The appropriation of role or responsibility is not only conferred to an individual by political or social set-ups but also by religious institutions. When an individual has performed such a role for a long time, he begins to associate his identity with this role assigned to him by these institutions, believing it to be his identity. Consequently, the moment that role is removed from him he gropes for his true identity and he succumbs into a state of crisis. For the protagonist, Praneshacharya in U. R. Anantamurthy’s Samskara the moment of adultery with Chandri pushes him into a double-bind of dharma, because at one end, he was unable to control his passion towards his sensuous desires after his first sexual encounter, on the other; he was unable to absolutely break himself from his past religious identity. Although he is guilty and has lived a life of sacrifice and asceticism; but he does neither have the courage to confess his guilt nor to control his urge for sensuality. Suffering from this dilemma, the Acharya is suddenly confronted with a question that threatens his existence: who he is and what remains of his identity if he discards his brahman-hood? In this context, this paper studies the state of Acharya’s identity crisis in the light of the knowledge of spirituality and self from the Bhagavad Gita to comprehend his state of crisis and examines the extent to which a superficial understanding of religion triggers his crisis.
Ananthamurthy’s Samskara not only depicts the socio-cultural set-up of a typical agrahara but also throws a deeper insight into the socio-religious life of the community that eventually can be seen to be harvesting the seeds of the overall social and moral crisis that erupt as identity crisis in the protagonist. In this context, Kumar (99) states that the novel reveals the architectonic quality and dedication to the essential morality of a story that is set in a region of diverse cultures and religions. From birth to death, every act of human life is governed and controlled by Religion. The, thus established rituals do not even end after death. Religion and traditions can be seen closely integrated with each other in Samskara and form the background against which the Acharya quests for the true meaning of religion within and outside the scope of rituals, signifying the contrast between the religion and rituals. The conflict between these two polarities can be seen externally between the Acharya and Naranappa and internally in Acharya’s consciousness.
Religion forms the fundamental background of the novel, highlighting the cult of brahminism within the Hindu social system wherein a special status assigned to the brahmins alienate them from humanity and demanded too much on purity and self-control from them. The life of the people in the agrahara was kept under strict control and by observance of rituals and vows pertaining to death, marriage, and worship. It was the sudden demise of the reprobate Naranappa when such monotonous semi-conscious existence of the members residing in the agrahara is disturbed and compelled to jolt out of its coziness and flung into turmoil (Kumar 99).
Caste and clan are more than brotherhoods; they define the individual completely. The individual is never on his own; he is always fundamentally a member of his group, with a complex apparatus of rules, rituals, and taboos. Every detail of behaviour is regulated…Relationships are codified. And religion and religious practices lock everything into place.
Religion establishes a set of codes, conventions, and rules of human behaviour and all these together constitute the supplement of its true or original meaning. With time, this supplement replaces the original and the former gaining full dominance, constitutes the religious consciousness of an individual. This is exactly the state of the brahmin settlement in Durvasapura, which formed the universe in a single lane for its members, a polity exclusively for the brahmins and who were burdened under the load of the inherited traditions. It is under the rigorous governance of the binaries such as sacred-profane and pollution-purity. This position of the religion in the society highlights its important role in the lives of the people, wherein it enmeshes with politics in the construction of cultural identity and identity, in turn, defines the direction of religion and politics thereby playing a fundamental role in determining the identity of an individual.
The deep entrenchment of the Acharya in the ritualistic tenets of brahminism in the absence of spiritual wisdom, his asceticism was not natural but forced, being derived from the scriptures. His understanding of the worldly affairs is largely influenced and conditioned by the religious and traditional ethos of Brahiminism and that distanced him from the basic joys and sorrows of life. His excessive emphasis on religion and desire to live an ascetic life compelled him to neglect the physical aspects of his life. The Acharya believes that the problem of the observation of the death rites of Naranappa is a matter of the scriptures and turns to Manu and other holy texts for answers. These aspects of the Acharya’s character highlight his defective understanding of the spirituality and religion and project him as a decadent Brahmin. Any such learned and a spiritually wise person would have addressed the crisis regarding Naranappa’s funeral rites in a short while through his basic judgment and wisdom (Raval 117).
Sura (101) highlights that for Ramanujan, the central theme of Ananthamurthy’s Samskara is the ‘complex relations between asceticism and eroticism’ wherein ‘brahminism questions itself in a modern existential mode’ while for V.S Naipaul, the novel is a dramatisation of a man’s search for identity and reveals the Indian conception of self. The obsessive and neurotic reliance of the Acharya on the religious texts holds the roots for the ultimate crisis of identity experienced by him. The traditions and rituals of brahminism compelled the Acharya to restrict himself and remain untouched by passion, which eventually being repressed for years flow out uncontrollably in full momentum towards Chandri.
Knowingly or unknowingly, Ananthamurthy [sic] has portrayed a barbaric civilisation, where the books, the laws, are buttressed by magic, and where a too elaborate social organisation is unquickened by intellect or creativity of ideas of moral responsibility (except to the self in its climb to salvation). These people are all helpless, disadvantaged, easily unbalanced; the civilisation they have inherited has long gone sour; living instinctive lives, crippled by rules…they make up a society without a head.
However, despite the act of the Acharya, he cannot be alleged as a corrupt, hypocritical or avaricious like the other members of his community, yet he was the very part of the decadent brahmin settlement, that was still deeply rooted in orthodox rituals and religious tenets that did not have any scope for spiritual growth. Eventually, with the course of events in the life of the Acharya, the shells of his customs and rituals break off and he realises that he no more fits into the coded and stratified existence established in the agrahara. Believing that he is not fit enough to hold the position of a revered priest, deliver sermons on religious consciousness, fulfil the moral and religious expectations of the society; he feels that there is no role he can acquire now and no safe social niche that can be occupied by him. This was because he had always equated the brahmanic code, his position as a Brahmin priest in the community and morality to his essential self without any conscious thought. Suddenly, now when he had corrupted that brahminic code and if he rejected his brahminic roles, what would remain of his identity. The crisis thus compels him to search for his residual self that remains after the outer shells of the identity are discarded. Being in this situation, an appropriate parallel can be identified between the Acharya and Shakespeare’s Richard II, wherein the latter also succumbs to a similar crisis of identity after being abdicated by his cousin brother Henry. Like the Acharya, he too, having served a role in the society for so long, he assumed that role to be his real self and felt lost the moment that role was lost (Mukharjee 84).
As Acharya’s life was based in extreme asceticism, he had cut himself completely from the common joys and sorrows of basic human life. Brahminism became like a trap for him where each of his decision regarding life was subjected to an inviolable code established centuries ago. Unconsciously, he had equated the brahminic code of rituals with his essential self.
After the night with Chandri in the forest, the Acharya feels that now he was no more the ‘crest jewel of Vedanta’ but a lowly brahmin who was on his alms collection rounds in the village. On shedding his identity as a revered brahmin priest, he was no more than an anonymous and casteless wanderer, which became the core of his crisis regarding his exact identity. His initial impulse on leaving the village after cremating his wife was to attain freedom from the obligations and duties towards his religious position and the community and even from meditation and his asceticism. This can be identified as the beginning of the peeling of the layers of his identity. He loses all influence and lustre of his esteemed position as a revered Brahmin priest and prepares himself to bear the loss of his public esteem (Baral 200). All that remains after the peeling of the external layers of his identity will be his true self and become the means to resolve his crisis. Being an orthodox brahmin realises the need to affirm the vital and essential significance of his personal identity but the superimposition of Brahmanism on his personal existence had overshadowed his perception about his identity and succumbed him to the crisis.
According to Chapter 13:1 of Bhagavad Gita, man is composed of three bodies: physical, astral and spiritual. These three bodies of man are encased by five kosas or coverings that layer the soul. Just as the human body is covered with layers of cloths, the Self is also covered with panchakosas (five sheaths), namely: annakosa (food sheath) or the physical layer perceived through our senses that covers the physical body; pranamayakosa (air sheath) or the energy layer guiding our physiological activities; manomayakosa (mental sheath) or the seat of all emotions; vijnanamayakosa (intellectual sheath) or the wisdom layer that is not perceivable by the senses that cover the astral body and anandamayakosa (bliss sheath) that covers the causal body (Yogananda 865).
These sheaths form the five layers that cover the true self or the soul of man and are realised through our true nature of bliss and oneness with the universe. To realise the true nature of the self, it is essential that the peeling of these layers is undertaken and moving progressively in life through each of these layers, one can experience the radiance of the true self (Sreeram 40). The onset of the crisis being experienced by the Acharya can be seen as the beginning of the process of peeling off these layers, which if undertaken appropriately can help him realise his self and resolve his crisis (Kumar 113).
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