The Paahiyangala Cave is a little known and mostly ignored treasure which lies in the heart of Kaluthara province, 5km off the town of Bulathsinghala. It is a wonder of nature; a natural rock cave located atop a mountain, high above sea level with about 400 steps to carry you to the top.
This fascinating location narrates a tale which begins in a prehistoric age (48,000 years ago), then crosses into early history (5th century) where it develops further (17th century) and still continues to present day.
The Cave is the site of the oldest prehistoric human evidence in South Asia…
Across 30 years of archaeological excavations the Paahiyangala Cave has unearthed Homosapien fossils reaching 34,000-38,000 years old. It has yielded a complete prehistoric human skeleton of the Balangoda Man (Homo Sapiens Balangodensis), their burial grounds, stone and bone objects, food remains and costume artifacts.
Most recently The Cave unearthed the earliest evidence of hunting with bows and arrows outside of Africa. Numerous tools made of stone, bone, and tooth were found, where some were carved into sharpened points – like an arrowhead or the tip of a dart. Others being more geometric in shape, are speculated to have been used as harpoon tips or in fishing snares. The findings have been established as dating back 48,000 years.
According to folklore…
‘Paahiyangala’ is believed to be the evolution of the name ‘Fa-hiengala’ named after the traveller-scholar Chinese Buddhist monk Fa-hien (also Faxian, Fa-hsien) who travelled through the Silk Road to India via Central Asia in search of sacred Buddhist texts. It is held in local folklore that the very same Cave lies in the midst of an ancient route to Sri Pada [Adam’s Peak; a sacred site to all religions in Sri Lanka] and that the Fa-hien monk rested at The Cave during his pilgrimage to Sri Pada. It is supposed that this was a long period of time where he took to meditating and practicing Buddhism. The nearby villagers then had visited the monk supplying him food and other requirements and later identifying The Cave in his name.
However the folklore is unannotated in history…
In the Fa-hien monk’s travelogue ‘A record of Buddhistic Kingdoms; being an account by the Chinese monk Fa-Hien of his travels in India and Ceylon’ he is said to have visited Sri Lanka during the period of AD 399 and 414. It only gives eyewitness to 5th century Sri Lanka where the monk had lived in Anuradhapura for a period of 2 years learning Theravada Buddhism and gathering Buddhist literature to be conveyed back to China.
Paahiyangala Cave is also the residence of an ancient Buddhist temple…
The east side of the cave is a Buddhist temple of which origins are dated back between 300-400 years. Claimed to be built by a devotee of the name ‘Ganinnanase Porogama,’ it reverently holds a 40 foot long reclining Buddha statue, which is the second largest reclining Buddha statue in Sri Lanka. The temple paintings reflect the artistry of the Kandyan Kingdom of the island (16th to 19th century).
The Paahiyangala Temple functions to date, counting about 700 devotees who are associated with the temple and continue the traditions of a wide range of religious, cultural and social activities.
And is a natural wonder…
Paahiyangala is a natural cave formation and is the largest cave in Sri Lanka and one of the largest rock formations in all of Asia. A footpath to The Cave carries a natural pond which is said to never go dry. The forest reservation on the crown area of the location is the Pahiyangala Forest Reservation. It is an ample naturally grown forest home to shrubs, herbs and flowers including endemic species.
iserendip narrative: “Paahiyangala Temple and Cave, close to my heart…“
Paahiyangala has a very special place in my heart, I have visited it uncountable times in my childhood. This was due to its very close proximity to a property we regularly visited in the interiors of the town of Bulathsinghala. Climbing up and down to the Paahiyangala Temple and Cave was almost a game to us as children, where I still very anxiously recall racing down its steps to see who could reach the bottom faster. (I highly caution! please do not try this)
It is a unique little place in the world where time, nature and myths are entwined. Where prehistory, history, natural wonders and folklore abound as everyday life still moves about.
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48,000-year-old arrowheads reveal early human innovation in the Sri Lankan rainforest – From The Conversation by Michelle Langley, Oshan Wedage, Patrick Roberts
Faxian’s Biography and His Contributions to Asian Buddhist Culture: Latest Textual Analysis – From ResearchGate by Xican Li