Trincomalee is the administrative headquarters of the Trincomalee District and major resort port city of Eastern Province, Sri Lanka. Located on the east coast of the island overlooking the Trincomalee Harbour, 113 miles south of Jaffna and 69 miles north of Batticaloa, Trincomalee has been one of the main centres of Tamil language speaking culture on the island for over two millennia. With a population of 99,135, the city is built on a peninsula of the same name, which divides its inner and outer harbours. People from Trincomalee are known as Trincomalians and the local authority is Trincomalee Urban Council. Trincomalee city is home to the famous Koneswaram temple alluded to in its historic Tamil name Thirukonamalai and is home to other historical monuments such as the Bhadrakali Amman Temple, Trincomalee, the Trincomalee Hindu Cultural Hall and, opened in 1897, the Trincomalee Hindu College. Trincomalee is also the site of the Trincomalee railway station and an ancient ferry service to Jaffna and the south side of the harbour at Muttur.
The recorded history of Trincomalee spans more than two and a half thousand years, beginning with civilian settlement associated with the Koneswaram temple in the pre-modern era. One of the oldest cities in Asia, it has served as a major maritime seaport in the international trading history of the island with South East Asia. In the ancient world, it was successively the capital of eastern kingdoms of the Vanni country, developing under the Pallava Dynasty, Chola Dynasty, Pandyan Dynasty, the Vannimai chieftaincies and the Jaffna kingdom through the Koneswaram shrine's revenue. Trincomalee's urbanization continued when made into a fortified port town following the Portuguese conquest of the Jaffna kingdom, changing hands between the Danish in 1620, the Dutch, the French following a battle of the American Revolutionary War and the British in 1795, being absorbed into the British Ceylon state in 1815. The city's architecture shows some of the best examples of interaction between native and European styles. Attacked by the Japanese as part of the Indian Ocean raid during World War II in 1942, the city and district were affected after Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948, when the political relationship between Tamil and Sinhalese people deteriorated, erupting into civil war. It is home to major naval and air force bases at the Trincomalee Garrison. The city also has the largest Dutch fort on the island.
The Trincomalee Bay Harbour, bridged by the Mahavilli Ganga River to the south, is referred to as "Gokarna" in Sanskrit, meaning "Cow's Ear", akin to several areas of Siva worship across the Indian subcontinent. Its sacred status to the Hindus has led to the city being declared "Dakshina-Then Kailasam" or "Mount Kailash of the South" and the "Rome of the Pagans of the Orient". The harbour is renowned for its large size and security; unlike any other in the Indian Ocean, it is accessible in all weathers to all craft. It has been described as the "finest harbour in the world" and by the British, "the most valuable colonial possession on the globe, as giving to our Indian Empire a security which it had not enjoyed from elsewhere". Popular tourist destinations include its beaches at Uppuveli, Salli and Nilaveli, used for temple visits, surfing, scuba diving, fishing and whale watching, and the Kanniya Hot Springs. Trincomalee is served by a campus of the Eastern University, Sri Lanka and has been the inspiration of both domestic and international poetry, films, music and literature for many centuries.
Trincomalee which is a natural deep-water harbour has attracted seafarers, trader and pilgrims from Europe, Middle East, Africa, China, East Asia and Australasia since ancient times. Trinco, as it is commonly called, has been a seaport and Hindu pilgrimage center since 400 BCE. The earliest epigraphical inscriptions found in Trincomalee city are in the Tamil language. The Tamil settlement at the port of Trincomalee was one of the oldest settlements on the island. One inscription from 900–1000 CE belonging to the Chola Dynasty excavated near where the promontory's first temple stood is from a sluice and also concerns Koneswaram, as do the 10th century Nilaveli inscriptions. The ancient texts, as well as an inscription unearthed by archeologists, call it Gokarna in Sanskrit.The Vayu Purana refers to a Siva temple on Trikuta hill on the eastern coast of Lanka in the 3rd century. The Mahavamsa documents that the King Mahasena destroyed a Deva temple and built a Buddhist shrine in its stead to expiate for an earlier heresy on his part. This explains the Buddhist archeological remains in the region. The South Indian Tevaram of Tiru-gnana Sambandar makes mention to the Siva temple in Trincomalee once again in the 6th century.
The earliest known literary reference to the Siva temple of Gokarna bay however is found in the Mahabharata, the Hindu epic written between 400—100 BCE, noting that Koneswaram is at Gokarna bay, in the middle of the ocean and is the island shrine of Uma's consort Shiva, known in the three worlds and worshiped by all peoples from the subcontinent, the rivers, ocean and mountains. It continues that the shrine is the next pilgrimage spot for Hindus en route south following Kanyakumari of the early Pandyan kingdom and Tamraparni island (Kudiramalai). In the same time period, the Ramayana in written form describes how King Ravana and his mother had worshipped Shiva at the shrine, when the former wanted to remove the temple of Koneswaram when his mother was in ailing health around 2000 BCE. This literature continues that as the king was heaving the rock, Lord Shiva made him drop his sword. As a result of this a cleft was created on the rock, today called Ravana Vettu – meaning Ravana's Cleft. Upon her death, her last rites were performed at the Kanniya Hot Springs in the Kanniya suburb of Trincomalee city. The Siva-worshipping Siddhar Patanjali's birth at the city in 180 BCE and its connections to another Siddhar Agastya from the 5th–4th century BCE suggests that Yoga Sun Salutation originated on the promontory of Trincomalee. Another mention is found in the 5th century CE Mahavamsa stating that in the 4th century BC, King Vijaya got his youngest son Panduvasdeva to land at the bay. The Yalpana Vaipava Malai asserts that King Vijaya restored the Koneswaram temple and the other four Eswarams upon arrival. The Mattakallappu Manmiam of Batticaloa confirms Trincomalee's sacred status for all Hindus.