Pahiyangala (Fa-Hiengala) Caves
- The Legendary Rock Cave -
Yatigama is a little village in Bulathsinhala just a two-hour drive from Colombo. Yet few are aware that in this hamlet is a cave belonging to the stoneage period dating back more than thirty thousand years, and known to be the most ancient pre-historic settlement sites in the whole of Asia.
Fa-Hsiengala, the rock cave temple, commonly known as Pahiyangala among villagers is found in a very tranquil environment. Surrounded by trees, this massive rock holds much importance both religiously and historically. It is known to be the only natural cave of this size to be found of the Mesolithic period and also bear testimony to ancient foreign links Chinese Buddhist monk and explorer Fa-Hsien is believed to have lived in this cave.
The entire rock is about 610 feet high, located 1400 feet above sea level. The cave itself is about 15 feet high an 147 feet wide. Villagers say about 3000 people can be accommodated within, and though from the outside it does not seem that large, once inside its size is clearly visible. The entrance takes the shape of a half circle, the reason for this being the South West monsoon winds, which blow in that direction, hollowing the rock.
The present incumbent of the temple, Ven. Yatigampitiye Chandima Himi is well versed in the history of Fa-Hsiengala. "Since it is a natural cave, it's exposed to the wind and other elements. Excavations carried out by the Archaeology Department have revealed the different layers visible in the rock formation over the years", he says.
"The cave interior never gets wet, unlike in other caves where water sweeps in from the top. Throughout history there has been no water inside Fa-Hsiengala. In most caves a drain is cut at the entrance so that water does not come in but here there is nothing like that", said Chandima Himi.
Historians have found evidence of pre-historic settlements at Fa-Hsiengala which reveals that this cave had been home to humans belonging to the Mesolithic period. Two skulls were found during excavations, one dating back to more than 6000 years.
"The skulls were examined by Professor Kenneth Kendy from Cornor University USA, who also carried out tests on the Balangoda pre-historic settlements. Excavations revealed more and more facts about our ancestors. Hundreds of snail shells were found, giving rise to the theory that this would have been their staple food. Fire had been in use even during this period and heaps of charcoal were also discovered. As they had used stones as weapons most of the snail shells are partly damaged. Hunting animals using these weapons must have been difficult thus one can surmise that they would have settled for snails", explained the monk.
"Most of the findings are displayed at the cave temple and many would be astonished at the condition of these artifacts, which are well preserved. "It's because the ground never gets wet" the monk added.
Legend has it that during the 5th century the Chinese monk Fa-Hsien took shelter in this cave on his way to Adam's Peak. History reveals that the monk had lived in Sri Lanka for about two years visiting various places in the island. A book written by Fa-Hsien does mention his visit to Lanka and what he saw but does not reveal where he lived. "Although there is very little evidence to say that he had actually lived here, the fact that the cave was named after him is enough. We also discovered a Chinese ceramic plate, which we believe, belonged to the priest. The Chinese too firmly believe that the priest had lived here. It is their government that presented us with a massive picture of the priest, and a community village was built at Yatigama" explained the monk.
However, it is only during the Kandyan period that this cave was made a Buddhist monastery. The shrine room built by the Porogama Bhikku with its statues and valuable painting of that period still remains intact. This priest who was somewhat of a giant had built the temple were also placed by him.
A footpath at the side of the cave has the most fascinating sight, a natural pond which never goes dry. Even during the most severe drought water is found in plenty here. Tiny caves are also found around the main cave. But upto date these have not been excavated.
Though excavations were began, at the moment work has come to a stand still, due to a lack of funds. No definite date has been given for the work to recommence. However Chandima Himi with the minimum facilities has already started building a museum to provide information about the Mesolithic period.
At present the monastery has 49 priests yet according to the priest survival in this remote village is difficult. Providing meals for the 49 priests is their main problem.
"Although it is the duty of the villagers to provide 'Dana' to the village temple, in Yatigama it's a different story. They themselves don't have the means to feed themselves so we can't expect them to feed 49 priests. But life goes on", Chaminda Himi says.
Life will certainly go on with Fa-Hsiengala unfolding divine aspects of history, if more interest is focused on its treasure trove of the past.
By Shelani de Silva and Pix by Gemunum Wellage
March 25, 2007