SAMSKARA by U. R. Anantha Murthy
Praneshacharya – learned scholar and priest of Durvasapura
Naranappa – a Brahmin who leads a non-Brahminical life
Chandri – a dalit woman who lives with Naranappa
Garudacharya – a relative of Naranappa
Lakshmanacharya – a relative of Naranappa
Dasacharya – a poor Brahmin of the agrahara
Durgabhatta – a Smarta Brahmin living in Durvasapura
Anasuya – wife of Lakshmanacharya
Problems arise due to the death of Naranappa
The first chapter begins narrating the routine activities of Praneschacharya. His activities are divided into domestic and religious. He begins a day by doing his regular duty of helping his wife in getting bathed. It is understood from the first line, “He bathed Bhagirathi’s body…”, that she is almost a vegetable. It is he who bathes her, dresses her up, feeds her with the essential food and administers with regular medicine.
After completing his domestic duties, he then crosses a stream to worship at Maruti temple and comes back home for his recitation of holy legends. The Brahmins of the agrahara (the place a Brahmin community lives) regularly assembles in front of his house to listen to his recitation, both in the morning and in the evening. He is a scholar and his recitations are new every day.
Praneschacharya sacrifices his life for the sake of his wife and she understands his pain and the marital bliss that he lacks. Therefore she asks him to marry again and bring forth children, to make his house a home. Nevertheless, Praneschacharya refuses to marry, believing in Lord Krishna’s will, that one should not expect reward for his/her toil. Moreover everyday when they eat, both of them request the other to eat first. These instances show the mutual love and concern they have for each other.
One day before eating his meal, he places fodder in front of his cow, Gowri and is about to get into his house. At that time, he hears the sound of Chandri behind him calling ‘Acharya’. Chandri is a dalit. If Praneshacharya talks to her, he would be polluted and should take bath before eating his meal. Nevertheless, he listens to her and she informs that Naranappa is dead after having fever for four days.
There is a belief that it is wrong to eat food before doing the funeral rites for the dead. So, Praneshacharya runs to Garudacharya’s house to stop him from eating his meal and then both of them inform others in the agrahara. Everyone in the agrahara thinks, “Alive, Naranappa was an enemy; dead a preventer of meals; as a corpse, a problem, a nuisance.”
The men and their wives assemble in front of Praneshacharya’s house to hear his directions to solve the problem of Naranappa’s rites. The women are with fear that their husbands should not accept to do the funeral rites. Praneshacharya informs the people that there are two problems to be solved. The first problem is doing funeral rites for Naranappa and second is deciding the person for doing the rites, since Naranappa doesn’t have children. Garudacharya, Dasacharya – a poor Brahmin of the agrahara, and Lakshmanacharya acknowledge to the words of Praneshacharya.
When Praneshacharya says that only relatives should do the rites, everyone starts looking at Garuda and Lakshmana. Lakshmana, not wanting to do the rites, closes his eyes but Garuda gives explanation for not wanting to do the rites. He says he and Naranappa’s father had quarrel over an orchard and the Dharmasthala Monastery decreed in his favour but Naranappa defied the order. Therefore he says that he severed all relationships with him. Moreover he also says that Naranappa cannot be considered a Brahmin because of his relationship with a lowcaste woman, Chandri.
Durgabhatta immediately reply to Garuda that a Brahmin will not lose his identify because of his relationship with a lowcaste woman. This he says to test the orthodoxy of the Madhva Brahmins, as he is a Smarta Brahmin.
Praneshacharya, noticing that the discussion is moving away from the central point, asks Lakshmanacharya why not he does the rites. Immediately Lakshmana quotes the reason Garuda has given. He says that he cannot do the rites as Naranappa had relationship with a lowcaste woman, Chandri and also ate the food she cooked. Then he says that Naranappa abandoned his legal wife and when she died he did not attend her funeral. Moreover he says that he does not observe the death anniversary of his parents. In addition to all these sacrileges acts, he has also brought Muslims to the front yard of the agrahara to eat and drink forbidden things. Anasuya, wife of Lakshmana, feels proud of her husband for his reply, and curses Chandri for all the problems she has caused in her family.
Praneshacharya is confused whether to proclaim Naranappa as Brahmin or non-Brahmin. Fearing that the Brahmins might not do the funeral rites for Naranappa, Chandri places all her gold ornaments in front of Praneshacharya, to be used for the expense of Naranappa’s funeral rites.
The wives of those Brahmins present there avariciously look at the ornaments. And their husbands think that some other Brahmin should not do the funeral rites and take away all the ornaments. Durgabhatta, on the other hand waiting for an opportunity to expose the Madhva Brahmins, keenly observes whether they would do funeral rites for Naranappa, lusting after the gold ornaments.
While everybody thinks of a way out to do the funeral rites for Naranappa, Dasacharya suggests the idea of requesting the Parijatapura Brahmins to do the funeral rites for two reasons. The first reason is; Naranappa was friendly with the Parijatapura Brahmins and the other reason is that the Parijatapura Brahmins are not as orthodox as the Madhvas. The Parijatapura Brahmins are pleasure lovers and some of them are rich as they run betelnut farms.
Durgabhatta being a Smarta does not like the idea of requesting the Parijatapura Brahmins to do the funeral rites. Durgabhatta identifies himself with the Parijatapura Brahmins, as he is also a Smarta. Therefore he does not like the Madhva Brahmins looking down upon the Smarta Brahmins. He reacts that the Smarta Brahmins are not inferior to the Madhvas. In order to stop the Madhvas from requesting the Smartas, he says that it is wrong to ask someone to do something that the other would hesitate to do. But Praneshacharya requests Durgabhatta to be silent as it is necessary to inform about the death of Naranappa, since he was their friend.
The family of Lakshmanacharya and Garudacharya are perturbed by the decision of Praneshacharya because the golden ornaments would be taken away by the person who does the funeral rites. Lakshmanacharya’s wife Anasuya begins to claim the ornaments for her family as they are her dead sister’s jewelry. But Garuda says according to the verdict of Dharmasthala guru(chief), the ornaments should go to him. Praneshacharya silences both of them saying that cremation of Naranappa’s body is more important and asks them to be patient about the ornaments.
1. hide – noun
Meaning: the skin of cow
Example – Worshipfully, he caressed the cow’s body, till the hair on her hide rose in pleasure.
2. consecrated – adjective
Meaning: made sacred or holy
Example – Dumbstruck, Garuda threw down the mixed rice in his hand on the leaf before him, took a gulp of consecrated water and rose from his seat.
3. ladle – noun
Meaning: a long-handled utensil with a cup-shaped bowl
Example – His wife, Sitadevi, stood there motionless, ladle in hand.
4. bubo – noun
Meaning: inflammatory swelling of a lymphatic gland, particularly in the groin or armpit
Example – The only well-fed part of his body was his belly, swollen with malarial bubo.
5. facetious /fəsiʃəs/ – adjective
Meaning: playful , serious
Example – Don’t think I am being facetious.
6. ogling – adverb
Meaning: looking or staring
Example – He (Durgabhatta) sat unconcerned in his place, ogling Chandri.
7. absolving – noun
Meaning: act of getting pardon, getting free from guilt
Example – Yet the Books of Law have ways of absolving such oaths.
8. smear – noun
Meaning: a stain
Example – Naranappa didn’t behave as a well-born Brahmin, that he’s a smear on the good name of the agrahara.
9. sullying – verb
Example – If we let someone else do it, we’d be sullying our brahminhood.
10. lurid – adjective
Example – Every Brahmin present was afraid that someone else might be tempted to agree, and vied with the others in lurid accounts of Naranappa’s misdeeds – things done not to them but always to others.
11. didn’t care two hoots – idiom
Meaning: did not care in the least
Example – This outcaste scoundrel didn’t care two hoots.
12. cram – verb
Meaning: to fill too tightly
Example – I’ll get you all tied to pillars and cram cow’s flesh into your mouths and see to it personally that your sacred brahminism is ground into the mud.
13. shoot one’s mouth off – idiom
Meaning: to speak spontaneously without control or restraint
Example – Garuda’s wife, Sita, was outraged by the way Lakshmana had shot his mouth off about her son joining the army.
14. brazen – adjective
Example – He was not brazen enough to eat a whole meal with them, that’s all.
15. cheeky – adjective
Meaning: disrespectful in speech or behaviour
Example – Go ahead, be cheeky and ask them – you’ll get an earful.
15. imploringly –adverb
Meaning: beg urgently
Example – Chandri pulled her sari-end over her head respectfully, and looked imploringly at the Acharya.