Mahila Wijesinghe. in Sunday Observer, 1 November 2020, where the title is “Trekking to Batadomba-lena cave. A glimpse of the prehistoric rock cave”
As we sat on the base of an excavation pit dug by the Department of Archaeology to unearth the skeletons of early inhabitants in this cave in the mid 80s, we imagined life at the Batadomba-lena cave over 30,000 years ago.
This is the second oldest cave in Sri Lanka where the remains of pre-historic humans (c29,000-9,500) have been found. Among the remains discovered are skeletons and various implements in the main cave, which now attracts a large number of visitors including schoolchildren for educational study tours.
The massive forest wilderness and streams were the habitat of pre-historic inhabitants. Their shelters were rock caves, and their food came from the forest — edible yams, fruits, snails and hunted animals.
The early man called ‘Balangoda Man’ lived almost everywhere along the coast, on the plains and tropical rainforests. The richest evidence was found in caves. It is then that the pre-historic stone age began to take shape, in caves such as, the Fa Hsien-lena near Bulathsinhala, Beli-lena in Kitulgala and Batadomba-lena in Kuruwita.
Although forests around the caves are almost lost to us, at Batadomba-lena it is possible to get a sense of the past. While several other places have been cleared, Batadomba-lena forest has been declared an archaeological reserve. It is an environment which has not changed for over 30,000 years. The dense forest canopy, the towering trees and the air damp and humid, is the world in which the early inhabitants lived. Here they may have lived amicably, feeding themselves from the forest.
The Batadomba-lena cave is nestled in a tropical rainforest on a summit in the thick forest at Waladura, Kuruwita, in Ratnapura. This place can be reached by travelling two kilometres along the Eratna road which is linked to the Colombo-Ratnapura main (A4) road at the Kuruwita town and proceeding a further distance of 4.5 kilometres along the Guruluwana road. The Archaeology Department’s iconic sign board in the centre of the Kuruwita town shows visitors the way to the historic cave. The road leading to the cave is one kilometer away and the summit has to be reached by foot.
Long and adventurous
The road is motorable up to four kilometres and the rest is a jungle path leading to the cave which is one kilometre away. To reach the summit, the trek is long and adventurous. A steep foot path runs through a leech-infested forest, with a canopy of towering trees providing shade.
I climbed the mountain with my two sons with camera hanging round the neck and other equipment such as telephoto lens in back packs. The shop keeper in the village where the trek starts advised us to apply soap on our feet to keep the leeches at bay as it is widely regarded by the local folk as the best way to avoid bloody bites.
In the middle of the forest, we heard the sound of the waterfall, the cool cascading stream which rises at the base of the rock cave and meandering down across the jungle to join the Kuru Ganga far below. The surrounding treescape seemed to be a virgin forest. Some trees were covered with wild creepers and greenish moss. We could also spot the exotic Vesak Orchid plants on tree trunks which only grow in the rainforests of the Sabaragamuwa Province. Since it was not the blossoming season, we didn’t see the purple flowers.
Unfortunately, severe deforestation has taken place in and around the forest reserve of Batadomba-lena. The villagers living along the mountain slopes have cleared the forest to make way for tea and rubber plantations, which are a threat to the fauna and flora of the area. It is imperative that the forest rangers of the area take prompt action to halt this deforestation that would result in the desecration of an ancient historical treasure.
After an hour’s climb we reached the Batadomba-lena cave which rose majestically through the greenery and a waterfall cascaded from the peak of the rock like the veil of a bride. Relaxing in the cave, on the basement of the excavation pit, we removed leeches that had attached themselves to our feet.
Human and animal remains
Situated above the surrounding landscape, the cave was a refuge for the ‘Balangoda Man’ (Homosapiens balangodensis) from the elements and the wild animals which roamed the land. Excavations in caves such as, Beli-lena and Fa Hsien-lena in the wet zone have yielded human and animal remains as well as large quantities of stone works. The former Director of Archaeology, Siran Deraniyagala had unearthed human skeletons at the Batadomba-lena cave and put pieces together to match the picture of prehistoric man.
The prevailing atmosphere near the cave is tranquil and seemed to be the perfect spot for a hermitage. There are no disturbances here and the only noises were the natural ones. Similar to other pre-historic caves such as Fa Hsien-lena cave in Bulathsinhala, the Batadomba-lena was a forest hermitage. Two broken Buddha statues and the ruins of a kuti (abode) built joining the rock cave walls, prove that there was once a reputed forest hermitage here. Today the cave is deserted and overgrown with creepers.
At least 500 people can find shelter at a time in the massive Batadomba-lena which comprises a cluster of small caves where people can take refuge from the rain and the sun. Here is a rock that stands testimony to one of the world’s oldest human civilizations and a wonderful natural phenomenon that has been saved for future posterity.