Nainatheevu or Nainathivu (Tamil: நயினாதீவு), (also known as Manidweepam (Sanskrit: मनिदीपं), Manipallavam (Tamil: மணிபல்லவம்), or Nagadeepa (Sinhala: නාගදීප) is a small but notable island off the coast of Jaffna Peninsula in the Sri Lankan Tamil dominated Northern Province, Sri Lanka. The name of the island alludes to its aboriginal inhabitants, the Nayanair or Naka people. It is home to the ancient Hindu shrine of Shree Nagapooshani (Bhuvaneswari) Amman; one of the prominent 64 Shakti Peethas, and the Buddhist shrine Naga Vihare. Historians note the island is mentioned in the ancient Tamil Sangam literature of nearby Tamil Nadu (such as Manimekalai) and ancient Buddhist legends of Sri Lanka (such as Mahavamsa). Ptolemy, a Greek cartographer, describes the Tamil territory including islands around the Jaffna peninsula as Nagadibois in the first century CE.
Naka Tivu / Naka Nadu was the name of the whole Jaffna peninsula in some historical documents. There are number of Buddhist myths associated with the interactions of people of this historical place with Buddha. The two Tamil Buddhist epics of Kundalakesi and Manimekalai describe the islet of Manipallavam of Naka Tivu/Nadu which is identified with this islet of the Jaffna peninsula. Manimekalai describes the ancient island of Manipallavam from where merchants came to obtain gems and conch shells. The Tamil language inscription of the Nainativu temple by Parâkramabâhu I of the 12th century CE states that foreign merchants must land at Kayts before entering the island, and for other ports. The Hindu temple was destroyed by the Portuguese in 1620 CE. It was restored and re-established in 1788. A portion of the inscription slab is built into the wall of the present restored temple. Nainativu Nagapooshani Amman temple was attacked and burnt, and sustained severe damage, in June 1958, and in March 1986 by the Sri Lankan armed forces. The Naga Deepa Buddhist Vihara was established in the 1940s by a resident monk with the help of local Tamils.
Naka people were snake-worshippers, a Dravidian custom, and spoke Tamil based on Ptolemy's description of the Naka people. They also likely spoke Prakrit, a language of the school of Amaravati, Andhra Pradesh with which the early Tamils of Jaffna had strong cultural relations during the classical period. The Nakas were an offshoot of the Kerala Nayar community, at that time the Chera kingdom of ancient Tamilakam. The interchangeable names Nayar and Naka or Naga, meaning Cobra or Serpent were applied to and self described by these snake-worshiping people from classical antiquity. The word Naka was sometimes written in early inscriptions as Naya, as in Nayanika - this occurs in the Nanaghat inscription of 150 BCE. Archaeological excavations and studies provide evidence of palaeolithic inhabitation in the Tamil dominated Northern and Eastern Sri Lanka and in Tamil Naadu and Chera Naadu (Kerala region). The findings include Naka idols and suggest that serpent worship was widely practised in the Dravidian reions of India and Sri Lanka during the megalithic period.
The Nakas lived among the Yakkha, Raksha and Deva in Ceylon according to the Manimekalai and Mahavamsa. Cobra worship, Tamil speech and Keralan cuisine extant in Jaffna Tamil culture from the classical period attests to the Naka's Tamil heritage.
Sangam literature details how the ancient Tamil people were divided into five clans (Kudi) based on their profession during the Sangam period, where the Naka clan, who were incharge of border security guarding the city wall and distant fortresses, inhabited the Coromandel Coast - South Tamil Nadu, East Tamil Nadu and North Sri Lanka. The name Naka as either a corrupted version of the word Nayanar or may have been applied to this community due to their head covering being the shape of a hydra-headed cobra in reverence to their serpentine deities. The rulers and society of Naka-Tivu and Naka-Nadu, meaning Naka island (Tivu) or country (Nadu) are described in the Vallipuram gold plate inscriptions and Manimekalai for many centuries. H. Parker, a British historian and author of "Ancient Ceylon" considers the Naka to be an offshoot of the Nayars of Kerala Ancient Sri Lankan history book Mahavamsa mentions a dispute between two Naga kings in northern Sri Lanka. The Manimekalai and archaeological inscriptions refer to the Chola-Naka alliance and intermarriange being the progenitor of the Pallava Dynasty of Tamilakam.
Decline of Naga identity and assimilation
The Nagas are likely to have lost their identity over time, due to their loss of power and the formation of alliances with the new settlers of Sri Lanka. It is believed the original populations control over the island declined and they moved to their stronghold in the North of Sri Lanka. Nainativu being called Nayinaartheevu and Nagadeepa since ancient time attest to this. The Sri Lankan Tamil people of Nainativu, are descendants of the Naga people. They continue to worship their patron Nayinaar deity within the sanctum sanctorum of the Nainativu Sri Nagapooshani Amman Temple. Historical records show that this temple was established by the Nagas from Chola, Pandiyan, and Chera Kingdoms who travelled on route to the early Jaffna Kingdom. The temple continues to be a major pilgrimage location for Sri Lankan Tamils, and Indian Tamils of Southern coastal regions of Tamil Nadu despite the decline of the Naga identity. These communities can trace their roots to the Nagas, who were Dravidians who spoke Tamil and other related languages. Archeological evidence of Naga settlements have been found in many parts of Tamil Nadu, Kerala (which was formerly Chera Nadu) and other South Indian sites such as Aathicha Nallur near Thirunelveli in Southern Tamil Nadu.
The population of the island is approximately 2,500 Sri Lankan Tamils and about 250 Muslims Many Tamils of Nainativu origin, live in various cities and towns of India, Europe, Australia, and North America as part of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora.