Samskara as a Religious Novel
Table of Contents
Samskara is an attack on the orthodoxy of the Kannada Brahmins
Samskara is a novel that exposes the conservative lifestyle of the Kannada Brahmins. The two main characters of the novel are Naranappa and Praneshacharya. They are poles apart in their personalities. Praneshacharya is spiritual and scholarly whereas Naranappa is materialistic and practical in attitudes. Samskara is a religious novel. It attacks the traditional and orthodox principles of the Hindu religion. Sex is an integral part of all Hindu puranas and yet all the Brahmins of Durvasapura agrahara lead a dull and sterile life by suppressing their sexual desire. They will glorify the lascivious sexual charms of Shakuntala and admire Kalidasa for creating such a wonderful paragon of beauty. But they lack the guts of either a Naranappa or Shripati to admire real beauty in flesh and blood in the persons of the beautiful low-caste prostitute, Chandri or the bubbling charms of outcaste Belli respectively.
Praneshacharya’s sterile life:
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 Bhagirathi 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 Matsyaghandhi in herself.
The attitude of the agrahara Brahmins towards sex:
The orthodox ways of the Brahmins of the agrahara, make them look upon sex as a sin and a tabco. Further they associate sex with caste and community label. They neither enjoy full sexual life with their withered and barren wives nor will they allow others like Naranappa to enjoy real sex with the charming Chandri. They are jealous of Naranappa having a beautiful woman for his concubine. Durgabhalta, the Smarta Brahmin of the agrahara admires in secret the lascivious charms of Chandri and even admires Naranappa for his classic taste. In his own bed room, he has hung Ravi Varma’s painting of Matsyaghandhi in seductive charms. In fact, he is Naranappa’s anti-self. That is why he argues that sexual deviation of Naranappa need not be made much of by quoting the historical example of the Brahmins coming from North cohabiting with the Dravidian women and some of the Brahmins visiting the brothels of Barsur in South Kanara and so on. In order to suppress the sexual urge or widows, the Brahmins of Durvasapura make them shave their heads and look lusterless. Yet, the Brahmins have their eyes on the shaven Widows also. But the widows of Parijatapura do not shear their hair. They chew pan and keep their lips ruddy making persons like Durgabhatta desiring to visit that place at least for them. It is no wonder to note that the Durvasapura Brahmins with their sexual inhibition worship Maruti, the celibate Monkey-god. The novel thus exposes the hollowness and the hypocrisy of Durvasapura Brahmins.
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Naranappa is the author’s mouthpiece to fire his salvos at the hypocrisy of the agrahara Brahmins:
Ananthamurthy attacks instable roots of Brahmanism with the help of the character of Naranappa. Naranappa describes the lives of all great Brahmins who had violated their orthodoxy by falling for the charms of women of lower caste. He sights the example of the great sage Parashara who fell for the irresistible charms of Matsyagandhi, a fisherwoman and took her in his boat and blessed her body with a sweet fragrance. They made love in the boat itself under the cover of the clouds and thus was born the great sage Vysa who wrote the immortal Mahabharata. Another such example of love transcending spirituality is that of the great sage Vishvamitra who lost all the spiritual powers that he had gained by falling for the ensnaring charms of Menaka. One more such example is that of sage Adi Shankara who entered into the dead body of a King to experience sex with his queen.
The novel, a mirror of the ritualistic life of Karnataka Brahmins:
The whole novel Samskara is written on the basis of the rituals and rites of Karnataka Brahmins. It is interesting to note that most of the place-names mentioned in the novel are real except that of Durvasapura. Places like Shivamogge, Barsur, Tirthahalli, Kundapura and Dharmasthala exist on the map of Karnataka even today. The incidents mentioned in the novel took place in the early 1930s and 1940s just before independence. The Tayinadu newspaper mentioned in the novel was really circulated at that time. This novel was written in 1965 but even today many of the issues discussed in it are relevant. Hindu society has undergone a lot of changes but we still have numerous orthodox practices and conservative attitudes inside the community which is really a chink in its armour. Just like the future of Praneshacharya, the protagonist of the novel, the future of orthodox beliefs is still under continued discussion. The novel also mentions the daily rituals of the Brahmins of the agrahara besides the annual cycle of their ritual-ridden life. Some of the poor Brahmins like Dasacharya mainly depend on the ritual meals served during ceremonies connected with birth and deaths. Dasa is afraid that he will lose his orthodoxy if he performs the samskara for Naranappa and he will not be invited by the people in the other agraharas for ritual meals on the premise that he has broken his Brahminhood. By their rigid orthodoxy and ritual-ridden life, they make their lives horrible.
The importance of Naranappa in the novel:
The novel Samskara begins with the death of Naranappa in Durvasapura agrahara. He is anti-brahminical Brahmin and has lived all his life as a rebel challenging the ways and beliefs of his agrahara counterparts. He has been a headache to the fellow Brahmins of the agrahara by his reprobate ways openly holding the established customs and conventions held sacred by the Brahmins while alive. He has abandoned his legally wedded wife and lived with a low-caste prostitute by name Chandri in the heart of the agrahara and eaten the food cooked by her. He has mingled with Muslims by eating meat and denigrating the temple pond by catching and eating the fish dedicated to Lord Ganapati. He has thrown the sacred stone ‘saligrama’ held in reverence and worshipped for centuries by his fellow Brahmins into the river. This besides, he has consumed liquor with others openly in the front yard of his house in low company. In addition to attacking Brahmin beliefs he has corrupted the Brahmin youths like Shyama and Shripati making the former desert his home and join the army and the later going after the lowcaste woman Belli neglecting his wife Lilavati and becoming disloyal to Lakshmana and his Anasusya who have reclaimed him from an orphan.
Naranappa’s reasons for choosing a kind of lifestyle opposed to the Brahminic ways of his agrahara:
Naranappa has his own reasons for choosing this kind of lifestyle. He believes that Brahminism is in shambles. He is a Hedonist and believes in enjoying the pleasures of life to the hilt. According to him, the Brahmins themselves are responsible for their present despicable condition. People like Garuda and Lakshmana dynamite the good values for which Brahmin society is held in great esteem. Many Brahmins have become abject slaves of greed, anger, jealousy and lust. Though they outwardly worship the Brahminic cult and its orthodoxy, they do everything that goes against the tenets of ideal Brahminhood.
Naranappa’s mockery of the decadent ways of his fellow Brahmins of the agrahara:
Praneshacharya does not want to excommunicate Naranappa. He tries to reform and bring him back to the mainstream. He has promised to his mother to reclaim him and for that he even fasts two nights a week. He personally visits Naranappa and tries to reason him out and advises him to mend his ways. But Naranappa treats him with derision and mockery and challenges him saying that he will win over him hands down and raise the grave over Brahminhood. He even dares to give a piece advice to the Acharya. He wants the agrahara Brahmins to push their sickly wives into the river and get hold of some fish-scented lower-caste woman like the legendary Matsyagandhi. He advises them to taste her fish-curry and then go to bed with her. He tells the Acharya that they will experience God when they wake up in the arms of the lower-caste woman. The Acharya is very much disturbed by Naranappa’s words. He stops the practice of telling the erotic stories of puranic heroines and begins to lecture on moral stories. This makes the young Brahmins stop attending his discourses. Though Naranappa is a pronounced atheist all though his living days, he utters the names of all Hindu Gods during final moments of agonizing death. If we take the words of Chandri about Naranappa’s recantation during his last moments, we can safely conclude that he dies a believer.
Samskara is a national allegory exposing the caste-system eating the vitals of the nation:
One learns from Samskara that the kind of awareness which the Acharya gains through the journey requires a realistic and an empirical view of life. By evading the issues and problems, one can never get out of the dilemma. A conscious withdrawal from action and an inert life like the Lotos Eaters in a closed society cannot provide answers to the problems in real life. Like the inhabitants of Durvasapura village, the mere act of existing and leading a routinized fossilized life is not sufficient for the progress of the individuation process’ or a journey to one’s inner self. It is possible only through the experience of the real and a process of self-healing and contemplation that one can evolve the mental and spiritual plane. Thus Durvasapura village is an allegorical miniature of India which requires self-examination and selfrejuvenation through lofty ideals that will take the nation through in its quest for all round progress. To do this, the nation must get rid of the albatross that hangs around its neck. It is sad to think that the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi had to shed his blood fighting for the fusion of the caste-divide in India.
The novel Samskara also shows the futility of the centuries-old caste system operating in India undermining the very concept of national integration. The caste system has eaten the vitals of Indian society and stands as a stumbling block to its progress. Samskara aims at the systematization of human values for national progress by its clinical approach to the closed society of Durvasapura agrahara. Though the aseptic administered by Ananthamurthy in the novel is stringent, its purpose is to stem the rot and pave way for an India without the barriers of cancerous caste system and make the country a nation in reality.