Saga richly embedded in myth and legend
It even surprises me to think that I have never tried to write about
Carl Muller. I am not pleading a case, but it was the manner of the man
that stifled me. Let me skip a lot of what has been written before. He
seemed to revel in a mess that included himself, his family, his
relatives and friends-and what can one make of a man like this? But a
couple of years ago I found that the man did have a serious side and had
got into all sorts of writing - from science fiction to poetry, had
produced story collections and travelogues and books like Spit and
Polish and Colombo - a Novel, that each carried a sort of power he
Author: Carl Muller
The City of the Lion
It was when his glorious masterpiece, Children of the Lion was
released that I saw something I could scarcely believe. What a book that
was and so huge, carrying so much research and a quality of prose that
was superb. What is more, he hadn't finished with it. Even his
publishers, Penguin-Viking of India seemed to have cried halt. It had to
be continued, and this time about, Penguin must have looked at yet
another monstrous book and told him that something had to be done about
This is what I now hold in my hands - a Part One of Book Two. With
good grace, Muller split the monster into four, and in this Part One he
has reminded us that while this is titled City of the Lion, his
publishers will soon bring out Part Two: Grandeur of the Lion, Part
Three: Intrigues of the Lion, and Part Four: Decline of the Lion. And
when is it all going to end?
I listened to him read out a short excerpt Part One at the recently
held SLAM conference at the University of Peradeniya and, cornering him
outside if only to give him my best wishes, he told me that he couldn't
leave things to sink into some sort of unfinished history. "I got into
it," he grinned, "It will be done when I yank the British in, and that
centuries away. I don't know - I may not live long enough to finish it."
It is this beautiful book, City of the Lion, that I wish to write
about. It's part of a monstrous saga, richly embedded in myth and
legend, carrying forward the story of the Sinhalese people, their return
to Anuradhapura after that bold, reckless prince Duttha Gamini Abhaya
slew the usurping Elara who had ruled there for 44 years.
Even his publishers admit that Muller is an unusual man. He is no
academic; never went to university, was kicked out of three schools and
served in the Royal Ceylon Navy and the Ceylon Army and the Port of
Colombo as a pilot station signalman. He then got into advertising,
entertainment, is pianist, keyboard wizard, artist and journalist. With
38 books under his belt, he is quite unstoppable and recently, the
Association of Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies (Sri Lanka
Chapter) felicitated him on his 75th birthday and his contribution to
literature. He seems to be quite unstoppable.
Let me quote from his Introduction:
"This is the story of the greatest Asian Buddhist city of the times
before the Christ...(it) grew, flourished, and the edifices of Buddhist
glory rose to be as the wonders of the East, monuments as enduring as
the pyramids, monuments that kiss the sky to this day....All I am
attempting to do is to bring back a cloudy part of life, pump blood into
veins that have ceased to throb these many centuries...This is my
tribute to those "men with giant purpose" and "their works of wonder"
for they will be remembered as long as Lanka will endure...and sure I am
that even as the stars fall, the mighty works of the City of the Lion
will stand - a testimony of faith. What God will seek to destroy such as
Love for Buddhism
It is the writing that thrills. How much love does Muller have for
Buddhism? He lives next to a Buddhist temple and is much in store with
the monks there. And he is a Christian - or is he? He has made so many
challenges to so many faiths that no one can say what his reaction to
organised religion truly is. He ends his first chapter, "The Indian
Factor" with a harsh-voiced view of the pass as it even swarms in today:
"....Once again it is Sinhala resentment against Damila invasion on a
more subtle plain. It began with sporadic invasion by daring persons
seeking their fortuned in this island. It grew to organised invasions by
south Indian powers, but the Damilas stayed on, even in defeat. They dug
in, they mixed, they bided their time. They adhered to Hinduism just as
Elara did. They looked on parts of the land as theirs. Scratch them even
now and one sees this great great ambition - to make Lanka theirs! But
let the story unfold. Duttha Gamini had killed Elara. The path for the
Sinhala is now of greater glory..."
What enthrallwed me, insisted that I write, was the research Muller
has so, shall I say prayerfully, brought into his work. Telling of the
thousands who still come to the City of the Lion, to sing the praises of
the Buddha, he recounts those days when the people streamed through the
jungles and paths, between the mountains of Malayarata, from the coastal
glades and the sandy coverlets of the East.
Even as they trundled on the broken roads, they sang of the great
renunciation of the events (of the Buddha's birth), of his attainment to
Buddhahood in the Sal Park of Kimbulvatpura. They sang of his power over
the lord of the demons, Mara, who had sought to bewitch him with 108
spells and 84,000 sorceries:
Going to the shade of the Bo Foot
Mounting the Vajrasana
Sitting upon the throne
He preached the five precepts in this wise.
They sang of the great flood that overtook the world at the dawn of
the Kalpa, when all mankind was destroyed and the sun and the moon had
ceased to shine...... And then the gods lit once more.... and the days
Coming to the days of Bhalluka, he tells of how the Ramayana epic had
moulded the minds of the Hindus for centuries and, as he claims:
Was not Ravana, who had raised a fearsome image of the deity - a
seated statue, four-armed, holding an axe in a right hand, a deer in a
left?.... and had not Ravana been king of Lanka both in the north and in
the south? No, the Damilas could not be easily routed. They would fight
desperately for the land they had seized, raised as a Hindu enclave and
around which they had woven many false claims and a barrage of
pseudo-religious myths and legends...."
Let Muller say more:
The North," said Dutta Gamini.... "is ugly! Nothing beautiful nor
pleasant rises there.... what is soft and feeling about them? Nothing!"
So much is assembled to make this book one of the most fascinating
that Muller has written. From George Keyt he has picked these lines:
It is not speculation on the possibilities of remoulding a changed
But it is the dream of an occurrence -
The confluence of circumstances once more,
The following of a favourable flood....
Muller will not hesitate to quote Tenent, Coleridge, Arahat Mahinda's
telling of the Sonnamali and the Lohamahapasada, of the holy monks of
the Mahavihara who would make their mission to the Tavatimsa realm. He
will tell you of Vihara Maha Devi's insistence that he should be as a
king, also a man - and as a man, a king.
Mansion of many storeys
We come to the Prasada - the Sanskrit mansion of many storeys. The
'Jatakas' tell of the Vimanas - an ariel palace: 'dibba-vimana' or
'akasattha-vimana', the 'thamba' support and thousand-pillared palaces.
Muller tells of Smither's record of the stone columns with the motifs of
the cakra, camara and chatra - universal monarchy, divinity and kingly
authority - and in quoting Prof. Nimal de Silva.
Landscape is a product of philosophy, art, technology, creativity and
Nature. This evolved as a 'Shilpa' in Lanka and was carried on with all
the accumulated wisdom of the past. It enhanced the pattern of life for
centuries - aesthetically pleasing."
This work is so overwhelming a presentation that I had to ask how
long it took him.
"You mean this first part? Oh, I think about forty days. All four
parts were tougher. About sixteen months, I think. Yes, about that."
I was sure he was kidding. "That can't be," I said. "All this
research. Hours and hours in libraries...."
"Me? Sitting in libraries? My library is at home. Everything I need
to look up and turn to lies on my shelves."
I could not be so sure, but later, I met many others including Prof.
Ashley Halpe who said: "Carl is a make-himself man. He has surrounded
his life with books and doesn't need to waste his time running around. I
know. I've been with him. He's the sort of writer who keeps on
So, if Muller brings in the Skanda Purana and the Dakshina Kailaya
Manmiyan, don't ask him where he got his information. The books are on
his shelves. "The Hindu Puranas call the ages the Kaliyuga Varathan,' he
said. "and Skanda, the god of six faces is Sadakshara - count the
syllables if you like: Sa - da - ak - sha - ar - ra. That's Skanda's
I thought so much about Muller that had made him such an impossible
man. "What about all the terrible stuff you have written of - your
Burgher Books, those words you so proudly Sinhalised in "Maudie Girl's
"Terrible, eh? So don't read them!"
"What? Everybody I know reads them!"
"Good Lord! They must be worse than me!"