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Samskara

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BY U. R. ANANTHA MURTHY

NEW YORK: OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 1978

158 PAGES

The novel Samskara has been available in English translation for twenty years and has already achieved some currency in undergraduate courses on Hinduism. This review is therefore less an introduction to this wonderful little story, than a reminder of the pleasures and possibilities in store for students and teachers alike—with the important caveat, however, that the students are sufficiently prepared to fully appreciate the symbolic depths of this richly allegorical tale. Though each reader may find his or her own meanings, I shall briefly describe how my students and I related the themes of the book to the concepts of classical Hinduism.

The novel served as a perfect vehicle for exemplifying the Hindu notion of the four legitimate aims in life—sensuality, wealth, duty, and liberation (k¯ama, artha, dharma, moksa)—in a way that also dovetailed neatly with the three paths of Hinduism—the Paths of Action, Knowledge, and Devotion (karma-, j˜n¯ana-, bhaktimarga)—without becoming mechanical or reductionist in the least. The students in fact became so absorbed in the story and its characters that they frequently forgot the religious concepts we were studying, a compelling reason, I would argue, for the judicious use of literature in any field: they left the class with images of real characters etched in their minds instead of dry abstractions all too readily shed right after the final exam.