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Home > Prehistoric Sites > Pahiyangala > Articles

Pahiyangala (Fa-Hiengala) Caves

- Pahiyangala -a valuable archaeological discovery -

For a person seeking excitement and adventure, the ideal place to visit is Pahiyangala where there are caves, tunnels and human skeletons of a by- gone era.

The cave we visited is situated at Bulathsinghala, 150 km. from Colombo. The cave is 400 feet above sea level. Visitors can reach the cave by climbing the steps or take the road which leads to the cave. Once you come to the end of the road, at a distance you see the peak of a giant rock resembling the hood of a cobra.

Whatever path you choose, you have a chance to see the beauty of nature with lush greenery and chirping birds in a forest bordering the rock.

The enormous half- curved cave has been fashioned by nature as a result of the South West Monsoon wind. It is said that it is thrice the size of the Dambulla cave. It is believed that over 3000 people could be accommodated inside the cave. Rumours have it that youth who were involved in the JVP uprising in 1971 took shelter in these tunnels when they were escaping the Army. However, these tunnels have been closed. S.K. Abeysekera, who is a volunteer guide, said that these tunnels lead to another and they are interconnected. He also says that one can hear the sound of gushing water inside the tunnel and that it leads to the forest.

Ven. Yatagampitiya Chandima thera, who has a degree in archaeology from the Peradeniya University, is in charge of the Pahiyangala Pirivana. Today, there are 40 samaneras studying under the Chief Prelate.

Abeysekera says that on a weekend around 400 people visit this place while on a weekday there are around l00 visitors. The biggest crowd is on Poya where over 1000 visit this historic place.

In a booklet giving the history of Pahiyangala, Ven. Gonahene Jothipala Nayaka Thera states that in the fifth century AD, during King Mahanama's reign a Chinese scholar- bhikkhu, Fa- Hsien visited Sri Lanka. He was like Marco Polo, a tireless wanderer in strange lands.

It is learnt that Fa-Hsien, having taken the path of Gautama Buddha, sailed with two friends Bhadantachariya and Buddhaghosa. The latter was a Pali scholar, commentator and author of Vissuddhi Magga (a classic manual of the Buddhist doctrine and meditation), and they sailed from the mouth of the Hooghli river in Calcutta to Sri Lanka in the year 411 AD.

Fa- Hsien obtained a copy of the Disciplines and Long Agamas when he visited Anuradhapura and from there he was determined to climb the Sacred Mountain and pay homage at the Buddha's foot print. His pilgrimage to Sri Pada lasted several months because the route to the peak was through Bulathsinghala, Kalawana, Nivitigala, Ratnapura and Gileemale.

On his journey, it is believed that he had lived several months in the Pahiyangala cave. According to some Chinese people, in the 1940s, a Chinese monk named Thiashu Sangaraju who visited Sri Lanka had stayed in the cave.

The booklet also explains how the cave was turned into a temple and tells the story of a Buddhist monk named Porogama who was the pioneer of the project.

Ven. Porogama thera had used a 6 ft. Yakula which was similar to an iron crowbar. This iron crowbar is so heavy that even six people find it difficult to carry it. He used this to push the debris and soil that obstructed the entrance to the cave. He was also able to level the ground. The Yakula is now tied to the feet of the reclining Buddha statue which is 40 ft long.

Ven. Porogama thera made two colossal door frames for the Vihara which can be seen at the entrance. Abeysekera said that the doors were safe as rain cannot beat inside the cave. The solid two door frames are of great archaeological value.

After Ven.Porogama thera, Ven. Yerawatte Sobitha, Yavala Dhammajothi, Ven. Udumulla Saranankara, Ven.Uduwala Kande Jinanandha, Ven. Jamburaliye Pangnananda, Ven. Yavala Dhammarangsi and Ven. Kandana Pangnasekera held the post of Chief incumbent of the temple.

A second renovation of the Pahiyangala cave was reported during the period 1977 to 1988 and the credit goes to Ven. Rajakiya Panditha Yavala Dhammarangsi.

On the instructions given by the former Minister of Finance, Ronnie de Mel, the book Pahiyangala Gallen Puranaya was presented to the Chinese government and the Chinese government had given a grant of Rs. 220,000 to renovate the Pahiyangala cave.

The reconstruction work began in 1981 and involved repairing the steps to the cave, resting room and an Avasa for the monks.

Electricity and water facilities were completed under the first stage of the project.

In the second stage of the project, the Sri Lanka- People's Republic of China Friendship Village in Pahiyangala and the building of pirivena school were completed. Ven. Rajakiya Panditha Yavala Dhammarangsi died at the age of 67 in 1983.

Thereafter Kandana Pannayasekera thera, who was a student of Yavala Dhammarangsi had held the chief priest's post and currently Ven. Sharsthravedi Yatagampitiya Chandima thera is holding the post.

Inside the Pahiyangala temple one finds the murals which were painted during the Kandy period. The paints were of kata gala, clay, coal and the bark of trees and various types of stones.

Excavations carried out by archaeologists have yielded a wealth of artifacts and fossils including five human skulls, implements used to make fire by the people who lived there 3400 years ago, and also two skeletons presently kept in charge of the Archaeology Department.

Ven. Chandima Thera said that a museum to preserve this archaeological yield will be built where the artifacts can be exhibited. "The museum will most probably be built in the Avasa," he said. However, this does not seem to evoke much interest from the Ministry of Environment and Wildlife, Archaeology Department and the Cultural Ministry to preserve the forest and to conserve archaeological valued yield. Chandima thera has taken steps of his own to conserve the place.

Although the oldest fossils of human beings were found in the Batadomba cave in Balangoda, of people who lived 27,000 years ago at Pahiyangala cave, the skulls which were found are 37,000 years old thus being the oldest fossils of human beings found in Sri Lanka.

Two skulls were found inside the cave - one skull was of a child's head, which is 6000 years old and the fossils of an adult is 37,000 years old aged between 35 years and 40.

By Dholani Mawalage
Sunday Times, 27nd November 2002

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Updated March 25, 2007
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