Hpa-An and nearby caves
Kayin State, southeast of Myanmar, is a hilly region where Kayin ethnics, the majority of people in Kayin State, are residing. Zwekabin Hill is one of the symbols of Kayin State. After opening the border trade camp in Myawady, the improvement of road and bridge facilities helps increase the number of travelers leading to Kayin State.
Hpa-An, the capital of Kayin State
Hpa-an, located on the eastern bank of Thanlwin River, was just a small village with some 200 houses over 100 years ago. The small village was a residence for Kayin, Shan and Taungthu ethnics as well as Thai citizens.
The edge of the rock at Thanlwin River was called Hpa Am in Shan Language. Later, the name of the village was changed to Hpa-an from Hpa Am.
Hpa-an became a station village under the management of Zathabyin station in 1855 due to an increasing number of houses and it was under Hpa-kat in 1866. The town Hpa-an managed by the assistant town administrator in 1892 became the capital of Kayin State on 1 June 1954.
At present, Hpa-an Township with 41 miles from the east to the west and 76 miles from the north to the south shares border with Hlaingbwe Township in the east, Mawlamyine Township in the south, Bilin and Paung townships in the west and Bilin and Papun townships in the north.
Hpa-an Township, at an altitude of 53 feet, is plentiful of hills. Among them, 2,727 feet high Zwekabin Hill, nine miles from Hpa-an, is the most significant. Thanlwin River, Gyaing River, Donthami Creek, and Zathabyin Creek are flowing across the township. Before the improvement of motor roads, vessels from Inland Water Transport gave transport services to local people along the Thanlwin River from Hpa-an to Mawlamyine, Shwegun, Kamamoung, Kyondoe, and Kya-in-Seikkyi.
According to the statistics announced in March 2017, a total of 396,707 people resided in Hpa-an Township which was formed with nine wards and 477 villages in 99 village-tracts.
Among natural caves at the hillsides, the Department of Archaeology and National Museum has been conserving Kawgun Cave and Yathebyan Cave in Hpa-an Township and Khayon Cave in Kyaikmaraw Township of Mon State.
In the past, some caves were habitats for wildlife while some were residences of members of the Sangha and hermits. Among the caves in Kayin State, Bayinnyi, Sadan, Yathebyan, Kawgun, and Webyan caves are the most significant in attracting travelers.
Located 28 miles from Mawlamyine, eight miles from Hpa-an and two miles from Hpa-kat Village on the western bank of Thanlwin River, Kawgun Cave can be seen from far distance with displaying Buddha images and wall votive tablets on its walls.
Naturally-existed Kawgun Cave, 130 feet long, 70 feet wide and 25 feet high, is located at the foot of limestone mountain range, east to Thanlwin River, west to Yathebyan Village and south to Hpa-kat Village. Kawgun Cave’s limestone mountain range formed with five hills in a series stretches 6,000 feet long from the northeast to the southwest.
The majority of Buddha images are seen on the wall of the one closed-end Kawgun Cave and entrance. Stalagmites mushroom inside the cave. There is a small hole on either side at the end of the cave. The cave facing the east with sufficient heat from sunray reduces wetness inside the area. The mouth of the cave located under the rocky hillside is free from the impacts of climatic conditions.
Firm evidence related to Kawgun Cave has not been found yet. But, an oral history of local people mentioned that Mottama queen who escaped from the troop of King Anawrahta who took King Manuha after conquering Thaton hid in Kawgun Cave and that she carved pagodas, Buddha images, and reliefs while in a cave. Moreover, those who visited Kawgun Cave also made Buddha images and votive tablets on the walls.
Historians and archaeologists have been conducting researches in Kawgun Cave since the early 19th century AD. According to the records of field trips, British diplomat John Crawford conducted surveys on 27 January 1827 and researcher Richard Temple in 1835. So also, Myanmar experts such as U Taw Sein Kho, U Lu Pe Win, U Po Latt, and Major Ba Shin performed surveys in the cave.
Visitors can see sitting, standing and reclining Buddha images, earthen votive tablets, stone reliefs, stone inscriptions and ink inscriptions in the cave. Votive tablets were made on the rocky hill, walls, and roof. Sitting and standing Buddha images were made in couples and groups of three to ten images.
Myanmar Encyclopaedia Year Book (2011) mentioned that two of three stone reliefs in the cave are related to Buddhism and one, Hinduism. The first one may be Bodhisatta flanked by left and eight Aggasavakas and the second bore body alone without head, hands and lower parts of knees. Reliefs of Hindu gods were carved on the stone relief related to Hinduism but inscriptions were damaged. Some said the inscriptions on the cloth of stone relief might be Mon language.
The Department of Archaeology and National Museum is preserving Kawgun Cave where there remains a large number of Buddhism cultural heritages.
The naturally rocky cave, located near Yathebyan Village of Hpa-an Township, west of Thanlwin River, was named Yathebyan Cave, based on the title of the village. Three to five feet high Buddha images inside the cave can be seen in original colors due to lesser impacts of direct sunray.
Heads of Buddha images in the cave were created with the shape of flaming up. Stone inscriptions in Myanmar and English languages of the cave mentioned that some Buddha images were made in 13th century AD. The Department of Archaeology and National Museum started the conservation of the caves in 1975.
Lighting enters inside the cave through a large hole on the roof. People said a hermit who meditated in the cave levitated there through the large hole mystically. So, the cave was named Yathebyin Cave. Laterite works from the laterite culture of Mottama and Inwa eras can be observed at a wall of the cave.
Although 116 feet high Yathebyan Cave stores many votive tablets but the number of such tablets is less than those of Kawgun Cave.
Sadan Cave, the significant two-end open one, has the largest mouth and longest route one among other caves in Kayin State. Sadan Cave means the cave near the lake where Kanteik plants thrive. Sadan Cave is located in Kawwahsu Village of Kawmuta Village-tract, south of the Zwekabin mountain range, 20 miles from Hpa-an. The cave at the foot of the hill is rounded by water in monsoon.
Travelers may visit the cave from Shwepyitawkin junction by passing through Gyaing (Zathabyin) Bridge or along Hpa-anDonyin motor road. In the rainy season, travelers may go along the motor road in the west of the Zwekabin mountain range. They then proceeded to the cave by boat from Kawthaloh Village, 10 miles from Hpa-an.
Two 12 feet high white elephant statues at the foot of the brick ladder to the cave were inaugurated on full moon day of Tabaung, 1339 ME, (23 March 1978). Two signboards bear the scripts “These caves are part of our national heritage. So conserve them” in Myanmar and English languages, describing advantages of limestone ecosystem and limestone hills and root courses of degrading limestone hills together with color photos.
The mouth of the cave is 100 feet wide and its height from the floor to the roof, 70-100 feet. As the cave faces the east, sunray helps the cave be dry and clean.
Small motive tablets can be seen on the right wall. Two places on the walls are vacant due to the falling of votive tablets. The upper place is about six feet long and the lower one, about eight feet long. Vacant places are expected to be the placement of thousands of 2.5 inches high sized votive tables.
Natural limestone hills in Kayin State are habitats for millions of bats. As such, Sadan Cave is habitats of seven species of bats and 13 species of non-vertebrate animals. A four-furlong concrete pavement is stretching from the entrance to the west outlet inside the cave. Water drops from the roof near the west outlet fall on the rocky floor, causing pits there.
Travelers must pass water surface at the outlet via a 200 feet high, 150 feet long and 30 feet deep Htuntuntphan tunnel. The tunnel is filled with water. In the rainy season, the water level reaches near the roof of the tunnel.
Religious images were carved in the natural caves. Later, these works became natural heritages as well as historical and cultural heritages. Conservation of natural rocky caves including three significant caves in Kayin, Mon and Shan states can contribute towards geological conditions of Myanmar.