Samskara: Evolution of Self
The novel Samskara: A Rite for a Dead Man, by U.R. Anatha Murthy, tells the story of a Brahmin village community, an agrahara, and the revered Brahmin man Praneshacharya who lives there. Central to the novel is its namesake, the concept of samskara. Adjacent to the title page, the author supplies the many definitions of the samskara, including: “making perfect”, “refinement”, “the realizing of past perceptions”, and “any rite or ceremony” just to name a few. Throughout the novel, these various understandings of samskara play into the lives of the Brahmins living in the agrahara of the protagonist. Particularly for Praneshacharya, he goes through a sort of rite of passage throughout the novel, in a way his own samskara.
The novel begins immediately with the death of Naranappa, a Brahmin member of the agrahara who had long abandoned his orthodox Brahmin dharma. Naranappa, though deceased at the outset of the novel, is a major character, who acts as a polar opposite to Praneshacharya. Naranappa breaks all tradition from the Brahmins of the agrahara. He eats meat, he drinks alcohol, and he even disregards the caste system, sleeping with Chandri, a lowcaste woman. In his life, Naranappa defied the rigid moral code of the Brahmins, and then in death through his samskara, his death rites, he challenges the traditions of the agrahara, and in doing so exposes the samskara of the local Brahmins, or lack thereof.
Naranappa’s death triggers a comical confusion of Brahmin traditional funeral rites. Having essentially renounced his brahminhood through his conduct and going so far as threatening to become muslim, Naranappa could well have been excommunicated from the Brahmin community; however, since he was not, it was understood that he must be cremated by Brahmins, lest any pollution enter upon the ceremony. This was problematic for two men, Lakshmana and Garuda, who wanted to acquire the gold jewelry donated by Naranappa’s wife...
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