The Travels of Fa-Hien

The Travels of Fa-Hien


Being an Account by the Chinese Monk Fa-Hien
of his Travels in India and Ceylon (A.D. 399-414)
in Search of the Buddhist Books of Discipline.

Translated and annotated with a
Korean recension of the Chinese text



1886. The Clarendon Press, Oxford.
4to. Pp. xvi, 123+ 45 with Chinese text.
With one sketch-map and 9 full page illustrations.
Original half cloth on printed boards. Consists of three parts:
the translation of F.-hien's narrative of travels;
copious notes; and the Chinese text.
The illustrations are taken from a Hang-ch.u edition of "A history of Buddha"

1899. The Clradendon Press, Oxford: Second edition.
Issued as Two parts bound in one.

1965. Paragon Book Reprint, New York: xii + 123 + 49 pp. 8vo. 9 plates.

1991, 1998. New Delhi, India: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd. Illus., pp. xvi + 184

2000. Etext prepared by John Bickers, and Dagny,

2005. Reformated from plain text to HTML for LakdivaBooks.
This HTML edition still requires contents and the Maps and Nine Illustrations from the 1886 published translation.



Fa-Hien Cave in Sri Lanka

Fa-Hien cave (site code YF), the largest known cave in Sri Lanka, is situated at 80Ÿ 12’ 55” E by 6Ÿ 38’ 55” N in Yatagampitiya village near Bulathsinhala in Kalutara District. It is popularly known as Fa Hien cave because of the popular belief that the famous Chinese Buddhist monk Fa Hien had stayed in the cave for a while on his pilgrimage to Adam’s Peak (Wijeyapala 1997).
It is a complex of interconnected rock shelters, eroded into almost vertical southwest-facing cliff in gneiss of the Highlands Complex (Coo ray 1984). The humus- stained cliff that hosts the rock shelters drops from a forested summit to the banks of a small stream (Figure 1).


This shelter faces north east and is easily accessed via a stone path. The mouth has a width of ca. 30m and an average height above the floor of 20 m. The interior is ca. 10 m deep and slope down form west to east. The site was first examined by S. U. Deraniyagala in 1968 before its excavation over several seasons between 1986 and 1988 by W. H. Wijeyapala (1997).

Two areas of the cave, labeled A and B, were probed with a view tow understanding the cultural sequence of the cave (Deraniyagala 1992). Area A, located in the middle of the main chamber, used to be a higher and extensive occupation deposit. Wijeyapala (1997) observed a stained line on the cave wall, approximately 3 m above the present floor, which he identified with the original floor of the shelter, before the Buddhist occupants leveled the deposit to transform it into a place of pilgrimage. A considerable amount of deposit appears to have dumped at the front of the shelter so as to build up the entrance. Area A currently comprises roof-fall with vestiges of prehistoric occupation within it at ca. 6.2m below the surface.

Area B is located approximately 20 m east of the main chamber. It was excavated according to a 2 x 7 m grid whose one meter squares were labeled K6,K7,M6,M7,M8,M9,N5,N6,N7,N8,O6, and O7. The excavation was conducted stratigraphically down to bedrock and yielded a cultural sequence frpm ca. 38,000 to 5400 years ago, including reports of Sri Lanka’s oldest human burial and microliths (Deraniyagala 1992; Wijeyapala 1997). The top layer, Layer I, was brown salty sand with prehistoric occupation debris mixed with recent artifacts, interpreted as due to leveling of the floor. Beneath it, Layer 2 occurred as light brown grey salty sand, approximately 50cm thick, with a high density of cultural material, and the fractional remains of two interred of individuals. The layer is dated by a radiocarbon determination on charcoal to ca. 5400 cal BP (Table). The next layer down, Layer 3, is light brown, loose sandy silt which is very rich in cultural material. Two radiocarbon dates have been secured on charcoal-ca. 7700 cal BP and 7900 cal.

The dominant occupation deposit at the site occurred in Layer 4, comprising dark brown salty sand of medium compactness, ca.25 cm thick, with a high density of occupation debris (Wijeyapala 1997). The contents included a partial human interment in the lower horizon without red ochre, a grindstone smeared with red ochre, and seven post holes. The three radiocarbon dates (on charcoal) calibrate to between ca. 30,000 and 38,000 BP. The earliest human occupation at the site is represented by Layer 5, which is a moderately loose sandy silt deposit of dark brown to yellow coloration. It is very rich in cultural material including faunal remains, stone artifacts and burnt shell, and is dared on charcoal to around 38,000 BP but possibly in excess of 40,000 BP (Table 1). In summary, Fa Hien cave represents habitation during the Late Pleistocene prior to the LGM, and during the early Holocene, but it lacks any dated evidence of occupation between the Last Glacid Maximum Cold period (LGM) and the early Holocene.

Fa-Hien shelter is credited with the oldest known burials in Sri Lanka. Archaeological finds include stone artifacts assigned by Wijeyapala to the Mesolithic, faunal remains, grindstones smeared with red ochre, and traces of five postholes. In particular, four individual burials were identified by K.A.R. Kennedy from the human remains excavated by Wijeyapala at the site.

The two deepest burials, Fa Hien 4 and Fa Hien 3, are described by Professor Kenneth Kennedy as the commingled remains of secondary burials. Both are buried in layers dated to 38,000 years ago cal. Fa Hien I is also described as the commingled remains of secondary burials, which include tow   infants, a child, a sub-adult and a female adult. The only postcranial material was the seven cervical vertebrae of the child, suggesting burial of the child’s head with the neck still attached. Finally, Fa Hien 2 consists of the fragmentary skull and teeth of a child. The only useful anatomical information is Kennedy’s observation of severe wear on the adult’s teeth. In terms of mortuary practices, these earliest Sri Lanka human remains suggest a tendency to bury the head or parts of the skull.


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