King Swarnamali the Great | Sunday Observer

King Swarnamali the Great

15 August, 2021

Making a genuine effort to bring an unimagined and unexplored treasure trove of modern Sinhala literature to the English reading community, Montage brings Udayasiri Wickramaratne’s debut novel ‘Swarnamali Maha Raja’ translated by Malinda Seneviratne, veteran journalist, writer and poet.

‘Swarnamali Maha Raja’ (King Swarnamali the Great), is an imaginative journey with the disgraced Price Gemunu during his self-imposed exile.


Chapter 4

The ripples that elegantly danced with the flowing waters of the Mahaweli didn’t arouse any feeling in Gemunu.

The massive trees on their side of the river whose branches lowered towards the water didn’t arouse any feeling in Gemunu.

A towering tree rising from among thorny bush children and as though exuding compassion for the entire world was pouring shelter upon them did not arouse any feeling in Gemunu.

Whereas one who was exhausted by the relentless heat of the sun would, upon seeing such a tree, rush towards it as though to a mother, Gemunu was neither moved nor transfixed by seeing anything.

If he were indeed perturbed it was when he witnessed his own thoughts which would surface in a manner that his body could feel and his eyes and mind could perceive , rising from some unfelt, unknown and hidden depths like an earthquake, like the eruption of a volcano spouting lava, pouncing from the unconscious to the conscious. He would get agitated or else become calm only on account of some joy, pain or sense of relief birthed in his heart. There was no evidence whatsoever that these feelings had any relationship with the world around him.

How indeed could any meaningful though related to the world around him arise within him? Wasn’t it according to his father’s guidance and nothing else that he had formed meaningful connections with the world? The shade of a tree, the breeze that swept over a reservoir’s waters — had it not been through the heart of his father that he had experienced the wonder of all such things? When he was around eleven or twelve years old sitting on a tank bund and realised that it was wonderful to feel the wind on his body, he had felt that he was not Prince Gemunu but King Kavantissa himself, that he was not the son but the father. When the succulence of buffalo curd delighted both body and mind Gemunu had felt that he had been transformed into his father.

Gemunu remembered the sense of utmost satisfaction that materialised upon his father’s countenance when he ate buffalo curd. He silently observed how a thought at odds with his age yet sweet was forming in his heart — was it only buffalo curd that his father loved more than he loved me, Gemunu asked himself. When at Tissamaharama watching the moon rise above the pinnacle of the chaityaya Gemunu felt that he was not the son but the father. At each such moment he the kind of bliss that being wrapped in a soft silk cloth would give.

Nevertheless the end of all journeys with such thoughts filled Gemunu with an extreme sense of helplessness and loneliness and therefore he strived to direct his thoughts elsewhere. It was true that thoughts which arouse with sweetness would eventually venture into regions of sorrow that the heart could not bear.


On the other hand if one were to expend much effort to focus on a feeling that was immensely fearful, after a great inferno burns both mind and body at first, further contemplation would find a mild relief and even satisfaction gradually seeping into the mind. It would them spread all over mind and body. Gemunu realised almost immediately that thoughts which offered relief and those which agitated beyond belief would only result in making him immensely weary.

In the midst of all these thoughts and hopes, there was a conundrum he just didn’t want to dwell on that kept agitating for attention from somewhere in the periphery of his mind. When the thought crossed his mind that there was some relationship between this matter and that of sending ornaments to his father, Gemunu wanted to break through everything and run away to some place where no one could see him. On the other hand, if he didn’t confront it now, he might never get another opportunity to do so.

Having achieved some level of regional prosperity had not his father planned to spend his time enjoy the material comforts this generated? Had his father not been selfish in the choices he made, knowing well that war with Elara could very well have resulted in all of this being destroyed and that this course of action was far more profitable, especially since he had secured the borders of the region he controlled and therefore he could spend his years without worry? Wasn’t this an insult to his father’s heroic past? Wasn’t it a betrayal of the trust that the people and renowned fighters like Nandimitra had placed upon him? Was he not betraying King Devanampiyatissa and Arahat Mahinda?


Was it not his own cowardice that was lurking behind all these arguments? Was it not his fear of taking on embracing risks all on his own? He would have to fight Elara all on his own when his father was no more. Fighting Elara while his father was still alive would mean that he would share the risks involved with his father and not have to handle them on his own, wasn’t this true? Wasn’t it that he was extremely fearful of Elara? Wasn’t it this fear of Elara and the reluctance to face him alone that had prompted him to spur his father to play hero? He had tried to drag his old and weak father to war, had he not?

There was enormous doubt within him about being able to overcome Elara should he went to war with him. At the same time, he was filled with a great desire to enjoy royal comforts in Anuradhapura and to be crowned as the supreme king of Sirilaka. If his father stood by him or rather if his father’s strategic expertise could be deployed, then Elara could be defeated somehow, he felt, his own cowardice persuading him to overestimate his father’s strength. If, at the end, they were defeated, no one would come forward to place the blame upon him.

Wasn’t he justifying his act by arguing in this manner? Wasn’t his anger a product of his father rejecting the request to declare war, a suggestion born of his own cowardice? Wasn’t it on account of his father refusing to pander to his son’s selfish needs?

If they went to war and emerged victorious it is likely that his royal father would believe it was all due to the efforts of his son and have him crowned in Anuradhapura. Such was his generosity. He was one who thought more of the country and the people than about himself. Wasn’t his haste to go to war fueled by these factors as well? Wouldn’t victory have enabled him to rule the entire country in a short period of time because his father was old? And even this death was anticipated only after winning the war, was it not? Failure would not be attributed to him. Isn’t it because he could not subdue his father to his own cowardice that he had abused his father’s innocence, affection and helplessness, essentially labelling him a woman by gifting that innocent man a woman’s ornaments?

Gemunu realised that there was an abyss within his mind that was deeper and far more vile than the hell which Devdat had been hurled into. He was unsettled by the thought that he was walking through this jungle while carrying within him such a terrible chasm.

Neither birdsong nor the struggles of a fish in the water arouse any feeling within him. He didn’t feel the soft breeze that grazed his body. Having severed relations with his father could he ever again form any bond with anything upon this earth? Gemunu felt that the entire world had been turned into a desert and that he was the one solitary creature that inhabited it.

In this moment where his heart had been cleaved, Gemunu felt that going upstream along the Mahaweli which in fact cleaved the heart that is the motherland would be pleasant. The sight of the water whose ends weren’t visible and whose waters appeared pitch black beyond the white sands of the shore made him perplexed. Fearful.