The Tug between Eros and Thanatos
The transmutation of Praneshacharya
The bequest of Narannappa’s modus operandi
‘Desire’, ‘Pleasure’, ‘Passion’ ‘Wish’ or ‘Sex’ by whatever name ‘Eros’ is addressed, it has always been reckoned as a stumbling block in the perennial human quest to attain ‘Moksha’. Sigmund Freud, the ‘Copernicus of Psychology’ put forth the concept of ‘Eros’ and ‘Thanatos’ and posited that one’s life is structured by a rhythmic conflict between ‘Eros’ or life instinct and ‘Thanatos’ or death instinct. ‘Eros’ leads to procreation and persistently constructs a detour for an individual to reach his/ her ultimate goal i.e. death while ‘Thanatos’ chases self-destruction. The confrontation between these two instincts comes into being simultaneously with the birth of an individual. However, since time immemorial a futile attempt has been made to avert this conflict through the proliferation of multifarious endeavors such as by renouncing pleasure, through eschewing of desire and by practicing rigorous self-discipline. This article seeks to explore how ‘Eros’ in the form of Narannapa’s demonic ways and ‘Thanatos’ through Praneshacharya’s penance has been symbolized in U.R. Ananthamurthy’s Samskara. The article will further analyze that in the tug between Praneshacharya and Narannapa’s modus vivendi neither asceticism nor eroticism emerges as an exclusive winner.
Celibacy, Desire, Eros, Liberation, Metamorphosis, Penance, Thanatos.
U.R. Ananthamurthy is one of the most celebrated writers in Kannada language and the recipient of the prestigious Padma Bhushan award of 1998. He has written various short stories and poetry, but primarily known for his novels Bharatipura, Avasthe and Samskara. His Samskara was published in 1965 and was made into an acclaimed and controversial film in 1970. It was translated into English by A.K. Ramanujan and was published in 1976. The novel is a satire on orthodox Brahmanism and is set in motion with a vexatious problem that whether a dissident i.e. Narannappa can be granted funeral as per Vedic norms.
The Tug between Eros and Thanatos
Praneshacharya, whose very name meant ‘life’, was deliberately living a sham life. He had hand cuffed his passion and entangled the vigor of his youth in strained celibacy by tying wedlock at the age of sixteen, to an invalid Bhagirathi in order to attain salvation. Entirely unconscious, that a bitter stench of sterility was oozing out from his alliance with Bhagirathi, he facilitated Bhagirathi in completing her mundane tasks and recited sacred legends to the Brahmins of Agrahara. The irony was that the enlightened Praneshacharya, the erudite of Vedanta was ignorant of the barest fact that one can only ‘defer’ the pangs of life instinct but cannot put a halt on it altogether, and moreover to complete the cycle of life one has to pass through ‘Eros’.
In contrast to Praneshacharya’s suffocating ascetic life, was Naranappa’s modus vivendi clad with an aphrodisiac aroma. He enjoyed life to the fullest, and served his taste buds liquor and non-vegetarian food. He turned a deaf ear to societal mores and did not bother to attend the funeral of his wife. He gainsaid the rules of Brahmanism and provoked Garduda’s son Shyama to join army but when he cherry picked Chandri, the salacious concubine of Kundapura to satiate his libidinal appetite he broke every rule of the book.
The Brahmins of Agrahara asked Praneshacharya to expatriate the hedonistic Naranappa, however Praneshacharya could never muster up the courage, the reason being Praneshacharya himself was not aware that the trait (‘Eros’) which he resisted the most in Naranappa persisted in a dormant way in every ounce of his own existence. Ananthamurthy employed Naranappa as a catalyst who gushed into Praneshacharya’s consciousness the streaks of his earthly frailties which Praneshacharya concealed beneath his transcendental armor.
During a verbal combat about the two extreme ways of life i.e. ‘Eros’ and ‘Thanatos’, Naranappa censured Praneshacharya that though he practiced extreme austerity but never missed a chance to vicariously enjoy the beauty of heroines in Puranic stories, and the glimpses of his repressed desire were overt when he narrated the beauty of Kalidasa’s heroine Shakuntala in a luscious manner, which indeed provoked Shripati to find solace in a low caste woman Belly. He made Acharya to bite the dust by proving how ‘Eros’ reigned over the sages of the holy legends like Parashara who ravished the fisherwomen Matsyagandhi. When Acharya’s anger reached the boiling point Naranappa added fuel to the fire by positing,
Aha! The Acharya too can get angry! Lust and anger, I thought, were only for the likes of us. But then anger plays on the nose- tips of people who try to hold down lust. That’s what they say. Durvasa, Parashara, Bhrigu, Brihaspati, Kashyapa, all the sages were given to anger . . . You read those lush sexy Puranas, but you preach a life of barrenness . . . Can I give you brahmins a piece of advice, Acharya-re? Push those sickly wives of yours into the river. Be like the sages of your holy legends- get hold of a fish-scented fisherwoman who can cook you fish-soup, and go to sleep in her arms. And if you don’t experience god when you wake up, my name isn’t Naranappa (Ramanujan 1978: 23-26).
Praneshacharya was awestruck and vis-à-vis with reality when he realized, the moment he omitted erotic statements from his recitation he lost his young listeners and even his own enthusiasm to read the Holy Scriptures attenuated.
In addition to Praneshacharya’s encounter with the life instinct, U.R. Ananthamurthy has skillfully delineated the twinges of ‘Eros’ which were relished by other Brahmins of Agrahara cautiously camouflaged under the reputation of Praneshacharya’s moral excellence. For instance, Durgabhatta was driven by the widows who used betel leaf to redden their mouth and had long hair, but when his cognoscente eyes fell on Chandri he yearned to recite verses about her bosom and felt that Chandri was “a real ‘sharp’ type, exactly as described in Vatsyayana’s manual of love- look at her, toes longer than the big toe, just as the Love manual says. Look at those breasts. In sex she’s the type who sucks the male dry” (Ramanujan 1978: 8).
However, the supremacy of ‘Eros’ is distinctly established by U.R. Ananthamurthy when Naranappa reached his heavenly abode “in a twinkle” (Ramanujan 1978: 49) and left behind the brahmins of Agrahara to starve and crave for every morsel of food. Each one of them relied on their sheet anchor Praneshacharya to figure out a conventional solution to the thorny problem of Naranappa’s Vedic funeral. But how could Praneshacharya untangle everything who himself was not edified to interpret the simple circle of life. At last, ‘Eros’ dawned upon him and he tasted the ‘forbidden fruit’ with Chandri in the forest but it was only a fragment of the turmoil.