Character Sketch of Praneshacharya in Samskara

Character Sketch of Praneshacharya in Samskara

Character Sketch of Praneshacharya in Samskara

Praneshacharya, the spiritual and moral guardian of his agrahara:

Praneshacharya, the crowning glory of Durvasapura, the role model of agrahara, though married gloats in being a celibate for he has no personal experience of sex because his wife Bhagirati is an invalid woman. He looks upon his celibacy a penance and a voluntarily chosen path of salvation. He has never looked upon any woman with a lustful look or desire. For he has considered all beauty is to be dedicated to goddess Lakshmi, the divine consort of Lord Vishnu and all love to be the exclusive arena of Lord Krishna who has made love with cow-girls. But in view of his mastery of Hindu puranas and myths, he can describe the erotic beauty of the classical heroines in an extremely attractive and exciting language. No wonder, listening to his discourse on the beauty of Kalidasa’s heroine Shakuntala, Shripati gets so much excited that he jumps into the river and immediately makes love to Belli, the outcaste woman, Belli, a veritable Matsayghandi in herself.

Pranesha’s dilemma in solving the issue relating to the cremation of Naranappa:

As the spiritual and moral guardian of the agrahara of Durvasapura, the problem of performing the cremation of the degenerate Brahmin Naranappa is brought before him. The nearest kin of the deceased Garuda and Lakshmana do not want to perform the Samskara for Naranappa on two counts. First the family fued between them Naranappa’s family has torn them apart. Moreover, Naranappa by virtue of his pronounced denigration of Brahminhood and living the life of a rake with his low-caste concubine and Muslim friends does not deserve a Brahmin cremation. So they do not want to pollute themselves by performing the cremation of the Devil’s Disciple. The Acharya’s Books do not offer him any proper solution. The Brahmins try to seek the help of the Parijatapura Smartas, the friends of late Naranappa to Perform his samskara but fail miserably. So they come back to the Acharya like orphans and gather round him for his guidance. The Acharya tries to seek a divine decree to the problem at the temple of Maruti. But Maruti remains unmoved. When the Acharya returns home disappointed in the dark night, Chandri tries to kneel before him and seek his blessings. But in that process, the Acharya comes in contact with her breasts leading him to cohabit with her in the dark forest.

Praneshacharya’s altered persona after his sexual affair with Chandri:

When Praneshacharya goes back home to his invalid wife, his hand becomes unsteady while giving her the daily dose of medicine and porridge. The sensation that he had often experienced in his dreams, of falling into a bottomless pit and drawing up his legs in instinctive terror, revives to him when he sees the virtually visionless eyes of his flat-chested, utterly lean and skinny wife who has served to function as a symbol of his sacrifice. The sight of her recoils him as if she were the source of all stink that troubled his nostrils. He feels like a small monkey that has left the safe refuge of his mother’s body and springing from branch to branch has happened to miss its hold.

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He is at a loss to know what made him attend on this ailing woman -compassion or a sense of obligation deriving from a Decalogue. He was sixteen and she twelve when he married her. Either a life of sanyasa or a life of self-mortification out of this sour resolve had emerged his choice of a stemless invalid girl. He left her with a grateful father-in-law and went away to Benares to become a Vedanta Siromani. When he returned he gladly engaged himself in the nursing of his wife, for it had seemed to him that God had made her invalid and deposited her with him to test his perseverance in “desireless action” (nishkama karma). He attended on her; he cooked food for her, worshipped the idols of the domestic deities, and in the evening ladled out discourses on the Holy Scriptures to the agrahara Brahmins and widows with shaven heads. Like a miser he had hoarded all the pretty coins of his daily penance. And now he felt he was back where he were when he was sixteen.

The Acharya’s decision to own up everything that transpired between him and Chandri at the forest before the agrahara Brahmins:

The Acharya decides to own up all that transpired between him and Chandri at the forest. But he does not have the moral courage to own up the truth and lose his credibility as their leader with them. He wants Chandri to tell everything to them. But Chandri does not want to make their secret affair public before the shallow agrahara Brahmins and so she goes to her house. The Acharya tells the agrahara Brahmins that he cannot guide them as he is also a mortal like them and asks them to do as their hearts dictate. When the Brahmins leave for Kaimara to seek guidance from the pundit there and meet their guru at the Mutt in case of any further difficulty.

The Acharya’s quest for self-reliance after cremating his wife:

Soon after the agrahara Brahmins leave for Kaimara, the Acharya’s wife Bhagirathi dies of plague like Naranappa. The Acharya cremates her with the help of some Brahmins from Kaimara and leaves Durvasapura to where his legs direct him. During the course of his aimless wanderings, he learns his lessons of humility. But he is not able to conquer his fear of identity. He lacks the guts of Naranappa to live how he has lived; the boldness of his own classmate Mahabala to discontinue his studies and live with a prostitute. He meets Putta, a young man belonging to the Malera community. Putta exposes the Acharya to a wide variety of sensuous and sensual experiences at the Melige temple chariot festival. He takes the Acharya to the house of the seductress, Padmavati. It is a very great temptation for the Acharya to overcome. But the Acharya overcomes that. At the temple meals-line, the Acharya is afraid that his true identity will be revealed and is also afraid that his act of polluting the sanctity of the festival by partaking in the meal will stall the movement of the chariot and so on. He runs away from the meals-line as the cook has identified him. He meets Putta waiting for him and leaves for Durvasapura after gaining his samskara, his right of passage by undergoing a vista of newer experiences in the company of Putta.

Samskara is a complicated thinking machine:

Murthy’s novel is a complicated thinking machine. It begins plainly enough, with the Brahmins of a celebrated (proud, and a bit decaying) agrahara (settlement) facing a tough choice. If they bury a dead Brahmin reprobate, they avoid the sin of leaving him untended (and can get on with eating and the rest of their routine lives); but if he is considered utterly reprobate and no longer “truly” Brahmin because of his many sins of word and deed, they hopelessly pollute themselves through contact, as they also do if they allow a true Brahmin to be buried by anyone else; aggravating their plight is that word of a mistake in such a matter would ruin their reputation as an especially holy, high settlement, a reputation based on the presence of Praneshacharya, winner of 15 prize scarves in religious debates. This crisis is complicated by a series of misfortunes that accrue while Pranesh is stymied”: he contends with his long-standing rivalry with the victim, Naranappa, who turns out to have died from a plague which begins to spread in the village; he makes love after a day of fruitless fasting and prayer with the dead man’s lover, a beautiful former prostitute; he leaves the village after cremating his sickly wife and commits a series of ritual offenses while he is on the road having a crisis of spiritual identity. His neat, static, apparently stable world goes all to hell, and the novel ends before any “answer” can be dramatized, leaving us to deal somehow with how thoroughly each turn of the novel ripples out both into the plot of Tradition and the plot of Modernit.

Praneshacharya’s existential angst:

These two ripples occupy the same pond because the past perception he must face work like those of Oedipus: he does not know himself or the terms and worlds in which he finds himself, his willful ignorance of his key events and decisions rise up to trouble him once a crisis shakes the routine of his preeminence. As in the case of Oedipus, one can think through his life in traditional terms, or translate it into modern existential terms. For example he married a young girl crippled beyond functioning as anything but a patient. We are a little troubled at the first reference to this marriage: “The Acharys is filled with pleasure and a sense of worth as sweet as the five-fold nectar of holy days, he is filled with compassion for his ailing wife. He proudly swells a little at his lot, thinking, ‘By marrying an invalid, I get ripe and ready’ (2)

But “dharma” now feels like the body of a mother monkey he, the baby, clutched and lost hold of. One could read this as does a rival pundit, as an excess of rigor, and Ramanujan in his Afterword notes that such a marriage might be thought to invalidate the purpose of immersing oneself in the world of the householder, of mixing in the world for that phase of life rather than intruding into it the student’s celibacy or the forest-dweller’s relative renunciation (146). One can consider that the Acharya must now live and feel Vedanta rather than merely performing its doctrines, penances, rituals, and teachings, adding some bhakti to his Bhagavata (fervor, that is, to his scriptures).

Or, one could play out the implications of likening himself to “a baby monkey losing hold of his grip on the mother’s body as she leans from branch to branch” since he felt he had lost hold and fallen from the rites and actions he had clutched till now” (75). In this reading, his rituals have functioned like his marriage to an invalid, as ways of avoiding living his own life, of experiencing the real, of existing. Having made love to the beautiful Chandri “now he wanted for himself a share of all that beauty and sexual enjoyment (77). Sexuality awakens the “natural” man, brings him to a break with his in-authenticity, starts him on the road to authentic Being. Are you Traditional or Modern?

Praneshacharya’s relation to Naranappa:

Or consider his relation to Naranappa, Mr. Modernity, a booster of the arts, the Congress Party, alcoholism, sex with shudras, friendship with Muslims, and general free thinking including a devastating reading of why the Acharya and his young scholars like the sexy passages so much (Kalidasa’s Shakuntala, e.g.). “Why had he, the Acharya, objected to excommunicating such a creature? Was it fear, or compassion ? Or the obstinate thought he could win some day?” (21). He fears the “rebellious example” Naranappa sets (22), but he is also “angered at the way the man slipped from under his influence” (23). “Let’s see.” Naranappa challenges him, “who wins in the end-you or me. I’ll destroy brahminism, I certainly will. My only sorrow is that there’s no brahminism really left to destroy in this place-except you” (23). Does Naranappa function to summon the Acharya into his modern existentialist crisis, or does he prompt the Acharya to shed the obscurations of pride and the will to power and, instead, gain a fully realized form of “past perceptions”?

Chandri is the opposite of the Acharya’s ascetic outlook:

Chandri is another interesting case, though minor in the novel in her own right. Besides being beautiful, everyone’s sex object, a prostitute Naranappa brought back from a foray into the neighboring cities, she is an exception to all the rules,” a “running river” that doesn’t dry, doesn’t tire” (44). She is the opposite of the Acharya’s ascetic rulebook, and she doesn’t see her dead lover as a problem for the fine print of Brahminic law, but as “neither brahmin nor shudra. A carcass. A stinking rotting carcass” (70). Since that’s not her lover, Naranappa,” she can get him cremated by a Muslim whom Naranappa had bailed out from bankruptcy. Praneshacharya feels “compassion for her when they come upon each other in the forest at night, is then “bewildered,” then feels “a thrill of tenderness,” then “faint,” then “hunger … raged.” and, finally, “he cried out like a child in distress, ‘Amma !'” (the word means “mother”). She feeds the infantilized Acharya some plantains and they make love. Is she the scriptural fisherwoman who awakens the kundalini energy that can rise and become the power of the gods in him? Or is she the midwife to an existential crisis, gifting him the plantain-phallus by which he discovers his own dormant, smothered individuality under all the prize shawls and Sanskrit sloka? Pranesh lives the contradiction between these two ways of understanding experience. Mukherjee reads this encounter as restarting him as a sensuously alive child. The difficulty, of course, will be to prevent in an ignited Praneshacharya a ruthless western-styled consumer self from emerging to use and abuse according to his appetites-a poor replacement for that equally reified ego attached to traditional rituals, knowledge, and status.

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