Sinhala: උතුරු පළාත Uturu Paḷāta) is one of the nine provinces of Sri Lanka. The provinces have existed since the 19th century but did not have any legal status until 1987 when the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka established provincial councils.[4][5] Between 1988 and 2006 the province was temporarily merged with the Eastern Province to form the North Eastern Province. The capital of the province is Jaffna. The Sri Lankan Civil War had its roots in this province. It is also known as Sri Lanka's Tamil country.[6]


Parts of present day Northern Province were part of the pre-colonial Jaffna kingdom.[7] Other parts were ruled by Vanniar Chieftains who paid tribute to the Jaffna kingdom. The province then came under Portuguese, Dutch and British control. In 1815 the British gained control of the entire island of Ceylon. They divided the island into three ethnic based administrative structures: Low Country Sinhalese, Kandyan Sinhalese and Tamil. The Northern Province was part of the Tamil administration. In 1833, in accordance with the recommendations of the Colebrooke-Cameron Commission, the ethnic based administrative structures were unified into a single administration divided into five geographic provinces.[8] The districts of Jaffna, Mannar, Nuvarakalaviya (present day Anuradhapura District) and Vanni formed the new Northern Province.[9] Nuvarakalaviya was transferred to the newly created North Central Province in 1873.[10]

The Indo-Lanka Accord signed on 29 July 1987 required the Sri Lankan government to devolve powers to the provinces and, in the interim, to merge the Northern and Eastern provinces into one administrative unit. The accord required a referendum to be held by 31 December 1988 in the Eastern Province to decide whether the merger should be permanent. Crucially, the accord allowed the Sri Lankan president to postpone the referendum at his discretion.[11]

On 14 November 1987 the Sri Lankan Parliament passed the 13th Amendment to the 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka and the Provincial Councils Act No 42 of 1987, establishing provincial councils.[5][12] On September 2 and 8 1988 President Jayewardene issued proclamations enabling the Northern and Eastern provinces to be one administrative unit administered by one elected Council.[13] The North-East Province was born.

The proclamations were only meant to be a temporary measure until a referendum was held in the Eastern Province on a permanent merger between the two provinces. However, the referendum was never held and successive Sri Lankan presidents issued proclamations annually extending the life of the "temporary" entity.[14]

The merger was bitterly opposed by Sri Lankan nationalists. The combined North-East Province occupied one fourth of Sri Lanka. The thought of the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam controlling this province, directly or indirectly, alarmed them greatly. On 14 July 2006, after a long campaign against the merger, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna political party filed three separate petitions with the Supreme Court requesting a separate provincial council for the East.[13] On 16 October 2006 the Supreme Court ruled that the proclamations issued by President Jayewardene were null and void and had no legal effect.[13] The North-East Province was formally de-merged into the Northern and Eastern provinces on 1 January 2007.

Much of the Northern Province was under the control of rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam for many years during the civil war. The entire province was recaptured by the Sri Lankan military in 2009.


Northern Province is located in the north of Sri Lanka and is just 22 miles (35 km) from India. It is connected with Indian mainland by mythical Adam's Bridge (also known as Sethu Paalam or Rama's Bridge). It has an area of 8,884 square kilometres (3,430 sq mi).[1]

The province is surrounded by the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Bay to the west, Palk Strait to the north west, the Bay of Bengal to the north and east and the Eastern, North Central and North Western provinces to the south.

The province is divided into two distinct geographic areas: Jaffna peninsula and the Vanni. Jaffna peninsula is irrigated by underground aquifers fed by wells whereas the Vanni has irrigation tanks fed by perennial rivers. Major rivers include: Akkarayan Aru, Aruvi Aru, Kanakarayan Aru, Kodalikkallu Aru, Mandekal Aru, Nay Aru, Netheli Aru, Pali Aru, Pallavarayankaddu Aru, Parangi Aru, Per Aru, Piramenthal Aru, Theravil Aru.

The province has a number of lagoons, the largest being Jaffna Lagoon, Nanthi Kadal, Chundikkulam Lagoon, Vadamarachchi Lagoon, Uppu Aru Lagoon, Kokkilai lagoon, Nai Aru Lagoon and Chalai Lagoon.

Most of the islands around Sri Lanka are to be found to the west of the Northern Province. The largest islands are: Velanaitivu (Kayts), Neduntivu (Delft), Karaitivu, Pungudutivu and Mandativu.

Northern Province is covered in tropical forests, with numerous rivers flowing through them. The north-west coast is part of the deep Cauvery (Kaveri) River Basin of south-east India, which has been collecting sediments from the highlands of India and Sri Lanka since the breakup of Gondwanaland.

Climate and weather

Sri Lanka enjoys a typical tropical monsoonal climate. The Northern Province tends to be hot and dry in the dry season (February to September), and moderately cool and wet in the wet season (October to January). The province's climate is of the tropical kind and therefore during monsoons there is always the chance of a deluge. In the lowlands the climate is typically tropical with the average temperature is around 28° to 30° for the year. However, on the whole, January is the coolest month and May is the hottest month. Relative Humidity varies from 70% during the day to 90% at night. The Dry Zone of the Sri Lanka is the north and east of the island, this region is affected by the north east monsoon(December to March) and southwest monsoon (June to October). It is thought to be dry because most of the rains fall during the north-east monsoon.

Annual rainfall is less than 1250 mm in the north west and south east of the Inland. It has two rainy seasons South West Monsoon- May to August, North East Monsoon- November to February.[15]

Administrative units, cities and towns

Administrative units

The Northern Province is divided into five administrative districts, 33 Divisional Secretary's Divisions (DS Divisions) and 912 Grama Niladhari Divisions (GN Divisions).

Population (2012 Census)[2] Population
Sri Lankan Tamil Sri Lankan Moors Sinhalese Indian Tamil Other Total
Jaffna 15 435 1,025 929 577,246 2,139 3,366 499 128 583,378 569
Kilinochchi 4 95 1,279 1,205 109,528 678 962 1,682 25 112,875 88
Mannar 5 153 1,996 1,880 80,568 16,087 1,961 394 41 99,051 50
Mullaitivu 5 127 2,617 2,415 79,081 1,760 8,851 2,182 73 91,947 35
Vavuniya 4 102 1,967 1,861 141,269 11,700 17,191 1,292 59 171,511 87
Total 33 912 8,884 8,290 987,692 32,364 32,331 6,049 326 1,058,762 119

Major cities and towns

Rank City/town District Population
(2012 est)[16]
1 Vavuniya Vavuniya 99,653
2 Jaffna Jaffna 88,138
3 Chavakacheri Jaffna 41,407
4 Mannar Mannar 35,817
5 Point Pedro Jaffna 31,351
6 Valvettithurai Jaffna 27,210



The Northern province's population was 1,058,762 in 2012.[2] The majority of the population are Sri Lankan Tamil, with a minority Sri Lankan Moor and Sinhalese population.

The population of the province, like that of the Eastern Province, was heavily affected by the civil war. The war killed an estimated 100,000 people.[17] Several hundred thousand Sri Lankan Tamils, possibly as much as one million, emigrated to the West during the war.[18] Many Sri Lankan Tamils also moved to the relative safety of the capital Colombo. Most of the Sri Lankan Moors and Sinhalese who lived in the province fled to other parts of Sri Lanka or were forcibly expelled by the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, though most of them have returned to the province since the end of the civil war.


Population of Northern Province by ethnic group 1881 to 2012[2][19][20]
Year Tamil[21] Muslim[22] Sinhalese Other Total
No. % No. % No. % No. %
1881 Census 289,481 95.70% 10,416 3.44% 1,379 0.46% 1,224 0.41% 302,500
1891 Census 304,355 95.32% 11,831 3.71% 1,922 0.60% 1,188 0.37% 319,296
1901 Census 326,379 95.73% 11,862 3.48% 1,555 0.46% 1,140 0.33% 340,936
1911 Census 352,698 95.41% 12,818 3.47% 2,890 0.78% 1,245 0.34% 369,651
1921 Census 356,801 95.19% 13,095 3.49% 3,795 1.01% 1,138 0.30% 374,829
1946 Census 449,958 93.82% 18,183 3.79% 9,602 2.00% 1,829 0.38% 479,572
1963 Census 689,470 92.93% 30,760 4.15% 20,270 2.73% 1,410 0.19% 741,910
1971 Census 799,406 91.07% 37,855 4.31% 39,511 4.50% 996 0.11% 877,768
1981 Census 1,021,006 92.03% 50,991 4.60% 35,128 3.17% 2,279 0.21% 1,109,404
2000 Estimate n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a 1,085,478
2001 Estimate[23] n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a 1,111,741
2002 Estimate n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a 1,109,182
2003 Estimate n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a 1,118,753
2004 Estimate n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a 1,131,854
2005 Estimate n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a 1,206,326
2006 Estimate n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a 1,350,961
2007 Estimate 1,277,567 97.39% 20,583 1.57% 13,626 1.04% 0 0.00% 1,311,776
2008 Estimate[24] 1,022,431 96.90% 19,184 1.82% 13,492 1.28% 50 0.00% 1,055,157
2009 Estimate[25] 943,312 95.68% 26,304 2.67% 16,240 1.65% 0 0.00% 985,856
2011 Enumeration 942,824 94.49% 32,659 3.27% 21,860 2.19% 411 0.04% 997,754
2012 Census 993,741 93.86% 32,364 3.06% 32,331 3.05% 326 0.03% 1,058,762


Population of Northern Province by religion 1981 to 2012[3][19][26]
Year Hindu Christian[27] Muslim Buddhist Other Total
No. % No. % No. % No. % No. %
1981 Census 860,281 77.54% 169,004 14.19% 54,534 4.92% 25,281 2.28% 304 0.03% 1,109,404
2011 Enumeration 755,066 75.68% 187,663 18.81% 33,185 3.33% 20,451 2.05% 1,389 0.14% 997,754
2012 Census 789,362 74.56% 204,005 19.27% 34,040 3.22% 30,387 2.87% 968 0.09% 1,058,762

Government and politics

According to the 13th Amendment to the 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka, The Governor is the Constitutional head of the province while the Chief Minister is the head of the government and the head of the council of ministers. The Chief Justice of the High Court is the head of the judiciary.

The Parliamentary representatives from the province are elected through

Provincial Government is not is functioning in Northern Province at present. It is ruled directly from the Central government. Most of the governors were retired army generals.

  • Major General G.A. Chandrasiri was sworn in as the Governor of Northern Province with effect 12 July 2009. Local political parties are pushing for more autonomy for the province. Vast executive powers held by the governors who are appointed by the President, is the drawback of the provincial council. According to the 13th Amendment to the 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka, High courts should be set up in each province and police and land powers should be granted to provincial governments. But these specifications are not in effect currently.

Provincial council

The 13th Amendment to the 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka established provincial councils. The first elections for provincial councils took place on 28 April 1988 in North Central, North Western, Sabaragamuwa, and Uva provinces.[28]

Elections in the newly merged North-East Province were scheduled for 19 November 1988. However, the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), which at that time occupied the North-East Province, rigged the elections in the north so that the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) and Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front (ENDLF), two Indian backed paramilitary groups, won all of the 36 seats in the north uncontested.[29] However, elections did take place for the 35 seats in the east. The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress won 17 seats, EPRLF 12 seats, ENDLF 5 seats and the United National Party 1 seat. On 10 December 1988 Annamalai Varatharajah Perumal of the EPRLF became the first Chief Minister of the North-East Provincial Council.[29]

On 1 March 1990, just as the IPKF were preparing to withdraw from Sri Lanka, Permual moved a motion in the North-East Provincial Council declaraing an independent Eelam.[30] President Premadasa reacted to Permual's UDI by dissolving the provincial council and imposing direct rule on the province.

The north-east was ruled directly from Colombo until May 2008 when elections were held in the demerged Eastern Province. However, the Northern Province continues to be ruled from Colombo. More than 20 years after the introduction of provincial councils the people of the Northern Province remain the only ones in Sri Lanka who have never a cast a vote to elect their provincial council. This is despite the fact that the provincial councils were only established to satisfy the demands for autonomy by the Tamils, the majority of whom live in the Northern Province.

Political parties

Major Political parties in the province are Tamil National Alliance or also known as Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi, DTNA, United National Party, Sri Lanka Freedom Party and EPDP.


Majority of the people earn their livelihood as farmers, fishers and professionals in the civil and business sectors. Small scale industry such as chemical, light manufacturing and textiles were present before the civil war.

Northern Province being an agricultural dominant province, where agricultural sector is 25.9% and trade sector comes next to it is 19.3%. Most of the people engaged in service sector covering 31.2% of the total.[31]

Gross State Domestic Product in Rs. Crores and Current Prices[31]

Year GSDP Change Share of Sri Lanka
2001 29,490 Increase % Increase 2.37%
2002 37,400 Increase % Increase 2.67%
2003 43,123 Increase % Increase 2.76%
2004 52,988 Increase % Increase 2.94%
2005 64,004 Increase % Increase 3.05%
2006 72,722 Increase % Decrease 2.93%


Transport infrastructure in the province is poorly developed and limits economic activity. Most people still use bullock carts for transportation.


Major roads in Province are divided into two categories:

  • A Class roads or National Highways - Maintained and controlled by Central Government.
  • B Class roads or Provincial Highways - Maintained and controlled by Provincial Government.

There are number of underdeveloped C and D Class roads in the province.


Sri Lanka Railways operates the country’s railway network, including the Northern Line and the Mannar Line, in the Northern Province.

Most of the railways were developed during the British colonial period.

The railway lines between Vavuniya, Jaffna, and Kankesanthurai and between Medawachchiya and Talaimannar were destroyed during the civil war. Currently the Northern Line operates south of Omanthai, while the Mannar Line operates between Medawachchiya and Madhu Road. Both lines are under reconstruction to restore the original network and upgrade the operating technology used.[32][33]


Airways and airports are underdeveloped in this province. Palaly Airport is the primary airport in the province, once an international airport that had regular passenger flight service to Colombo and Trichirapalli, India. It is under the control of the Sri Lanka Navy now. Daily flights between Colombo and Jaffna are available. There are a few small airports and airstrips in Vavuniya and Iranamadu.


The Northern Province has one university, the University of Jaffna which became independent in 1979, previously having been a campus of the University of Sri Lanka since 1974.[34] The university has approximately 7,000 students. The province is known for its institutions of education, many of which were established by Christian missionaries.

Total Schools of Northern Province (1981) and (2006)
Districts No. of Schools (1981) No. of Schools (2006)
Jaffna 488 410
Kilinochchi 85 96
Mannar 105 95
Vavuniya 183 188
Mullaitivu 100 103


The first newspaper in Jaffna, Uthayatharakai (Morning Star) was published in 1841 by C.W. Thamotharampillai[35] By the 1940s, daily newspapers had already been started Eelakesari and Virakesari in 1930 and Thinakaran in 1932 and journals committed to the growth of modernistic, socially purposive literature Bharati and Marumalarchi in 1946 had also started coming out.

Few newspapers are published in the province now in the principal language of Tamil. None in English and Sinhala. Before the Civil war commenced dozens of newspapers and magazines were published. Press freedom is limited and mostly censored by Government and Pro-government paramilitaries.[36] Now most of the Tamil, English, Sinhala magazines come from Colombo and Chennai, India.

References & footnotes

External links

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and USA.gov, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for USA.gov and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.