Pahiyangala caves lies in Yatagampitiya, which is a remote village about 5 km away from Bulathsinhala, in the Kalutara District. Two mountains, Pahiyangala and Thibottuwawa in this area was affected by the recent rainfalls and resulted in earth slips. There was also rumours of possible cracks in the rock surface of Pahiyangala.
Two weeks later the ban on visitors to Pahiyangala caves was lifted and we were able to climb up and explore it with barely anyone else in the precincts. At the foot of the hills is a small monastery that supports the priests practicing meditation and living in isolation.
Some call it Fahiyangala however, in the absence of a letter ‘f’ in the Sinhala alphabet Pahiyangala is more commonly used. The place is actually named after the Chinese scholastic monk Fa-Hsien who is supposed have stayed abode the rock cave in the 5th century. Fa-Hsien having explored many parts of Asia was enroute Bulathsinhala, Kalawana, Nivitigala, Ratnapura and Gileemale to reach the Sri Pada when he had stayed at the rock caves in Pahiyangala. Archaeological excavations of recent years unearthed a vessel used by the monk for his travels.
From the road we saw a mountain where the sides were ripped open exposing brown earth that had washed down. A large monumental rock face rose up amid this range of mountains, trails of Manna hanging from pockets scattered across the flat rocky surface. In the ledge of this huge hooded formation is found Sri Lanka’s biggest cave. As we start an upward trail the incline was stupendous along the sloping road and up the concrete steps. Signage pointed out rare species and plants that are found in the surrounding.
As we reach the high abode a large cave with a wide breadth came into view. The cave is supposed to be of four parts, but only two was in view. On the right is the first of the caves where easily one thousand could fit in. Excavations done by archaeologists deep into the floor of the cave are supposed to be linked with the underground tunnels. Layer and layers of granite is exposed. A level above this the cave that reaches gigantic proportions. In the intersection of the two is a newly erected image house with a statue of a reclining Buddha. At the center of the cave is another gaping hole and a stairway leading down.
Although the site was discovered in 1968 it was much later that attention was draw away from Fa-Hsien and discovery of the early man was made. During 1986-87 Archaeological department has unearthed remains of a pre-historic man dating back 58,000 years. The ancient man is supposed to have a short vertebral structure, wide jaw bones, a large palette and big grinding teeth. Monolithic stone and bone tools used for hunting as well as remains of wild fruit used as part of his diet had also been uncovered. Since then this cave dweller is known as Pahiyangala Manawakaya (Pahiyangala Man).
Just before we left the caves one look at the beautiful scenery that has always captivated my heart in this region. As much as it’s a wonder of nature, this great edifice rising from the forest covered hills of Sabaragamuwa the recent wreckage has opened our eyes to changing times. Battling with impacts from Climate Change – extreme weather conditions. During the ravages of floods and earth slips ancient caves such as those found Pahiyangala is in danger of been destroyed.