Significance of the title Samskara by Ananthamurthy

Significance of the title Samskara by Ananthamurthy

Significance of the title Samskara by Ananthamurthy

The title has many layers of meaning:

Samskara is a Sanskrit word with many meanings: A rite of passage or life-cycle ceremony’, ‘forming well, making perfect’, ‘the realizing of past perceptions’, preparation, making ready, are some of the meanings of the multi-vocal Sanskrit word. The sub-title for this novel, A Rite for a Dead Man, is the most concrete of these many concentric senses that spread through the work.

The problem of performing samskara for Naranappa leads to Acharya’s own samskara:

The opening event of the novel is a death. It is the death of an anti-Brahminical Brahmin’s death. This death brings in its wake a plague, many deaths, teasing questions without answers, old answers that do not suit the new questions, and the rebirth of a good Brahmin, Praneshacharya. In trying to solve the dilemma of who, if any, should perform the heretic’s death-rite (a samskara), the Acharya begins a samskara (a transformation) for himself. A rite for the dead man becomes a rite of passage for the living Acharya.

Naranappa, the libertine challenged the samskara of the fellow Brahmins of the agrahara:

In life as well as in death, Naranappa challenged the Brahmins of the village, exposed their samskara (refinement of spirit, maturation through many lives) or lack of it. He openly lived the life of a rake in the heart of an exclusive orthodox agrahara of Durvasapura village, violated every known taboo-he drank liquor, ate flesh, caught fish with his Muslim friends in the holy temple-tank dedicated to God Ganapati, and lived with a low-caste woman by name Chandri. He had abandoned his lawfully wedded Brahmin wife, and antagonized his kin, Garuda and Lakshmana. As he was protected fully by modern secular laws, and even more fully by the bad conscience of the Brahmins themselves, he lived defiantly in their midst. If they could excommunicate him, they would have found in him a fitting scapegoat to carry their own inmost unspoken lewd desires. He was their mocking anti-self and he was quite conscious of that. Now that he is dead, they could punish him at least in death, by disowning them.

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The challenging questions to be addressed in dealing with the samskara of Naranappa:

There were many questions to be addressed in dealing with the Samskara of Naranappa. Was he Brahmin enough in life to deserve a Brahmin cremation rights (sanskara) ? Did he have the necessary preparation (samskara) to deserve a proper ‘ceremony’ (samskara)? Was not once a Brahmin, always a Brahmin ? Age-old questions, human questions in Hindu form, they are treacherous and double-edged: once raised they boomerang on the questioner.

The agrahara Brahmins turn to Praneshacharya for answers to teasing questions regarding the samskara of Naranappa:

Naranappa’s targets are narrow-minded village Brahmins who attend to the rituals’, but they have not carned their “refinement of spirit (samskara). They are greedy, gluttonous, mean-minded; they love gold, betray orphans and widows, they are jealous of Naranappa’s every forbidden pleasure. They look for answers to Praneshacharya, Naranappa’s opposite number. But, ironically, in the very act of seeking the answer in the Books, and later in seeking a sign from Maruti, the chaste Monkey-god, the Acharya abandons everything and becomes one with the opposite: contrary to all his preparation (samskara) he sleeps with Chandri, Naranappa’s low-caste concubine. By what authority now can he judge Naranappa or advise his Brahmin followers. So far, his samskara consisted of Sanskrit learning and ascetic practice. He had converted even his own marriage into a penance, immolated himself by marrying an invalid. His sudden sexual experience with the forbidden Chandri becomes an unorthodox rite of initiation’ (samskara). So the question, ‘Who is a Brahmin, how is he made ?’ finally turns even against this faultless Brahmin of Brahmins, Brahmin by birth as by samskara in all its senses. Through crisis, through a breach in the old “formations’, he begins to transform himself. With the justifiability of a paradox, he is initiated through an illicit deed, a misdeed, totally counter to his past. He participates in the condition of his opposite, Naranappa, though Naranappa’s own specially chosen prostitute.

The shifting of the arena from a Hindu village to the body and spirit of the protagonist:

All the battles of tradition and defiance, asceticism and sensuality. the meaning and meaninglessness of ritual, dharma as nature and law, desire (kama) and salvation (moksha), have now become internal to Praneshacharya. The venue shifts from a Hindu village community to the body and spirit of the protagonist.

Samskara’s several meanings inform the action of the novel:

Though the word Samskara does not occur obtrusively or too frequently in the narrative, its meanings implicitly inform the action. Moreover, the action depends on the several meanings being at loggerheads with each other. It is significant that, in the Brahminical texts, there is no division between “outer’ and ‘inner’, ‘social’ and ‘individual’, ‘ritual’ and ‘spiritual aspects: they imply and follow each other in on seamless unity, ‘Just as a work of painting gradually unfolds itself on account of the several colours (with which it is drawn), so bramanya (brahminhood) is similarly brought out by samskaras performed according to prescribed rites.

Samskara is not only the subject of the work but the form as well:

In Praneshacharya, Brahminism questions itself in a modem existential mode; and the questioning leads him into new and ordinary worlds. These include not only Naranappa’s world but also that of Putta. Naranappa has an ideology: Putta has none. In the guided tour through temple festival and fair, whorehouse and pawnshop, the Acharya sees a demoniac world of passion and sensation, where the human watches of cock-fights are one with the fighting roosters. Putta is a denizen of this world; he is riddle-master, expert bargainer, pimp without any saskara; he is completely and thoughtlessly at one with this world that he is a marvel. He is Praneshacharya’s initiator into the mysteries of the ordinary and the familiar, the purity of the unrefined, the wholeness of the crude. The vision of this world is part of the Acharya’s new samskara, his passage’. So a samskara is not only the subject of the work but the form as well.

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