Nilavarai Bottomless Well in Jaffna (නිලාවරයි නොසිඳෙන ලිඳ)

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The Nilavarai Well is a popular attraction in Jaffna lying in Puttur in the Navakkiri GS area of the Valikaamam East division. Sometimes referred to as a Bottomless Well or Deep Well, this well is caused by the collapse of the top layer, exposing a limestone cavern connected to an underground water source.   It is said that this well never dries up even during severe drought and the water is used by the farmers in the surrounding area. The dimensions of the well are 25 feet in length and 40 feet in width.  As in many large public wells in the area, a flight of steps lead to the water level which is 14 feet below the surface level.

It is said that the 1st 40 feet of water in the well is fresh and turns saline further down. It is believed that this water source is connected to the Keeramali Freshwater Pool and said that a lime fruit thrown to the well will appear in the Keeramali Sea which lies 10km away from this well.

It is also said that the water level of the well falls and rises in synchronization with the low and high tides of the sea. Unfortunately, no study of this well has been carried out partly due to the 30-year bloody war waged by the Tamil Tiger Terrorists in this part of the country which ended in 2009. Fortunately, a study of this curious well was done in mind 1800s and was published in the 1865-66 edition of the Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland.

To ascertain at which depth the fresh water turns into salt water, samples of water were taken at the depths of 45 feet, 95 feet and 145 feet using a special instrument with a valve and sealed in. These bottles were sent to England for chemical analysis of the content. During the test, it was found that the well was definitely not bottomless but reached the bottom at a depth of 145-150 feet. It was observed that the samples of water brought from the bottom smelt strongly of sulphurated hydrogen. It was also observed that the brackishness started between 40-50 feet in depth thus it was certain that the salt water enters the well at this height.

In the next experiment, three researchers measured the water levels of the Jaffna Lagoon, Valvettithurai seas and the Nilavarai well every half an hour from 6 am to 6 pm. These measurements indicated that Valvettithurai and Nilavarai sea levels started to fall at 6.30 am and started to rise around 2-2.30 pm. But the water levels at the Nilavarai well fell in parallel with the seas at 6.30 but started to rise at 9.30 am and again fell after 2 pm. This meant that water levels in the well alternated 3 times a day while the tides alternated twice a day. Therefore the connection of the change of the water level in the well to the tides in the sea was disproved leaving the reason for the thrice daily water level changes in the well unanswered.

Recently  (150 years later) an automated diving robot with divers of the Sri Lankan Navy conducted an expedition to the bottom of the well. They discovered that the bottom of the well lies 52.5 meters (172 feet). It was also discovered that freshwater existed in the first  18.3 meters (60 feet)  and turned into salty as it went down. They also discovered a number of tunnels which led to different directions at various heights and debris from 3 carts which had fallen to the well.

It is often speculated that the place name Nilaavarai might have come from Nilava’rai (Nila+a’rai: underground chamber), linking the place name with the subterranean water source. The well is always referred to as Nilaavaraik-ki’na’ru.

However, there is a strong possibility that the place name might have come from the natural vegetation Nilaavarai, which is abundantly found in the locality.

The discovery of an elegant torso of a Buddha image carved from limestone from the location at Nilaavarai, decades ago, signifies the archaeological potential of the location. The place name Navakkiri may have connections to the Buddhist heritage. Not far from the place of find of the statue are the remains of a dagaba which may belong to the 10th century. Nearby are also the remains of a rectangular building which may have been an image house. At the site, a Bo-tree and a deep well are seen.

Though a popular place, this well has not been maintained other than for a cement wall surrounding it. It is overgrown with weeds and the water is stale and in no way suitable even to bathe.


  1. POOTTOOR WELL. (1865). The Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland, 4(13), 123-127.

Also See

Map of  Nilavarai Bottomless Well in Jaffna

Please click on the button below to load the Dynamic Google Map (ගූගල් සිතියම් පහලින්)

The map above also shows other places of interest within a approximately 20 km radius of the current site. Click on any of the markers and the info box to take you to information of these sites

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Travelling Directions to Nilavarai Bottomless Well in Jaffna

Jaffna can be reached through 2 directions. The first one is over the Elephant Pass which is the normal route to Jaffna. The other entrance is from Pooneryn over the newly built Sangupiddi Bridge. This road connects to Mannar.

Route 01 from Colombo to Jaffna (Through Kurunegala)Route 02 from Colombo to Jaffna (Through Puttalam)
Through : Kurunegala – Dambulla – Anuradhapura – Vavuniya
Distance : 400 km
Travel Time : 7-8 hours
Driving Directions : see on Google map
Through : Puttalam – Anuradhapura – Vavuniya
Distance : 400 km
Travel Time : 7-8 hours
Driving Directions : see on Google maps
Route from Jaffna Town to  Nilavarai Well
Distance : 14 km
Travel time : 30 mins hours
Driving directions : see on google map


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