Samskara as an Allegory
Allegory, in literature, symbolic story that serves as a disguised representation for meanings other than those indicated on the surface. The characters in an allegory often have no individual personality, but are embodiments of moral qualities and other abstractions. The allegory is closely related to the parable, fable, and metaphor, differing from them largely in intricacy and length. A great variety of literary forms have been used for allegories. The medieval morality play Everyman, personifying such abstractions as Fellowship and Good Deeds, recounts the death journey of Everyman, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim Progress, a prose narrative, is an allegory of man’s spiritual salvation. Spenser’s poem The Faerie Queene, besides being a chivalric romance, is a commentary on morals and manners in 16th-century England as well as a national epic. Although allegory is still used by some authors, its popularity as a literary form has declined in favor of a more personal form of symbolic expression.
Northrop Frye considers that all commentary or the relating of the events of a narrative to conceptual terminology is in one sense allegorical interpretation’. Samskara seems especially open to this mode of interpretation because not only the events but the objects described in the novel seem to be invested with allegorical overtones.
The allegorical overtone of the flowers in the gardens of the Brahmins in Durvasapura agrahara:
The flowers that bloomed in the gardens of the Brahmins in Durvasapura agrahara are a good example of this. These were used for purposes of worship and were never enjoyed for their beauty or fragrance. These were used for purposes of worship and were never enjoyed for their beauty or fragrance. The description in Chapter Two is a remarkable palimpsest of realistic details and allegorical nuances, setting the tone for the rest of the novel. Only the flowers in Naranappa’s yard were different because these were solely meant for Chandri’s hair and a vase in the bedroom’–for sensuous human enjoyment and not for divine consecration. The basic polarity of the novel is between direct involvement in the sensuous aspects of life and a detachment through the denial of senses.
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- Samskara a Novel by Ananthamurthy | Themes
- Samskara as a Religious Play
The opposition between order and disorder:
The opposition between the values of the agrahara which the Acharya shares in the beginning of the novel and those of the renegade Naranappa extends beyond the framework of religion or custom. With allegorical clarity two fundamentally different responses to experience are presented: one emphasizing order and restraint, the other abandonment and passion. The smell of the night-queen bush in Naranappa’s yard broadcasts to the village the latter message: ‘In the darkness of the night the bush was thickly clustered with flowers, invading the night like some raging lust, pouring forth its nocturnal fragrance. The agrahara writhed in its hold as in the grip of a magic serpent-binding spell.’ (p. 15). The words ‘darkness’, ‘night’, ‘serpent’, “magic’, ‘lust’, and ‘writhe combine to evoke the irresistible aura which is a threat to the life-denying values of the agrahara.
The sexual connotation of the snake referring to feminine eroticism:
The snake has obvious sexual connotations, and by transference so do the snake-like braids of women. ‘Chandri worse her black snake-like hair in a knot” (p. 15) and Padmavati’s ‘snake braid coming down her should, over her breast’ (p. 123) unsettles the Acharya’s equilibrium. Even when unbraided. women’s hair has erotic associations. At Shripati’s call Belli came out, ‘her hair washed in warm water, wearing only a piece below her waist, naked above, waves of hair pouring her back and face’. (p.40). The hair-serpenteroticism thread runs throughout the novel, for example in the description of the woman acrobat at the fair as ‘serpentine…all curves’, and of Belli ‘like a snake writhing in the sand’. All the Brahmin women in contrast to Chandri, Belli, Padmavati and the heroines of the legend and myth are depicted as frigid with “dwarfish braids’ and withered bodies. The fisherwoman in Ravi Verma’s painting and the Muslim wife of Jagannatha the poet excite the imagination of the starved Brahmins.
In Samskara women are made to carry the allegorical burden while the male protagonist is invested with subjectivity and agency. Praneshacharya‘s invalid wife epitomizes the diseased sterility of the entire agrahara. The life principle embodied in women has dried up in the rigidity of the orthodox community, while outside this enclosed world there is a celebration of life made more desirable by contrast. Shripati’s wife would tighten and twine un her thighs when he approached her, but there was always Belli in the outcaste hutments: her body … the colour of the earth, fertile, ready for seed, warmed by an early sun’ (p. 37). The sensuousness of the women outside the agrahara is raised to a symbolic level by repeated mythic references to Urvasi, Menaka and Matsyagandhi temptresses of the sages. The apsaras stand outside social and ethical parameters and embody in them the feminine essence unfettered by familial relationships. Thus the withered Bhagirathi and the luscious Chandri are both symbolic figures in the dream landscape of Praneshacharya’s journey.
The tiger is associated with masculine lust:
If the serpent connotes the feminine eroticism the tiger is repeatedly associated with masculine lust. Naranappa’s flowers invade the night like some ‘raging’ lust and the word ‘raging’ connects it to his own lust when he confronts Chandri’s body like a raging striped tiger’ (p. 45). Praneshacharya, reflecting on his encounter with Chandri in the forest, recognizes his ‘body’s tigerish lust’ (p. 81) which lay dormant all this time under pity and compassion. Once having tasted blood ‘now the tamed tiger is leaping out, baring its teeth’ (p. 82). Also by implication the tiger gets associated with other aspects of life that fall outside the rarefied and attenuated Brahminic existence the world of violent entertainment and crude joy. The Acharya is horrified by the tigerish world of cock-fights which threatens his new found values as well as his orthodoxy.
It is not difficult to see that the serpent and the tiger belong to the Dionysian world which constantly threatens the repressed orderliness of the Brahmin agrahara … Although the world represented by Naranappa’s debauchery is certainly not meant to be a positive whole, one should hesitate to apply the words ‘evil’ or ‘darkness to them in direct or unambiguous way. It is the obverse of the barren life of Praneshacharya, full of privation and sacrifice, where all spontanily is stifled and where ‘God has become… a set of tables learned by rote’ (p. 92). Both Naranappa and the Acharya represent the distortions of certain values-restraint, control and deniai in one and abandonment to the senses in the other. They are two sides of the same coin, hence their names are constantly coupled by the author, making them adversaries in an equal combat: ‘The real challenge was to test which would finally win the agrahara: his own penance and faith in ancient ways, or Naranappa’s demoniac ways.’ They seem to be trying to reach the same destination in their different ways. The Hindu puranas do refer to two ways of attaining god one as a devotee and the other as an enemy. Like Jaya and Vijaya, the legendary brothers, Naranappa’s way is a negative one. In this duel the Acharya is constantly on the defensive. To win over Naranappa is for him an egotistical need. Words like ‘desire’ and ‘lust’ in this connection (p. 22) reveal the chinks in the armour of his self-control.
Naranappa’s death, instead of being his defeat, turns out to be a victory gaining the force of avenging furies:
Naranappa’s death, instead of being his defeat, turns out to be a victory. Like the dead body in Ionesco’s play Amedee or How to Get Rid of It, the corpse of Naranappa seems to swell gradually and fill up the whole agrahara in metaphorical as well as real sense. The plague, the stench, the panic, the confusion, everything seems to proclaim the power of the dead man. The Security of the place gives way to a reign of fear-there are vultures during the day, ghosts at night: ‘Naranappa’s challenge was growing enormous like God Trivikrama who started out as a dwarf and ended measuring the cosmos with his giant feet’. (p. 34)
Chandri is a liminal creature who combines the two combatants Praneshacharya and Naranappa:
“Chandri, who combines the two combatants. Praneshacharya and Naranappa, is a liminal creature. By her virtue of her profession she is both outside the structured society as well as recognized by it. Like the river Tunga she is in the village but unshackled by it. ‘How can sin ever defile a running river? It is good fro a drink when a man is thirsty, it is good for a wash when a man is filthy, and it is good for washing god’s images with. It says yes to everything, never a no’ (p. 44). Chandri is a symbol rather than a realistic character embodying a natural wholeness and an instinctive spontaneity which Praneshacharya can never achieve. After their union in the forest they cross the river back together. He is stricken by his conscience but Chandri is totally untroubled: “She was natural in pleasure, unaccustomed to selfreproach’. (p. 68). She eats most naturally when others in the agrahara are supposed to be fasting because she knows that no rules apply to her. She handles the crisis of the corpse in a way which is the exact antithesis of the behaviours of the Brahmins. She acts spontaneously and calls some people in who unceremoniously cremate the body. Thus while controversy rages in the agrahara about technical points in the shastras, the corpse quietly disappears.
Chandri is both a mother and a mistress to the Acharya:
Chandri offers her body to Praneshacharya in a spontaneous gesture and in this act of compassionate giving paradoxically becomes a mother figure. The word ‘compassion’ so far associated in the novel with brahminical virtues, especially with the Acharya’s feeling for his sick wife, is now suddenly transferred to Chandri. She gives him food, she gives him solace and by giving him access to her body brings grace to his life. It is allegorically significant that this act, which opens out a new world of naturalness and wholeness to the Acharya, happens in the forest outside the frame of stratified society. His vision suddenly becomes clear, as ifa veil which has for all these years separated him the throbbing pulsating world has dropped. All his five senses are awakened in sudden joyous awareness.
“Below were green grass smells, wet earth, the wild Vishnukranti with its sky blue flowers and the country Sarsaparilla, and the smell of a woman’s body sweat … He gazed, he listened till his eyes were filled the sights, his ears with the sounds all around him, a formation of fireflies. ‘Chandri,” he said, touched her belly and sat up. (p. 67; italics added)”
The Acharya’s quest for his own true self is allegorical:
In myth and literature a journey often serves a symbolic function, embodying a transition between two modes of existence, one which is over and the other yet to begin … From Odysseus, nine-year long journey home to Sinbad’s voyages, from Christian’s progress from the City of Destruction to the Celestial city, Gullivers Travels, Gil Blas and Don Quixote – consciously or unconsciously journeys have been used as different kinds of fictional strategy. They are a quest from home, a quest for treasure, for salvation, for experience, and infrequently a quest for one’s own true self as undertaken by Praneshacharya, the protagonist of Samskara.
During a journey, when you shed your past, your history, the world sees you as just one more Brahmin realizes Praneshacharya after he leaves his village, and his continuing education seems to consist in learning to adjust to the world’s image of himself divested of his fame and reputation. In the eyes of the villager he meets on the way he is no longer the ‘crest jewel of Vedanta but a lowly Brahman perhaps on his alms-collection round, and if he loses even external appearance of a Brahman, his image of himself would have to be further adjusted to the world’s image of him as an anonymous, casteless wanderer.
After leaving the village Pranesh’s initial impulse is one of freedom- freedom from duties and obligations to the community, from the necessity of concentration: ‘O to be without a desire. Then one’s life becomes receptive’. A peeling of layers has begun. He has lost all lustre and influence and is preparing himself to bear the loss of public esteem as well. What remains after all the layers are peeled off will be his true self. But till the end of the novel the doubt remains about whether a man can ever reach that core. Samskara as well as The Serpent and the Rope, both written by South Indian brahmans, have often been read in terms of the protagonist’s brahmanic world view. Brahmanism in India, and especially in the south, is perhaps more than a caste distinction: it is a special mode of apprehending reality, an experience that pervades all aspects of a man’s life, going beyond his conscious mind.
Praneshacharya, an orthodox Brahman, wakes up to the need to affirm “the essential and vital importance of personal identity in one’s life. The central character attempts to reject a rigid dehumanizing code of religious custom a specially practiced, and one does not know till the end of the novel. how far he will succeed in his attempt to liberate himself. The Acharya’s struggle is with the dogma that stifles his spontaneity … The Acharya will perhaps never attain the pure state he is searching for but his experience has encompassed a larger area than he had known in his earlier limited life, and he cannot go back completely to his former position. The strength of the novel lies in its multidimensional tracing of the quest, doing what Chekhov in that famous letter demanded that a work of art ought to do. Between the solution of a question and the correct setting of a question, the latter alone Is obligatory for the artist. The question that Ananthamurthy ‘correctly set in this novel has proved to be both artistically compelling and socially unsettling, even if the solution is not provided.