Muttulingam was born in the village of Kokkuvil in Jaffna, Sri Lanka to Appadurai and Rasamma. He was the fifth child in a family of seven. He obtained an undergraduate degree in the sciences from the University of Ceylon, Colombo in 1959. He began writing short stories in the 1960s, with his short story Akka winning a competition conducted by a Sri Lankan Tamil newspaper in 1961. This story was the title story in his first collection of short stories, Akka ("Sister"), published in 1964.