King Swarnamali, the Great | Sunday Observer

King Swarnamali, the Great

12 September, 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 7

Although Gemunu had resolved it all in his mind, it took a long time for him to put into practice the philosophy of the platter of kiribath. Kirimma would approach him the moment the plate of rice was in his hands. Her arrival immediately stirred his spirit and thereby checked his habit.

As he became better with the kiribath before her presence, he was able to apply the principle to his entire life. It was a long time later that he realised that it was not only kiribath that was unable to give him unease, but the trees, the sun and moon or even people could not unsettle him. Gemunu became conscious that what he felt about Ranmenika was not unease.

Nothing pleased Gemunu more than bathing in the river while reflecting on the platter of kiribath. As he walked across the fields towards the Kotmala Oya, he calibrated his heart to be in concert with the rhythm of the wind that swept across the Vally. Gemunu felt that it was the wind itself that was leading him across the paddy fields and towards the Kotmala Oya.

The prince entered the water determined to draw into the circle of his eyes the darkness of the river which was different to the half-light of the world around at that time of day. While his eyes took in the strange darkness that was resident in the shade of the bamboo, kumbuk and other trees, the strange coolness which had also taken refuge in this very same environment began to converse with his body. He became conscious of a struggling fish, the whispers of the bamboo grove and the still, silent gaze of rocks.


And then he began to wonder about himself, a stranger who had entered these environs. He looked again at the bamboo, the rocks and the water carefully and with utmost calm. Gemunu realised that none of these treated him as an outsider, a stranger. He skipped from rock to rock lightly so as not to hurt and immersed himself in the water thinking that he was but another drop albeit one made of blood.

As he lay tired and sprawled upon the veranda in the evening, he felt that it was not possible to discern the difference between wakefulness and slumber. He liked this feeling. A thousand crickets sang in concert. The music which came piercing through the darkness informed Gemunu that although it was night, the world was still awake. Lying there in the warm veranda, Gemunu was perplexed by the happy chatter of the frogs. What could they find cheerful living as they were in mud and water? He later understood that just as the veranda gave him comfort, they obtained contentment from dew and water.

The mind found the freedom it sought in the world unseen darkness that existed in the visible night world. Although darkness and light could be differentiated, Gemunu realised that the entire world was wide awake. The wind that playfully walked all over the fields during the day now made ominous sounds as it moved. This he heard. He felt the ways in which the foliage lived and breathed in the darkness.

Enormity of life

Wasn’t it at this hour as one lay upon a mat covered by this sheet of darkness that the fact of being alive is best comprehended? It seemed that the constituent parts of entire world were taking leave of all other elements, leaving him alone with himself. Gemunu felt that one and all, reflecting on the enormity of the life that’s been given, was taking and releasing the deepest breaths. He though instantly that the night-sheet had separated the world into innumerable elements even as it gathered them all as a single entity.

A branch moved noisily as though determined to irritate the night. A dry kottan leaf fell with a considerably lesser sound. And yet, in a moment, as though none of this or anything else had happened, the entire world fell silent.

Gemunu felt that consciousness of being awake or asleep was leaving him gradually. And at this moment, the moon came out. Was it the moon, though? Was it Ranmenika? Was he asleep? Was he awake? Nothing was certain. Gemunu would wake up early morning as Ranmenika called out to him. But that’s just a bird song, Gemunu realised.