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The calf became an orphan

Robert J. Zydenbos

Other gods

Aspects of Hinduism and its confrontation with other faiths

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Ours is the only true religion.
- Vivekananda (1985: 198)

"The world came to Sri Ramakrishna after his realisation and Swami Vivekananda travelled all the world but could convert none. Too much talk, too much talk."
- Maitreyi Devi (1976: 250)

12.1 One of the most awe-inspiring things about India is its rich variety in religious life. Undoubtedly there is no other part of the world where one comes across so many different forms of religious and philosophical belief and practice side by side. No one can fairly deny that the tradition of Indian religious and philosophical thought is one of the world's great intellectual traditions, and in the past century the study of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism earned a rightful place in the major Western centres of learning. Islam and Christianity underwent their own special transformations in the Indian environment, which proved conducive for the development of certain aspects of these faiths which could develop only with more difficulty elsewhere.

  • 1 Cf. Zydenbos 1981 for a review of the traditional account of the advent of Jainism to Karnataka.

2Karnataka has traditionally been one of the religiously more tolerant parts of India. The first religion which we can call a Hochreligion in the region, the first religion that developed an elaborate religious and philosophical doctrine and expressed itself with architectural and artistic sophistication, is Jainism, which according to legend arrived in Karnataka in pre-Christian times1. All Old Kannada literature was created by Jaina authors. It is only in the twelfth century CE that we come across Kannada literature by non-Jainas, viz. Virasaivas, who were a reformatory movement in Hinduism, and still later come works by authors of other Hindu persuasions. Christian literature comes still much later, and has never been great in quantity, and Muslim Kannada literature is a phenomenon of most recent times. The majority of Kamatakan Muslims, who form 10% of the population, speak not Kannada but Urdu as their mother tongue, and this strengthens the cultural divide which is already there on a religious basis.

3Religion plays a role of supreme importance still today, and still more in South India (which is commonly described as 'more conservative', though this is an over-simplification) than in the North. Everyone belongs to some caste or the other, and every caste belongs to a religious denomination (sometimes more than one). As a rule, one can guess a person's sectarian affiliation if one knows to which caste he belongs. Freethinkers are extremely rare.

  • 2 For the historical development of the term, see Halbfass 1981, chapter 17.

4When we place Indian 'religion' in a Western discussion, we must constantly be aware of the hermeneutic difficulties which arise. 'Religion' is a Western word, of which the meaning has developed in agreement with the historical growth of systems of belief and thought in Europe which Europeans decided to treat under the common denominator 'religion'. The indigenous Indian term that comes closest to 'religion' is dharma, a Sanskrit word which is found in all the modern languages of the country. The meaning of this word has undergone several changes in the course of time; here I will limit myself only to that recent bit of history of the term which is relevant to the present study2. What is dharma? In the writings of a creative and important religious and philosophical thinker like Madhvācārya in thirteenth-century Karnataka we read:

Ācāraścaiva sādhūnāṃ ātmanas tuṣṭir eva ca /
Vedapraṇihito dharmo hy adharmas tadviparyayaḥ //

  • 3 Madhvācārya 1982: 50, vs. 228; my translation.
  • 4 Personal conversation, spring 1986.

5i.e. "The conduct of good people and satisfaction of the self are the dharma that is laid down in the Vedas, and adharma is its opposite3." Tradition tells us who is good and who is not, hence conformity to a traditional pattern is not without importance and traditions are to be continued, and value is placed on an inner sense of well-being. Yet dharma is not really fixed. Characteristically, the popular Kannada author S.L. Bhyrappa, who stresses the importance of dharma in his novels, could give no immediate answer to my question of what dharma is, and he finally concluded that it meant 'the harmony of all things in life'4

6.Much has been written about the tolerance that supposedly is a distinctive characteristic of Hinduism and not of e.g. Christianity; but an impartial reading of the history of Hinduism as a whole will show that the contrast is not as great as is popularly supposed. Hinduism is marred by the caste system, which makes it the socially a highly intolerant religious system. We have numerous reports of violent persecution of religious groups in Karnataka (the Jainas and Virasaivas have both suffered this) as well as in other parts of India (I have already mentioned Rāmānuja's flight to Karnataka). I fail to understand how anyone can speak of a distinctive religious tolerance in Hinduism when such facts are known.

7Traditional Hindu dharma was varṇāśramadharma, i.e. dharma for people who belong to a certain stratum of society (varṇa) and who are in a certain phase of life (āśrama). Dharma concerns itself not only with an individual's relationship with the divine or the absolute, but also regulates social behaviour. It was not considered the same for everyone, and its rules are elaborated in the dharmaśāstra-s. One very typical feature of Indian social intolerance, to which I must call the reader's attention because it features so very prominently in many of the works that are discussed in this study, is the concept of 'pollution' and 'purity'. This subject is treated in detail in specialized studies, and I will limit myself here to only those features which are necessary for an adequate understanding of the literature which we are discussing. Certain objects and people are 'pure' in a ritual sense, meaning that one is not 'polluted' by contact with them. The Kannada word for 'purity' in this specific sense is maḍi, a person who gives great attention and importance to his purity is a madivanta and the mentality and behaviour of such a person is maḍivantike. Another meaning of the word maḍi is 'clean', and in a word such as maḍivāḷa, 'washerman', we see this (probably original) meaning. But maḍi has come to mean much more than mere cleanliness, and at the same time less. Though many of the rules which prescribe how to safeguard one's purity have an obvious hygienic reason, many others do not. Thus a woman is impure for three days every month at the time of menstruation (cf. M.K. Indira's Phaṇiyamma, §1.12, where the protagonist overhears two youngsters when she has to spend the night in a special room reserved for menstruating women). The rules demand that one should not eat together with people of most other castes, otherwise one's purity is spoilt. For the same reason, one cannot accept food from people of most other castes, irrespective of how carefully it has been prepared (cf. Bhyrappa's Dharmaśī, §2.3). The touch of certain people may cause impurity, which demands ritual purification. Here lies the meaning of the word 'untouchable', meaning a person who belongs to that social group which is also referred to as 'outcastes' or 'Harijanas', contact with whom is considered to pollute almost everybody else. These concepts of purity and pollution recede in urban, westernized settings, though they never disappear completely; in rural and less educated settings, they are strong.

  • 5 Nilakanta Sastri believes with earlier writers that the prominence of monasteries in Virasaivism i (...)

8Religious organization varies from sect to sect, but a number of features are held by a large number of sects in common. A common institution is the maṭha, often spelt 'mutt' in English. In certain respects it strongly resembles a Catholic monastery. It is headed by a senior clergyman, the maṭhādhipati or maṭhādhīśa, who is more commonly called and addressed as svāmi or 'lord' (this usually becomes 'swami' in English writing). A sect will have a particular maṭha as its headquarters, next to which there may be subsidiary maṭha-s, and the heads of these maṭha-s will be ranked in religious authority accordingly. The power of these institutions over the daily life of the people can be stultifying, as we read e.g. in M.K. Indira's novel Phaṇiyamma. On the other hand, the maṭha-s can be centres of great social upliftment and cultural rejuvenation if they are headed by enlightened individuals. They are also centres of learning (often they possess magnificent manuscript libraries) and are the centres where disputes of a legal or religious nature are settled within the castes that owe allegiance to it. In most sects the maṭha-s are governed by Brahmins, being the clergical caste; among the Virasaivas, each one is traditionally in the hands of a certain subcommunity or the other. Also the Jainas are organized in maṭha-s. Historians consider the institution to be of Buddhist or Jaina origin5.

  • 6 Zaehner 1984: 149.

9Christianity has had a long history in the deepest South of the country, mainly in what is now Kerala state, the Malayalam-speaking area; but Christianity came to Karnataka as a result of missionary activity from Europe, in two waves. First Roman Catholicism spread along the coast, where the Portuguese had established Goa as their main colonial possession in Asia and their Asian centre for missionary activity. There is a popular belief that says that by definition Indian Christians are people of low-caste ancestry; but especially among Catholics, it has proven very difficult to eradicate the caste system, and many among them can tell to which Brahmin subcommunities their ancestors belonged. A different kind of missionary activity came during the British period. The British government did not intervene in internal religious matters at first, but later it was persuaded by Christian missionaries to stamp out practices which enlightened Hindus also considered inhuman that had the sanction of religion6 in the interest of general social upliftment: the classical example is the self-immolation of widows as satī-s ('suttee') on the funeral pyres of their husbands. Missionaries came from a variety of countries: in Karnataka, the Catholic missionaries were mainly Italian and their Protestant counterparts mainly British and German. Still today the standard Kannada-English dictionary is the monumental work by the German missionary Ferdinand Kittel, who also produced an excellent grammar and edited several Old Kannada texts.

  • 7 For Indian xenophobia see §4.1.

10Today, missionaries are the scorn of high-caste Hindus in Karnataka as well as in most of the rest of India, which may be difficult for Westerners to understand. But since Christianity was born outside India and the first Christian clergymen were foreigners, reactionary Hindus could easily appeal to traditional xenophobia after Independence and declare that the spread of Christianity was a plot of evil foreigners to undermine the country7. If one considers that in India religion is connected with caste, and caste with politics, then it is understandable that the link between religion and politics is strong. We will return to this in our discussion of Bhyrappa's novel Dharmaśrī. Being confronted with the different religious culture of Christianity, Hinduism is forced to reconsider its own merits and demerits in the light of the contrast. It is a culturally specific problem for Kannada authors.

11Religion in some form or the other plays a major role in almost every literary work that will be discussed in the present study. In this chapter we will look only at those works in our corpus which have religious questions as their main theme. These are works which concentrate either on religious conflict or on religious institutions, viz. maṭhas and āśramas (commonly spelled 'mutt' and 'asrama' in English). Both these monastery-like institutions are intended for imparting religious education, but the main difference seems to be that an asrama has a more popular appeal, whereas a mutt tends to be more like a Western seminary. The majority of the works that will be discussed in the final section of this chapter will therefore be found summarized and discussed in detail in other chapters.

12One final remark should be made here. Due to the all-encompassing character of dharma, it is pervasive throughout the literature which forms the subject-matter of this study, and to the Western reader it may seem at times that almost anything can be linked with anything else, because all is unified in dharma. Such a holistic view of life may look attractive to Westerners. But our authors tell us, directly as well as indirectly, that dharma can be as much a problem as it is a support in life. We shall return to this important subject in our concluding chapter. Because dharma is not the same as religion, and because certain matters which in the West we would consider highly secular are considered dhārmika in India and are discussed in what seem religious terms, I will label such matters "quasi-religious". By this I do not want to imply that these matters are nonsensical or the result of deliberate deception on the part of anyone: what I mean is that a matter which to the Western mind appears secular is thought of in India as belonging to a different category and is commonly spoken of as 'religious' in discourse with people from the West.

132.2 We have already seen an example of S.L. Bhyrappa's writing in his novel Vamśavṛkṣa in the previous chapter. His first published novel, Dharmaśrī (1961; we may translate this as "The Glory of Religion"), is the one well-known Kannada novel dealing chiefly with the question of Christian missionary activity in Karnataka. It is a very strange and scurrilous piece of writing, and artistically a failure, but it is necessary to deal with the work in detail on account of its popularity (the sixth impression appeared in 1985) and the large quantity of explicit ideas which it contains, which make it the most important work of its kind in Kannada.

142.3 S.L. Bhyrappa: Dharmaśrī

15The protagonist Satyanārāyaṇa, born in a disrupted family, is sent to live with an uncle and an aunt who exploits him for his labour, while the uncle is a thief, liar and cheat who habitually beats him for trivial reasons. After his mother's death, the village teacher thinks it better to send him to another town, away from his uncle's influence, and continue his education there with another teacher, Svāmi Mēṣṭaru (p. 22).

  • 8 Vārānna is a traditional arrangement in which a number of Brahmin families in a town agree to offe (...)

16Svāmi Mēṣṭaru uses his popularity in town to arrange vārānna8 there for Satyanārāyaṇa, who easily memorizes his lessons and becomes a brilliant pupil. Svāmi Mēṣṭaru also encourages him to learn English (p. 23). In the affectionate atmosphere of that house, he can read any book in Svāmi Mēṣṭaru's collection, and he develops enormously. One day Svāmi Mēṣṭaru urges Satyanārāyaṇa to participate in a school debating contest (he is now 14 years old) against his classmate Rācamma, a Christian girl. The topic of the debate is "whether village life or city life is better", and Rācamma argues in favour of city life. The village contractor, who is also the chairman of the card club, speaks on behalf of the jury and declares Satyanārāyaṇa the winner (p. 25).

17Later Rācamma, who is perhaps a year younger than Satyanārāyaṇa, grows fond of him and tries to make conversation. She has a white skin colour and a plus-mark on her forehead. He asks why she wears no kunkuma, and she replies that this is because she is a Christian. He asks why Christians should not wear it, and she says: "I don't know. But if our guru sees it in church, he'll scold us" (p. 27). He comes with her to her village, just a short distance away, and sees a tall house with rooftiles from Mangalore: the church, where the guru lives. Rācamma's father Joseph Gowda is the headman of this village named Ēsupura ('town of Jesus'). Satyanārāyaṇa is offered food in their house, but he refuses it saying: "You're Christians. We shouldn't eat in a house belonging to your caste" (p. 27). She tells the story of her village as far as she knows it. In her grandfather's time, they were Gangaḍikāra Gowdas by caste; then a great fever came to the village; the Christian guru came and cured them. He said that he had used medicine that was made by "Ēsusvāmi" (Lord Jesus), whereupon one by one the villagers became Christians, as the guru told them to (p. 28). Satyanārāyaṇa returns to his town, where the teacher jokingly asks whether he is "going to marry that Christian girl".

18Though Satyanārāyaṇa is very intimate with Svāmi Mēṣṭaru and his wife, he is not supposed to consume as much as a glass of water in their house, because they are of different castes. Someone begins a rumour that he is eating in their house, and the Brahmins hesitate to continue to provide him with food, as Svāmi Mēṣṭaru had arranged for him. Svāmi Mēṣṭaru then tells him that he should now eat with them, and that he should not feel shy about doing so, despite their caste difference (p. 30).

  • 9 Dōse is a popular South Indian preparation made of rice flour and the flour of a certain pulse, so (...)

19Meanwhile his and Rācamma's mutual affection grows; she comes to his town Narasāpura twice daily in the summer holidays for no other reason than to see him, and they are happy. To his horror she leads him one day past an outcaste settlement. Afterwards they sit down to have something to eat; Rācamma takes a packed dōse9 from her bag, puts it in front of Satyanārāyaṇa and he puts a piece of it in his mouth. But then he realizes that he has accepted food from someone of another caste, and he spits it out. Unconscious of what he is doing he slaps her on the cheek, and she covers her face with her hands and cries. "So you thought you'd ruin my caste by putting food in front of me? When did you learn these tricks?" he shouts (p. 32). After a while he apologizes, and so does she.

20Suddenly he is struck by fever. Rācamma takes him home, where her father puts him to bed. When the next morning his fever has dropped a bit, Rācamma says: "Our guru of the church had sent a pill that was blessed by God. Your fever left you after you took it. Let's go and see him." In a room at the back of the church the guru is reading a big English book in an easy chair. He is a tall man of light complexion with a black beard, dressed in a long white gown, and he speaks Kannada in a peculiar way (p. 33). He gives Satyanārāyaṇa three pills and a small picture, saying: "Take these pills now, tonight and tomorrow morning with warm water. Pray to this god. You will be completely cured of your illness. When you have recovered and come to this village, come to this temple" (p. 34).

  • 10 A god's prasāda is something edible (usually fruits) that has been offered to the god first and is (...)
  • 11 The word pādri (derived from the Portuguese padre, 'father') is commonly used in Kannada and the n (...)
  • 12 Harijanas were refused entry to temples because their entry would pollute the temple and thus ruin (...)

21Satyanārāyaṇa goes to Esupura regularly, also to its church on Sundays, where he hears the priest talk about religion. One such day the card club secretary of his town finds him on the way, and he is dragged back forcibly to Narasāpura. There the man makes a remark that he must be loving (lav māḍtā idāne) that Christian girl, and Svāmi Mēṣṭaru forbids him to go there again. The new priest is said to be dangerous: he made regular visits to the outcastes' village and cured the outcastes with pills which he calls dēvara prasāda10 and with inoculations which he calls the holy water of god Jesus. Hence most of the people of the village are now converted, and Koppalu has been renamed "Kristana Koppalu". The Hindus fear that the priest will soon convert everyone (p. 37), and one villager tells Svāmi Mēṣṭaru to discipline Satyanārāyaṇa, for "if he joins that girl he may go to ruin, losing his caste and pedigree on account of that pādri [Christian priest]"11 (p. 38). Soon there is a rathōtsava (car festival) in Narasāpura and the Koppalu outcastes, who now are Christians, demand the right to enter the temple12; their right is acknowledged, and this leads to the conversion of the few outcastes who had not yet been converted (p. 39).

22Satyanārāyaṇa goes to Caluvarāyapaṭṭaṇa to attend high school there. Food is a problem: without initiation with the sacred thread the Brahmins will not give him bhikṣānna (donations of food by Brahmins to Brahmin students), so he buys some thread and pretends that he is initiated. The word spreads that his sacred thread is false, the Brahmins no longer give him food, and Satyanārāyana wonders of what use Brahminhood is. He gets a job in a cinema hall, but the headmaster tells him to quit the job because such work is unworthy of a pupil of that school; Satyanārāyaṇa refuses. One day his first teacher, Nanjuṇḍa Mēṣṭaru, comes to town with Nanju, a friend of his from his home village. Nanjuṇḍa Mēṣṭaru suggests that he come with him to Mysore, where surely he will succeed in scraping up a living, and Satyanārāyaṇa gladly accepts the idea.

  • 13 The RSS (Rāṣṭrīya Svayamsēvaka Sangha) is the most prominent organization of right-wing militant H (...)

23He stays at Nanju's room, eats in an orphanage and enjoys the new milieu. One evening at dinner, a student declares Hinduism to be a silly set of superstitions around the worship of stones, for that is what the temple images are. Another boy stands up and says that Vivekananda has explained it in a simple way: the ultimate is formless, but the common man needs an image as an aid to concentrate on the ultimate; hence an image is a sign of the victory that the intellect has recognized its limits. The first student merely says "I know, Śankara Rao, you belong to the RSS13. You'll never be defeated in debate" (p. 52). "Let's discuss," Śankara continues. "We who've lost our self-respect are becoming ashamed of our culture, our dharma, our customs, ways and speech. The reason is that we don't have proper knowledge of their greatness" (p. 53). "We must not identify Hindu dharma and Hindu society. What we need now is the improvement of Hindu society, not of Hindu dharma," he argues (p. 55). Śankara urges Satyanārāyaṇa to read some books by Coomaraswamy and Radhakrishnan. If the English of the books is too difficult, Śankara (who is a student of Sanskrit and lives in the RSS building) will help him, for he ought to cultivate the reading of English. Satyanārāyaṇa is thrilled by the books which Śankara lends him.

  • 14 A Hindu muttaide or married, non-widowed woman is supposed to wear a dot of kunkuma (a certain red (...)

24Satyanārāyaṇa grows ever more intimate with Śankara, calls him aṇṇa (elder brother), addresses him in the singular (similar to French 'tutoyer' or German 'duzen') and admires him for his firm convictions, his having an aim in life, his activity. Śankara never tries to impose his ideas on Satyanārāyaṇa, though he voices opinions. He takes Satyanārāyaṇa to the RSS building and his home, where on his mother's forehead "a big patch of kunkuma was shining, as behooves an elderly muttaide"14 (p. 62).

25Satyanārāyaṇa knows that Śankara leads a materially very modest life which is practically totally devoted to "the sangha" (the organization). In order to serve his country he must unite with others, and the RSS seems the organization best suited for this purpose. He vehemently denies that the RSS stirs up hatred against non-Hindus.

26One day Rāmaṇṇa tells him about an American missionary who claims that he can heal all who come to him and converts people while calling Krshna a thief and Śiva an ashfiend; Rāmaṇṇa says that a group of them will go to the missionary meeting, create a disturbance and chase off the American. Satyanārāyaṇa joins them. They plan to spreadout among the people who are present, Satyanārāyaṇa will then ask "a question logically", and when finally the pādri cannot give proper answers they will "bully him with the right words" (p. 76). At the meeting hall the missionary and his wife arrive in a car which is driven by a local Christian. There is some music (the missionary plays the violin) and the driver of their car tells how he was cured of an awful disease by the power of Christ, i.e. medicines from the great Christ, and this miraculous cure led to the conversion of his whole family, after which he went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, where he met these Americans. He then translates the missionary's speech for the benefit of the unfortunate women of India, who have had no education, and it becomes clear to Satyanārāyaṇa and his friends that his knowledge of English is faulty (p. 79). It appears that the missionary 'heals' through hypnotic suggestion. Satyanārāyaṇa feigns an illness and thus exposes the deceit. He then passionately tells the missionary: "First teach Christianity to the people in your country who throw atom bombs on cities, mothers and children. Talk Christianity to Dr. Malan, who considers black people non-humans because of his racism. What do you know about Hindu philosophy and religion?... Go back to America" (p. 81). The driver calls upon people to throw Satyanārāyaṇa out, and a fight follows (Satyanārāyaṇa is brave, because he knows that his people are there). He is knocked unconscious (p. 82).

27Later the others tell him that the missionary's driver was a truck driver from Kolar who had joined in this fraud only for the money. The police had come to break up the fight, under the leadership of a sub-inspector Joseph, whose name once was Rāja Ayyangār, but he became a Christian so that he could get a good job with the police; they abused him as a jātigeṭṭavanu (one whose caste is ruined). The Christians had phoned him, and not the nearby police station, because "he's of their caste, and if he comes he'll be on their side [saiḍ māḍtāne]. But we didn't care [kēr māḍalilla]. When he saw how many we were, he calmly told us not to create a disturbance and went" (p. 84). The next day this sub-inspector sends an officer to take Satyanārāyaṇa to the police station, where he is told to sign a declaration saying that he will not cause such disturbances again. Then an old man whom he had already seen the night before comes and claims him as "our boy", telling the sub-inspector: "This boy is ours, the way the American pādri is yours" (p. 87). Rāmaṇṇa says that the missionary has returned with police protection. The munificent Śeṭṭa uses his own connections with the police to do something about this.

  • 15 Dasarā is an important festival in Karnataka, lasting several days every autumn; its celebration i (...)

28Satyanārāyaṇa begins studying the ways and refinement of how missionaries work. One day they get curds (a popular foodstuff in India) of a poor quality in the orphanage, made from milk powder containing no fat and donated by an American religious charitable organization via the city's bishop. Satyanārāyaṇa is revolted by the idea that the Indian government accepts this inferior milk powder as alms from the Americans, who give it in order to increase the prestige of the church. Later free Bibles arrive for distribution among the boys, and Satyanārāyaṇa is amazed at the methods which the Christians devise to win people over to their religion (p. 94). The boys pack the remaining milk powder with the Bibles in a horse buggy and return them to the church together with an English translation of the Bhagavadgītā and an accompanying note in English written by Satyanārāyaṇa. At that year's Dasarā time15 there are many missionary activities going on in the city; the boys go to those gatherings and make the missionaries lose face (p. 95).

29Their school has a new history teacher, Dēvaprasāda, who wears a suit and a tie and is a chain smoker. One day Satyanārāyaṇa finds out that he is a Christian. Dēvaprasāda is annoyed by Satyanārāyaṇa's lack of interest in class and catches him reading an anti-Christian book (bibliographical data are given for the curious reader). However, he says nothing about this (p. 99).

30Satyanārāyaṇa applies for a scholarship, but the professor who is the head of the selection committee, and who has studied abroad, is a casteist, and in an English "pronounced as people in England speak" (p. 100) he makes it clear that he believes a Brahmin boy needs no scholarship.

31On Mysore's main street he meets his old schoolfriend Rācamma again at a pen shop, and she introduces him to her misṭar ('mister'): she has married Dēvaprasāda, who jovially invites him to their home. Dēvaprasāda goes to his card club and Rācamma offers Satyanārāyaṇa a cup of coffee; though Satyanārāyana is not of a maḍivanta nature (i.e. is not greatly concerned about his ritual purity) and has eaten in non-Brahmin houses, even with outcastes, here "a sort of aversion came to my mind to touch coffee in a Christian house" (pp. 103-4).

32Dēvaprasada's father is a fanatic who became a Christian because he believed that not only the pādri's medicines but also his prayer cured Dēvaprasāda of a serious disease. But Dēvaprasāda is quite different, without his father's devotion and obstinacy. He and Rācamma talk about religion, and Satyanārāyaṇa says that Hinduism is not just a religion but a culture, a way of life. Without knowing the living essence of Hinduism, "foreign pādri-s try to make all of India Christian. See one example. For the best Hindu, the eating of meat is to be avoided.... A Hindu guru is a pure vegetarian; a Christian pādri, even foreign bishops, cannot do without meat" (pp. 110-1). He expresses his concern about the survival of 'Indian culture'. The "passion of discussion" mounts in him and he continues: "Christian girls, though what I say doesn't go for all of them, imitate the Western lēḍi [lady]. Look at the Hindu women who put on a sari prettily, comb their hair and put flowers in it and put kunkuma on their foreheads. Look at the Christian girls of India with their black complexion who walk around with short hair, wearing frocks and with nothing on their foreheads" (p. 111).

  • 16 Nowadays this word is used for any school (not convent) which is run by the Roman Catholic church, (...)

33Just then a girl, about seventeen years old, who has a "black Indian colour" comes in: she almost exactly fits the description of a Christian girl as he has just given. She is Rācamma's sister-in-law Lily, who greets him by saying "glad to meet you" ("glyāḍ ṭu mīṭ yu" - p. 112). Afterwards Satyanārāyaṇa fears that Lily may repeat what she overheard to Dēvaprasāda, but Rācamma allays his fear and says of Lily that "She studied in a convent16. If you speak in Kannada she'll think it's an insult" (pp. 113-4).

34Satyanārāyaṇa receives a letter from his long-lost sister Śakuntalā, visits her in her village and feels the weight of his responsibility as an elder brother. He arranges that she can stay with Nanju and his mother until he can marry her off. Śankara returns to Mysore and tells how he went about starting new branches of the RSS.

35Satyanārāyaṇa visits Dēvaprasāda and Rācamma again, and Lily is there too, dressed up in a totally European manner. He and Lily discuss religious matters, and she asks why Hinduism must have a caste system. Satyanārāyaṇa retorts that Christianity has one too: the many sects, whereas all mārga-s ([spiritual] paths) are accepted in Hinduism. He gives bibliographical data of books written by Europeans in opposition to Christianity (p. 141). Lily reads the books which Satyanārāyaṇa has mentioned and as a result runs a fever because her religious beliefs are shaken.

36Satyanārāyaṇa tries to arrange Śakuntalā's marriage, but she is rejected by prospective bridegrooms for lack of education or because the dowry that is offered is not high enough. Rāmaṇṇa says that urban bridegrooms are like that, and Satyanārāyaṇa should try in villages. Finally Nanju's mother asks whether Nanju can marry Śakuntalā, and they reach a quick agreement.

37Satyanārāyaṇa continues his discussions with Lily, and Rācamma enjoys listening. He tells her that she has difficulties in understanding what he says not through any fault of her own, but because she has been brainwashed by convent people (p. 157). He advises her to read still more books.

38There is a new manager at the orphanage, an extreme Gandhian who hurts the boys' self-respect by the extreme simplicity which he imposes on them. Instead of buttermilk from a nearby village, he accepts the bishop's milk powder from America (which has been offered again, apparently). The students protest one day and one of them, Śrīkaṇṭhayya, who has a very impulsive nature, knocks the manager unconscious. Eight of the boys are dismissed from the orphanage. Śrīkaṇṭhayya asks a swami for help, but the swami will only help him if he agrees to join the Sanskrit College and study Sanskrit. This Śrīkaṇṭhayya refuses, because the teaching there is dryly scholastic without any proper explanation. Poverty worsens also for Satyanārāyaṇa. Śeṭṭa allows him to eat in his Virasaiva students' home, but the Virasaiva students refuse to eat together with him because he is a Brahmin (p. 169). Then one day he is found by Devaprasāda, who takes him home; Rācamma is angry with him and gives him fruit to eat (fruit can be accepted from people of any caste). Rācamma also gives him some money and arranges that he can make a living by private tutoring.

39Meanwhile Lily combs her hair with a parting in the middle and wears a sari "like an Indian woman" (p. 175). She has learnt many things about Indian culture (p. 176; no details are given). When she asks why Hindu women wear kunkuma, Satyanārāyaṇa says that it is saubhāgyada gurutu (a sign of well-being, p. 176), and admits that he does not know its origin (p. 177). Lily remarks that a Hindu woman's "saubhāgya" is her husband, and wants to know why Hindu women have no independent individuality. Satyanārāyaṇa says that this sort of independence is against nature, and marriage is not a mere practical arrangement, but has a metaphysical dimension (p. 177).

40Lily, who is happy that Satyanārāyaṇa has told her what to read, begins visiting him at his room daily; she begins wearing glass bangles and "except for the fact that there was no kunkuma on her forehead she looked like a Hindu woman" (p. 181). She takes him to a Christian girls'hostel, where most of the girls are dressed like Anglo-Indians; one girl in a sīre has a small dark dot on her head: "I supposed it was a corruption of kunkuma," he says (p. 182). They speak English the way English people do. Lily tells them that Satyanārāyaṇa is very studious, and one girl comments: "damn that hell. I don't like it" (ḍyām daṭ hel. Ai ḍonṭ laik iṭ). Thereafter Lily and Satyanārāyaṇa go for an outing and tell each other about their backgrounds. By talking thus about themselves, they become intimate; Satyanārāyaṇa becomes lovesick and begins to worry about his feelings.

41Rācamma condemns the intimacy that is developing between him and Lily, and he tries to forget her by working very hard for the approaching examination, neglecting his health, and due to a fever he ultimately cannot participate in the examination. Lily comes to his room, sees his condition and on the spot decides to look after him. The next day she comes again and he regrets his maḍivantike, which made him throw away the coffee which she had brought him the day before: he realizes it is only because of the abuses which Christian missionaries have flung at Hinduism that as a sort of revenge he behaved thus towards Christians, for otherwise he would eat freely with outcastes and other Hindus (p. 197). Now he accepts coffee from her and apologizes. She begins to pronounce Kannada in a cultured way (p. 201). They go for an outing again, and he proposes to marry her. She weeps because they are of different castes, and though she has developed a passion for Hindu things, and would gladly leave behind all that she has for his sake, still Hinduism will not accept her, and so they cannot marry. Lily asks Satyanārāyṇa to forget her (p. 208).

42Śakuntalā suggests that he marry the daughter of the zamindar of the village; he goes to see the girl, who looks Kashmiri (i.e. very fair, hence beautiful), but returns to Mysore with very little interest in her. He meets Lily again in a street, looking ill with lovesickness as he does, and they go to his room, where he suggests that he will become a Christian. She rejects the idea, but he considers how Hindus have treated him: in all his severe troubles Hindus never helped. Hinduism rejects her, Christianity welcomes him, and he remains firm in his decision.

43Dēvaprasāda, who is a Marxist and is convinced that religion is madness anyway, advises Satyanārāyaṇa to put up a religious show merely for the sake of social and material convenience. Lily's father is enraged at the whole idea at first, but later he comes to his room with Dēvaprasāda and formally offers his daughter in marriage.

44A large number of people comes to church to witness Satyanārāyana's baptism. He does not understand the whole ritual and suffers "the internal agony like a helpless beast". His name is changed to Jheviyar (Xavier) Satyadāsa (p. 230). In the course of time he discovers that much of the caste system remains among Indian Christians: there are Brahmin Christians, Virasaiva Christians and outcaste Christians, and the various groups do not mix much (p. 232). Satyanārāyaṇa feels confused and lonely at the wedding, where more or less everyone speaks English and he hardly knows anyone: government employees, mechanics, Kannaḍiga-s, Malayāḷi-s, nuns. None of his friends or relatives has come to the wedding, but his brother-in-law Nanju comes to Mysore with wedding-gifts. It becomes clear, though, that he and Śakuntalā are shocked.

45Four days after the wedding, Lily's father takes her and Satyanārāyaṇa to see the bishop. The bishop's influence on the local Christians is enormous and also reaches out to education and politics (pp. 239-40). His skin has the colour of a piece of an orange (p. 240) and he has blue eyes (p. 241) as well as a peculiar way of pronouncing English (p. 240). He is happy that Satyanārāyaṇa has accepted the pure truth of Christianity and tells him that he need not worry about getting a job (p. 241).

46Satyanārāyaṇa suddenly becomes the principal of a high school, and Lily realizes that the bishop must have used his influence to bring this about (p. 243). A revolt arises among the pupils, who want to sing the national anthem rather than say a Christian prayer (p. 249). Satyanārāyaṇa relents after stones are thrown at the school. The bishop wants the rule applied again in a few months, and the transgressors suitably punished (p. 253). Satyanārāyaṇa undergoes an inner crisis and finds it hard to sleep at night (p. 254).

47He joins his hands before a picture of Swami Vivekananda on his bedroom wall in a feeling of devotion, remembers what he had read about the Hindu reformer's life and feels that he betrayed Hinduism (p. 255). In the morning Lily washes her face and he sees that her forehead is bare: "without knowing it" he asks why she does not apply kunkuma. He makes a remark about the Christian devotional pictures on the wall, saying that these pictures disturb him, and the next day the walls are covered with devotional pictures of indigenous holy characters. Lily too thinks that this is an improvement, because the previous pictures were "not ours". Another evening she puts kunkuma on her forehead: "An unprecedented beauty had come to that face.... This day my mind was stirred by a kind of lofty feeling that surpassed affection and attraction," Satyanārāyaṇa tells us (p. 259). But Lily's father comes and is outraged, seeing pictures of vile gods on the walls; Satyanārāyaṇa has them all removed (p. 265).

48Satyanārāyaṇa and Lily are invited and go to Ramaṇṇa's wedding. Immediately afterwards Satyanārāyaṇa falls ill again, stays in bed for a week and feels no longer interested in life.

  • 17 Because Satyanārāyaṇa has become a Christian, he has left the caste, and though his father is a lo (...)

49He receives a telegram which says that his father is dying in his home village, and he goes there at once. His father first did not want his friend to call for Satyanārāyaṇa because his son has left his caste by becoming a Christian. The next morning, in a critical condition, his father refuses to drink water given by Satyanārāyaṇa17 and opens his mouth only when the friend offers it (p. 285). When he dies, no one in the village is ready to help in any way; with a friend Satyanārāyaṇa takes his father's body to the cremation-ground and after some discussion they decide that the friend will set fire to the pyre (p. 287). Satyanārāyaṇa reflects on the attitude of his father-just someone who came back into his life to hurt his feelings; there had never been any love between them. He had come to the village only because the man had fathered him, and this father, who had eaten in all sorts of houses, refused water from his son because the son had become a Christian, and accepted it from someone who was not even a relative. He returns to Mysore, suffers from insomnia and becomes angry at Lily over trifles (p. 288).

  • 18 Cf. ch. 1 n. 59.
  • 19 A son must perform śrāddha in order to ensure that the doors of heaven will be opened for his pare (...)

50Suddenly he wants to see Śakuntalā. He goes, finds his way to the new village, a Christian village (a woman wears a cross on her forehead). The headman of the village takes him to Nanju's house, but the house is observing a śrāddha18, and according to the rules Śakuntalā cannot serve śrāddha food to people of a different faith, hence she cooks other food for Satyanārāyaṇa. In the village he goes to see his old teacher Svāmi Mēṣṭaru, who asks whether it is true that he has become a Christian because of a girl (Satyanārāyaṇa says nothing) and tells him that Śakuntalā was very upset concerning his father's śrāddha, because she wanted the door of heaven to be opened for him19 (p. 300).

51The headman of the village still believes in karma and says that Satyanārāyaṇa's conversion was a matter of fate. Satyanārāyaṇa says that he is suffering innerly due to his conversion, but the headman laconically says that his suffering will pass in a short while if only he does not think about it (pp. 303-4), though he knows that the Hindus are not ready to relax their caste-consciousness yet. Back at Nanju's house, he feels the urge to give dakṣiṇe (a donation) to the priests who are assembled there, and he gives each of them a five rupee banknote. Some ritual rice grains fall on his head, and he is convinced that his father has entered heaven (p.306). For some reason Śakuntalā's son is afraid of him and runs away; she feels very bad about this, since Satyanārāyaṇa is her only blood relative (p. 307). Back in Mysore he buys cigarettes, is unnecessarily rude to Lily again and suffers from inner unrest (p. 310).

52When he awakes the next day Lily stands at his bed with a beaming face and a large patch of kunkuma on her forehead. He is ill again, and Lily and Rācamma take care of him; without knowing it, he has been in bed for a month. She tells him that she had a dream in which an old Hindu woman whom they had met at Śankara's brother's wedding came and gave her a pinch of kunkuma. From that day onwards she began putting kunkuma on her forehead, and she knew that his life would be saved (p. 313). They go to Belur in the holidays to see the great temple, and there they worship the god. There Satyanārāyaṇa reflects sadly on what kind of art his Christian children and grandchildren may create (pp. 316-17). They unexpectedly meet Satya-nārāyaṇa's old crony Śrīkaṇṇhayya, now a bus driver and a Christian after an unhappy affair and marriage to a nymphomaniac Christian nurse. Satyanārāyaṇa and Lily return to Mysore, where he falls psychosomatically ill again; within a week his physical energy dwindles to half of what it usually is, and he feels spiritless (p. 323).

53Then Śankara comes to their home. Satyanārāyaṇa is astonished that this sanātana Hindu not only voluntarily comes to their Christian house but also stays to eat, and he asks him about this. Śankara however avoids answering and shows him a ten-page letter which he received from Lily, in which she has described Satyanārāyaṇa's agony, calls herself Śankara's tangi (younger sister) and asks his help. Because he considers Lily a Hindu he can eat there, though he admits that he too first did not eat in non-Hindu houses (p. 326). He gives them the great news that Hinduism is changing. He quotes Rabindranath Tagore, who said that it is easy to leave Hinduism but that not a single living being can enter it (p. 326), but some Hindu intellectuals now argue that it ought to be possible to return to Hinduism for those who left it "as victims of greed, delusion or fear", and to join it for those who were not born as Hindus (pp. 326-7). The Arya Samaj has found an attractive way of "purifying" people (śuddhīkaraṇa - p. 329) so that they can enter the Hindu fold, he says. Lily is enthusiastic at once. Satyanārāyaṇa looks at Lily: "Satisfaction, expectation and thoughts of a distant dream could be seen in her eyes" (p. 328). Śankara says that the Arya Samaj wants to do away radically with the caste system, which has divided Hindus for so long, hence some look upon the Samaj with suspicion. He has always kept his mind open, so he says, and though he never thought of leaving the RSS to join any other organization, he does like the Samaj's purification idea very much. Despite what he has said earlier, Śankara does not drink coffee in their house but only milk (p. 329).

54The next Sunday Lily and Satyanārāyaṇa hear a speech at the local Arya Samaj office: the speaker is a renegade Christian, who returned to Hinduism after having studied in Rome for seven years and having found Christianity intellectually unsatisfying (p. 331). If only the Hindus had treated the outcastes as equals, national calamities and dangers looming ahead would have been avoided, he says. The news of their attending the Arya Samaj meeting reaches the bishop and Lily's father: both are enraged, but Lily and Satyanārāyaṇa remain undaunted and undergo the purification ceremony. Satyanārāyaṇa gets his own name back, and Lily becomes Dharmaśrī ("the Glory of Dharma").

552.4 Dhaimaśrī is a remarkably explicit illustration of the multiple frustrations and disrupted psychology of a traditional third-world élite in a state of what sociologist A. Toffler has termed 'future shock'. If in Vamśavṛkṣa we could already see that Bhyrappa delights in religious obscurantism, in Dhaimaśrī and Tabbaliyu nīnāde magane (to be discussed later) we find a literary expression of an Indian variety of fascism. Numerous passages in the novel are not much more than propaganda for the RSS (Rāṣṭrīya Svayamsēvaka Sangha, "National Volunteers' Association"), an extreme right-wing Hindu, anti-non-Hindu movement. The RSS also figures prominently in Bhyrappa's Tabbaliyu nīnāde magane (§4.9). Dhaimaśrī, Bhyrappa's anti-Christian fantasy (in which he vents his contempt of other people as well: people from lower castes, people whose skin colour is dark, foreigners, Muslims, non-vegetarians, people who speak correct English) can be read as an interesting case study of the right-wing political and quasi-religious frame of mind that has been gaining so much in popularity in India in recent years.

56Let us note that in democratic, secular India, interreligious marriages are possible and also actually occur; therefore Satyanārāyaṇa's conversion was never necessary. Also much else in the novel is based on nothing but morbid imagination.

57The protagonist is the typical little man who struggles hard to improve his position in life and in the process of doing so identifies certain groups of people in society as his enemies, whom he must destroy: only then can he hope to achieve that to which he feels he has a right-a right not on the basis of any fair, objective, individual excellence, but on the basis of what he perceives as the inborn superiority of his social group.

58There are three Brahmin converts in the novel, two of whom (and Śrīkaṇṭhayya) are victims of society, and the remaining one (the police sub-inspector) is an opportunist who was converted only to get the job he wanted. But Christianity is basically depicted as the religion of people of low-caste backgrounds. Rācamma and her relatives are of a Gowda, i.e. Sudra background; the village neighbouring hers is an outcaste settlement, of which the entire population embraces Christianity only to get rid of their outcaste status. Added to this is contempt for those who have not had any higher education: thus the assistant of the American missionary couple is a mere truck driver (and besides that "a very black fellow" - p. 77), whose pronunciation of Kannada is faulty and suggests that he is an illiterate (also his English is considered poor by Satyanārāyaṇa and his friends - p. 79), and the Christian youths who attend the meeting "were working at the railway workshop and such places". The varṇāśrama-dharma is something of which no one doubts the greatness "on a scientific level" (p. 328; it is not mentioned which science is meant), in other words: casteist discrimination is thought to be based on 'science'. The disparaging remarks which Satyanārāyaṇa makes about the appearance of Anglo-Indians (persons of mixed British and Indian ancestry) when Lily has taken him to the Christian girls' hostel have a clearly racist undertone (p. 182).

59The novel demonstrates how political opportunism is not conducive to intellectual consistency and integrity. The treatment of casteism is entirely opportunistic. All Hindus, of all castes, should unite to face the common enemy, which is Christianity, and casteism is condemned whenever it is inconvenient for the protagonist (e.g. in the Virasaiva students' hostel, or when Svāmi Mēṣṭaru is the only person in the village who is willing to feed him). But when Satyanārāyaṇa receives a letter from his long-lost sister Śakuntalā, the fact that he is "the elder brother of an unmarried Brahmin maiden" (p. 116; my emphasis) becomes important again, as also when he can use casteist customs to snub Christians, e.g. when he defends the casteist rules against eating together in a conversation with Lily (p. 138).

60The passage in which the author tells us that various Indian Christians have maintained their old caste identities (p. 232) is not quite clear. It could mean that Christianity is not a great advance over Hinduism because the evil aspects of the caste system remain, or it could mean that Indians remain true to their casteist selves. This depends on which of the two sides of the author's doublethink one wants to stress. Other passages too point out that Indian Christians retain at least part of the casteist mentality. When Satyanārāyaṇa expresses his wish to become a Christian so that he can marry Lily, her father flies into a rage, and it is not quite clear why, for he himself is a convert. Rācamma strongly condemns the growing intimacy between Satyanārāyaṇa and Lily and Satyanārāyaṇa's desire for conversion by saying: "Not even in a dream did I think that you would descend to this level" (p. 220). It seems that what is actually meant is the abominableness of marriage across caste barriers, which is seen as a betrayal of group loyalties. We also find this in stories of marriages between Hindus of different castes (see chapter 4).

61That the author considers Christians a caste (jāti) is unmistakable. When Satyanārāyaṇa thinks over his growing feelings for Lily, his casteist conscience says: "I warned myself that if I let my mind slip the way it went, this could mean total ruin" (p. 190), viz. of his caste and pedigree. When there is a disturbance in the high school over the compulsory prayers at the Christian school, which was founded out of Christian idealism, one student in the mob shouts: "We don't want your Bible. We come to pass exams, not to join your caste" (p. 252), and another yells: "We give fees to go to class, not to hear your caste's propaganda" (pp. 252-3).

62Outcastes are an object of special contempt, and the passage in which Satyanārāyaṇa and Rācamma go for an outing and pass by the outcaste settlement is quite illustrative. Satyanārāyaṇa asks what people are there; holeya-s (outcastes), she says, and Satyanārāyaṇa asks "Why did you bring me here, if you know they're holeya-s? If I come to their village I have to take a bath." "Why is that?" she asks, and he says: "You don't know, keep quiet. They're holeya-s”. That holeya village "was full of dirt. Not a single proper piece of clothing was to be seen on anyone's body. It must have been ages since the rags they had put on had been washed. The children near the houses were repulsive" (p. 31).

63India is viewed as the land of Hinduism. Muslims, Christians and even Buddhists are traitors, or at least misled people, alienated by a rigidified Hinduism. Speaking about the social evils of Hinduism at the Arya Samaj meeting, the speaker (a renegade Christian) says that Hinduism had always allowed others to join, and he gives the example of the Rajputs; Śankarācārya uplifted Hinduism when Buddhism became strong, and "Didn't all the Buddhists then return to their own dharma?"; if the Hindus had invited the "Indians who had joined the Muslim caste" back into their ranks, without seeing them as mlēmccha-s (barbaric foreigners), then "today the country called Pākisthāna would not have been born" (p. 330). The Christians are said to be a similar political threat (pp. 330-31). It is important to keep India as big and as Hindu as possible - not out of any detached, rational and egalitarian considerations about the welfare of all its citizens, irrespective of their social background, but obviously because the protagonist sees here some benefit for his caste and hence for himself. Thus it is understandable how Satyanārāyaṇa in some places can be a thorough casteist without the least concern about the upliftment of the low castes and elsewhere can become concerned about removing or at least reducing intra-Hindu caste discrimination for the sake of uniting against Christianity. After all, for him casteism is "scientific" and should remain, but some cosmetic changes may be made if this serves his own caste-bound interests.

64Typical for polemic and propagandistic literature is the use of double standards. Throughout the novel we read that Christian missionary work is bad and must be stopped by using all means at the Hindus' disposal. On the other hand, missionary work is excellent if it is Hindu and carried out by Vivekananda in America.

65When it comes to concrete criticism of Christianity as a religion, the author seems pathetically misinformed - unless his disinformation is deliberate, which is not unlikely. The polemic passages are quite bizarre. For instance, Satyanārāyaṇa says that the authority of the church in the West has been overturned by Protestantism, that in the present scientific age all westerners are Christians but only few of them go to church on Sundays (p. 144), and that half of the population of the West, viz. that of Russia, rose against religion and wants nothing to do with it (p. 145). In reality, Protestantism is of course reformed Christianity, just as Virasaivism is reformed Hinduism. Even if we grant that Russia is a part of the West (which is an example of how Indians fail to distinguish between various kinds of foreigners), then still it will require a strange kind of arithmetic to declare that its population is half of that of the West; and religion has always continued a semi-underground existence in Russia during the Soviet era. The author's geographical knowledge also looks a little suspect when he writes about the bishop of Mysore, who is from Holland (Hāleṇḍ), i.e. the Netherlands, and whose French and Latin are better than his English, but "nevertheless he speaks English here". (One wonders what would have happened if he had spoken Latin or French in Mysore.) Considering that only a few foreign people have French as their mother-tongue in the Netherlands, where the majority language is Dutch, it seems that also here the author was not interested in providing his readers with truthful information about where foreigners come from; he merely wanted to stress what he considers the un-Indianness of Christianity.

66More amazing are the passages where the author tries to impress upon us that Christianity is a set of weird superstitions. Satyanārāyaṇa asks how anyone in this age can believe that Jesus was born of a virgin or believe in any of the other "innumerable superstitions in the Bible" (p. 139). Such statements are theologically naive; and also when one argues on a superficial level, an adherent of the religion which has produced scriptures like the purāṇa-s should, I think, be careful in making such accusations. I have not found a single passage where any Christian practice or teaching has been described fairly and truthfully. Christianity tried to silence Galileo, Satyanārāyaṇa says, and the West could only develop after wresting itself from "Christianity's blind fist" (p. 139). For the sake of fairness he could have remembered that Mahatma Gandhi was excommunicated from his Hindu caste because he wanted to pursue higher studies abroad, and that Protestant Christianity arose largely out of the demand for freedom of thought. But fairness was obviously not on his mind, nor did he keep his eyes open. When nuns perspire heavily on account of their strange gowns (p. 182), this description must be based more on the author's imagination than on any observation. The same must be the case when he writes that Satyanārāyaṇa's father-in-law greets the bishop by moving his hands (plural) in the sign of the cross (p. 244), as though it is a substitute for shaking hands.

67One may naturally ask why a Hindu like Śankara tells another Hindu like Satyanārāyaṇa to read English-language books like S. Radhakrishnan's The Hindu View of Life and the writings of Ananda Coomaraswamy in order to get "a proper knowledge" of their religion and culture. Is there nothing in Kannada? The obvious answer is that there is nothing of that particular polemic kind in Kannada; the author is obviously concerned about polemics and not about achieving a genuine religious understanding.

68Śankara says about his nation that it "isn't a mere geographical expanse.... It needs a history, needs a brilliant tradition, needs a living culture" (p. 69), in other words: he feels that his nation apparently has no brilliant tradition and living culture already, and that these need to be created. Clearly we have here a frustrated, alienated person who suffers from an inferiority complex, and the new mythologies of neo-Hindu authors come in handy. Typically, it also does not occur to Satyanārāyaṇa that the fact that Westerners have written and published anti-Christian literature disproves the idea that "all Westerners are Christians", just as the mere fact that Indians have produced anti-Hindu writings in itself does not mean that there is something fundamentally wrong with that religion.

69That Vivekananda has won a few adherents for his neo-Vedanta in the West is a sign of the greatness of Hinduism, but Hindus who become Christians or Muslims are the "victims of greed, delusion or fear" (p. 327). Boringly many passages in the novel impress upon the readers that Christian missionaries apparently misused their knowledge of medicine to entice people to conversion. Why fear should compel a person to become a Christian is totally unclear, and one fails to see how conversion could have been advantageous for anyone in post-Independence, Hindu-dominated India.

70There is money to be made in the conversion business. In spite of the overturning of the authority of the church by Protestantism, as Satyanārāyaṇa asserts, and the rebellion of half of the population of the West in Russia, the failure of the church to stop immorality and war (as if any religion has conclusively done so anywhere) and the general disbelief of Western people in Christianity in this scientific age, although all of them are supposedly Christians - in spite of all this, these same people lavish money on their religious institutions: "Western people have money in excess. They'll give money liberally for any cause. But it is not a sign of faith in their dharma that they give money.... The schools, colleges, hospitals they set up are all nothing but a means of conversion to their faith" (p. 145). The author has piled a few popular prejudices on top of each other without considering whether the end result makes any sense.

71Another typical issue which is illustrative of the split attitude of the author towards the Christian-Western complex is his attitude towards the English language. Christians corrupt the Kannada language by speaking with a Malayalam accent (p. 155; presumably because the majority of nuns in India are from Kerala, the neighbouring state, where Malayalam is the majority language). And Christians are out to "destroy Hindu culture" (four explicit passages: pp. 61, 111, 255, 316). We also read that all Westerners, or rather: 'red' people (kempu: this is one of the words used for 'white' with reference to skin-colour) are Christians (p. 140). Yet Satyanārāyaṇa needs to read English books for a correct understanding of Hinduism, as we have already seen. Already in the village Svāmi Mēṣṭaru stresses the need to learn English, and so does Śankara later. However, one should not try to speak it the way Englishmen do, for we see this condemned twice (pp. 100 and 182). One should speak Kannada like a native speaker but is condemned if one tries to do this in the case of English.

  • 20 E.g. the dvaita-vēdānta of Madhvācārya makes no such claims for itself and openly admits that for (...)

72Rather predictably, part of the superiority of Hinduism over Christianity is said to be its so-called tolerance, "its reputation of tolerating other faiths, of non-violence and of liberalness" (p. 138). This is a very popular idea, although history proves otherwise. From previous centuries we have numerous reports of violent persecution of religious groups in Karnataka (the Jainas and Virasaivas have both suffered this) as well as in other parts of India (I have already mentioned Rāmānuja's flight to Karnataka). I fail to understand how anyone can speak of a distinctive religious tolerance in Hinduism when such facts are known, yet the idea remains highly popular. The modern 'tolerance' which says that good Christians by definition are good Hindus serves as a cover for intellectual indifference and social intolerance, and it is debatable whether this sort of 'tolerance' is something to be proud of. This kind of neo-Vedanta, which was popularized by Vivekananda, Radhakrishnan and others, is a modem variety of advaitavēdānta, and is not representative of the whole of Hinduism, or even of Vedanta20.

73Christianity is said to be out to destroy Hindu culture and along with it the Indian nation. Indian art cannot survive without the Hindu dharma, because it is the basic inspiration of Indian art, says Satyanārāyaṇa (p. 316; i.e. the Taj Mahal is not Indian). If in the following generations of their lineage any artist will be born, Satyanārāyaṇa sighs, "that person will build... a Gothic style church. We'll be outside any form of art-literature, music, dance. The rāga which the children of our lineage will learn will be church piano music" (pp. 316-17). But there is at least one South Indian Christian lady who is an accomplished Bharata Natyam dancer (Ms. Samson), and an American, the late John Higgins, was appreciated in India for his Carnatic vocal music. Numerous Muslims have made significant contributions to Indian art, music, and literature in various languages, also in Kannada. Apparently our author does not want to know this.

74The most extreme example of misrepresentation is the red cross that Christian women allegedly draw on their foreheads, unless they wear nothing there, which results in a "bare forehead" (bari haṇe) or even "waste-forehead" (hāḷu haṇe - p. 256). This reoccurs numerous times in the novel and becomes a kind of symbol; but it is based on nothing. I have asked Indian Christians about the custom, and none of them has seen it. The significance of Bhyrappa's red-cross symbol is this: Christianity, which is out to destroy Hindu culture, as we have already read, forbids the wearing of kunkuma by women (p. 27), but Indians are Hindus, Hindu blood runs through their veins, and the power of their blood is so great that these poor women put a red mark on their foreheads which is acceptable to the Christian clergy. Lily's mother wears a crosssign on her forehead that is visible at a distance of 50 feet (p. 226). The kunkuma becomes a symbol of the greatness of poor, oppressed Hinduism through the beauty which it supposedly transfers onto the woman who wears it, and a highly over-worked symbol at that: the statement that it is a sign of a Hindu woman occurs 18 times. Satyanārāyaṇa compares it to the Western wedding ring; but he omits saying that in reality also unmarried women must wear it, that widows are forbidden to wear it, and that if a Hindu woman does not wear it, she runs the risk of being upbraided and insulted in public. And with all the hysterical importance that is given to the red dot in the novel, it is a hollow irony that Satyanārāyaṇa confesses that he does not know its origin or its exact meaning.

75And of course, in such a piece of rabid writing, Christians are depicted as morally depraved in matters concerning contact between the sexes. Thus Rācamma, who to Satyanārāyaṇa's delight "thinks entirely like a Hindu girl", thinks that it is disgusting that her sister-in-law Lily still wears skirts that reach down only to the knee (p. 113-14): as "a convent product" does, Satyanārāyaṇa thinks. When the question of conversion by means of the Arya Samaj comes up and Satyanārāyaṇa fears separation from Lily, Śankara declares: "No Hindu can have the sinful thought of increasing the number of adherents of his faith by breaking up a holy wedlock. The only people who do that are missionaries" (pp. 327-8), in other words: Christianity does not respect marriage. Satyanārāyaṇa's school-friend Śrīkaṇṭhayya is fooled into marriage by a lecherous nurse, who is of course a Christian (one may note here that for a long time nursing was not considered a respectable profession for Hindu girls, as it involved bodily contact with all kinds of people and therefore ruined one's purity). That the nurse is portrayed as sexually corrupt and not Śrīkaṇṭhayya, who is merely the victim, reveals double standards either with regard to Christians and Hindus, or to women and men, or perhaps both.

  • 21 Though this commonly accepted view is supported by linguistic, literary and archaeological data, t (...)

76When stressing the foreignness of Christianity, Bhyrappa connects ancient Indian racial prejudice with prejudices arising from the unfamiliar appearance, bodily and with regard to apparel, of foreigners, and with xenophobic political sentiments. 13 passages tell us that Christianity is a foreign body in India (of course the Aryans, whose culture Satyanārāyaṇa glorifies on p. 236, also had their origins outside India21, but that is apparently a different matter). The way in which English people twist their faces when speaking is disgusting (p. 183). Indian women should not dress like Westerners because that kind of dress does not harmonize with their skin colour (p. 137). Satyanārāyaṇa tells Lily that she is 'actually' a Hindu, for she is "an Indian, a Hindu. Heriditarily there isn't much difference between the blood that flows in my body and the blood that is in your body" (p. 158). Śankara writes to Satyanārāyaṇa from Mangalore that "what flows in your body is Hindu blood" (p. 274). "Colour has become dharma in Hinduism; but among Europeans it is a source of hatred. Nobody else has made the black-white difference politically so strong in such an inhuman way as the red people have. All of them are Christians, aren't they?" (p. 140). Here we see how the author identifies the concept of varṇa, which literally means 'colour', with the actual skin colour of people, and so we can say that according to the author, discrimination according to skin colour and race is scientifically justified, since we have already seen that he considers the caste system 'scientific'. I am also not convinced that the "black-white difference" is stronger in Europe than elsewhere; it would seem that in India the caste system dominates politics like no system of social differentiation in Europe does.

77The upholding of a variety of double standards without any effort at achieving a unified system of ethics is an anthropologically interesting phenomenon, and the reason should perhaps be sought in the fact that in conservative Hinduism ethics are caste-bound (Jainism and Buddhism, as well as Hindu reform movements, strove towards a system of ethics that does not refer to caste). In Dharmaśrī a Hindu apparently need not treat a non-Hindu as fairly as he would another Hindu, and in polemics against the Christian enemy he need not be coherent or consistent. Satyanārāyaṇa and Śankara are allowed to discriminate racially, but not Dr Malan in South Africa (p. 81). Hindus should not be allowed to become Christians or Muslims, but provisions should be made to enable everyone to become Hindus, as through the Arya Samaj. When Rāja Ayyangār becomes Joseph, the author makes an infantile game on his name; but Lily is converted to Hinduism and must become Dharmaśrī, while already earlier she is called 'Līlā'. The defenders of the Hindu faith demand tolerance, understanding and respect from Christians, but they are allowed to be misinformed, prejudiced, abusive and intolerant towards Christians.

  • 22 The word is obviously modelled after Pākisthāna - though typically the real name is Pākistān, deri (...)

78Christians, so we read, are a fifth column and want to destroy India (why?), primarily through foreign connections and money. Xenophobia and economic envy are quite clear here. We have already seen how Bhyrappa interprets Christian charity. In connection with the activities of the American missionaries, Śankara's brother says: "He's not the only one. Thousands of people like him are coming from abroad. The government of those countries helps them. There's nothing but politics behind them. There's no limit to money either, that's how much help they get" (p. 91). Perhaps the most paranoid sentence in the book is ā dēśagaḷa sarkāravē ivarige sahāya māḍutte: "the government [sic: singular] of those countries helps them." In others words, Bhyrappa asks us to believe that all the Ēsusthānas22 ("lands of Jesus", the USA, the Netherlands, who else?) of the world are united under one government which gives unlimited financial support to missionaries to destroy India. "When I die it is enough if my ashes float on the Ganges. But the ideal of others is not so. When the question of love for the nation arises, they must show faithfulness to the Hindu land. When the question of religion comes, their faithfulness is towards Mecca or Bethlehem. When a confrontation comes between religion and nation-there are not few such occasions-it's a doubtful matter to which side their faithfulness will go. But it is not so with a Hindu. Both his Benares and Delhi are in this country.... Does Christianity play a small part in Indian politics?... Look at the Christians - how well arranged is the organization of the people of their faith! It surpasses any well-organized political institution. Also among Muslims there is a unification from the start. If organizing doesn't take place among the unfortunate Hindus, in a few more days their name may cease to exist," Śankara says (p. 71).

  • 23 Subramanyam 1970: 117.
  • 24 Gensichen 1986: 39.
  • 25 Ibid. p. 38.

79Of course none of this has a base in reality. But if it had been the result of our author's own thinking, we could have at least credited him with a sort of creativity, and even this is not the case. A similar extreme expression of this mentality was the report of the notorious Niyogi Commission of 1956 in the state of Madhya Pradesh which looked into missionary work among tribals (of whom there are many in the state). The main six points in the report were: 1. there was an appreciable increase of American missionary personnel in India; 2. enormous sums of foreign money came in for missionary work in educational, medical and evangelical activities; 3. conversions were made not through conviction but by various inducements in various forms; 4. missions also served extra-religious ends; 5. conversion endangers loyalty to the country since it muddles the convert's sense of unity and solidarity with society; 6. evangelization in India appears to be a part of a uniform world policy to revive Christendom for reestablishing Western supremacy and is not prompted by spiritual motives23. What a high-caste, conservative Hindu may not understand is that "extra-religious ends" such as medical aid and education are a part of Christian spirituality with its stress on the virtue of charity. The report evidently recommended India to be a Hindu theocracy. One will understand that the ultra-right-wing RSS and Hindu Mahāsabhā "have vastly greater resources and stronger public support at their disposal for attempts to undermine the pattern of the secular state in favour of an exclusive Hindu Rashtra in which all other religious minorities would be suppressed24." Naturally the Indian government could not treat this report seriously, also because its recommendations were opposed to the fundamental human rights that are guaranteed in the constitution. For the same reasons similar later attempts at destroying religious freedom failed: Orissa 1967, Madhya Pradesh 1968, Arunachal Pradesh 197825. Dharmaśrī reads like a programmatic fictionalization of the Niyogi report, five years after its appearance.

80Thus we can summarize the ideology underlying the book: a nation is a race, is a religion; another race is another nation and must have another religion. Hence an Indian Christian, through his religion, betrays his nation and his race, his blood and skin colour; he looks ridiculous and is a political threat. Europeans have a different skin colour, which is their common characteristic, and therefore they must have a different religion, which is Christianity (hence there are no humanists, Jews or others in the Western world, it seems). One is bom somewhere, has a past, and this conditions the rest of one's existence; there is no room for personal judgment or for radical changes in one's life on the basis of individual conviction. Fear of the unfamiliar permeates the book, as is usual in alarmist literature: the absence of kunkuma, different styles of women's dress, the clothing of Catholic priests and nuns, church architecture, blue eyes, the general Western skin colour - all these generate fear. Even proper English creates an aversion in Satyanārāyaṇa, e.g. when he hears that the word 'principal' can be used for the head of any school (p. 243). There is the fear that Hinduism is in danger, but the author fails to demonstrate realistically and convincingly why and how this can be.

81As a work of literary art Dharmaśrī is a grotesque failure. But all the same, for the large quantity of thoughts which it contains and for its popularity, which must be considered an indication of the currency of such a warped ideology among the Kannada-reading public, it is an invaluable document of contemporary Kannada culture.

822.5 According to Bhyrappa's Dharmaśrī, once upon a time all Indians were Hindus, and then some evil foreigners with alien religions came, who began upsetting the cosmic order of dharma as it existed in India by converting people to these new faiths through deceit. Here it is appropriate to turn our attention to a voice from the 'other side', that has another story to tell.

83Bolwar Mahamad Kunhi (Bōluvāru Mahamada Kurṃñi 1952b) has an ancestral background similar to that of Sara Aboobacker (see above, §1.20) and was born in a Malayalam-speaking Muslim family in the southwestern corner of Karnataka. He has tried his hand at writing novels, but his reputation as a writer rests mainly on his meticulously styled short stories, which have made him one of the modern Kannada masters of this literary form. In his short story Anka ("The Act") we read how a Muslim youngster falls a victim to precisely the kind of practices of which Bhyrappa has accused Christians and Muslims: Rehmān is unemployed and poor, and he is persuaded by some Hindus in his village to embrace Hinduism, after which, so they promise, some employment will be given to him.

842.6 Bolwar Mahamad Kunhi: Anka

85The author says that though he likes sad and dramatic stories, the things that happen at Muttuppāḍi have become so ordinary for him that he hesitates to make a story out of them. E.g. there is story of Ummābi and why it took her so much trouble to find her son in a government hospital with 300 beds. When someone tells her that her son is hospitalized in Mangalore, she at once goes there to see him. She is a simple villager, is bewildered by the hospital premises, cannot find her way about and is treated rudely by the hospital personnel whom she asks for help. Finally a nurse tries to help her, Ummābi tells her son's name, but the boy cannot be found until a doctor whispers something to the nurse which startles her. She then takes Ummābi to her son.

86Meanwhile, back in the village, a Hindu tells his friend Guṇḍaṇṇa Śeṭṭa that he has heard from an acquaintance in Mangalore that the boy who had worked for four months in Śeṭṭa's rice mill is hospitalized there. Earlier they had gathered with some other concerned Hindus at the house of another friend and discussed the possibility of converting a Muslim to Hinduism as a reaction to the conversion of a number of Harijans to Islam in Madras (p. 8); their eye had fallen upon the boy Rehmān, especially since his elder brother had made public statements that no one had a right to speak evil of the conversion of the Harijans. They confer with another of their circle, a lawyer, on the question of who may claim the boy's body in the event of his death; the lawyer says that evidence of the boy's conversion will be needed to obtain the body-if their swami comes forward and states that he was converted, then the body is theirs, but on the other hand if the boy's mother creates a scene and demands her son's body, then they will lose the sympathy of the public, which is not what they want either (p. 10).

87After Ummābi's younger son had left the caste (jāti biṭṭu hōdāga - p. 12), she locked herself up in her house and secluded herself from all social contacts. One day the boy returned home, still unemployed and sad that he had been lured into becoming a Hindu on the promise of employment. He stayed only shortly, returned his elder brother's watch and complained about his plight while his mother remained outwardly emotionless; he saw the portrait of himself with his brother hanging on the wall, smashed the glass in rage, then picked up the fallen photograph, tore it in two pieces and took the half with his brother on it with him (pp. 13-4).

88Śeṭṭa tells his Muslim business partner Adam Sāhukāra that care should be taken that the boy does not die, for this is the season in which they should do their best business, and if he dies there may be some social disturbances that will cut deep into their profits. Adam calls for a meeting of the local religious council (jamāt), where its president expresses his disgust that Ummābi has gone to see "that unbeliever whose caste is ruined" (ā jātigeṭṭa kāphar - p. 15). Adam argues that it is good that she has gone to Mangalore, since they may get the boy's body, and he says that they should have done something more to prevent the boy's conversion. The boy's elder brother had refused all cooperation with them and said that his brother was over eighteen and free to become a Hindu if he thought that was better for him (p. 16).

89The elder son returned to the village again one day and Ummābi laid part of the blame for his brother's conversion on him. According to her, if he had shown more affection towards Rehmān, had not constantly criticized him for failing in school and not finding employment, and had not found fault with practically everything he did, Rehmān probably would not have had the courage to convert when the Hindus offered him a job on that condition (p. 18). Later the wealthy Sulaiman Hāji came to Ummābi's house to take her to task, but she also blamed him for what Rehman had done, since Hāji had not given him a job when he had come begging for one (p. 19). Indeed Hāji gives only menial work to people of his own caste, because he believes that they are not capable of doing, for example clerical work.

90The Muslims, gathered at Adam's house, decide to go to Mangalore and make Rehman officially state that he wants to return to his original religion; it will be enough for their purpose if he does so in the presence of their mulla the day before his death (p. 20). But they must make sure that the Hindus do not know about this, for then the latter may do anything, perhaps even bring a doctor from London and save the boy's life, so that they will not get his body (p. 21). But in the end the boy recovers, and Ummābi goes home without speaking a word to anyone.

  • 26 Personal communication, Mysore, March 10th, 1988.

912.7 The excellently constructed and written story Anka becomes extra poignant when one knows that it is based on the real-life story of the author's own brother; as Kunhi says, it is 70% biographical26.

92In Dharmaśrī we have seen how Indians are sensitive to the symbolism of names and the significance of changing them when one leaves one religious community for another, and though Ummābi knows that her son has become a Hindu, it still comes as a shock to her that this implies that his name has been changed from 'Rehmān', the name which she gave her son, to 'Rāmēśa' and therefore it is difficult to locate him in the hospital. Rehmān underwent conversion solely for the sake of obtaining the proffered job, and the bitter irony is that after his conversion he does not get it.

93As a result of this betrayal, Rehmān / Rāmēśa suffers, moves around in search of work, contracts a serious illness and is hospitalized, but all this personal suffering (and this is the main point of the story) is just that: personal. The local leaders of both his communities, the one which he left and the one which he joined, are not really interested in his well-being; he has become expendable, a mere pawn in the game of mutual communal hatred. While he is still in hospital, strategies are discussed by both groups on how to gain possession of his body when he dies for the group prestige that is to be had, for the funeral will decide which group has won: whether the conversion has been successful or not, whether the Hindus publicly stand by their newly won member or whether the Muslims will not give up their people so easily.

94The rivalry between the two religious communities is seen in terms of casteism (we read that Ummābi lost the desire to live "when her second son all alone had left the caste" - eraḍanē maga ēkāyēki jāti biṭṭu hōdāga, p. 12), and the story is an illustration of how little value is accorded to an individual in a casteist setting. It comes as an ironical note that the mulla, while the Muslim leaders are discussing, suggests: "Why shouldn't all of us pray to Allah to extend the boy's life?" (p. 21). When the Hindus are discussing how to obtain Rehmān's body, the lawyer says: "If all of us go to court when that boy's mother sheds tears and says'give me my son's body', we won't get public sympathy either. On the whole it's better if that boy's dead" (p. 10). Both groups are concentrating so much on what to do when he dies that it comes as a stunning anticlimax when we read that he recovers and is discharged. With this the story fades to an end, Ummābi goes home and everyone is just as unimportant as they were before - they are no longer in the middle of communal strife but are insignificant individuals gain.

95If for Ummābi the word jāti designates a religious group, such as the Muslims as a group that is different from the Hindus, we see casteism in its original infra-Hindu sense enter elsewhere in the story. As I have mentioned earlier, Hinduism as it exists today is a religion which outsiders cannot join, on account of the caste system. This problem crops up when the Hindus consider the possibility that Rehmān recovers from his illness. The lawyer says:

  • 27 A sāmūhika vivāha or mass wedding is, as the word already suggests, a mass ceremony at which sever (...)

"Get him married after he gets better. After that, if anything like this happens it's easy to make a claim from the wife's side."
Immediately the laughter that burst from Kāmata's stomach set the lawyer's whole office ashake. Kāmata held his stomach, laughed and laughed, was exhausted, wiped his eyes, said: "That'll be another tremendous feat, lawyer... The system of our religion is so complicated... From which caste should we bring a girl for this boy? Hee hee...", and he began laughing again. Saraḷāya too began laughing; but a way out had dawned upon them. In any case the fashion of mass weddings had started27. There was no shortage of girl waifs. They had calculated that it would not be very difficult to bring someone and get the boy married. Remembering all this, and feeling proud of their sharp wits, Saraḷāya laughed still more (pp. 10-1).

  • 28 A few years ago there was a mass conversion of a few hundred Harijanas to Islam at Meenakshipuram (...)

96In other words: Rehmān the Muslim can become Rāmēśa the Hindu, but then what? It does not mean that he can be accepted as one among the others, as a full, equal member of the community, for he belongs to no caste. Meanwhile the Hindu activists, well-to-do businessmen and a lawyer, are not really bothered by this question but are highly amused by their victimizing of the destitute youth. Rehmān's tragedy has furthermore been caused indirectly by infra-Hindu caste tensions, as we read earlier: when the Śeṭṭa expresses hesitance to undertake any steps with the others to gain rights over Rehmān's body because he wants no communal disturbances since "most of my customers are them, aren't they?", Saraḷāya says: "Don't you read the papers? In Madras these outcastes are standing in line to join their religion28. Should we walk here with our heads held high or not?" (p. 8). The Hindus blame the Muslims for allowing the Harijans a dignity which they refuse to them, and the luring of Rehmān into conversion is merely a way of 'taking revenge'.

97In this clash of authoritarian groups, Rehmān's liberal-minded elder brother stands isolated. He advocates individual religious freedom (thus he makes public statements that the Harijans must be allowed to become Muslims if they so want, but he very consistently does nothing to prevent his own brother from becoming a Hindu either, for the same reason), but the environment is not receptive to that sort of message. Religion here is not what it seems: it has nothing to do with spirituality but is mere social groupism reinforced by economic pressure. The only other character in the story who shies away from direct communal confrontations is the Śeṭṭa, but not out of any idealistic motivation: a riot will harm his business. On the one hand his business partner is a Muslim; on the other, he sides with the Hindu activists. He obviously sides with anyone, if he sees any direct or indirect profit.

982.8 In another story by Kunhi, Daphana ("The Burial"), we see something of the difficult situation in which a young Muslim finds himself when he wants to step out of communalism and openly demonstrates that he wants to overcome rigid communal barriers. He ends up 'sandwiched', so to say, between the Hindus on the one hand and the Muslims on the other, not really, wholly accepted by either group, and ultimately he has to fall back upon the Muslim community when he needs the help of other people.

992.9 Bolwar Mahamad Kunhi: Daphana

100The protagonist remembers his mother's death and the events that followed it, ten years ago, because of what a close friend of his said while they were having a drink in a bar: the friend, who always spoke like a rationalist, asked him why he had his mother buried in the mosque rather than having her cremated. He cannot remember what he answered, but the question set him thinking.

  • 29 Cf. ch. 1 n. 27.

101He remembers the poverty which he shared with his mother, how much of the little money which he had had to be spent on medicines for her without any noticeable effect on her health, and how this irritated him and made him unnecessarily gruff with her, which he now regrets. She had serious difficulties in breathing and smoked bīḍi-s29 because they offered her some relief, though they ruined her health still further (p. 4). Their house had no well of its own, hence they had to draw water in another street from the well of the merchant Rahim Sāhukāra, a wealthy man who was the president of the Muslim congregation and hence also very influential in it. Whenever the protagonist would go for water, Rahīm would scold him for his unorthodox behaviour and ask, for example, whether he was allowed to say his prayers in the Hindu school which he, unlike any other boy in his neighbourhood, had joined. When the protagonist gave up his Friday prayers after entering college, Rahīm took this as a personal affront and abused him publicly, in the middle of the street, and the protagonist, instead of saying anything back, remained silent (p. 5). His mother did not like it that he kept away from the mosque, but she never said so directly. When she was upbraided by the women in the merchant's house for his behaviour, he tried to console her by asking whether God was present only in the mosque and not in their home; she then said that at least he could say his prayers at home (p. 6).

102After his mother died in the hospital the liquor-seller Pūjāri, whose shop he had till then never entered, could tell by his behaviour that his mother was no more and sent a boy to call the Muslim clergyman. At home the protagonist found his mother's body wrapped in a green sari, which probably Pūjāri had done. The clergyman refused to come, because he and his mother had not paid their community fees to the mosque; he paid Rs. 100 to the mosque, another Rs. 100 to someone to buy necessary things for the funeral. Removing the ornaments from the body he remembered how some of her ornaments and the brass water pot had been sold to buy a suitcase and clothing and thus enable him to take up his job; he had wanted to reserve part of his earnings to buy them back; if just one or two of his thousand plans had materialized, he thinks, his mother might still have been alive (p. 9). In the mosque the grave was dug, the procession brought the corpse there and lowered it into the grave. He too descended into the grave and stood next to his mother's body, not being able to accept the fact of her death, and people stood around asking whether he was tired of life or something (p. 11). The protagonist then tells the reader:

...this is all I wanted to say.
Is that all? The mother of a boy who has fallen from his caste died, people from their caste buried her. Are you not wondering what is special about this?
That is just what I am thinking (pp. 11-12).

1032.10 This beautifully written story needs very little explanation. The protagonist says at the end of the story that there is nothing extraordinary about the situation in which he finds himself, in other words: what has happened to him is in his view a common Indian experience.

104He is born in a certain community: in this particular case he is a Muslim, but the use of the word jāti (caste) for his community shows that for him, his Muslim community does not fundamentally differ from the many Hindu castes as regards the nature of the relationships which he as a member of his community has with members of other communities. He rejects the communalism of his community and the religiosity in which this is clothed, which for him is hypocritical: "Is God only in the mosque, isn't He in the home?" he asks (p. 6). Accordingly, he sees nothing wrong in joining a Hindu school or in no longer attending the Friday prayers, and actually enjoys the anger of the president of the congregation who naturally must symbolize for him all that is odious about the communalism which he sees around him. He lives in dire poverty, and probably he sees communalism as part of the social system which makes it difficult for him to better his lot. The story is not explicit about this, but this is suggested by the parallelism of the opposition poor-rich and the opposition rebellious-orthodox and by his joy at angering the wealthy merchant by flouting the formal, outward religiosity which for the merchant is the only concern he has with regard to the protagonist's life and which is at the same time a tool by which he tries to claim authority.

105He tries to escape from that communal atmosphere, as we see by his joining the Hindu school, and he can have a Hindu as his ātmīya geḷeya or intimate friend. This should be considered quite something: if we consider what fierce antipathies can separate Hindu castes from one another, then the latent enmity between people of pronouncedly different religions is not difficult to surmise (and riotous disturbances between Hindus and Muslims in India are of course common news). But we see that the outstretched hand of the Muslim protagonist is not really accepted by the Hindu, who after a few drinks ("as the whiskey goes down the throat, a man begins to become more truthful") shows that he finds it more 'rational' to cremate a body, which is the custom among most Hindus (not all, we must add), than to bury it. At the beginning of the story the protagonist says:

If he had said 'you should have buried her in a coffin in a church,' or 'you could have given her away to the hospital,' I could have nodded, perhaps. But I am forced to talk again about my mother's death, which I am trying to forget, because of my helplessness at having to see also my close friend join the ranks of the majority of non-Muslims, who can only think that for a Muslim to become rational he must become a Hindu (p. 2).

106Indeed this is the sort of Hindu 'tolerance' and 'rationality' that we see preached in a book like Bhyrappa's novel Dharmaśrī. And so, if the protagonist's attempts at breaking through communalism and establishing meaningful personal and other relationships with people of other communities are thus thwarted, who indeed remains to attend to his mother's funeral but his fellow Muslims? For even if he is a jātigeṭṭavanu, "one whose caste is ruined", they remain his jātibāndhavaru, his "relations through caste", whether he likes it or not-an idea which we will see playing a key role in U.R. Anantha Murthy's novel Samskāra (§5.18).

1072.11 Karnataka has played a major role in the religious history of India. It became the southern bastion of Hinduism against an expanding political Islam; before that, it had already become the southern homeland of Jainism and was a relatively tolerant region; it gave shelter to Rāmānujācārya when he had to flee from religious persecution in the Tamil region; Śankarācārya founded a maṭha at Sringeri (Śṛṅgēri) and thus created a centre of advaitic smārta Hinduism; Madhvācārya, the third of the great Vedantic teachers, was a born Kamatakan. Among interesting religious developments that have not had much influence outside the Kannada region, the foremost is Virasaivism, which burst into prominence in the twelfth century CE under the leadership of Basavanna. Approximately 20% of the present-day population of Karnataka adhere to the Virasaiva faith, mainly in the northern half of the state, where they constitute roughly 50% of the population.

  • 30 Cf. Ramanujan 1979 and Zvelebil 1984.

108Virasaivism is interesting for a number of reasons. Literarily it is interesting for the use which its early propagators made of a unique literary form, the vacana (which we may roughly describe as a kind of prose-poem), for spreading their ideas. Many vacana-s are short pieces of striking literary beauty30. Historically, Virasaivism represents a current of highly developed, non-Brahminical Hinduism in which a religious heritage has been preserved and continued that elsewhere has been lost or has merged in the mainstream Brahminical religion. Socially it is interesting for its attempt to uproot the caste system, and there are stories dating from its early history of how the Virasaivas accepted people of each and every background into their community and had to suffer persecution at the hands of other socio-religious groups on account of this. Still today the Virasaivas (or Lingayatas, as they are also known: "those who have taken to the linga" - a small stone object that is worn on the body as a symbol of Siva and is the foremost and personal object of worship) pride themselves on a social liberalness and still show a missionary zeal that is uncommon among Hindus.

109What is rather unfortunate, however, is that the fine ideals of Virasaivism seem to be largely history, though an increasing number of people wish to revive the ideals in the vacana-s as a guideline for social life. As has happened with similar reform movements in other parts of India, the caste system preserved itself by declaring the new movement just another caste among many others - just as e.g. Christians are considered a caste. In Karnatakan caste politics the Virasaivas are particularly disliked by other social groups and have the reputation of being more casteist than others; it is hard to say to what extent this is really true, and this particular aversion may actually be nothing but jealousy on the part of other groups in society that they are not so numerous and united as the Virasaivas are and therefore are less successful in getting their way. More curiously, in spite of the anticasteist ideals of the founders of the religion, the Virasaivas have developed a caste system of their own, so that non-Virasaivas regard them as one group, but they make further distinctions among themselves. No doubt this is largely due to the fact that the Virasaivas were converts from Jainism and from various Hindu groups, who wished to maintain their old social identities at least partly even after they embraced Virasaivism; thus there is e.g. a sub-group that is very much aware of its Brahmin ancestry and has maintained certain Brahminical customs. Also the ways of society around them may in the course of time have influenced them to re-adopt a form of casteism.

110In the story Sambandhagaḷu ("Relationships") by Shantarasa (Śāntarasa, nom de plume of Jēgarakallu Śāntayya 1926b) we read about the politicking that takes place around a village maṭha, of which the swami decides to step down from his office in favour of marrying and returning to a layperson's life, and about the possible real reasons why certain people uphold certain religious and social beliefs. Shantarasa's literary output has been considerable, and he has also translated directly from Urdu into Kannada.

1112.12 Shantarasa: Sambandhagaḷu

  • 31 A pīṭha is a 'seat', in the sense of a 'seat of authority', such as that of a religious leader.

112In a village in northern Karnataka, the widow Irapamma is the gatherer of local news and gossip. The village took pity on her when her husband died and each house began supporting her by giving her some kitchen work to do, for which she would be paid in goods. In fact she received so much in this manner that she could start a business by selling off some of these goods. Though she is rather dark-complexioned, she has charming features, and she is a woman of loose morals. After her affair with Rudragauḍa, the local policeman, she became desirable for young and old alike: "all wanted to smell and see her body" (p. 19). The latest gossip which she spreads is that Virupākṣa Svāmi, the matṭādhipati of the village, intends to step down from the pīṭha31, become an ordinary layman and marry. Many people think that she is merely slandering Virupākṣa Svāmi, for her nature is such and Virupākṣa Svāmi is a highly respected person, apart from being fair-skinned and good-looking. It is also known that Irapamma has been hanging around the maṭha and Virupākṣa Svāmi very much, and that Virupākṣa Svāmi simply ignored her.

  • 32 The birth anniversary of Basavanna, the leader of the Virasaiva movement in the twelfth century.

113Villager Aṇeppa, on whom Irapamma turned her back when he sought her favours, enjoys the rumour very much, for he strongly dislikes Virupākṣa Svāmi and his confidant Rudragauḍa. The reason for this is that the maṭha belonged to the guruvarga, whereas Virupākṣa Svāmi belongs to the viraktara sampradāya, and about Virupāksa Svāmi he thinks: "Since that son of a bitch took over, he has begun celebrating Basava Jayanti32. The devotees of this idiot also kept quiet. Whenever I claim we shouldn't celebrate Basava Jayanti in our maṭha, this Virupāksa Svāmi produces some old letter from somewhere" (p. 21). He hopes that the scandal which will ensue from Irapamma's gossip will break the pride of Virupākṣa Svāmi and Rudragauḍa. Rudragauḍa meanwhile is disturbed by the rumour because he was misusing the swami's gullibility for a shady deal, in which he was selling land that belonged to the maṭha to his son-in-law, and he wants the ownership documents transferred before Virupākṣa Svāmi steps down and a new, perhaps stricter swami, takes over. Dēsāyi Sangamanātha is pleased, hoping that he can take over the management of the maṭha from Rudragauḍa under a new swami, in which position he will also come into closer contact with many women whom he is lusting after (p. 22). Typically, no one goes directly to Virupākṣa Svāmi to find out the truth, but Irapamma, who has access to every kitchen, is very successful in spreading the rumour. She refuses to divulge the source of the rumour (p. 23).

  • 33 The śaraṇa-s were the devotees of Siva who joined Basavaṇṇa in the Virasaiva movement.

114For the time being, the swami neither confirms nor denies the rumour, but it is true, and Virupākṣa Svāmi wonders how it could have become public (p. 24). What happened was that the somewhat lascivious maṭha employee Rācōti heard the story from Basamma, the closest friend of the swami's beloved Mādēvi, and told it to Irapamma at the riverside one day. He also blamed Phakirappa for badly influencing Virupākṣa Svāmi towards the study of vacana-s and becoming a Basavaṇṇana bhakta ("devotee of Basavaṇṇa", p. 25). Irapamma asserts that Virupākṣa Svāmi has already 'ruined' another woman. There is a lull in the village's interest during harvest time, but afterwards Irapamma spreads the tale that Virupākṣa Svāmi's marriage to Mādēvi has been arranged, much to the disappointment of e.g. Ayyaṇṇa, the school teacher, who had hoped to marry Mādēvi and who regularly met with Virupākṣa Svāmi and friends to read and discuss vacana-s; but his respect for Virupākṣa Svāmi remains unshaken, and he thinks it correct for Virupākṣa Svāmi to step down now that his mind has become unsteady. Unlike Aṇeppa and others he sees no fault in Virupākṣa Svāmi's desire to marry a girl from another sub-caste, for this only reflects belief in the notions of Basavaṇṇa (p. 28). Aṇeppa finds all this talk about śaraṇa-s33 which confuses younger people and will only lead to the ruining of caste and lineage, a hideous thing.

115Ugādi (the New Year's festival) comes, and though Virupākṣa Svāmi does not believe in astrology, another swami comes for reading the almanac in the maṭha for the laity. Virupākṣa Svāmi uses the occasion of ugādi for publicly announcing his stepping down. Some people are outraged that he, a hirēmaṭha swami, wants to marry a jīrra girl, and they say that this will set a bad example. But Virupākṣa Svāmi says "I belong to the śaraṇa tradition; among the saraṇa-s, there is no kula or jāti. All those who wear the linga are equals." "All this is nice to say," says Dēsāyi Sangamanātha skeptically, and Virupākṣa Svāmi retorts: "It's also nice to do" (p. 30). Factionalism arises in the village between supporters and opponents of the swami, and Rāmappa, the village moneylender and father of Mādēvi, starts demanding rapid repayment of loans from those people who are vociferous opponents of the marriage. Aṇeppa feels pleased that Virupākṣa Svāmi will step down, but wants to prevent him from marrying Mādēvi, for he wanted her (with her father's wealth) as a wife for his son (pp. 31-2). But this latter aim can also be achieved by keeping Virupākṣa Svāmi in the maṭha, as Rudragauḍa wants, because if after a month the other people in the village see his crooked account books, it will be most embarrassing for him; he succeeds in convincing Aṇeppa that they should talk Virupākṣa Svāmi out of his plan, and they go to the maṭha to do so. Rudragauḍa tells Virupākṣa Svāmi that he is the cause of factional tension in the village; Aṇeppa says that he does not know how difficult a layman's life is, and he can use some women and yet stay on as maṭhādhipati if he wants (p. 32). Virupākṣa Svāmi finds Aṇeppa's suggestion disgusting, even if, as Aṇeppa says, it is a common practice. He also denies that he is responsible for everyone's opinions, and he wants to step down precisely in order to preserve his dignity as well as that of the maṭha on the next Basava Jayanti day (pp. 33-4).

116The village youngsters cast stealthy glances at Mādēvi and feel jealousy at the idea that Virupākṣa Svāmi will gain a wealthy father-in-law by marrying her. Mādēvi begins staying indoors to avoid these glances. In the past she would have come to the maṭha to read vacana-s and hear Virupākṣa Svāmi explain them. One day her father called Virupāksa Svāmi to their house to perform the pādapūje (a ritual in which devotees honour the guru by washing his feet), and on that occasion Virupākṣa Svāmi felt that he was strongly attracted to Mādēvi. He spoke about this with his confidant Phakirappa, who said that it was now not correct, with a mind so strongly moved, to remain as a swami on the pīṭha. Mādēvi's late mother had been bent on marrying her off to her younger brother Basalingaṇṇa, who made a living by selling flowers in Bellary, and though Rāmappa was against such a match, the marriage probably would have taken place if Mādēvi's mother had still been alive (pp. 36-7). Mādēvi feels compelled to marry Virupākṣa Svāmi, who is giving up his prestigious position for her, though she too was not averse to marrying her uncle. Her friend Basamma tells her to forget her silly feelings of love for Basalingaṇṇa, whom she considers a worthless fellow, clearly less eligible than Virupākṣa Svāmi (pp. 37-8).

117Meanwhile Aṇeppa succeeds in persuading Basalingaṇṇa to return from Bellary and claim Mādēvi from her father (p. 38). Irapamma had her own plans, viz. to follow the example of a woman from Bijapur who became the previous swami's mistress and could practically claim the maṭha and all its affairs as her own. But Virupākṣa Svāmi has surrounded himself (with the exception of Rudragauḍa) with idealistic rationalists who wanted intimacy with the swami, and no worldly gains, as their only profit from their relationship with the maṭha (p. 39). Irapamma thought that she could arouse the general anger of the people against Virupākṣa Svāmi, which would stop him from marrying Mādēvi, keep him on the pīṭha and make him more vulnerable to her own advances, as he would then have been cut off from the sexual contact which he wanted (p. 40). But she underestimated his courage vis-à-vis public opinion.

118Basalingaṇṇa comes to the village and Aṇeppa tries to convince Rāmappa, with reference to his late wife and the difficult economic position of his brother-in-law, that he ought to give Mādēvi in marriage to Basalingaṇṇa (p. 41); Rāmappa refuses, later calls Basalingaṇṇa, tells him that Aṇeppa is trying to use them for his own ends and promises to help him in any way, should need arise. Basalingaṇṇa agrees, and Aṇeppa feels infuriated at this defeat and more worried still: "This Virupākṣa Svāmi, that Rāmappa, the two.... damned sons of bitches are out to ruin caste, they're out to destroy dharma" (p. 42). He and Irapamma again go to Bellary and tell Basalingaṇṇa that he can get Mādēvi and the wealth if he does as they say: Irapamma tells him to simply and go and ruin (i.e. rape) Mādēvi, for then nobody will want her. Basalingaṇṇa objects, and Irapamma says "What sort of a eunuch are you.... You can do it all. There's no reason to be afraid. All of us will plan it.... Remember you're a man, not a eunuch" (p. 43). Basalingaṇṇa comes on Basava Jayanti, when many people have left their homes to see the procession and hear invited speakers from Dharwad at the maṭha. He and Rācōti go to the house where only Mādēvi and Basamma are (Rācōti first considers raping Mādēvi himself), Rācōti holds Basamma while Basalingaṇṇa assaults Mādēvi, but Basamma wrenches herself loose, shouts "they've come to ruin us", and people come rushing to the rescue. They beat up Rācōti while Basalingaṇṇa escapes (p. 44). Basamma tells what has happened, understands that Aṇeppa has talked Basalingaṇṇa into doing this and begins beating him, saying "May this son of a whore drop dead." Virupākṣa Svāmi sits down beside Mādēvi, who has lost consciousness, wakes her up by sprinkling cold water on her face and wipes away her tears. She clutches his hand and presses it to her chest (p. 45).

1192.13 People raise two objections to the swami's stepping down from the pīṭha: one is that no swami should ever do this, for it is considered a sort of defeat and a blemish on the reputation of the maṭha; the other is that on top of that, the swami is a hirēmatha whereas the girl whom he intends to marry is a jīrra, i.e. this would mean an inter-(sub-)caste marriage, which in the words of villager Aṇeppa would in turn mean the ruin of caste, of the purity of lineage and of dharma itself. The swami is not disturbed by such considerations, for he wants to lead a life in accordance with the ideals of Basavaṇṇa and will not recognize any distinctions among Virasaivas. Perhaps Aṇeppa to some extent really means what he says; very interesting here is his remark that the maṭha of their village belonged to the guruvarga before Virupākṣa Svāmi took over, which apparently means that the institution was part of another religious group which later merged with Virasaivism and while doing so retained some of of its older characteristics, such as a form of casteism. Whether Aṇeppa is a genuine casteist or not, the fact is there that he is not much of a pious person himself and has very unreligious reasons for trying to keep Virupākṣa Svāmi on the pīṭha: viz. that Mādēvi's father is a wealthy man, and Aṇeppa was hoping to acquire him as a wealthy father-in-law for his son. A bit of hypocrisy may come in useful in such a situation. He says that Virupākṣa Svāmi may have read a lot and be very learned, but that this does not help when the situation calls for some cleverness: he can keep a woman secretly, be happy with her and yet not betray society; if he steps down, people will think less of him (p. 33). Virupākṣa Svāmi then asks whether people will think more highly of him if he keeps a woman, and feels that this would amount to a sort of betrayal, but Aṇeppa justifies his suggestion by saying that the behaviour of the swami is not his own personal matter, but something that affects the whole of society: "It's not personal, it's connected with society. On account of this castes will be ruined, dharma will be ruined, as I said the other day" (p. 34). In order to uphold the sub-caste system he joins the cynical widow Irapamma, who has her own plans with the swami, to plan something as irreligious as inciting Basalingaṇṇa to rape his niece, so that no one else will want to marry her.

120Characteristic of the soul-searching situation in which Virasaivism finds itself today is that in this story all the good characters (the swami, his confidant Phakīrappa, the school teacher Ayyaṇṇa, Mādēvi) get together regularly for a study of vacana-s, whereas the crooks, like Aṇeppa, Irapamma, Dēsāyi Sangamanātha, who thinks that he can gain influence in the village and thus also enjoy contacts with desirable women if the swami steps down, and Rudragauḍa, the corrupt manager of the maṭha, all speak in support of casteism. We will see something similar in Basavaraja Kattimani's novel Janivāra mattu śivadāra (see below, §3.3).

1212.14 Among the older generation of lady authors in Kannada, H.V. Savithramma (H.V. Sāvitramma 1913-1995) did not received the attention which was her due from literary historians and critics, perhaps because her writing is not boisterous enough, although she has won a few literary awards. Her own creative writing (apart from her noteworthy translations from English into Kannada) is not very large in quantity, but has a remarkable thoughtfulness about it. In her story Gurupīṭha ("The Seat of the Guru") we read the tragic love story of two victims of society: a widow and a maṭhādhipati, told in simple but poignant language.

1222.15 H.V. Savithramma: Gurupīṭha

  • 34 A sannyāsi is one who has renounced the world in his pursuit of spiritual goals.

123When Mādhava was still only ten years old, the swami of the local maṭha came to their village, and Mādhava's father took him to see the swami. Later he told his mother that according to the swami he was good-looking, and she said "Oh! why has that rotten sannyāsi's34 eye fallen upon you," and acted as though she had to remove the effect of the evil eye. This he could not understand: how she could approach this guru at the maṭha in the morning with devotion and receive tīrtha and prasāda from him, worship him like a god and yet call him a "rotten sannyāsi" (p. 53)? Later she sobs, while his father has a look on his face as if he has stolen something; his father says that it does not matter to the boy, but that their poverty will come to an end. One Candraśēkhara Śāstri comes and takes Mādhava to the maṭha, where Mādhava, a boy without any experience of life, formally renounces the world and enters a life of study under the swami.

  • 35 Because he is a sannyāsi he cannot have a son, hence their vamśa has come to an end. This is a hig (...)

124After twenty years he has become the new swami and returns to his native village, where he goes for a solitary walk to the mango grove. There he meets his childhood friend Gauri, the girl who lived in the house next to theirs. He had already heard that his parents had died, but he was shocked to see their house in a dilapidated state: only then he learns, because Gauri tells him so, that his brother fell ill and died the very same month, twenty years ago, when he was sent to the maṭha. His father did not enjoy the benefits from the maṭha for very long, and when his sister lost her husband his mother was overcome with grief and passed away soon afterwards; the sister lives in her in-laws' house and receives money from the maṭha. Mādhava feels grief that in this way their lineage has come to an end35 and finds it a grim irony that he was sacrificed to the folly of society because his father had believed that thus they would be able to live happily (p. 56). Gauri has become a widow and thus lives as much the life of a sannyāsi as he does, "a sacrifice to the hard rules of society". That night he is deeply perturbed, wonders how things would have been if his father had not given him away for money, and he asks himself why he should sacrifice his life for a show of false religiosity (p. 57).

125Another day Mādhava and Gauri meet again in the grove. She says: "I come here every day at this time. I knew that you would have to see me again.... When you left the village that day without telling me, I wept tremendously." He says that they have no place for such feelings in their lives, hence they should not entertain them. But she says that the moments which they spend talking together make her happy, and she will always wait for him (p. 58).

126Śāstri enquires after the swami's health, suggests that a trip to the north may do him some good and then carefully mentions that he has heard a rumour that Mādhava regularly meets a woman near a nearby village; if Mādhava denies it, the matter will end there. Mādhava boldly says that he cannot deny it. Śāstri flies into a rage, asking what has happened to Mādhava's clerical initiation, his religious studies, and how he can jeopardize the honour of the maṭha for some ephemeral pleasure. Mādhava feels that he and Gauri are both victims of society and that he must keep solidarity with her, and he tells Śāstri:

"Consider this my revenge for the madness of society. If society thought it was bountiful by giving sannyāsa to a ten-year-old boy, then what could I do? Now I'm ready to leave your maṭha. Sacrifice someone else to this position" (p. 61).

127To this Śāstri says:

"Will the maṭha's honour remain [intact] if you leave, marry a widow [muṇḍe, an abusive term for 'widow'] and move around [with her]? Two ways are open to you now. Either you pledge before the goddess that you will stop these evil-doings, or you prepare for the world to come" (p. 61).

128It is obvious to Mādhava that Śāstri's threat is real. Mādhava sees no real difference between dying and continuing his life as the swami, and in neither case will there be any happiness for Gauri. He wants to go and tell her, but his way to the door is obstructed by Śāstri when he wants to go. Meanwhile, "In the grove Gauri waited and waited till the dead of night and went home" (p. 62).

1292.16 About the position of widows we have already seen enough above in the previous chapter to understand Gauri's position. The swami of a maṭha is (as a rule) a sannyāsi, one who has renounced worldly life. This ought naturally to be a conscious decision, taken after a mature consideration of the pros and cons of life as a layman, for it is obviously not a small step to take and the position of maṭhādhipati carries a great deal of responsibility with it. Yet the situation which is described in this story is one that does occur often: the present swami will appoint a kiriya svāmi ("small" or "junior" swami; among Virasaivas the term marisvāmi, "cub swami", is common) as his successor, and during the period that he is the kiriya svāmi the younger man will be prepared in all ways for taking over the post when the hiriya svāmi, the senior swami, passes away. As a rule the kiriya svāmi is chosen carefully and is usually a youngster who has already shown a clear desire to lead a monastic life, but it can happen that a person is appointed when his personality is insufficiently developed for determining whether he is suitable for the post or not. We must also keep in mind that a maṭha, besides being a religious centre, is also a centre of secular power, of socio-political influence, and in some cases can also possess considerable wealth in the form of land donated by rulers in earlier times and donations by devotees.

130In the story the main consideration why Mādhava's father allows the swami to take him as the new kiriya svāmi is strictly financial: the maṭha will give the boy's parents an allowance in return for having him (just as his widowed sister later receives money from the maṭha), which will hopefully help towards alleviating the family's poverty. The boy's personality, as far as we can see, is not taken into account at all, and so he is forced into a kind of life that does not suit him. His life becomes subject to rules and values in which he does not believe, as we see by his thoughts after he has returned to his home village and met Gauri there: "If society needs a model, why should it sacrifice a life? Seen from the outside, there are priceless clothing and ornaments, a retenue, wealth. If you look within, a lonely image of disappointment. Worship was performed as usual. But the swami was Mādhava, who longed for happiness in this world" (p. 57). Similarly Gauri would like to be with him, but also in her case there are social rules which make this impossible: both of them are "a sacrifice to the hard rules of society". Maryāde comes before all else: here people are for the sake of rules, not rules for the sake of people.

1312.17 Mūla ("The Origin") is one of the less well-known stories by U.R. Anantha Murthy. It is a story of an āśrama (a commune-like settlement, generally for religious students) run by an unassuming, humble swami who is motivated by an intense desire to serve mankind. The narrative element in the story is not very great, but the characterization makes it remarkable.

1322.18 U.R. Anantha Murthy: Mūla

133The protagonist goes to the asrama of Cidambara Swami (popularly known as "caḍḍi svāmi" because he wears shorts - caḍḍi) near Gurupura to attend the wedding of his ex-pupil Gurumūrti. He gets off the train and takes a jaṭakā (rented single-horse buggy) through an immensely dull and depressing landscape, which suddenly becomes green near the asrama. There a fellow in a dirty undershirt and khaki shorts takes his trunk and shows him to the room where he will stay, and just as the protagonist wonders whether he should give the fellow a tip or not, he realizes that he must be the svāmi. The Swami however calls himself simply Nārāyaṇa. The protagonist is astonished by the swami's youthfulness: he looks fifty, though actually he is seventy-five. Gurumūrti comes to his room; talking about the asrama he tells of some difficulties - some homosexuality, boys of the asrama making girls pregnant, boys going to movies at night etc. He says that the manager, Śrīkantha Śarma, will come to meet the protagonist: "He is a contrast with the swami. But a contrast that is necessary to run the asrama..." (p. 388).

  • 36 A janivāra or yajñōpavīta is the sacred thread, with which high-caste Hindus (and Jainas, in south (...)

134Śarma wears vibhūti and a large-size rudrākṣi necklace, but also a janivāra36. Just as the protagonist expected, he takes him to his office, praises the swami, shows articles in magazines; he shows the protagonist around the asrama, stressing the quality of the microscopes in the junior college laboratory. There is a home for 'fallen women', named after the swami's mother; he praises the swami in such a way that the swami must hear him while he is working outside in the asrama gardens carrying buckets of manure. The boys and girls of the asrama, also at work there, are all dressed in white. The protagonist feels that by whispering quasi-confidential bits of information and other such silly tricks, Śarma is trying to make him feel that he is being drawn into a false kind of confidence.

135Then they reach the samādhi (memorial) of the Uguḷu Svāmi: Śarma stands in ostentatious devotion before a hut with a photograph of a man dressed only in a loincloth who seems to be in some state of madness. Śarma starts eulogizing the Uguḷu Svāmi (the picture was taken by a visiting foreigner): Śarma had seen a snake crawl on his body and birds sit on him and sing. His name was Murugha Rājēndra, but more about his history is not known: "We shouldn't rake it up, we shouldn't. Tell me, why do our elders say that we shouldn't look for the origin of a ṛṣi or a river? They are enlightened souls, people of spiritual experience - that's enough for us, isn't it?" (p. 390). The protagonist thinks: "What to think of those anxious eyes - madness, possession, intoxication?... It was as if the bulge in the loincloth around the raised hips attracts the eye.... He sat as though he was about to get up and jump" (p. 390). Śarma whispers in the protagonist's ear the Uguḷu Svāmi's greatness: he would spit in the faces of the people who came to him, even the foreigner. That was his prasāda, his blessing and the answer to all questions. Caḍḍi Svāmi would still see him in dreams, and he would spit: an enlightened one who had touched the highest sthala of the ṣaṭsthala-s, thereby surpassing ah sectarianism and casteism. They have some problems with a neighbouring Virasaiva maṭha: these Virasaivas won't give up their casteism, and they have tried to kill Śarma three times. When Caḍḍi Svāmi started off to Badarikasrama, Uguḷu Svāmi called him in a dream to go north from Tumkur, find him a tree and build the asrama there; Śarma soon came to help him, born in an ācāravanta (pious) Brahmin family but orphaned by plague. (Śarma thinks that the protagonist is a brāhmaṇa hitaiṣi, a well-wisher of Brahmins, hence his references to Brahmins and casteism, so the protagonist believes.) Some teachers in the college, notably Virasaivas, now and then caused some trouble, and the maṭha would support them, e.g. in the matter of taking 'donations' from them. Śarma put aside this money, Rs. 500,000, in a bank with the view of making the college 'first rate'. Śarma claims that they have succeeded better than Basava in abolishing caste distinctions. He tries more than once to wheedle the protagonist into using some 'political' influence for their benefit. The asrama provides food for all but the teachers.

136The protagonist watches from nearby how Caḍḍi Svāmi distributes medicines to the villagers. Gurumūrti, seeing the appreciation of Caḍḍi Svāmi's intimacy with the villagers on the protagonist's face, tells how in a dream Uguju Svāmi told Caḍḍi Svāmi to retire and become a recluse: Caḍḍi Svāmi has prepared a cave for this purpose, but has not yet found the right time for this. Gurumūrti tends to imitate his teacher's mannerisms, and this irritates the protagonist somewhat. Gurumūrti introduces him to his fiancée, a simple girl who is the warden of the girls' hostel in the asrama. Like Gurumūrti and Śarma she grew up in the asrama as an orphan. They go to Caḍḍi Svāmi's cave and see a black antilope's skin, a picture of Uguḷu Svāmi on the wall, a burning joss stick and a vyāsapīṭha (foldable wooden book-stand) with books: upaniṣat-s and Śivānanda's Brahmacaryavē jīvana, vīryanāśavē mṛtyu ("Celibacy is Life, the Waste of Semen is Death").

137After a not very restful night the protagonist witnesses yōgāsana-ехеrcises the next morning under the guidance of Caḍḍi Svāmi. Śarma walks around correcting others. Then all pray and do cittavṛttinirōdha (quieting of the mind) for two minutes; then Gurumūrti and his fiancée are wed in a simple ceremony. Suddenly three young men, under 30 years of age, of firm and determined countenance, advance and mount Caḍḍi Svāmi's platform. The first of them is Gurulingappa, who after his dismissal as a lecturer from the asrama went over to the maṭha college. Śarma wants to stop them; Caḍḍi Svāmi says to let them come, and Gurulingappa (introducing his group of "rationalists" - vicāravādigaḷu) asks him to make the facts of his personal history public. Caḍḍi Svāmi avoids this. Gurulingappa insists, saying that the country will never develop if mythology is built on top of mythology, and that if the truth comes out the people may bloom. Caḍḍi Svāmi just says that the people here must decide about him, and if they do not want him, he will leave. Gurulingappa asks why it is not possible to do good work without the mythology of the idiotic Uguḷu Svāmi. Śarma becomes abusive. Gurulingappa wants Caḍḍi Svāmi and others to face and speak the truth themselves, for it will not help if he says it himself. All the people return to their work. Gurumūrti despises all this as what he calls "the politics of the maṭha".

138In the afternoon a boy is sent by Gurulingappa to fetch the protagonist. Gurumūrti objects to Gurulingappa's "arrogance", tries to stop the protagonist, but he goes all the same. Gurulingappa and friends are sitting outside the asrama in the heat. His behaviour, rough words, voice and eyes are more interesting by their bossiness than what he has to say. The stones on which they sit are far too hot for comfort, although they are spread over with bags. With difficulty Gurulingappa tells the truth about Caḍḍi Svāmi: the son of a prostitute, he worked as his sister's pimp till she ran off with a merchant from Tumkur. Then he built the asrama, invented Uguḷu Svāmi and the rest of the story to cover up his past - how can such a ryāskal ('rascal'), he asks, become a holy man (p. 401)? The protagonist gets up because his buttocks are sore from the heat of the stones, and he says that both these occupations of Caḍḍi Svāmi were in service of mankind, and he sees no basic inconsistency. Gurulingappa again mutters something about rationalism, but the protagonist does not want to listen. He feels that he could say something about his conflicting feelings, his confusion and sarcasms and respect, if only he somehow felt the urge to. Gurulingappa, who seems a fool, sneers at him one last time, and the three companions walk away quickly. The protagonist returns to the asrama and sees Caḍḍi Svāmi running with buckets of manure in the distance.

1392.19 Insiders who read the story will know that it was inspired by a real 'Caḍḍi Svāmi'. In Mūla, the asrama is an independent institution, not expressly affiliated with any maṭha or religious sect, though there is a strong Virasaiva element there: e.g. the term ṣaṭsthala-s (the six stages of spiritual development) is typically Virasaiva, and the prominent vibhūti (sacred ash) and rudrākṣi necklace (made of the large, hard seeds of a particular plant) which Śarma wears are also indications. It may be also precisely for this reason that the asrama is not on good terms with the neighbouring Virasaiva maṭha, which may be a more orthodox institution and feel a sort of competition coming from the asrama.

140The story is a brief study of a number of characters who are placed together in a situation and react to each other. The protagonist first strikes us as a skeptical sort of person with an eye for the uglier and more sordid sides of life, when he remarks how he observes a woman urinate while she is walking when he is on his way to the asrama in the jaṭakā, or how the horse right in front of him breaks wind and defecates (p. 385), or how his attention is drawn to the prominent bulge in Uguḷu Svāmi's loincloth (p. 390). On the other hand, his eye for detail enables him to recognize the strengths and especially the weaknesses in the characters of the people around him.

141Thus he notices quite quickly that Śarma is a flattering schemer, always on the lookout for some quick benefit ('for the asrama', but his altruism is hardly convincing) and keenly aware of the significance of caste and 'influence' in the outside world. While on the one hand talking of high ideals like the annihilation of caste, he still wears his janivāra (sacred thread, the mark of upper-caste men), just as he still uses his caste name 'Śarma', suspects that the protagonist is a Brahmin too and tries to gain some benefit by playing upon the latter's supposed pro-Brahmin sympathies. The 'donations' which he takes from the teaching staff are of course nothing but big bribes for the jobs which he gives them. When the asrama, the youths and the swami, do their morning exercises, he does not join in but walks around to correct others - i.e. he does not really participate in regular asrama life, but creates the impression that he does. Former pupil Gurumūrti is more or less Śarma's opposite, a rather naive fellow who is full of respect for the swami and the ideals of the asrama, with which he identifies himself strongly. He is a nice fellow, but without a character of his own: thus he imitates his former teacher, the protagonist, while speaking (pp. 388, 394) and blindly dismisses the words of the 'rationalists' by calling their appearance part of the 'politics of the maṭha" (p. 399).

  • 37 Thus when in 1981 the Mahāmastakābhiṣēka, the great anointing ceremony of the huge nude statue of (...)

142The most interesting character of the whole story is Gurulingappa, who calls himself a rationalist. For the Western / non-Karnatakan reader it may be necessary to say a few explanatory words here first. In Karnataka the vicāravādigaḷu or rationalists are a group of loosely associated people who believe in the necessity of fighting superstitions and religious bigotry by making public statements and openly challenging their opponents to enter into debate. There can be no doubt that such people have a valuable role to play in society, especially in a country like India. But at times it becomes obvious that many of the people who pride themselves on being rationalists actually do not do much more than adhere to a combination of a crude form of popularized nineteenth-century positivism and a naïve worship of 'modern science', which tends to be half a century old, together with a strait-laced Victorian sense of morality37.

143In Gurulingappa we see an example of the 'rationalist' who is guided by a small set of ideas which he considers 'rational' and just and of such general validity that he demands others to follow his example. He asks critical questions about the person of Caḍḍi Svāmi, thinks Uguḷu Svāmi is an idiot, if at all real, and believes in national upliftment (p. 398) and in doing plain good work (p. 399) without a lot of religious and quasi-mystical mystification. This mystification, he feels, is detrimental to all future development of the people and the country. Anantha Murthy's portrayal of the character is interesting: when he climbs Caḍḍi Svāmi's platform, his hands tremble and his voice sounds shrill (p. 397; not what one would expect from a determined social reformer). He speaks sarcastically to Caḍḍi Svāmi, but perspires and trembles while doing so. His shrill voice sounds ridiculous (p. 398). Later, when he sends for the protagonist, he first sneers at him (hardly a way to persuade a person of anything), and then "his polite behaviour, rough language, shrill voice, his angry eyes" - all these are more interesting to the protagonist than what he says (p. 400). When he is about to tell 'the truth' about Caḍḍi Svāmi, he hesitates and stammers (p. 401). When the protagonist leaves him at the end of the story, he gives a final sneer implying that the protagonist also has no 'rational' view of things ("They say you're going to give a talk on the scientific view tomorrow in the asrama?" - p. 402). Altogether, the picture of Gurulingappa is one of an angry young man who feels that he must rebel against what he sees as the established order of things in the name of rationality, which to him apparently means to make the life histories of individuals public and stigmatize them, because he sees in religion nothing but the covering up of people's real motives, viz. motives of bad intent. At the same time, while purporting to disclose the truth about Caḍḍi Svāmi, he desperately tries to seem something that he is not: a person with a firm sense of purpose, who knows exactly what he is doing and why, and who knows that he is right in doing so, whereas actually he is very uncertain of himself and vain as well (to the extent that he combs his hair in such a manner as to hide the fact that he is growing bald-p. 402). It is worth noticing that Gurulingappa (a typical Virasaiva name) after leaving the asrama has conveniently taken up employment in the college of the nearby maṭha of his religious community. In fact he is so confused, vain and unimpressive that the protagonist hardly wants to listen to him: the hot stones on which they are sitting (a symbol of Gurulingappa's mental sterility?) claim much more of his attention.

144Finally there is the Caḍḍi Svāmi, the character around whom the whole story turns. Nowhere is he depicted as a swami in the usual sense, as a person of exceptional spiritual qualities or mystical insight (except through the stories which others tell the protagonist). He teaches the youths of the asrama some basic preparatory yoga in the form of āsana-s, asks some prayer and meditative silence from them in the mornings and teaches them the dignity of simple, honest work which is carried out well. He dresses humbly and himself enjoys doing menial work, setting the example for others. When, being questioned by the 'rationalists', he says "This soul has become one with the asrama... I will leave the moment the asrama doesn't need me" (pp. 398-9), we hear a genuine tone of humility. What Gurulingappa tells later about his background seems to have at least an element of truth: that the home for "fallen women" bears the name of Caḍḍi Svāmi's mother (p. 388), the title of Śivānanda's book in the cave (p. 395), and his own silence about his past are hints. Despite such indications, the protagonist does not really care about the whole matter: he is more concerned about saving himself from being burnt. His reply to Gurulingappa's question how a man with such a past can become a saint is not more than a humorous way of saying Other Gods that he does not care about the man's past: the only thing that counts is that now Caḍḍi Svāmi is rendering a service to humanity. Whether the Uguḷu Svāmi was real or not, or crazy or not, is of no importance either. Here, for once, the protagonist agrees with what Śarma said: one does not ask about the origin of a river or a sage. It is irrelevant: what matters is that now good is being done.

1452.20 Mantralaya (Mantrālaya) is a place of pilgrimage just across the border with the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh, which is a holy place for the devotees of the early seventeenth-century saint Rāghavēndrasvāmi, who is associated with the religio-philosophical school known as dvaita-vēdānta, of which the followers are traditionally concentrated in Karnataka, where the system originated. The standard portrait of Rāghavēndrasvāmi can be seen in homes and shops throughout Karnataka, and he is one of the most important saintly personalities in the popular religion of the state. This also makes his shrine at Mantralaya, where he had himself entombed alive when he sensed that the end of his life was approaching, a place of pilgrimage of great importance, and there are innumerable stories of miraculous cures which have taken place there after afflicted people prayed to the saint. Similar things are said about other places, but the scale of everything at Mantralaya is exceptional.

146Raghavendra Khasnis (Rāghavēndra Khāsanīsa 1933b) has not produced much in quantity, but the story Tabbaligaḷu ("Orphans") must be reckoned among the very best short stories written in Kannada. The Navya attention to stylistic refinement reaches a high point in this story, which is set at Mantralaya. We read about the sort of mental sordidness that can prompt people to go on a pilgrimage, and we see that the atmosphere of a holy place need not always be very holy, also not in India.

1472.21 Raghavendra Khasnis: Tabbaligaḷu

148Pilgrims are on their way to Mantralaya by bus, and the bus gets stuck in the mud on the way. There is a family of four on the bus, father, mother, son and daughter, of whom the daughter suffers from a sort of madness that makes her shriek at times. The conductor and some passengers succeed in pushing the bus loose. There is an old widow with a japamāle (rosary) who visits as many places of pilgrimage as possible; an ill woman with two emaciated boys seeks a cure at Mantralaya after consulting numerous physicians and holy men; another woman tells of the miracles that happen there: a boy dumb since his birth can now speak falteringly, and also a madman was cured of his madness after Rāghavēndrasvāmi appeared to him in person (p. 219).

149The father seems less pious in his attitude towards the various things that pilgrims are supposed to do, and the mother complains that he is always thus, as though he has come to do her a favour rather than for the sake of curing their daughter (p. 221). He recognizes a woman who had also been there twelve years ago, while he waits for his wife and daughter to finish their bath in the Tungabhadra river. At that time, twelve years ago, he had been cross at his wife for her trying to smuggle Rs. 100 out of the house to give it to her mother; his wife had become angry, gone to her mother's house, and he had taken the children to Mantralaya (pp. 221-2). He looks about for his son, sees him nowhere and feels pity for him since he has already become a widower; he remembers his late daughter-in-law and the tracks at the railway station near to their home (p. 222). His wife feels shy while coming out of the river with her wet clothes sticking to her body, unlike the daughter. The daughter tends to be sad and lost in a sort of intoxication, or she will run to the station madly at the sound of a railway locomotive - she is difficult to catch and protect against herself (p. 223). The mother is frightened when a gust of wind threatens to blow aside her sīre and expose the fair, fleshy calves of her legs (p. 224). Meanwhile two men are speaking with the father, one of whom knows something about him. The father tries to be a bit vague about why he and his family have come, saying that his daughter is suffering a little from amnesia. But the old man later tells his companion, after the father has left, about the father's background: that he has an unhappy marriage to a shrewish woman who got her way in marrying their son to a relative of hers; later she treated her daughter-in-law so badly that the young woman committed suicide by jumping in front of a train, after which the daughter had become mad. Meanwhile "there is a wet pañce (dhautra) on the father's head. The mother has tied up the kacce [loose end passed under between the legs and tied at the back] of her sīre very high. Spreading her wet hair out again and again, the sister is walking in long jumps as though she is running" (p. 225).

150They have lunch which is served at the maṭha; while eating, the father remembers how that one day his daughter-in-law sat cutting vegetables when his wife came and scolded her for letting the milk boil over: the girl then left the house and died before their eyes (p. 226). He is surprised to see his son make pious circumambulations around the shrine, as if full of devotion. Actually, the son never had much faith in any god, but he remembers his late wife, who had wanted so much to come to Mantralaya after their wedding; his mother had objected because of the cost of such a journey. "It had never come to his attention that he should make her happy while she was there. In what way should he please her now?... She had not seen Mantralaya. Not even six months had passed since she died. All of them have come to Mantralaya." Meanwhile his mother is telling people how, though she looked so well after her daughter-in-law, the girl has given her a bad name by her suicide and has become a ghost that is tormenting her daughter (p. 227). The son reflects on his mother's extremely jealous nature and her immense irascibility, which often expresses itself in the form of leaving the house with threats of suicide-which she never carries out (p. 228). He watches a girl making jasmine garlands and thinks how she resembles his late wife. Suddenly he is frightened when he sees that his mother has noticed his gazing at the girl; but he feels that there is nothing really wrong in what he did, and he realizes how scared the whole family is of his mother. She would flare up madly at whatever small thing she thought was an attempt at escape from her authority, threatening her usual suicide, and once his wife had said "Shall we see whether you have the courage? Do those who want to die make such a huff and fuss and die?" He wonders what must have passed through his wife's mind that day, how much she must have suffered; he finds no answers, suffers with the memory of his wife but cannot weep, for "it seemed that also his tears had turned to ashes on the pyre on which his wife was cremated" (pp. 228-30). An image of circus artistes comes to his mind: trapeze workers who depend wholly on each other for their act to succeed, and he thinks of their family. His wife wanted to be independent for a while, lost her balance and fell; his sister seems to be doing the same, but he feels that if she regains her normalcy, they will then all go their own ways and the family will disintegrate (p. 230).

151Some devotees are complaining about the food just before the mangalārati is performed in the temple as a sign of the declining standards of the maṭha. The odour reminds the son of his wedding. The mother tries to see the shrine. Meanwhile the daughter has walked away towards the river, where innerly she relives the day of her sister-in-law's suicide, and she is unable to think clearly. The family notices her absence at mealtime and they find her unconscious, her head struck against a rock.

152They join a crowd to witness the rathōtsava (a celebration in which a huge temple chariot is drawn in procession by the devotees), though the son is sick with hearing the continuous din for two days now. He remembers how his wife had enjoyed any small festival. Once she lost an earring in the Venkaṭēśvara temple: his mother of course saw this and removed all his wife's jewellery but for one ring, which she was still wearing at the time of her death; his mother had wept continuously, holding the dead hand and trying desperately to remove the ring; finally she had forced it off in front of all who were present (pp. 235-6). The son frees himself from his father's hold, and the father gets into a panic worrying about him. The son doubts whether he did right in leaving the others, but the general commotion increases, "he reached the conclusion that it was impossible to draw anyone out of this whirlpool, left them to their fate and got out of there" (pp. 236-7). In a fit of madness the daughter shouts that the ratha has caught fire, and she rushes towards it. The women around the bewildered mother, and the maṭha priests, are angry at the mother for not having restrained her daughter from saying inauspicious things and perhaps defiling the purity of the ratha with her touch (pp. 237-8). The daughter is already clutching one of the wheels of the ratha, tears streaming from her eyes, while devotees are shouting religious slogans. The mother fears that her daughter may be crushed under the wheels, and she looks for the father and son in vain. The father meanwhile stands dazed in the rain against a wall of the temple courtyard amongst thousands of plantain leaves with half-eaten food, then collapses (p. 238). The ratha suddenly stops moving, as though "something must have got stuck under a wheel. Or the wheel must have got stuck in the mud" (p. 239). The mother runs towards the river hoping that her daughter is there and that no one will notice how her wet clothes stick to her body, treading on the polluted plantain leaves and cups made of leaves on the way.

1532.22 Khasnis is not a prolific writer, but Tabbaligaḷu will no doubt go down in the history of the Kannada short story as one of the finest specimens in the genre for its fine composition, its manifold suggestiveness and its delicate handling of a narrative technique in which the perspective of the story is constantly shifting from one character to another, thus contrasting the characters with one another and thereby giving them great depth.

154The central character in the story is the mother, who is not only the person whose idea it was to make the pilgrimage, but who also has a very domineering personality. Her temper is such that the other members of the family always obey her, as we see in a bit of interior monologue of the son when he notices that his mother is watching him while he is looking at a girl:

A shock went through him. Who knew for how long she had stood there? His mother stood watching him with a fixed stare that made one think she was emotionless. The son was scared. The son thought: why should I be so afraid of my mother? What is wrong if I look at that woman? Doesn't mother ever look at any man? But... but? Why should all of us be scared when we see mother? (p. 229).

155The mother is the most complex character, and the cause of more than one tragedy. In the words of one old man to his companion we read that she succeeded in getting her son married to her own relative, against the father's will, and that afterwards her shrewishness made life so unbearable for the poor daughter-in-law that she committed suicide (p. 225). Thus she is also to blame for her own daughter's madness and for the inner crisis which her son is going through.

156The father comes to Mantralaya unwillingly, not so much 'as if for her sake', as the mother says (p. 221), but most probably to avoid fights and hysterical scenes at home, which is the method by which the mother always gets her way (p. 228). There is a short episode, intriguing by its vague suggestiveness, in which the father recognizes a woman whom he had already seen twelve years earlier, when after another scene at home he had come with the children. What contact he exactly had with the woman is unclear, but the phrase "The son, seeing the water vessel which she always had in her hand,..." (p. 222) suggests that there had been some kind of regular contact during that stay at Mantralaya; perhaps he merely looked at her several times, but he does seem to remember her with a sort of fondness:

From that day that woman with the hunched back had been here. When the daughter saw her then, she moved away and stood far from her with contempt mixed with fear. The son, seeing the water vessel which she always had in her hand, called her 'the hunchbacked lady with the water vessel'.
...And now his daughter could not remember....But what if his son too had forgotten? (p. 222).

157Significantly, the woman is hunchbacked (just as everyone who makes the pilgrimage apparently suffers from some disability or the other), but the father can think of her fondly, although she apparently cannot recognize them, whereas his every thought of his wife is tinged with bitterness.

158The son too has nothing but bitter thoughts about his mother. He had obediently fulfilled his mother's wish of marrying her relative and thereafter witnessed how she tormented his wife to death over trivial matters. When one day he and his wife returned home after having had their photograph taken, his mother was again beside herself with anger and threatened to drown herself in a well: his wife told his mother that it is all just a hysterical show, but had meanwhile suffered so much that that night she actually did commit suicide (pp. 229-30). When she was still alive, his mother had objected to the idea of going to Mantralaya on account of the expenses involved - obviously because his mother had not allowed them to enjoy life.

159If stinginess and greed are one aspect of the mother's personality that makes life unpleasant for the other members of the family, her puritanical prudishness also weighs heavily on them. Silently, stealthily, the son rebels against this by e.g. deliberately taking a seat in the front of the bus to Mantralaya, far from the others, next to a woman who is thrown against him by the jolting of the bus, and he quietly enjoys the fragrance of the jasmine blossoms in her hair and the touch of her body against his, but "the next moment he became afraid that his mother might be spying on him from a seat at the rear" (p. 217). We have already seen that he feels guilty later in a similar situation for merely looking at a girl who resembles his late wife.

  • 38 Tīrtha can be understood as 'holy water'.

160The mother's puritanism bothers her as well. We read how she feels uncomfortable with the idea that her body may be a bit too visible when she has taken her bath in the river, since her wet sīre (the long wrapped ladies garment known as 'sari' in most north Indian languages) is sticking to her body, etc. Her first concern when her daughter-in-law has died is to wrench a ring from the corpse's finger in front of onlookers, the last piece of jewellery which she had allowed the girl to wear. It is not clear whether she is narrow-mindedly self-righteous or consciously hypocritical when she refuses to acknowledge that she is to blame for her daughter-in-law's death as well as her daughter's madness and walks about telling people how unjust the daughter-in-law was, that in spite of her good care the girl gave her a bad name through her suicide and has now come to haunt her daughter as a possessive spirit (p. 227). It should not come as a surprise that such a person is concerned about matters such as casteist ritual purity: she tries unsuccessfully to peer over the heads of others and see the shrine, and while tīrtha38 is being distributed, a vaisya woman touches her - she considers it a great misfortune that she should be polluted just then, while she had been in maḍi (ritual purity) till that moment (p. 232).

161The total picture which the story gives is one of decay: the decay of human personalities, of human relationships as found both within and without the family, and also of the place of pilgrimage: some devotees complain about the declining standards of the maṭha, and most of the pilgrims about whom we read anything are superstitious rather than devout. The story is also tragical, showing us characters who suffer in their circumstances, are incapable of escaping from them and succumb to meaninglessness and misery. The son's premonition about the future of their family comes true earlier than he expects, for it already disintegrates before his sister regains her sanity: at the height of the temple celebration he leaves the others and walks off, the daughter is crushed to death under the ratha and the father stands alone at the place where the crowd of devotees were served their meals. He leans against a wall and looks up into the sky.

The red colouring of the wall is mixing with the rain water that comes running down along it, turns red and oozes in drops like blood. The whole wall is wet, and there is a smell of wet earth. The father began licking the wall again and again with his tongue (p. 238).

162He finally collapses on the spot, overcome by the madness of the human whirlpool from which, so the son has concluded, it is not possible to draw out and save anyone. His sister is actually killed unthinkingly under the juggernaut by the frenzied mob of believers. The mother is too self-righteous and narrow-minded to change at all, and the other members of the family do not have the strength of character to stand up to her. Thus in the end nothing is questioned, no one changes anything, everything continues the way it is-as is symbolically brought out at the end when the ratha stops (because of the dead girl underneath it) and someone suggests that perhaps it got stuck in the mud, which recalls the bus that got stuck at the beginning of the story, and we are back where we started.

1632.23 Conclusions

164As stated earlier, I have limited the scope of this chapter to works dealing with religious confrontations and with certain typical religious institutions, because religion (or rather: dharma) pervades all spheres of Indian life. Therefore, a closer evaluation of dharma as such in our corpus will better wait until the general conclusions at the end of this dissertation, where I will attempt to draw conclusions about what our literature tells us about Kamatakan culture as a whole.

165Bhyrappa's Dharmaśrī, in spite of its misrepresentation of Hinduism as a whole, is authentically orthodox in its protrayal of the all-pervasive quality of dharma. But the novel equates the religious group with the national group and with a particular race of people, which is not orthodox (since nationalism was imported from Europe, and the racial component looks Nazi in inspiration), and its ideology demands that these remain 'pure'. At the same time, the novel is also a demonstration of how this ideal 'purity' is impossible, and the result is an uncomfortable kind of doublethink. We cannot fail to notice how the novel is built on inconsistencies and plain falsehoods instead of on a genuine creative vision. Apart from the obvious fact that no religion can be totally 'tolerant' of other views (because then it would cease to exist as an independent religion), the novel actually preaches an extreme form of intolerance. The identification of non-Hindus with enemies of the Indian state shows that the author finds it impossible to imagine a secular India where common human rights prevail.

166Dharmaśrī carries as one of its messages, in the concluding pages of the novel, that anyone can become a Hindu through 'purifi-cation' by the Arya Samaj. The character Śankara admits that previously this was not possible; in other words, this is an innovation, and also it seems inconsistent with the numerous passages in the novel which speak of the 'Hindu blood' which makes one a Hindu. Kunhi's story Anka explains how conversion to Hinduism is still hardly possible, due to the caste system: a swami and a few other Hindus may formally declare the Muslim boy a Hindu, but afterwards they abandon him, break their promises to him, and instead of showing any concern towards the individual who accepted their faith they consider him a mere pawn in a big anti-Muslim campaign. An individual cannot be accepted as a Hindu by other Hindus. So we read that a communitas fidelium does not exist in Hinduism: it is rather a communitas castarum. And when one wants to step out of this religious communalism altogether, like the protagonist in Kunhi's Daphana, society will push the individual back into the arms of the community with which he wanted to break.

167However we may evaluate these features of orthodox Hinduism, we must realize that this all-pervasive character of dharma poses serious difficulties to the people who have grown up in that tradition and now find themselves in a society which is in a transitional phase. If according to the doctrine all the various aspects of life are interconnected, we can appreciate that it can be highly difficult to alter any aspect in one sphere of life without repercussions occurring elsewhere. One can argue that the inner life of contemporary Western man has suffered severe impoverishment by becoming conveniently compartmentalized and recognizing distinctions between what is secular and what is religious, between what is public and what is private, which are not always realistic. This is of course true, and the ensuing artificiality of much of modern life has caused inner crises in many individuals. On the other hand, the fact remains that real secularism, as found in Western democracies, gives to society a great flexibility and to individuals more scope for their personal development. Thus a change in a person's private religious views need not have any effect on that person's secular public life and vice versa. This kind of flexibility is completely lacking in e.g. Bhyrappa's novels.

168This stolid integration becomes particularly bothersome when people feel an intolerable injustice in the existing social system. In the previous chapter we have already seen how Phaniyamma in M.K. Indira's novel leads a stunted life due to her being a child widow, and not only would it be socially almost impossible for her to free herself: she is also deeply religious, just as Ammi in Niranjana's Banaśankari, who till the end believes in the whole socio-religious system that makes her suffer. We shall see more of this cultural problem in Yashwanth Chittal's story Mallinātha (§5.3) and Anantha Murthy's novels Samskāra (§5.18) and Bhāratīpura (§5.21).

169In Anupama Niranjana's novel Snēhapallavi (discussed below, § 3.6) we see the connection between conventional religiosity and casteism again; here, however, Mādhava's father's religiosity is highly significant. The rejection of communalism by Parthasarathi and his friend Paramasiva Ayyar is largely based on their theosophical beliefs: in other words, the change of their views concerning society coincides with a change of religious belief. Considering what we have concluded above, it seems very tempting to coclude that modern Kannada literature tells us that in India social change simultaneously demands religious change. I will return to this question in the final conclusions of this dissertation, after we have looked at a number of works which take up themes concerning casteism and modernization.

170A number of works give special attention to the corruption which can occur in religious institutions. The fact of such corruption is of course not specifically Karnatakan or Indian, yet it is in former centuries that this issue figured very prominently in European literature: thus it was a major theme in the writings of Erasmus and his contemporaries. Thus the prominence of such writings in Kannada today would seem to reflect a different state of culture. Khasnis' story Tabbaligaḷu concentrates on the uglier backgrounds and motivations, which are not always pious, of the people who make pilgrimages to the larger pilgrimage centres, which are not always pervaded by an atmosphere of holiness either. The mother in that story puts up a show of piety while hypocritically hiding the truth about her ugly personality, just as the Brahmins in Dūrvāsapura in Anantha Murthy's Samskāra (see below, §5.18) suddenly become interested in piously performing Nāraṇappa's funeral when the prospect of earning some gold arises. In the same author's story Mūla the manager of the asrama, Śrīkaṇṭha Śarma, puts up a pretence of idealism while in fact remaining a casteist and misusing his position to make some profits for himself. In Savithramma's Gurupīṭha the swami's secretary is more interested in maintaining an outer show of old-fashioned respectability than in maintaining any inner integrity and having a swami who genuinely believes in what he does. - Thus the problem of the integrity and meaningfulness of religious institutions is very much on the minds of Kannada authors, and this is another indication of how strongly interconnected religion is with all other spheres of life.


1 Cf. Zydenbos 1981 for a review of the traditional account of the advent of Jainism to Karnataka.

2 For the historical development of the term, see Halbfass 1981, chapter 17.

3 Madhvācārya 1982: 50, vs. 228; my translation.

4 Personal conversation, spring 1986.

5 Nilakanta Sastri believes with earlier writers that the prominence of monasteries in Virasaivism is due to the influence of Jainism (Sastri 1987: 435-6).

6 Zaehner 1984: 149.

7 For Indian xenophobia see §4.1.

8 Vārānna is a traditional arrangement in which a number of Brahmin families in a town agree to offer meals, each on a certain day of the week (vāra) to a needy student who belongs to their caste.

9 Dōse is a popular South Indian preparation made of rice flour and the flour of a certain pulse, somewhat resembling a pancake.

10 A god's prasāda is something edible (usually fruits) that has been offered to the god first and is then given to the devotee.

11 The word pādri (derived from the Portuguese padre, 'father') is commonly used in Kannada and the neighbouring languages for any Christian clergyman.

12 Harijanas were refused entry to temples because their entry would pollute the temple and thus ruin the sanctity of the place. By becoming Christians, they were, technically speaking, no longer Harijanas, and hence the prohibition on their entry lost its validity. Thus we see that in the case of these people, they were not really interested in Christianity but only in losing the position given to them in the Hindu system. It may be for this reason that now many temples in South India forbid entry to non-Hindus: if the people in question are not mlēccha-s, they must be converted outcastes.

13 The RSS (Rāṣṭrīya Svayamsēvaka Sangha) is the most prominent organization of right-wing militant Hindus, predominantly people of high caste. It has spawned a network of related organizations, e.g. women's and students' organizations, a labour union, a political party etc. For an exposé in Kannada on the character of the organization by an ex-member, see Subbaiah 1988.

14 A Hindu muttaide or married, non-widowed woman is supposed to wear a dot of kunkuma (a certain red powder) on her forehead, as a sign of her status and to magically protect her husband. Also unmarried women are supposed to wear it, unless they are non-Hindus or have taken to a monastic life.

15 Dasarā is an important festival in Karnataka, lasting several days every autumn; its celebration in Mysore is particularly well known. Though it is originally Saiva, it has acquired the character of a pan-Hindu folk festival.

16 Nowadays this word is used for any school (not convent) which is run by the Roman Catholic church, whether it is really associated with a convent or not.

17 Because Satyanārāyaṇa has become a Christian, he has left the caste, and though his father is a loafer he cannot now accept water that has been touched by his son, since this would defile his purity.

18 Cf. ch. 1 n. 59.

19 A son must perform śrāddha in order to ensure that the doors of heaven will be opened for his parents. A daughter cannot do this.

20 E.g. the dvaita-vēdānta of Madhvācārya makes no such claims for itself and openly admits that for a true believer one spiritual path is not exchangeable for another; and dvaita is very Hindu, whatever the neo-Vedantins may say. Cf. Nagasampagi 1984: 3-5. Sri Aurobindo claims that the modern preoccupation with advaitavēdānta is actually an evil import from the West; cf. Aurobindo 1968: 76, which however seems not quite realistic.

21 Though this commonly accepted view is supported by linguistic, literary and archaeological data, there is a new revisionist trend among certain Indian scholars who assert that the Aryans - i.e. the Sanskrit-speaking people who composed the Vedas - have always inhabited the Indian subcontinent and did not migrate from the northwest, as so many others also did. At a seminar in Mysore on 30.10.93, the archaelogist S.R. Rao, in response to a student's question, dismissed the theory of the non-Indian origin of the Aryans as something thought up by "white people". By now my readers will surely recognize this style of thought and its political tendency.

22 The word is obviously modelled after Pākisthāna - though typically the real name is Pākistān, derived from Persian istān and not from Sanskrit sthāna, as Bhyrappa's spelling suggests. Similarly the author writes "Hindūsthāna" instead of "Hindustān".

23 Subramanyam 1970: 117.

24 Gensichen 1986: 39.

25 Ibid. p. 38.

26 Personal communication, Mysore, March 10th, 1988.

27 A sāmūhika vivāha or mass wedding is, as the word already suggests, a mass ceremony at which several couples are wed. Because the expenses are low, or sometimes demand no expenses from the people who are wed, mass weddings are associated with the poor and with people from the lower castes.

28 A few years ago there was a mass conversion of a few hundred Harijanas to Islam at Meenakshipuram in Tamilnad, which also created an uproar among conservative Hindus about the subversive activities of the 'foreign hand' and the influence of foreign money (interview with Swami Agnivesh of the Arya Samaj in the Indian Express, July 24th, 1988, p. 8).

29 Cf. ch. 1 n. 27.

30 Cf. Ramanujan 1979 and Zvelebil 1984.

31 A pīṭha is a 'seat', in the sense of a 'seat of authority', such as that of a religious leader.

32 The birth anniversary of Basavanna, the leader of the Virasaiva movement in the twelfth century.

33 The śaraṇa-s were the devotees of Siva who joined Basavaṇṇa in the Virasaiva movement.

34 A sannyāsi is one who has renounced the world in his pursuit of spiritual goals.

35 Because he is a sannyāsi he cannot have a son, hence their vamśa has come to an end. This is a highly emotional issue in orthodox Hinduism: cf. Bhyrappa's novel Vamśavṛkṣa.

36 A janivāra or yajñōpavīta is the sacred thread, with which high-caste Hindus (and Jainas, in southern India) are invested at the time of initiation.

37 Thus when in 1981 the Mahāmastakābhiṣēka, the great anointing ceremony of the huge nude statue of the Jaina saint Gommaṭēśvara in Śravanabelagola was to take place, some Karnatakan 'rationalists' argued that the statue ought to be clothed in at least a pair of shorts - thus utterly failing to understand the symbolism that demands that such an image be nude.

38 Tīrtha can be understood as 'holy water'.

© Institut Français de Pondichéry, 1996

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