Fa Hien Cave (Pahiyangala Cave)
AHIYANGALA OR FA-HSIENGALA LENA VIHARA
This legendary cave temple, commonly known as Pahiyangala, is of great historical and religious significance. It is situated in the tranquil surroundings of a village called Yatigama in Bulathsinghala, in the Kalutara District.
Surrounded by almost 600 acres of virgin forest, the cave can be reached by climbing a long flight of steep steps.
The massive cave housing the temple is said to date back to over 35,000 years and is one of the few natural caves of this size in Asia. Geologists believe that the cave dates back to the Stone Age and housed people of the Mesolithic period. Further excavations revealed many interesting objects, including iron implements, stone weapons, grinding stones, seashells and coloured marble.
The entire rock is more than six hundred feet high, and the cave carved out of this rock is almost 15 feet tall, 200 feet in length and can accommodate around 3000 people. It is believed that there were tiny caves around the main one.
An exciting feature of this cave is its entrance that is semi-circular in shape. It is believed the south-western winds blowing in the direction had made the stone hollow. Surprisingly, no water blows into the cave despite the absence of a drip ledge on its brow, as in the case of other shelters intended for occupation. A footpath away from the cave leads to a natural pond that never dries up even in times of severe drought.
Legend has it that in the 5th century Fa-Hsien, the famous Chinese Mahayana Buddhist monk, on his way to Adam's Peak, took shelter in this cave. He might have lived here for several months, but there is no evidence of this. Yet, the name Fa-Hsiengala given to this cave suggests he had lived there long enough to leave his mark. Many believe an old Chinese ceramic plate discovered here belonged to him.
The cave was converted to a Buddhist monastery during the Kandyan period. A small door inside the cave leads to another area enclosing a very large reclining Buddha. The beautiful statue, covered in gold, is a sight to behold. Another small door leads to yet another cave that is infested with bats.
The shrine room has several Buddha images surrounding a central one that depicts the Buddha seated under a naga. The walls of the cave are covered with murals of the Kandy era. The murals are relatively well preserved, attributed by the incumbent monks that water never enters the cave even in times of heavy rain.
(A Short Guide to Some less-visited Temples in Sri Lanka by Malika Jayasinghe 2015. P14 )