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Chapter Two
Religion : Being and Becoming a Brahmin
"What is the mission with which every Hindu child is born? Have you not read the proud
declaration of Manu regarding the Brahmana where he says, that the birth of a Brahniana is for the
protection of the treasury of relijgon. I should say that, that is the nlission not only of the Brahmana, but
of every child, whether boy or g r l , who is born in this blessed land - for the protection of the treasury of
religon." - (Swamy Vivekailallda To the youth of India 22)
This chapter attempts a reading of Raja Rao's The Serpent and the Rope and
Jayakanthan's Jaya Jaya Shankara, so as to focus on the essential theme of attainment
of the Absolute for a persos~wlio practices Hindu faith. For an understanding of this
effort and process, one has to fainiliasize with Hindu religion and Hindu practice. The
vely idea of soul and god lnaybe ui~derstoodas single or different entities. T l ~ eprocess
of growth and change illvolves a inetaphysical or philosophical effect on the pait of a
Hindu subject, which inay be considered as one's quest. This process is revealed iu a
Hindu's attempt in identlfjr~~g
the 'Brahman' within each Atman. The fisst sectioll of
this chapter provides an itltroduction to the scliptures, the practices and the principles
of Hindu faith. Tlie need for "becomning a Brahmin" is also highlighted here from the
perspective of Hindu pl-iuciples. The second part of this chapter provides a textual note
on Jayakanthan's characters who are caught by an impulsive need for change and
growth conditioned by the spirit of the time in which they h d themselves.
Jayakanthan's strong belief in Hindu Dharrna is not in conflict with the colltemporaly
political and social demands of a sight thinking husnane individual. Jayakanthan's
principal characters are found to move fiom bhth identity to a final identification with
the Brahman. The third section of this chapter is an expository study of the pain and
sufferings of Raja Rao's protagonist, Ramaswamy. He is by bhth a Brahmin and he has
to grow and become a B r a l d ~ .A mindset for such a change is revealed in the
conflicts and encounters of Ramaswamy. The final section of this chapter reads the
lives of the major characters of the two novels in the light ofAdvaita Vedanta faith.
India has been the land of many religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism
and has also accommodated new religions, like Christianity and Islam. The Hindu faith
is an undated ancient faith, which was not given by any prophet and banks on
110 one
single scripture. The ancient Hinduism continues to be practiced by millions of Indians
with a remarkable collection of classical texts of divine sigmficance and stratified
structure and system of &du
life. Anyone who fixes the identity of Hindu faith gives
importance to the knowledge of Hindu diviue texts, and also their explications and
philosophical interpretations. A Hindu is also identified by this faith in the structure of
the society and the practices demanded of it. The Hindu theology and its various
configurations provide scope for strong and plural stand points. It is generally accepted
that the divinely revealed scliptures like the Vedas, texts like the Snzrtres; versions of
Puranas and Thantras all contlibuting to the condition of a faith identlfL a Hindu. It is
not simply a religio~~
of faith but it is invariably connected with practice. Both faith and
practice depend on the understanding of certain essential points with regard to life,
human action and death. Hinduism also provides an understanding of the body and the
mind, life and soul, the rnoital and the immortal. The Vedas, the Upanisads and the
Gita explain the Hindu stand with regard to these entities.
The four collections of Vedas, are said to be the h a 1 authority since the Vedas
are not made available to all Hindus, the sages have explained them. Vedas meant
perfect knowledge and the four collections; Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharvana are known
as the Vedas. The Itillasas and Purana collections are said to constitute the fiRh &&I.
Sages transmitted orally the knowledge of Vedas to select peoples. The closing
chapters of the Vedic collections are known as the Upanisads, which are said to present
the hidden meaning of Vedas. About 250 such texts are known as Upanisads.
Upanisads generally presents the lnonistic view that Brahman is the only reality and
that the individual self or soul (Atman) is not different from Brahman. While
performance of appl-opiiate iitual actions and good deeds are conducive to good kamza,
the knowledge of Brahman leads to immortality and a final end to the cycle of births.
The Baaavad-Gita
provides a note on life, birth and rebirth and attitude towards human
action in the context of light and wrong, good and the evil. Since Hindus believe in
reinca~nation,there is no Heaven and Hell as in the Chistian sense in Hindu theology.
Instead of an after life, Hindus stiive of ultimately to escape fiom the cycle of biltli,
death and rebirth, and become reabsorbed back into Brahman. Human actions, good
and bad, create Karma and it is Karma that binds us to this cycle. By living accordiilg
to dharnza, living iigl~tlywithout attachment to the h i t s of one's actions, one become
fiee of our Karma and attain the release, which is called Moksha, liberation. Hinduism
is basically a religion based on the Vedas and it is a way of life, its essence being the
Sanatana Dharnza. Hindus have to follow without any compromise their practices so as
to ensure the continuance of Sariatana Dharnza. Hindu teachings believe in mortal body
and immortal body less atnzarz. Body is controlled by death, and through mind. The
atnzan sees and enjoys, with the help of consciousness. The psychology and physiology
of life is connected to the Jeevatnzan, wlich is the immortal body less. Jeevatnzan is a
conscious being and that co~lsciousnessseeking external experiences, fashion senses
and sense organs for contest. As Annie Besant says, "with the outer world and a mind
of nature, more action to itself as bridge between the outer and the inuer" (Annie
Besant 88).
The Sanatarra Dharnla is a set of p~inciples,which are to be known to the
individual. Hinduism as such has no scliptures but the status of scriptures is granted to
Vedas. A good knowledge of the Vedas is insisted for being a good Brahnin. Hence,
Hindu religion is called Srnmtana Religion. Scholars on Hinduism state that 'Sruthz '
[eternal tl-uth revealed to humanity by inspired Rzshw] consisting of four Vedas is the
final authority. Annie Bessent adds to this list the knowledge of Itihasas and the
familiarity with the exploits of penance committed by the ancient saints. "The Vedas
together with the Itihasas were withdrawn at the end of the Yuhas. The Maharsrs
pesmitted by Brahlna were acquired them by Tapas". (Annie Besant 2 )
Hindu Sastras, in the process of prescribing Sanatana Dhurma for any Hindu
individual, have established the authority of Vedas, celebrating the Ithihasas, the
greatness of Upanisads and belief in Srzithr and Smrtles. According to Rig Veda, the
Hindu society is divided into four class or sects. Brahnins are supposed to have bo111
fiom the face of Lord Braluna, the creator of human race. The Kshetreyas fiom his
shoulders, Vaishiyas fiom his thighs and the Sudrns fiom his foot. Manu sees castes
divinely granted,
"Hindus generally account for the four great castes
Ksatr~yas,b'azsj)as, and Sudvas by saying that the first, the priest or the
teacher was created fiom the head. The second the king or the ruler
fiom the breast or alms, the third the agriculturalist and the tradesman
fiom the thigh and the fourth the servant of the other three fiom the feet
of Bralma the creator".(Encycloy edia of Hinduism 954).
Castes were accordingly classified based on the nature and the karma or work. The
Bhagavad Gita Chapter 4, text 13 states:
"Catur valliyam Maya Srstam
gulls-kanna vibhagasah tasya
Kaitara~napi mom viddhy
akaitararn avyayain "
(Translation give11 below)
"According to three modes of material nature and the work associated
with them, I created the four divisions of human society. And although I
am the creator of this system, you should know that, I am yet the Nondoer, being unchangeable.
The Lord is the creator of everything. Everything is born of Him, eveiy thing is
sustained by Him, evely thing after annihilation, rests in Him. He is, therefore, the
creator of the four divisions of the social order, beginning with the intelligent class of
men, technically called Brahmins due to their being situated in the mode of goodness.
Next is the administrative class, technically called the Ksheteryas due to their being
situated in the mode of passion. The mercantile men called the Yaishiyas, situated on
the mixed modes of passions and ignorance, and the Sudras or the Labour class situated
in the ignorant mode of material nature". (Prabhupada Swami 238).
Hindu way of life includes recitation of holy texts and also involvement in
philosphical and metaphysical understanding about essential truth about life. The
Vedanta philosophy is an attempt to know the meaning of human life in the context of
world and God. In all the incainations of the Lord, therefore, the same principles of
religion begin with the acceptance of the four orders and the four status of social life. In
all four stages of life [Bmhnzachariam, Girhasthanz, Vanuprastham and Sanrtyasam],
"The life was divided iuto four stages, or asrams : that of the
brahntacnrin, the student, bound to celibacy; that of the grahastha, the
house holder; that of the Varzayrasthn, the forest
dweller; that of the
Sannj)asin, the ascetic, called also the yati, the controlled, or the
endeavourer" ( 137).
The importance is given according to the Shankara's Advaitha, the divine
consciousness of Brahma. Advaitha literally means the non-dual. It is the philosophy of
absolute non-dualism because; besides Brahman or pure consciousness, it recognizes
nothing as real. Advartcr
meaning non
dual or undifferentiated Vedanfha of Adi
Shankara. Adi Shankara taught within the philosophic tradition of Vedanta, a
pl~ilosophyof non-dualism (Advarta) that the self (atnzan) and the Absolute reality are
the same and are identical. Liberation is the overcoming of spiritual ignorance or
illusion (Maya) caused by the super imposition of what is not the self(a distinct entity)
on to the self Shankara asserted that truth is taught in the Veda and can be realized
through renunciation. Twentieth century scholars, like Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan,
have stressed the imnpo~tanceof distinguishing Adi Shankara from his followers,
especially with regard to the latter's emphasis on an unconditional renunciatioli
characterized by an attitude denying any value to actions and the world. Text 1 - 12 of
18th Chapter in The Bhagavad Gita states:
"Life is duality and the perfection one dreams about can never be
achieved on the material or mental plane. If the perfection is to be
achieved or attached, duality is to be resolved not into onel~ess
but into non-duality. Life then becomes nothing but meaning".
(Prabhupadaswami 795 - 805)
If being is equal to living with and at amidst illusions, the stage of becoming is
which is seeing the Brahman in inside one's
the attainment of divine conscious~~ess,
Self This is the state of perfect knowledge. Any one who attains this state of
knowledge becomes a Brahmin and attains the illumination of the Brahnzan in his self
as well as in others. So this stage is known, as "I am thou" tathuvamasl - The reality of
this and that, the identity of this with that, the recognition of that identity is attaintnent
of Moksha. Adva~ta L'edarzta makes a philosophic understanding of life for a Hindu
fiom a philosophical plane. It takes up the question of the real and unreal, the illusion
and the reality, and the self and the other. The Advaita Vedanta concludes that the
understanding of the non-dual is the essence of the knowledge. This is explained by the
theory of Atman and Brahnzaiz. The former is the soul and the latter the god. The basic
premise of non-dualistic J'edailta is that the Brahnzan is in every soul and the final bliss
lies in understanding tlis fact. From the non-dual theoretical position the theo~yof
being and becoming could be understood as reaching the stages of bliss by the supreme
knowledge of the Absolute.
Before engaging the two texts, it could be usehl to [email protected] the available opinion
of the Hindu scholars on this issue. Lokmaniya Bala Gangadhar Tilak, the Hindu
national leader of India's fieedom days, while addressing the audience of Sanatarza
Dharnza Sabha defiles a Hindu thus: "One who believes the Vedas is the evidence of
its one and one who believes in its facts and truths is a Hindu". (Swamy Sivanandha 9).
Hindu Maha Sabha has given another definition for Hindu, which says, "A Hindu is
one who has faith
~ I Ithe
ancient Hinduism founded in India". (Swamy Sivanandha 10).
The common thought or belief is that,
"One who follows Vedas, Smrties [scriptures and other texts that are not
divinely revealed Vedic literature], Puranas and Thantras and wllo
accepts that the God is one and who has belief in Karmas and Pz~nar
Jaiznras [Rebitth] and one who strongly believes in Sanatana Dharnza is
considered to be a Hindu". (Swamy Sivanandha 10)
There are strong opinions regarding emphasis given to faith and practice rather than
birth in the question of one being considered a Hindu. Swamy Sivanandha also
observes that,
"a Hindu belives in the facts of karma birth, death, reincarnation; he
obsewes L'ar~lasarmaDharnza; he worship his ancestors; and above all
he subscribes to the spirit of Vedas, performs evening and mo~ning
prayers, rituals for the dead, and one who performs the h e pujas is a
Hindu". (10)
In real terms, these practices are mostly followed by one section of Hindu
society known as 'Brahmins' and therefore, others also follow these ideas. According
to Chinmayanandha, a twentieth centuiy religious philosopher, scholar and interpreter
of The Banavad Gita, "There is space and scope for modifications and reformations in
the practices, which have reached us as conventions". Hence, he remarks,
"If the existing religion is too old, outmoded and obsolete and if the
hdamental values of life preached by it cannot solve our day's
problems, we shall without regret discard the whole lot and strive to
discover new principles and laws of right living. If religion is but a
dictatorial declaration of a scheme of living, which has no reference at
all to our day-to-day existence and cannot solve our pressing problems
we shall banish the old religion and take a new culture and a more
desisable unit for man is and should be primarily concerned with life
here rather than in the hereaRer."(Chinmayanda 65).
Hence, it is claimed that Hinduism is not a closed system or a static religion and
could be adapted even to the modern times of living. Therefore, this larger framework
of the possibility of adaptation or flexibility provides the stations of 'being' and
'becoming'. This researcher equates 'being' with a stage of Atman unconscious of the
Brahman, and the stage of 'becoming7 with the stage of identlfjmg with the Absolute.
Since Brahmin is equated with Brahnzan in ideal terms, these stages are termed as
"Being Brahmin and Becoming Brahmin". This is to say no one can become a Brahmin
by birth and any one can become a Brahmin by attaiuiug the divine consciousness.
Jayakanthan and Raja Rao take up the question of being and becoming a
'Brahmin'. Tn the vely first paragraph of The Serpent and the Rope, Raja Rao begins
with the statement of illusion that, "I was born a Brahmin - that is devoted to Truth and
all that. Brahmin is he who knows Bmhnzan.. ." A Brahmin is one who does not die.
This means being a Bralunh is having this consciousness of Brahman and deathless
Brahman in one's self At the same time living as a Brahmiu involves practicing sacred
rituals, which may help the Brahmin consciousness. However, this Brahmin
consciousness is not assured to a Brahmin for one has to negotiate and dispense with
the illusions and lack of knowledge. Hence the dilemma is caused by the duality of
reality and appearance, good and the evil, tmth and the nzaya. Such a state of
consciousness is available to one who becomes a Brahmin. Strangely this may sound
paradoxical for a Hindu, who believes that one has to live the life of birth granted as
Brahmin, a Kshetreya, a I.'arshym or a Sudra, following the dharma of each caste in
which one is born. If one has to accept and lead the granted god ordained life, where is
the chance of becoming a new being? Both Jayakanthan and Raja Rao address this iu
their novels Jaya Jaya Shankara and The Sespent and the Rope. In other words, they
take up a strand-intelyretation in understanding the Hindu dharma or 'Sanatana
Dharnza'. The two novelists also accept that life is not static when one observes the
material world around. As the world changes, new values and ideas emerge. In this
progressive world, will Sarzatarza dharnza be a regressive practice? Will the transition
fi-om being to becomillg is only an attainment of a consciousness. Is this consciousness
available to all human beings who make an effort to remove the clouds of illusion and
receive the illuminatio~lof the Bvahnzar~within? This philosophical thought seems to
run through both the novels taken for study here. Detailed readings of the two
narratives are taken up in the subsequent sections.
The questiol~ of being and becoming inevitably occupies a central place ill
Jayakanthan's negotiation wit11 Hinduism especially when he figures out the meaning
of knowledge, the role of gum, and the practice of the Sanatana Dharnza. Hinduism
offers a specific practice module for life, which involves the levels of negotiating with
the tradition and changing living conditions. The saints or the gurus provide counseling
and guidance in choosing the light ways and means offered by Hinduism. At the same
time, Jayakanthan speaks a lot though his characters on the knowledge of Hindu
wisdom. It is not merely acquisition or appropriation of holy texts but negotiating with
the reality, which includes iiivolving oneself in a kind of spiritual experience
identifkation of the illusion and facing the reality. These stages could be termed by a
single word known as 'consciousness' or 'expeiience'. The protagonist and the major
characters of Jayakanthan are like any other modern Hindu immersed in contemporaly
life consisting illliumerable problems thrown by modern times.
Jayakanthan believes in liberating Hindu religion from Manu's stigma of bi~th.
Raja Rao glol-ifies the Brahminical bkth whereas Jayakanthan states that birth is not a
hindrance in following a religion. Jayakanthan believes in the fieedom of space given
in Hindu religion, asserts the need and understands the tradition of Sanatana Dharnza in
right perspective. At the same time, he accepts in the dialectics of life. His choice of
characters is d r a m fiom the ligh caste Brahmm families and the supposedly low caste
Harijans. Thek lives of interaction and absoiytion reveal Jayakanthan's interpretation
of Hindu Dharrna as at once in subselvience and transcendence to Sanatana Dharnza.
For him, the essential point is to understand the religious rituals at one level and
accepting new perceptions at another level. Vely subtly, Jayakanthan tries to zero down
the conflict between the Brahmins and non-Brahmins by arguing that the clash is
imaginary and a delusion. Tlue enlightenment lies in wading through the illusions and
understanding the other. A true believer in Adi Shankara's philosophy may have no
ditEiculty in accepting both the Brahmin and the untouchable as the same for in both
lies the 'Bmhnzan'. If a Brahmin can become or can attain Brahman so can be a
Hasijan. Attainment of such a consciousness is becoming a Brahmin.
Young Shankaran is the key character in Jayakanthan's Java Java Shankara. He
is boln in a middle class Brahmin family and later elevated to the status of a gum; He is
inducted into the crshran~- Shree Mndrrnz as an ascetic boy. His boyhood fiiend
however happens to be Adi who hails from a Harijan family. According to the
predominating caste equations, the two are supposed to be at the extremes in thek
social order and by strange pewading modes of practice the contact between the two is
prohibited, including the body touch. This theme of two fiends one being an
untouchable, another being an Achaiya [a holy saint] comes handy to Jayakanthan to
announce his standpoints
the issues of Absolute Tiuth and true experience. Both
Shankaran and Adi become Brahmins, one readily accepting the Brahnzan in the other.
Adi worships Shankaran and Shankaran worships Adi, both in their own way.
"Eventually Adi would stand up and his voice would announce his
I beg your leave Samy, ............." in his mind's eye,
Shankara would prostrate at Adi's feet. For Shankaran God presents
Himself in Adi's f o i q long staff in hand! " (JJS 40)
Both these characters Adi and Shankaran become h e illustration of Adi Shankara's
theory of Brahnzarz, the Absolute Truth being available to one who dispels the illusion.
Jayakanthan details the meetings of Adi and Shankaran as boys and as adults. Both
derive an experience of Brahnzarz duiing their meetings.
Shankaran was reminded of the immoltal
"Whenever lie saw h n [Adi]
Tamil classic Wukkural [verses written in couplets by saint
Thisuvalluvar] because, his name Adi occurs with reference to God
Almighty iu the vely k s t couplet of the classic. Shankaran completed
his virtual sunset prayers. Adi collected the few goats which strayed
away and was guiding them to the other side of the river". (JJS35)
The boyhood meetings give energy to them to seek a path of life ordained for
them The relationship between Adi and young Shankaran is sigdicant because it is
unique and meaninghl in several aspects. Jayakanthan transcends the Manu's code of
untouchability. According to 'Snzrti' low cast men are barred fiom touching others.
Jayakanthan brings 'the holy' boy and the 'outcaste' boy close to each other, and he
goes one-step forward in cementing the union of two socially kept apart minds into
spiritually hsed beings. Jayakanthan insists on the fact that the friendship of young
Shankaran, a Brahmin boy, with Adi, a Harijan boy can break caste barriers. The two
characters represent two generations of practicing and preaching Hindu religion.
Jayakanthan pol-trays their childhood f3endship thus:
"Adi and Shankalean were genuine friends who would believe that such a
bond could flourish between the agrnharam [living place of high caste
Brahmins] and Moongil Kudi on either side of the Shankarabaranain
River?" (JJS 3 5 )
Adi was bow in a lower caste. Leamning of Vedas, Sastras and Sanskrit are
beyond his dreams. When the lower caste people or the so called Harijans were not
given the right to learn Sanskrit, the Vedas and the Sastras, Jayakanthan presents an
ideal fiiendship of a Brahmin boy and a Halijan boy, both brought up in different
places. While Agraharnz teaches youug Shankaran the Vedas, Mantras, Sastras, and
Sanskrit, Adi dwells in the Halijan Slum--Moongil Kudi and is brought up by his uncle,
who treats him like one among the goats he rears up. He lealns Vedas, Mantras, Sastras
and Sanskrit from Young Shankaran during their meetings. Jayakanthan brings it out
. . . . . ...Adi would drift towards Shankaran, stop at a respectfil distance,
lea11 on his long staff and stand reverentially with eager anticipation.
Shankasan would share with him in detail the many stories he had lea~nt.
Sometimes, the sessions would sun for long. Adi would lean the staff on
his shoulder, squat on the ground and keep listening intently. Late
eveniug darkuess would fall like a curtain between them. And the
conversation would continue. Eventually Adi would stand up and his
voice would annoullce his departure: " I beg your leave Samy....... ." In
his mild's eye, Shankaran would prostrate at Adi's feet. For Shankaran
God presents Himself in Adi7sform, long staff in hand!" (JJS 39-40)
Adi once saves Young Shankaran from the whirlpool. From that day onwards,
Shankaran sees Adi, not just like a friend but he sees Lord Shiva in him and he starts
worshipping Adi. Shankasan regards Adi not only as his fiend but he sees him a step
above, equal to god. Jayakanthan biings out, through the two myths, how Shankaran
accepts a Hasjan boy as God, and how Lord comes in the disguise of a chandala boy, to
save Adi Shankara. Myth is const~ucted as a reality Shankaran undergoes a
mythological expel-ieace and he suffers the same experience of Adi Shankara. Adi
Shailkara is saved from the crocodile where the prime God comes in rescue of Him. In
the same way, Adi rescues young Shankaran. Jayakanthan stresses the fact that it is
di£6cult to escape from tradition. Jayakanthan's narrative mixes the myth of
Markandeya and Adi Shankara, as he presents the incident in the novel.
"When Shankaran was speeding towards the center of the river, Adi
shouted, "Samy, do not go in that direction. A bad vortex, turn to your
light.. . No, no, not in that direction." Shankaran turned to look at Adi.
He lost his bearings and was proceeding headlong in the path of peril.
For a while he could faintly, hear Adi's pathetic shouts. Then hell broke
loose. He was ove~whelmedby the vortex. Waves closed in on him like
a hundred pythons in a synchonized onslaught.. . He was sinking into a
bottomless nowhere.. .
Shankaran remembered the Markandeya story! "Yama dare not
come near you if you embrace God tightly".
Wl~ereis God? Is there a spot where he is not present? And, is
the omnipresent God Absent in this very vortex?
The seasoned Adi plunged into the very center of the voltex.
Desperate attempts to reach Shankaran; got a good grip on Shankaran's
luxuriant tuft of hair!
In the womb of the voitex, a drama was unfolding in shankaran's
mind's eye: Markandeya hugging the Sivalinga, Yama perched on his
buffalo, eager to use his rope of death ... a granite black Shivalinga
suddenly materialized in the dark deep. Shankaran hugged it
The two lives were saved by a miracle. One was carrying the
other. . . ."Samy you have won"! Complimented Adi. Shankaran was
chanting many Slokas in soft whispers. He found in Adi Lord Shiva
Himself resuming him fiom the jaws of death".
Shankaran feels happy that he has been saved Adi but at the same time, he is
unable to accept his wet clothes fiom Adi's hands. The Brahmin consciousness in him
does not allow him to touch them, which were 'polluted' by Adi. Shankaran tells Adi,
"Adi could you please throw these garments into the water? I shall then get them
(m47). Though Shankaran feels ashamed of this he cannot avoid saying this to
Adi as his tradition -Ancharrrrr -- insists the fact of such act as a mark of purification
At the same time fear, grips Shankaran at the very thought of his father as to how he
would react to this incident. Their fiendship is kept secret. However, when Shankaran
reveals the fact to his mother, she is shocked to know that her son was saved fioln the
grip of death by a low caste boy. And Jayakanthan brings out her reaction thus: She
It was God Almighty who had come in the folm of that untouchable child and
saved you". (JJS 48). This comment is followed by a story, which she tells her son
"Adi Shankara had camped in a forest with his disciples. The disciples
were busy cooking food. A chandala boy was watching the proceedings
from behind a tree. Shankara obselved this, but kept quiet. The disciples
brought a morsel of food to the teacher as initial nivedana, the litual
offel-kg. He advised the disciples to go ahead with their lunch. Without
their knowledge, the Saint went up to the Chandala, gave him the morsel
and asked him to eat it, 'without anyone watching'. . . After a few
minutes, he came back to the Saint with the morsel still in his hand and
confessed to a problem: 'Samy, there is no place with no one ... Lord
Shiva is everywhere, observing everything'.
"The great Adi Shankara prostrated at his feet saying,' You are
my gum'. Eveiyolle realized later that. God himself had made his
appearance as an uutouchable". (JJS48)
When his mother completed the sto~y,Shankaran invoked Adi's figure in his
mind and paid obeisance. Siuce then, Adi always occupied the center of his prayers.
(JJS 48). Jayakanthan illustrates the story of Aryambal and Adi Shankara where Adi
Shankara undergoes the same experience of young Shankaran. Shankaran narrates the
story to Adi thus:
"As usual Azyambal and her son had gone to the river for bath. The
mother finished her bath and stepped ashore. M e r finishing his dip in
the liver, it seems that child Shankara placed one leg on the shore step,
but could not take out the other leg fi-om the river. He shouted 'Amma!'.
The mother sensed the telror in the voice and rushed to her child. '1 am
caught in the vice like grip of a crocodile'-so saying Shankara was
sillking deeper and yet deeper into the liver. The mother shouted, 'Oh
god! Is there no one to save my darling?' Sinking up to his neck,
Shankaran said, 'Amma, God will certainly save me. If I resolve to take
to sanrzynsrn this very minute, and if you endorse my resolve, God will
come to my rescue7. What would the poor mother do? ' Anything is
okay for me. I want you alive'. She endorsed his sannyaszn resolution.. . .
When the mother and child were joyously returning home, Shankara
refbsed to step into the house . .... 'Child, you must be hungry. Come in
and have your food.' Standing at the doorstep in his wet clothes,
Shankara told his maother , 'Amma, please excuse me. I am now a
sani2ynsiiz; I am not in a position to come in and partake of food. Please
give me some alms'. So saying, he held out his hands: Bhzkshan~nz
(JJS 42-43)
Thus Jayakanthan bhngs out through myths how Shankaran accepts Adi
Shankara accepts Adi as a diviue person. Lord comes in the disguise of a Chandala boy
who is accepted as a gum by Adi Shankara, who is considered as a guru by many.
Young Shankaran revisits the village Shankarapuram as Acharya Swamigal, and sends
Ksishnaswamy, one of his assistants, to invite Adi to have his darshnn. Krishnaswamy
comes back to Swamigal and says about Adi thus: "It seems he was a Hasijan in his
yoorvaashranza". (JJS 78). Swamigal laughs at this remark of IO-ishnaswamy and
clears his doubt as he adds,
"If he alone is a Harijan, are all the others Sivajans?" he said
dismissively. "Okay, what else did he tell? Old story? His name? Is he
not Adi?" (78)
This shows his conceln and Iis mood of ignoring the birth status of his fiend Adi.
Swamigal fhther gives h s opuiion about Adi,
"If a person takes to the study and instance of the Vedas as his life's
mission, should it matter as to which caste he belongs? The man whom 1
identified, he is one such Guru. That he is born a Harijan should only
remind us of Lord himself appealing as an untouchable in Adi
Shankara's Life . . ." (JJS 79)
One of the key aspects of this relationship is the revelation of the fact that one
can become a Brahmin only by the consciousness of a Brahnzan and no Brahmin, just
because he or she is b o ~ na Brahmin cannot be considered a Brahmin in a meta physical
sense. Jayakanthan believes in the reality that evely person can become a divine per sol^
provided he or she is illuminated with the knowledge of reality. Thus Adi a Harijan is
elevated to a status of a guru and the future Achalya, Young Shankaran considers Adi
as god and guru. Young Shankaran practices the Aachaara and only Adi initiates his
Braminization process. Jayakalithan deftly uses the Markendaya myth and the Adi
Shankara myth as revelatoly to Youlig Shankaran. Markendaya survived by his faith in
Lord Shiva young Adi Shankara did not ostracized the Chandalas. Thus Jayakanthan
calls for a kind of social equality by way of portraying the emotional unity of both Adi
and Shankaran If life is a cunent of waters the vortex is identified as a place of danger
by Adi, and for Shallkaran Adi becomes Lord Shiva, the Saviour. Thus Jayakanthan as
the culmination of equality visualizes the name 'Adi Shankara', and hence he shows
Adi and Shankaran as two daerent characters of two different classes and status. But
for a person who is conscious of the Absolute, the apparent divisions like status, class
and caste are just illusions.
Jayakanthan brings out in the novel Jaya Jaya Shankara the different miud setup
of Brahmin brothers Mahalinga Iyer and Sadashiva Iyer. While Mahalinga Iyer stlictly
follows the Brahminical traditions and rituals, Sadashiva Iyer though strictly adheres to
the Brahmin customs, he believes in the concept of 'becoming a Brahmin' rather than
being satisfied with his Brahnin birth. Jayakanthan portrays the two brothers
Mahalinga Iyer and Sadashiva Iyer as oppositional forces then prevalent in the Indian
society. Mahalinga Iyer represents the tradition, the Hindu Dharma of the Brahmin
way of life. Sadashiva Iyer represents the new generation neo-literate benefited by
English education and entertai~lsa vision of new values like equality, fi-eedom and
progress. Jayakanthan thus poltrays Sadashiva Iyer:
'We was waiting for an appropriate time. The time did arrive for the
younger brother of Mahalinga Iyer, the sentinel of Sanatana Dhnrnzn 111
the village. With Gandhi cap perched on his head, and a drum made of
cowhide slung across his chest, Sadashivam arrived. As if striking at the
very heait of an ancient civilization, he was beating the drum as an
accompaniment to his call for action. The children of the village had
assembled at the temple ground to watch the M. (Emphasis added by
the researcher).
"At nine o'clock on the Maha Shivaraatri morning, the Harijans of the
Moongil Kudi will enter the Shankaralingeshwarar temple. The evil
infecting our nation and our Hindu religion will be exorcised on that
holy mo~uing.All Hindu patriots should assemble in strength to give the
Har-ijans a hearty welcome." (JJS32-33)
Mahalinga Iyer however is angered at this and could not control his grief.
Young Shankaran sees Brnhn~nnin everything, while Mahalinga Iyer who was himself
considered as people's leader
the village leader -- is not able to experience the
Brahnzan. Jayakanthan while devotiug his space to the problem of embarrassments of
the traditionalist also is all appreciation for the 'brave deeds' of Sadashiva Iyer. This is
subtly suggested by the reference to Sadashiva Iyer's reading of secretly circulated
versus of Subrainaina Bharathi, well known Tamil poet of nationalist school. While
Mahalinga Iyer is not ready to put his son in the English school, Sadashiva Iyer bravely
names his female child as Swatantra Devi
Goddess of fieedom. The two different
attitudes point and cou~lterpoint are very well portrayed in the parallel characterization
of the Brahmin brothers. Mahalinga Iyer is worried by his brother's deviant ways of
Brahmin and he is equally concet-ned that this new fervor should not engulf his son
Young Shankaran.
"Mahalinga Iyer found the whole thing somewhat strange. He had a
vague misgiving that something unwanted was just waiting to happen.
He was overtaken by a nameless dread that his brother had lost his
bearings. But Sadashivam's exhortation was punctuated by Vedic
authority and marked by unassailable logic. The more he heard, the
more Mahaliuga Iyer feared that he was himself on the verge of a
nervous breakdown, something terrible was going to land on them like a
ton of bricks. In an attempt to protect little Shankaran from the
onslaught of these new forces, he hugged him close to his chest"
Here Sadashiva Iyer transcends the limitations imposed by Manu's caste code
and subjects himself to any flexible interpretation of socialization. In fact his faith and
quest lies in changing the tradition. He is making a new reading of dharma based on
equality while the traditional dharma had been conditioned by graded discriminations.
In such discriminations, the fact is that every living human being is made of god and
has godhead inside him. Sadhasiva Iyer, born in a traditional Brahmin family is ready
to accept the Halijans as his brothers and even fights for their temple entry. He tries to
convince his family that all are equal before God. He tells his plans to Mahalinga Iyer:
"Yesterday in the fanner's house I was treated like an untouchable and
they gave me bananas and a glass of milk.. My ritual purity must be
preserved it seems! We are going to sun an Ashram in the Moongil Kudi
untouchables Slum. We will be ensolling Harijan children and giving
them Sansluit, English and Tamil education. I have been chosen as a
president of the Ashram. Sadashivam was narrating proudly". (JJS 30)
Mahalinga Iyer is shocked to hear this. He is unable to accept his brother
Sadashiva Iyer's ideas. Sanskrit and Vedic knowledge cannot we made available to all
and sundry. It is the privilege of the Brahmins to have access to the divine knowledge.
This illusion makes ill angly.
' m a t dangerous ideas ensnared you? evil days have landed... same
terrible is going to over whelm our Jati . . . Look Sadashivam! As long
as I am alive this violations of aachaara will not be permitted. I shall lie
across the temple will that fill you and your Gandhi with immense
satisfaction?" (E
3 1)
Mahalinga Iyer, represents a kind of Hinduism which disagrees to accept the
change in Hinduism and which adopts the ~itualsmechanically carried out. Mahah~ga
Iyer is not able to accept any change or refolm in the Hindu religion, which his brother
Sadashiva Iyer dreams fos. Inspite of 'Being a Brahmin', he is not able reach the state
of illumination. However his son Shankaran sees Adi in fosm of Lord Shiva and
worships him; though lie vely well knows that it is against his father's wishes.
Sadashiva Iyer much against the wishes of his brother and family fights for the
uplament of the Halijans along with the Gandhian people. From the agraharanz, he
goes to the Moongil Kudi ashvanz and teaches the Harijan children Vedas, Mantras,
Sansluit and English. This act represents Sadashiva Iyer's quest for enlightenment.
While Shankaran reads the magazine titled 'Harijan', brought by his uncle
Sadhasivam, Mahalingam is woi-ried thinking his son Shankaran would follow the path
of his brother Sadashivaq He speaks about Nandanars and paanalzvaars. Mythical and
literary characters, who have been seen with illumination by the grace of god, in spite
of their being born in low cast family. For this Sadashiva Iyer answers thus,
"Are these slum dwellers Nandanaars and Pannazhvaars? This questioil
is being raised. A humble worker like me cannot answer the respected
elders. Gandhi whom I worship has answered this question. My brothers
whom you curse as pariahs, fallen ones and Chandalas, I worship them
as my gods. So says our Gandhi." (JJS34)
But for Mahalinga Iyer, the temple ently for the Harijans was beyond his tradition. He
is not able to accept it. He says,
'Vnlike the great Nandanar and Pannazhvaar, there is no one in the
Moongil Kudi Slum hungering for a darshan of Lord Shiva. Lf there is
any such real demand anywhere, let the temple entry be organized
there". (JJS 34)
His faith lies iu practicing the tradition that is followed traditionally by @
accepting the faith as it is without any change. As a result, there is total cofision in the
family. Mahalinga Iyer is not able to tolerate this, is upset. He decides to leave the
village. He leaves his son Shankaran in the Shree Madanz and goes to Varanasi with his
wife so as to puilfL himself fom the sins, for he thinks that, as an elder brother, he had
failed to stop his brother from going against the tradition of Hindu Dharma. The
agraharam people treat Sadashiva Iyer as an out caste and keep him away from the
agraharam. He moves to the Gandhi Ashram with his sick wife and daughter once for
all. Sadashiva Iyer is also shown not only as English educated individual. But he is
also well g r o w in Hindu Philosophy. He is brother felt that he is circumventing Hindu
philosophy to prove the equality of all beings so that his pro-harijan arguments could
carry weight. In his c o h s e d state of mind Mahalinga Iyer seeks the guidance of the
Archarya Swamigal. Hence Jayakanthan stresses that it is difticult to escape fiom
tradition, being born in a Brahmin family.
Jayakanthan's novel seems to be a spiritual quest and the odyssey involves
special migration of places accompanied by transformation of minds. The odyssey in
the new lands involves the migration of major characters from one domain to another
domain. This experiential process elaborated by Jayakanthan may be taken as the
process of becomiug a Brahmin. In other words this involves dispensation of illusions
and encountering the reality. The carry over value of Sanatana Dharma and the
injunctions imposed by Manu codes are in one way or other illusions and they have to
be removed to face the Brhnzan in one. In such illuminations, divisions disappear and
all are equal.
Spiritual, political and social in the process, the characters emerge as new
beings, enlightened individuals, and liberated souls. Shankaran from Shankarapuram
agraharam Shankaran goes to the Shree Madam. Adi, who follows Sadashiva Iyer,
joins the Gandhi Ashranz and gets sanskritised, who later runs the same Ashranz
founded by Sadashiva Iyer and marries his daughter, the Brahmin girl Swatantra Devi.
Now Adi is transformed fiom a Halijan to a learned wise man who, lives with his wife
two sons and a daughter. Adi's elder son Mahalingam is a sort of rebellious youth who
represents the modern generation. While Adi spends his time on his spinning wheel
recreating his age-old days, his son Mahalingam does not wish to subscribe to his
parent's faith and practice and seeks a new meaning for life in the company of
progressives who are critical of Gandhi and his passive resistance philosophy.
The concept of reality is vely oRzn clouded in illusions known as transitions
and transformations. But for one who sees the reality these changes are meaningless.
While many human made ideas and concepts become obsolete with time.
Brahman alone remains the same. Anyone who attains this consciousness becomes a
Brahmin. Jayakanthan illustrates this with analogy of the toddler's cart. Mahalingam is
not willing to follow the same old pl-inciples of his parents. Mahalingam says,
"This cart is indeed usehl for a toddler to learn walking. But the parents
should also be prepared to put it away in the attic when it has outlived its
utility. It is rational to expect the children to grow old with the toddler's
cart?" . . . . Vedavalli liRed her eyes fiom the spinning wheel, could not
figure out the allegoly and said, "No parent, would of course, do such a
thing" The mother who was collecting and arranging the stock of fieshly
spun yaw , clearly understood the sigmficance of the analogy. "Appa
and h
a lealnt to tread life's path with the Ashram toddler's cart. Life
is not fi'ozen but is relentlessly on the move. Like the pushcart
disappearing into the attaic. So has the Ashram" (JJS 121)
Adi who is not able to tolerate his son's behavior gets heated up in hly and
orders Mahalingam to walk out of house. Here Jayakanthan makes the vibrant and
young youth come out of his house in search of his values, ideas and principles -- in
search of a new identity. Jayakanthan feels that modern life suffers fiom the pressures
of time and one should not attempt to stop anything that disappears. The question of
creation and destruction, the attempts dear to the scientists and the atheists, are not
there for a divinely conscious Srmnyasin. Sathyamoorthy, son of Singarayar, guides
Mahalingam later. Sathyamoorthy is a young professor who agitates against the
socio-political milieu, for which he is put in jail. But the jail again reflects the cruel
harassments of the Jailer; who tortures the inmates. Sathyamoorthy changes the cruel
mind of the Jailer through his arguments with him.
Jayakanthan, is rated as progressive miter who keeps his allegiance to a
socialistic idealism of Indian Congress Party. While the party suffered a drubbing in
general elections dusing late sixties he merged as an unofficial spokes person of the
Congress Party in Tamhadu to counter the victorious Dravidian parties, founded by
C.N.Annadurai. In TamilNadu the anti - EV.Ramaswamy Naicker y opularly known as
'Periyar', who was a strong atheist and severe critic of Hindu ideology, spearheaded
Congress wave. His party Dravida kazhlagam was devoted to the social cause of
equality and justice for all sections of society including women. Periyar felt that this
has been made impossible because of the Hindu religion which enforced a kind of caste
division among the Hindu comnunities which he felt was the handy work of high caste
Brahmins to keep in subordinated position all other sections of the society for which it
enthroned Manu. Slowly the Dravidian pasties marginalized the Brahmins and
discredited the Hindu tenets of life as evil designs of despotic Brahmins who controlled
the Hindu faith. Hence Jayakanthan takes upon himselfthe task of defending the best iu
Hinduism and justifjrlng the Sarzatana Dharma in his own subtle argumentative
fashion. Jayakanthan emphasizes that it is d a c u l t to escape fiom tradition. He
approves the change in social life and yet is not against Gandhi's views.
Jayakanthan elevates the character of Adi throughout the novel. Adi is boin in a
low caste and yet he enjoys the commendations of high caste Brahmins. Shankasall
knows that Adi is in evely one, the Brahman is in eveiy Atman. Jayakanthan stresses
that birth of an individual does not determine the factor of being a Brahmin. What is
s i m c a n t in Adi's character is that he is Brahminized. Hence becoming a Brahmin is
the higher state of illumination than being born a Brahmin. Jayakanthan describes the
visit of his holiness Achalya Swamigal to Shankarapuram after a long time, he recount
his early days of leaving the village and its people including Adi.
The picture framed in his mind came back in a flash: Shankaran
leaving Shankarapuram for Shree Madam in the bullock cast that
morning; Adi's figure disappearing in the horizon. The Acharya
Swamigal's lotus eyes softly closed: "whatever my station in life you
would be the object of my prayers". (JJS 6 5 )
However now the times have changed, Adi is no more the young shepherd boy with his
staff in his hand. He is seen desciibing by the Acharya thus:
He was standing near a fence abutting a cowshed. What a dBerence
between the figure fiozen in his mind and the one in flesh and blood
before him! Pure khadi dhoti, a short-sleeved shirt, the towel
respectfblly tied around this waist. And palms joined in homage
was his Adi. (JJS 66)
Swatantra Devi's desciiption of her husband's character is also meaninghl and
s i m c a n t:
"My comrade whom I have adopted as my dear husband as in a
Swnynnz~uamis the noblest Brahmin I have known in my life. 1 stand
witness to this, a s the only child of a great Brahmin who embodied the
best in the great tradition rooted in spiritual involvement and committed
to national welfare. As enjoined in the Sastras he has no interest in
material goods. He has internalized the Vedas through the time ho~iouredprocess of 'learning by hearing'. What he learnt he shared.
Still he called himself a Ha~ijan. He has invested that term with
profound meaning. He takes food only to the extent he considers it
necessaty to supyoit his spiritual growth. The noble norms of life and
conduct that he leai-nt, imbibed and adopted fiom my father have been
given up by eveiyone else, by the Asharam itself but he is a great social
being who adheres to those norms with stead fast commitment. Except
the silk saree 1 am presently wearing, each strand of our garments is
spun by us . . ." (JJS 89).
Later Krishnaswamy comes back to Adi and says how Archarya Swamigal had
high esteem and honour for Adi.
'Why this shower of gold Sovereigns for me? Why all this paraphenlaha
of elephant i-ide? What is important for the head of the madam is his
character, his iuteglity, and his austerity. And, he embodies all these
high qualities - Swamy was full praise for you". On hearing this, Adi
joined his palms in prayer and said to himself Sat Guru. (JJS 83).
These events reveal to the aspects of Adi's growth during his life, the first being
his acceptance in real teims as a Brahmin by not only his wife Swatantra Devi but also
by the Achalya. Even after a long time, the Acharya is able to figure out the divine, the
Brahmin and the Brahnzarz in Adi's person. Adi's wife declares that he is the novelist.
Brahmin, t ~ u eto the meaning of Gandhiji's declaration of Harijans, son of Haii, son of
God. Even Krishnaswamy who entertains the mundane views about caste divisions has
to declare that Adi has grown so much that he is not an untouchable. When Adi's states,
'You call me Harijan or by any other name - I am seen only as an untouchable." (P.84)
Shiva Shiva, you are by no means untouchable. We cannot touch
you, we cannot reach you
you have risen so much."(JJS 84). In Krishnaswamy's
terminology and reading the vely t e ~ m'untouchable' gains its most positive meaning
that Adi is a grown up person, a tsue Brahnzan, in an untouchable place to the caste
Brahmin Krishnaswamy. Thus Adi succeeds in himself being acknowledged or rather
Brahiminised by people who are born Brahimin. And when people queue up to get the
darshan of the Achalya Swamigal, and get his blessings, Swamigal wishes to have
darshan of his own Lord Parameswara, who comes in the form of Adi - The saviour or
the Almighty who saved his life from the jaws of death.
The faith that the Vedas and Sastras are meant only for the Brahmins is seen in
Java Jaya Shankal-a. Jayakanthan in Java Jaya Shankara explains how people are
moving towards social changes from the religious order. Further he highhghts the
socio-religious theme, without diverting Hindu religious ideas and tradition. He
glosifies the ideal state of Hinduism in the first two chapters of the novel. The
concluding chapters of the novel underline the point or the view of the present day's
society in the name of caste, which Jayakanthan does not accept. He strongly believes
that all are equal before God. But the Indian caste system does not allow the dalits to
enter the temple and perfolm rituals and poojas. Jayakanthan opts for the Hindu
religion, which is against the evils of caste system.
The dilemma of becoming a Brahmin is one of the major religious questions
addressed by Raja Rao in The Seqent and The Rope, particularly in the existential
pangs undergone by the protagonist Ramaswamy. Raja Rao's novel is different fiom
Jayakanthan's Jaya Jaya Shankara in its range and themes.
Ramaswamy of Raja Rao believes in his Brahmin birth and the wisdom of a
Brahmin. He also shares many Brahmins' belief that a Brahmin has got the ability to
transcend the time and space, "goes backward and forward in time". The essential point
however is that for this mobility, a Brahmin needs a helping hand. "A sage to begin the
genealogical tree and a gum to end the cycle of death". (SR. 125). Therefore in this
essential Brahrniuism lies the prospect of 'Becoming a Brahmin". According to
Sanatana Dharma performance and practice of rituals are enough to be a Hindu but for
Raja Rao the religious footing asks for a metaphysical quest, the desire to grow into a
Brahmin. This is made possible not simply by the internal effort but by seeking exteinal
guidance. From a philosophical point of view this is a kind of union between the self
and the others. Hence Ramaswamy's attempts find favour and assistance in his
relationships with different persons like his relationship with Savithri. As he under goes
the experience of the relationship, the intensity of knowing the self' is tightened which
in turn enhances his quest to know the Absolute. This experience asks for a change iu
temperament and outlook, attitude and action. The intense need to become a Brahmin
drives Ramaswamy ill search of a gum. In other words, Ramaswamy's life radiated the
intense quest for encounter with the reality, which is possible only when there is an
awareness of being immersed in illusions. Raja Rao achieves this by grantillg his
protagonist the experience of detachment fiom the self as well as merging in union with
the selfin others.
Raja Rao's protagonist in The Seqent and The Rope is an intellectual,
extremely alive to the questions of self and its relationships with the other, dul-ing the
process of which he understands the meaning of life. In other words, Ramaswamy, the
protagonist is a Hindu Indian born Brahmin, engaged in an intellectual pursuit, whch
enables him to come into contact with many other human figures of India and abroad.
This relationship has facets of physical, emotional and spiritual dimensions, as he is
married to Madeleine, a French woman whom he meets in Caen University and falls in
love at first sight. It was a successfbl marriage for Madeleine, who is also an involved
researcher on religion, as was Ramaswamy. Their religious difference or national
identities do not come in the way of their relationships until the unexpected and the
premature death of their son Pierre. A death at home of his father comes as a call for
Ramaswamy to perform religious duty by way of obsequies for the dead father. This
home call happens to be a religious call as it also distances him fiom his wife, who is in
distress and becoming philosophical with her new found loyalty to Buddhist religion. In
other words, the parting of the husband and wife seems to be of a religious mission for
both of them. In fact, Madeleine advises Ramaswamy "to become" a true Brahmin. "I
wanted the Brahmin, with the clever iuversions of his cerebral system to explain to me
why these things happ en." (B309)
Ramaswalny too is engaged in attempting a self-dehition for psychologically
he is tormented with the sense of an orphanhood. Ramaswamy refers to himself as an
orphan, "I was born an orphan," he says, "and have remained one. I have wandered the
world and have sobbed in hotel rooms and in trains, have looked at the cold mountains
and sobbed, for I had no mother."(SR 6). Ramaswamy had lost his mother in early
childhood and his bereavements of his son and father intenszes his sense of loneliness.
As pointed out by C.D. Narsimhaiah, Ramaswamy's orphanhood is at once "personal
and cosmic." It is not simply a matter of bis having lost his mother in early childhood;
it is a metaphysical o~phanhoodresulting fiom his temporal self's separation fiom the
self: Such a separation fiom the self ask for a kind of becoming, kind of union, a kind
of a relationship. Raja Rao's life thereafter is punctuated by emotive and metaphysical
relationships, exalted moments and sessions of agony suffering and alienation.
The alienation asks for a relationship, the separation asks for a union, the
absence and the alienation need a presence and an encounter. Ramaswamy enters into
all phases attempting to become a Brahmin, one who knows Brahman. Ramaswamy's
quest seems to be a quest for knowing the self, which he attempts to achieve, by
knowing the other. Here what was necessary was the dispensation of illusions and
sighting of the reality. One has to survive the dilemma of dualism, which is the basic
message of the title of the novel, The Selpent and the Rope. Anand Commarasamny, a
well-known philosopher and a critic, refers to the beatific inner self of a person in the
beings of one and the all, which lie refers to as the immanent Brahman. The process of
becoming a Brahmin is needed only for a person who does not read the immanent
Brahman. Thus, the cl-isis of Ramaswamy is his oiphanhood at personal level, which
could be erased or ameliorated only at the cosmic level by the understanding of
immanent Brahnzan in evely self Therefore, the very olyhanhood asks for the
knowledge, the consciousness and the experience of the immanent Brahman, which is
possible by illumination of the self or by knowing the Absolute in the other. The
problem is the questioll of the subtle essence remaining invisible. Ramaswamy's ordeal
seems to be growing out of the invisibility and facing the reality. Raja Rao himself
brings a suggestion of this point where he quotes a dialogue between Svetaketu and his
father in the Chandogya Upanishad:
'bring me a h i t fiom the banyan tree'
'here it is, father.'
'break it.'
'it is broken, sir.'
'what do you see in it?'
' v e ~ ysmall seeds, sir.'
'break one of them, my son.'
'it is broken, sir. '
'what do you see in it?'
'nothiug at all, sir.' (SR 249)
Then his father spoke to him: "my son fiom the very essence in the seed, which
you cannot see, comes in truth, this vast banyan tree. Believe me, my son, an invisible
and subtle essence is the spirit of the whole universe that is reality". That is Atman,
thou art that' The "Atman" or "that" in the passage above is the self- - the ultimate goal
of Ramaswamy's quest. It is to this self that Ramaswamy refers as "that" in the lullaby
he sings to baby S~idharaand later to Vera. Catherine's daughter:
The swau is swinging the cradle, baby,
Saying "1 am that, " "that I am," quietly;
She swings it beautihlly, baby,
Abandoning actions and hours. (SR 249)
Ramaswamy entertains a strong obsession about his Brahmin birth and South
Indian identity. He says, "Apait from France, and all that, the fact that I was a Brahmin
by birth and a South Indian seemed to have given me a natural superiority". (SR 31).
He considers that he is superior to people of other faith and other states because he has
been privileged by the unique, the pure and the imperial heritage of Sansluit.
Ramaswamy says:
"It was somewhere here too, that Gargi and Yagnyavalkya must have
walked, and out of their discussions by wood-fise and by river steps was
ous philosophy boin, and that noble, imperial heritage of ours, Sanslu-it,
the pure, the complete, the unique. He who possess Sanskrit can possess
himself'. (SJ 35)
The conscious of 'Brahmin' is seen in many places in the narrative. When he is iu
Montpalais, Ramaswamy says:
"The gods that reside in us are of an ancient making; age after age our
ancestors have copulated, and a bit more of each good grew in us as we
grew up,
. ..
It saves time and education to know what your kingdom is
rather than measure the fiomtiers of another, however noble. To bring in
a new god is like creating a new pine tree. The grafting of many an age
could never give you the larch of the Alps. The Brahmin, the Brahmin, I
said to myself.." (SR 90-9 1)
There is a celebratoiy tone in his description of everything that is India and Indian.
Hence Madeleine is over whelmed by his description of the last rites for his grand
father. While Ramaswamy shares his moments, telling her about the finera1 rites he
performed for the dead, Madeleine feels that she should die in a place like India, where
according to her the fheral is a costly business. Ramaswamy tells her that he would
perform her last rites on the Himavathay, like he did for his grandfather. He hrther
"I shall pile up pieces of sandalwood one over the other, and I shall siug
a special hymn for you. It will be called Hymn to the Goddess of the
Golden skin. I will have carried some special heather and thyme fiom
this elephants back, and I shall perhme the river so that the fishes and
the deer will come to see what is happening. Once you have been
reduced to white ash, the liver will rise and carry you away - as it did
grandfather. Thus you will become a Brahmin".
This desciiption of Brahlllinization connotes only rituality and not meta
physical. However Ramaswamy also is given to moments of metaphysical flights
transcending his ritualistic identity. He feels he has been impoverish by remaining out
of the Hindu orbit for some time. And hence he attempts to naturalize himself by a
process of vittual chanting of Gayathi Mantra or chanting of Sanskrit Slo
unconscious and the imposed perfolmance of ~itualisticexercises, most of these happen
during his return jou~ueyto India, to his home and to his family. In the novel Raja Rao
brings thus:
Who stoops fi-omthe weight of her breasts,
Whose words were sweet;
Tender creeper of intelligence and bliss". (SR 3 5 )
The process of chanting, which turns almost to be a practice in the life of every
Brahmin is portrayed by Raja Rao thus:
"Reciting the hymn, I slipped into one of those curious moods that fillus
in the vastness of India; we feel large and infinite, compassion touching
our SOITOW as eyelashes touch the skin". (SR 35-36)
The blind belief or idea of faith in religion is presented in the novel as,
"Even the Indian trains seem to chant mantras: "NamasthethuGange
twadnrzge bhzgange; Hari-Hari-Ram-Hari-Ram, Ram-Harem;and going
uphill, "Shrvn-Shzva, Hara-Hara,Shzva-Shiva-Hara";and so to the
morning". (SR 40)
Raja Rao blings out his faith in giving an importance to a particular place in
association with the religion: "Benares was indeed nowhere but inside one's self
"Kashi Kshetranz, Shnrrrmz trrbhuvana jananim". And I knew: all brides be Benares
born. (SR 50). 111 the novel, one can attempt to read how certain places like Beneras,
Allahabad, and Hindu faithfbl community to perform religious rituals visits
Haridhuwar. A BrahllliTl considers even often chanting of the Gayathri Mantra sacred.
As Ramaswamy says, "I found myself saying the a v a t h r i Mantra as we landed at
Santa Cruz". (SR 246). Rarnaswamy is often seen reciting Mantras or Sanskrit verses:
"1 changed to her the Kashiknyuradinathu Kalabhairavam bhaje:
I worship Kalabhaisava, Lord of the city of Kashi,
Blazing like a million suns;
Our great saviour in our voyage across the world,
The blue-throated, the three-eyed grantor of all desires;
The lotus-eyed who is the death of death,
The imperishable one,
Holding the rosary of the human bone and the trident
Kashiknpuradinatha Kalabhairavanz Bhuje" (SR 2 1-22)
Raja Rao highlights at another place in the novel thus:
"I sang the Gangastakam again. Little Mother was very sensitive to
Sansciit hymns, being herself brought up the granddaughter of a
lerained Bhatta.
Kashi kshe franl, shariram tribhuvanajananim.. .
And night the liverbank Thy water is strewn
With kusha grass and flowers,
There tbl.0~11by Sages at morn and even.
May the waters of the Ganges protect us". (SR 33)
"Ssi Shankara again came to my mind." Says Ramaswamy.
"Shines forth does the Devi, boin in the snowy mountains;
Her beautfil hands are like a red leaf
It is She with whom Shiva seeks shelter,
"I sat at the table and I ate. I concentrated on my food and I was
convinced 1 had to eat. Food is meant for eating; of course it is "Om
addma, Om Pibama, Om devo varunah, Prajagatihi savihannam iharat,
ama-p ate, annam I hara, ahara, OM iti," says the Chandoqa Upanisad".
(SR 299)
"I continued to recite Bhavabhuti, as if I were explaining something to
"ekuh sanzprnti rmagztapriyatanzas tarn [email protected] Ramah katham
papnh Pancavatmz vzlokuyatu va gacchatv asambhavya va". (SR 328)
Ramaswamy is conscious of his 'orphanhood', 'alienation', temporary oblivion
and the need 'to be a Brahmin'. But the process of knowing the Absolute, I am Thou, is
not forthcoming readily perhaps because of his belief in Brahmin birth identity which
enjoys the privilege of elevation and advantage in terms of Sanatana Dharma. His
problem is one of overcoming forgetfidness on the one hand and to turning to the
Brahmin home on the other. As he believes in the privilege of his birth he cannot reject
or change to the different kind of living tradition, which would save him from the
process of westelllization and the entrenched Brahmin identity. In other words
Ramaswamy's crisis is to become a Brahmin to see the Brahman in him and in others.
He has to negotiate with his Brahmin consciousness, the Brahmin rituals and Brahmin
identity. As he accepts the Brahmin identity, he also accepts collateral problems of pain
and detachment, the feeling of oiyhanhood and the retreat in the rituals. Ramaswalny
was conscious of the need to become a Brahmin. But there was also an element of static
and stagnant nature, wliich acted against it, Hence the compulsions ask for an exteinal
assistance in the form of a guiu. Ramaswamy gives an impression that though a
Brahmin by birth, he has lost his tiue Brahmin nature, and seeks to regain it through
rituals but finally given to ullderstandiig that the change is not that easy, the becoming
is as slow process of growing and the growth is painful. However the consciousness of
the truth and the desire to achieve it sends him in a winning pursuit towards
Travancore. He must go to Travancore to find his guru. The guru, according to Manu,
the Hindu lawgiver, is the "image of Brahman," and the disciple through obedience to
the guru gains
the world of Brahnznn". In deciding to take up discipleship,
Ramaswamy acts in accordance with the age-old Upanishadic tradition of seeking
spiritual knowledge at the feet of a guiu. From his guru in Travancore Ramaswamy
hopes to receive the same gift " that Yajnyavalkya made to Maitreyi,"
(B.403) that is
to say, the gift of knowing the self The story of Ramaswamy does not end with his
mission of knowing the Brahmin, though be becomes not a Brahmin; there is a strong
suggestion of his prospect of becoming one, aided by a guru at Travancore.
Ramaswamy believes in his birth and destiny. As he expands his intellectual
quest and makes forays into the world of various religions he understands the quest to
become a Hindu Brahmin fist. His initial estrangement from Hinduism has
necessitated this. Whatever links he had were only through the knowledge of scriptures
acquired by the yiivilege of birth and the imposed rituals and practices forced by
familial duties. Veiy soon he realizes this absence and yearns for what is lost. This
necessitates a pursuit, an attempt, a journey, which could be possible by a series of
experiences resulting in knowledge. He understands the need to 'grow' into a Brahmin.
He also understands that one cannot be a Brahmin simply by birth. One can become a
Brahmin by consciousness, a conscious of 'I am thou', which Anand Coomarasamy
refers to as the identification of the immanent Brahman. Though the need, the urge and
the parts are known, the change is not easy for Ramaswamy. He has to overcome the
static and the staguant morals and chooses to achieve the process by reaching a catalyst
in the form of a Gum. Finally he decides to go to Travancore in search of a final change
into a Brahmin proper.
In Jayakanthan's case Adi is shown as counterpoint. In terms of birth he belongs
to the lower order namely the Harijan and naturally Jayakanthan throws up the
question. Can a Harijan become a Brahmin? While Raja Rao reads Hinduism as a
current of water that callnot be stopped, Jayakanthan presents Hinduism as a book for
reinterpretation. While Jayakanthan accepts the Sanatana Dharma as he portrays the
life of Shankaran, he also asks for an interpretation of the Hindu Dharma in the light
perceptive when he makes Adi good enough to be a saviour of Young Shankaran. His
choice of the vely name Adi, which means the original man, negates the Manu's slot
given to the Sudras and also Jayakanthan's Shankaran is a guru in himself and one who
knows the 'Brahman'. Hence he makes Adi respect and worship Young Shankaran and
Young Shankaran also considers Adi as one who is a brahmin in his very soul. In this
process Jayakanthan attempts to zero down the conflict space between the Brahmins
and the non Brahmins of H i ~ ~ d in
u s South India. What is necessary for a Hindu is to see
the Absolute and drive away the illusions. This comes easy for any one who accepts
Saint Adi Shankara's philosophy of non-dualism. If a Brahmin can become a Brahmin
by birth, by knowledge of Vedas, by practice of rituals, a Harijan too can become a
Brahmin by conscious~iessof the Brahman in every one. In fact Adi's becoming of a
Brahmin takes place slowly, smoothly and positively, while Ramaswamy has to wait at
the doors of the gum at Travancore.
For Ramaswamy, a boln Brahmin, who had been exposed to new knowledge
and other religions of the world, a crisis of being Brahmin disrupts his life and he
attempts to realign himself to the realities around by a process of transformation into a
Brahmin. The fact that being a Brahmin by birth does not ensure the Brahmin
consciousness in him, as he understands feeling the Brahman is being a Brahmin. And
this is not assured and forthcoming, he attempts to become a Brahmin. Raja Rao takes
up the question of Hindu faith and its practice and Hindu experience in the subjective
knowledge of the subjects concelued. Through the life of Ramaswamy the need for a
transformation is recommended to all. Jayakanthan's portrayal of Shankaran and Adi
two key characters in the fiction also reveals this pattern of being and becoming.
Jayakanthan gives greater emphasis to the changes that have arrived in the social fabric
in India due to Gandhism and Malxism. He also presents the caste ridden Hindu
society in its conflict prone status and recommends a greater understanding of
Shankara's philosophy would facilitate the process of becoming a Brahmin by anyone
including a dalit.
The above discussion of the chief characters of Jayakanthan and of Raja Rao's
Ramaswamy provides us with an understanding of the basic theme of the two novelists.
Raja Rao's thematic design takes up three stages of life, namely Ramaswamy's
Brahmin birth, his estrangement fiom 'Brahmin consciousness because of his
involvement in the west and his naturalization as a Brahmin when he returns back to his
home country and to h s Brahmin practices and rituals. However the very title of the
novel The Selpent and The Rope and Ramaswamy's "the waiting mission" at
Travancore focuses the elemelits of illusion and reality in life. This dualism can be
overcome only by the consiousness of the Brahman. Raja Rao's Ramaswamy struggles
to become a Brahmin first and is lying in wait for the final illumination of the
Brahman. In other words the process of becoming a Brahmin is not yet complete in the
case of Ramaswamy perhaps Ramaswamy's problem is the burden of his Brahmin
birth, the false notion of supel-ioi-ity, the illusion of Sanskrit knowledge. These mask the
real knowledge of "Thou Ait You".
However in the case of Jayakanthan the process of becoming a Brahmin, the
awarness of the Brnlznznn in one's ntmnn is made available to more than one characters
in the novel. The supreme illustration for this is the relationship between Adi and
Shankaran. Though Jayakanthan does not denigrate the Sanathana Dharma, he shows
the process of becoming a Brahnznn is so simple for both a Brahmin and a nonBrahmin. Jayakanthau depends on the very Sanathana Dharnza for his standpoint. He
finds that the tradition provides the road to success for one and all. In fact the
philosophy of non-dualism contains the essential message of equality of all lives. The
place for attaining the awareizess of the Brahman may be the Shree Madam and the
facilitator may be tlie guru. But Jayakanthan finds the Shree Madam of Achaiyas do
change according to the changing times. As far as Jayakanthan is concerned there is no
difference between the Shree Madam of Acharya, the Gandhi Ashram of Sadashiva Iyes
and Singarayar's Manave11 Illam. The people who reside in all these three places are
liberated souls, transcending the worlds of caste and status, hlly involved in
physiological quest, which assures a growth and prospect. This could be taken as the
process of 'becoming a Brahmin' for each of the individuals.
Any individual has to undergo the process of experience in life, which alone
provides an illuminated knowledge, the one, which is different from the knowledge
handed out in terms of books, sciiptures and other religious text. The marsiage and
family life, relationships their breaking and bonding which results in the characters of
the chosen texts, are taken for a detailed study in the next chapter.
Works Cited
Besant, Annie and Das Bhagavan. Sanatana Dhalma The Theosophical publishing
House. Chennai 2000.P.88
Jayakanthan. Jaya Jaya Shankara. Trans K.C. Subramanian Kavitha Publication,
Chennai 2002 P.40
Prabhupada Swami Bhaktivendanta A.C. Bhagavad - Gita As It Is: Published The
Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International, Inc. Mumbai 1986.P.238
Rao Raja. The Selyent and the Rope Published by Orient paperbacks, Delhi 1995
Sivananda, Swami. All about Hinduism. The Divine Life Trust Society, Himalayas
(U.P)India 1989 P.9
Vivekananda, Swami. To the youth of India. Published by Swami Budhananda
president. Advaita Asham Himalaya Printed at Easterd pi-inters Calcutta,
1972. P.22
The Encyclopedia of Hinduism P.954
W e b Site
h t t p : I / ~ ~ ~ . d a d a y a m a . c(2003)