Epic clash within an emperor: | Sunday Observer
A textual exploration of Ksheera Sagaraya Kelambina:

Epic clash within an emperor:

4 June, 2023

Disclaimer: If you have not watched the film yet, we strongly advise against reading this essay. Packed with spoilers that could significantly impact your viewing experience, it’s best to revisit this essay after you have fully immersed yourself in the movie.

Imust express my heartfelt gratitude to Simon Nawagattegama for weaving together an enthralling tale in his novel, Prof. Sunil Ariyaratne for his impeccable directorial skills in bringing this story to life on the silver screen, and HD Premasiri for his outstanding leadership in overseeing the production team.

I am also grateful to the entire team whose collective efforts brought this magnum opus to life. The combined efforts of this talented ensemble deserve my utmost appreciation for creating this cinematic masterpiece. Now, allow me to transport you into the mesmerising world that became my refuge as I embarked on a captivating journey while watching Ksheera Sagaraya Kelambina (hereinafter referred to as KSK).

This essay exclusively explores the intricacies of the movie’s plot. The plot’s narrative can be examined from two perspectives: socio-political and spiritual. These two perspectives offer distinct angles through which the film can be interpreted. It enriches the overall understanding and appreciation of its depth and complexity.

In the unnamed emperor, we witness a reflection of ourselves—the inner struggle of conscience that resides within each of us. The emperor not only serves as the protagonist of the movie but also represents the central character in our own lives. Each one of us harbours an emperor within, though perhaps the disparity lies in the emperor depicted in KSK being bolder. He possesses the ability to relinquish all luxuries and detach himself from the materialistic world. Forget about releasing our attachments to our families and material wealth. Can we muster the strength to let go of our favourite delicacies? And what about desires such as the pursuit of taste or small addictions like social media? These are the contemplations that arise when comparing ourselves to the emperor portrayed in the film.

Challenging preconceived notions

The opening scene immerses us in the presence of an emperor, surrounded by two temptations: alcohol and women. He appears intoxicated, though refrains from indulging in any intimate connections with the women around him, despite their suggestive attire in that grand mansion. The tale takes an even more intriguing turn when the emperor’s closest female companion (hereinafter referred to as the queen consort, for clarity) extends an enticing invitation for him to indulge in the company of seven eager virgins, all anxiously awaiting his attention. However, the emperor displays no interest in these enticements. The emperor’s interaction with the queen consort (limited to touching her shoulders) is softcore. He remains steadfast in his restraint, refusing to cross any boundaries and emphasising his complete absence of womanising tendencies. This impactful portrayal challenges the preconceived notion of the emperor as a womaniser, which is intermittently presented throughout the movie.

The encounter between the rebel leader and the emperor-in-disguise serves as a representation of the collective conscience, also known as the mass conscience. Often, the mass conscience tends to be misled by false consciousness. Both the general public and the rebel leader fall victim to miscommunication, believing that all the negative events occurring are a direct result of the emperor’s commands.

This belief is perpetuated by regional leaders who reinforce this narrative. The regional leaders, assuming the mantle of ‘emperor’, enforce a series of oppressive and inhumane decrees that inflict suffering upon the general public. These tyrannical orders provoke a deep sense of animosity and resentment among the populace. It fuels a growing tide of hatred towards the emperor. In reality, none of these orders actually originate from the emperor himself. This portrayal highlights the influence of misinformation and the power it holds over shaping public perception and understanding.

The scene where the emperor-in-disguise is beaten by a thug, falsely accused of peeking at bathing women, resonates with a broader theme. As viewers, we are aware that the emperor was not engaged in any anti-social act. Yet he becomes a victim of hasty judgment and violence. This sequence serves as a reflection of a larger truth about human nature.

Indeed, we humans tend to take things for granted and make judgments without fully understanding the reality of a situation. We often form opinions based on limited information, assumptions, or societal biases, leading to unjust judgments and actions. This aspect of human behaviour is highlighted through the unjust beating suffered by the emperor. It reminds us how easily misunderstandings and unfair treatment can arise due to snap judgments.

Therefore, the scene prompts us to reflect on our own predispositions and biases, urging us to approach situations with greater empathy and a willingness to question our initial judgments. We can strive to overcome our tendency towards judgmental attitudes and embrace a more understanding perspective.

Irony of ritual and misconceptions

Against this backdrop, the procession that seeks to curse the emperor becomes an intriguing event. The ritualistic procession proceeds to a sacred location, hoping to invoke ill luck upon the alleged womanising emperor and, in turn, bring prosperity to the country. Ironically, the emperor-in-disguise relies on this very procession to reach his healer. The ritual, intended to cast a curse upon the emperor, unknowingly aids the emperor-in-disguise who, we know very well, is no womaniser at all.

This irony underscores the complexity of the situation, where the misconceptions surrounding the emperor’s behaviour inadvertently assist him in his disguised journey. It ultimately reveals the stark contrast between the emperor’s true character and the false perceptions held by the public.

The events that unfold inside the healer’s cabin carry numerous symbolic implications. When the rebel leader detects the signet ring, it signifies a significant clue linking to the emperor’s true identity. However, the rebel leader fails to recognise the emperor, emphasising the theme that looks can be deceiving and that one’s true nature may not always be apparent.

The arrival of soldiers and the subsequent murder of the healer, who nursed the rebel leader, results in blood being shed on the emperor. This act holds symbolic meaning. It can represent the transference of blame, as the violence committed by the soldiers against the physician is indirectly attributed to the emperor. The shedding of blood on the emperor may also symbolise the burden of guilt and responsibility that the emperor carries, even if he is not directly involved in the violent actions taking place.

In a poignant moment, the rebel leader hands over golden coins to the emperor-in-disguise, expressing his disgust with the currency bearing the emperor’s face. However, unbeknown to him, he is inadvertently admiring the real emperor while harbouring contempt for the emperor he has come to know through information and hearsay.

This situation carries a powerful irony. The rebel leader’s disdain for the coins signifies his rejection of the perceived image of the emperor, formed through misinformation and distorted narratives. Yet, in his act of offering the coins, he unwittingly pays homage to the true emperor, whose genuine qualities and character remain hidden from his perception.

This irony serves as a reflection of the complexities of human judgment and the fallibility of preconceived notions. It highlights the contrast between the reality of the emperor’s true nature and the public’s distorted understanding of him, emphasising the importance of seeing beyond surface appearances and questioning the validity of the information received.

The rebel leader is drawn towards the emperor due to his exceptional combat skills. The skills captivate and mesmerise those around him. This dynamic reminds us of Prince Siddhartha, who, in certain versions of the story, won Yasodhara’s heart partly through his combat prowess. Prince Siddhartha became a spiritual icon later on, yet he initially possessed formidable martial abilities, fitting for someone destined to be an emperor. Similarly, in KSK, the emperor demonstrates expertise in warfare and the ability to effectively organise villages, skills he was unable to fully employ during his reign as the emperor of the entire empire.

The combatting style carries symbolic weight. It reflects deeper meanings within the plot. An emperor is not expected to wage wars against innocent individuals. However, when the emperor’s loyal and innocent subordinates find themselves in peril, it becomes the emperor’s duty to protect and act on their behalf. This moral dilemma comes to the forefront when a stranger attempts to harm the emperor’s beloved soft companion. Initially, the emperor pleads for the stranger to desist, exemplifying his gentle nature. Yet, the stranger dismisses the plea, epitomising the consequences of emperors being perceived as timid and mild-mannered.

In a decisive turn, when confronted for the third time, the emperor seizes the opportunity to strike back in self-defence. This pivotal moment illustrates the internal struggle faced by the emperor, torn between his inherent peaceful nature and the imperative to safeguard those dear to him. The combat sequences, therefore, serve as a metaphor for the complex choices and actions an emperor must make to protect their people, ultimately shedding light on the multifaceted nature of leadership and the profound implications it carries.

Rejection of carnal desires

The essence of the story lies in the captivating bond between the disguised emperor and the humble maiden. The maiden develops an attraction towards the emperor.

Remarkably, the emperor does not take advantage of her emotions. This relationship grows into a profound connection until a regional leader violates the girl, who had remained untouched until then. The blood stains on her legs serve as a symbolic testament to the purity of the bond shared between the emperor-in-disguise and the ordinary maiden. Throughout their journey, the closest intimacy we witness is when the emperor-in-disguise applies healing herbs to the maiden’s body, aiding her recovery from the pandemic. They endure months together, and the emperor consistently assumes a protective role, ensuring her safety and well-being.

This portrayal highlights the depth and sincerity of the relationship between the emperor-in-disguise and the ordinary maiden. It emphasises the importance of respect, empathy, and the rejection of exploitation in intimate connections. The acts of healing and protection illustrate the genuine care and compassion the emperor demonstrates towards the girl, further underscoring the profound nature of their bond.

A significant moment occurs when the disguised emperor steps out into the garden and notices an eagle. He chases away the eagle. This creature holds multiple symbolic meanings within the context of the story.

First, the eagle is the very creature depicted on the emperor’s seal, representing his imperial power. Second, it can be inferred that the eagle serves as a potential spy, considering a similar account found in the Ummagga Jataka. The eagle could have been relaying information about the emperor’s whereabouts to the palace.

Most importantly, the eagle holds symbolic connotations of lust. In this scene, the emperor-in-disguise drives away the bird, which can be interpreted as a rejection of carnal desires. He then steps into the abode to cover the girl’s naked body with a robe and chooses to sleep alone, separately.

This sequence captures the complexity of the moment, where the emperor-in-disguise confronts temptations and chooses a path of restraint and respect.

The symbolism of the eagle reinforces the themes of power, surveillance, and the internal struggle against lustful inclinations. It serves as a pivotal moment, highlighting the emperor’s commitment to maintaining integrity and protecting the girl’s dignity.

To be continued