Serene Heights of Batatota Mountain | Sunday Observer

Serene Heights of Batatota Mountain

2 April, 2017
The arched cave mouth of Batatotalena with ferns hanging on the rock ceiling constantly dripping water.
The arched cave mouth of Batatotalena with ferns hanging on the rock ceiling constantly dripping water.

Growing up in the rural countryside of a mountainous region close to Sabaragamuwa, I was always impressed by the views of the mist-laden mountain ranges and the amazing sunrise at dawn, in vibrant colours in the eastern sky. Armed with my Nikon camera, I recently set off to trek the Batatota Mountain, just seven kilometres from Kuruwita to see the amazing sunrise over Sri Pada or Adam’s Peak from the cave of Batatota where an ancient jungle Buddhist cave shrine is located.

Natural beauty

The cave mouth offers spectacular views of the valley below, with the Sri Pada towering in the distance. This is the best spot for views of the valley and the surrounding mountains. Prominent in the foreground is the steep square-shaped Kunudiyaparwathaya mountain, in between Batatotalena and Sri Pada peaks. This view, however, is not always guaranteed and depends on the weather. On the day I trekked, Sri Pada was visible at dawn and for much of the time spent in the cave, but it had completely disappeared after sunrise, with the clouds. The sleepy village called Erathna, a mountainous hamlet situated close to Kuruwita in the Ratnapura district, is enriched with natural beauty and wilderness. The mist laden mountain ranges stretch as far as the eye can see. The Sri Pada peak rises abruptly through the lower mountain ranges. Cool cascading streams flow through the valley.

Erathna is situated on the foothills of the mountain range of Sri Pada. One of the more arduous routes to Sri Pada commences from Erathna. It leads to the summit through extreme wilderness and is very adventurous. Most young pilgrims to Sri Pada prefer this route because it gives pilgrims the opportunity to experience the natural environment and a salubrious climate with breathtaking and panoramic views of mountain ranges, right up to the summit.


The Batatotalena or Diwaguhawa, which was once neglected, has now earned fame as a religious site. Although the current belief is that Batatotalena is the Divawaguhawa of legend, the argument on its authenticity goes on. It is held in high esteem by the Buddhist community in Sri Lanka. This cave shrine is visited by pilgrims with great devotion and respect. During weekends and holidays, hundreds of visitors throng this ancient place. A huge vehicle park has been built halfway to the cave for the benefit of the pilgrims. The villagers sell food and souvenirs, made by them, to pilgrims along the road to the cave shrine.

Kuruwita in the Ratnapura district is a two hour drive on the A-4 Road from Colombo, and Batatotalena is seven kilometres north of Kuruwita on the road to Erathna and Sri Pada.

Regular signposts point the way to the Diwaguhawa. Beyond a large vehicle park, the walkway to the cave gets gradually steeper, the last part being a covered series of steps with a steep climb. The climb, however, shouldn’t take more than half an hour. A visit to Batatotalena is easy in the morning to avoid the midday harsh weather conditions

Legend has it that this cave temple was built by King Nissankamalla (1178-1207 AD) during the Polonnaruwa period. During this time the King had accidentally discovered the cave on his way to Sri Pada.

The Batatotalena cave temple also holds importance, since the Buddha rested there with 500 of his disciples, on his return from the Sri Pada peak during his third visit to Sri Lanka. Buddha rested in this cave after placing his footprint on a gem stone on the Peak of the Sri Pada mountain on the invitation of God Sumana Saman.

It is said, King Nissankamalla had visited this cave temple in the course of his religious expeditions to Sri Pada. He had built the temple to exhibit the country’s rich culture. The most impressive architectural feature in this cave temple is the magnificent Makara Thorana (Dragon arch) that dates back to the Polonnaruwa period. Fading into obscurity, the area around the Batatotalena was reclaimed by the jungle, and the ancient cave temple stood neglected and unknown.

In 1908, this isolated cave had been rediscovered by an erudite Bhikku named Ven. Sri Subethi who took great care to renovate it and build a Devale outside the cave. He maintained it until he passed away.

After Ven. Subethi’s passing away, this religious site was abandoned once more. As a result this cave temple had become a haven for treasure hunters who have destroyed most of the invaluable statues in the cave. In my first visit to the site in 2007, I found that all the statues including those of deities had been dug out and many of the ancient artifacts stolen by treasure hunters after the temple was abandoned.


After a lapse of a few decades in 1995, the late Ven. Balangoda Ananda Maithreya Mahanayake Thera identified and declared this ancient cave temple as the legendary Diwaguhawa or Bagawalena of Sri Pada.

There are various arguments about Diwaguhawa and Batatotalena temple among the scholars since the place called Bagawalena was found recently just below the Sri Pada peak itself. However, Ven. Balangoda Ananda Maithreya Thera’s discovery was accepted by the people visiting this ancient site.

Later, it became a famous Buddhist site among the devotees who make the annual pilgrimage to Sri Pada via Erathna.

After its re-discovery in 1995, the Batatota Ancient Cave Temple Renovation Society (BACTRS) was set up. It took the initiative to commence a program to renovate the cave temple.

During my short stay in the cave I was able to witness Buddhist traits in a serene atmosphere. The long hanging ferns line the rock ceiling, constantly dripping water that gathers in a pool on the side. This cave pool glitters with coins tossed in for luck by pilgrims over the years.

A slightly incongruous statue of a frog sits in the centre of the pool, a symbol of a worship conducted for God Bahiravaya in the 1990s, when the temple was renovated.

On the right side of the cave is a small Dagoba and a statue of Ven. Balangoda Ananda Maithreya Mahanayake Thera built recently. The platform of a belfry in front also affords amazing views of the countryside below.

Another remarkable feature in this cave temple is that the Devala houses a bright blue statue of God Vishnu. The outer wall of this shrine is festooned with a stylized version of the Royal Coat of Arms of Great Britain, indicating that it dates back to the renovations of 1908, when Sri Lanka was still a British colony.

Makara Thorana

At the far end of around 15 metres high, is another wall, behind which lies the main shrine room. The entrance to this shrine is via the Makara Thorana, a wall painting that forms the actual doorway and is one of the few surviving features of Batatotalena that dates back to the original temple built by King Nissankamalla. Most of the statues and paintings have been restored many times over the years.

In the cave shrine one can see cross-legged, standing and 10m long reclining Buddha statues. However, it is difficult to ascertain the period which they belong to. Most of the statues and paintings in the cave shrine have been exquisitely renovated several times. The paintings have been touched-up at different times.

Apart from Batatotalena, Sthreepura is another cave situated just 200 metres away. This cave is believed to be one of the shelters used by a relative of God Sumana Saman. The Veddha community is of the view that this cave belongs to their forefathers.

The chief of Veddha community Uriwarige Wanniyale Aththo regularly takes part in many ceremonies organized by the Batatota cave temple. The Vaddah community believes they have connections with God Sumana Saman.

Although the original architectural designs of the Batatotalena temple cannot be seen at present, the old ‘Sal’ trees that surround the cave temple are still visible. The ‘Sal’ flowers are in full bloom, showing the ancient grandeur of the past.