Tellingly, one of the first major public buildings to be rebuilt after the 2002 ceasefire was the Jaffna Public Library. The earlier library was burnt by pro-government mobs (some say forces) after the violence-ridden Jaffna District Council elections of July 1981. Few acts were more significant in the build-up to civil war: Jaffna residents had long considered their city to be one of Asia’s finest intellectual capitals, and the library was an important Tamil cultural centre and historic institution (it was inaugurated in 1841). Its destruction was interpreted as a cultural attack. The world-renowned collection had included more than 90,000 volumes, including irreplaceable Tamil documents such as the one surviving copy of Yalpanam Vaipavama, a history of Jaffna.
In its reconstruction, architects kept true to the original neo-Mughal design, and books were donated from around the world. Today it’s a bright, spacious place that is building itself up again, while a statue of Saraswati – Hinduism’s goddess of knowledge – sits out front.