What do I need to know about ... Hinduism?

Brief Description

Hinduism is a religious tradition that originated in the Indian subcontinent, and it is the world's oldest major religion that is still practiced. Hinduism is often referred in Sanskrit as "the eternal path" or "the eternal law".

Most Hindus believe that the spirit or soul—the true "self" of every person, called the ātman—is eternal. The Hindu scriptures refer to creatures called Devas, "the shining ones", which may be translated into English as "gods" or "heavenly beings." Hindu practices generally involve seeking awareness of God and sometimes also seeking blessings from Devas.

The vast majority of Hindus engage in religious rituals on a daily basis. Most Hindus observe religious rituals at home, and devout Hindus perform daily chores such as worshiping (usually at a amily shrine) at the dawn after bathing, recitation from religious scripts, meditation, chanting mantras, etc.

Mantras are prayers that help focus the mind on holy thoughts or express devotion to God/the deities. Many devotees bathe themselves every morning at the bank of a sacred river while chanting these mantras.

The Hindu goals in life can be generalised as:
  • Kāma: Sensual pleasure and enjoyment
  • Artha: Material prosperity and success
  • Dharma: Correct action, in accordance with one's particular duty and scriptural laws
  • Moksha: Liberation from the cycle of being reborn again and again

There are several methods, called yogas that a Hindu can achieve their goal in life, whatever that may be. A practitioner of yoga is called a yogi.

Paths one can follow to achieve the spiritual goal of life include:
  • The path of love and devotion
  • The path of right action
  • The path of meditation
  • The path of wisdom

<Reference: Wikipedia>

Key Quotations and Its Role in the Novel

Although Hinduism is not directly mentioned in The English Teacher, references to it and its beliefs permeate the whole of the novel.

The first and most obvious one that could find is the name of the protagonist itself: Krishna. Krishna, the homonymous deity is, in all aspects of Hinduism, worshipped as a main deity and is generally accepted as having lived as 'as a heroic warrior and teacher.' Although the book's protagonist is hardly a warrior, one could almost count him as a heroic teacher by the end of the novel when he leaves his comfortable job of "a hundred rupees a month" - though paid to him by what he calls as the "garbage department" (page 145) - to "delight and [enlighten]" (page 175) children in another school for a mere "25 rupees a month" (page 175). Moreover, the passion and devotion Krishna spends in fighting against his wife, Susila's, illness almost merits him the title of heroic warrior as well.

The theme of Science vs. Spirituality is one of the most dominant themes that runs throughout the novel, and all references to spirituality are linked to Hindu beliefs and traditions. Krishna's slow, at times painful and tedious journey to "communing with [his wife]" could be interpreted as his slow journey towards Hinduism from his original "mildly joking", tolerant but indifferent point of view. Moreover, it is only with the Hindu system of belief, or one akin to such, that Susila's apearance at the end of the novel could be accepted and viewed with as probable by the reader.

Through the free indirect discourse - wherein the narration of the novel changes between the author, Narayan, and his character, Krishna - Narayan may be expressing to the viewer his views on religion and spirituality in general. However, although it is very clear Narayan respects these views, it is not quite clear whether he fully believes in them or not: at the end of the novel, one still can not be entirely convinced that Krishna is not merely imagining Susila's presence. Moreover, the Headmaster, claiming that an astrologer predicted his date of death, did not actually physically die at that day. He did, admittedly, change his mind and claim that this "death" was not physical but social, causing the estrangement between him and his family, but one can never be sure...

"I felt I had a new lease of life...in this very river I had often bathed, but at no other time could I remember such a glow of joy as filled me now." page 6

Although no mention of any spiritual significance to bathing is mentioned here, it is curious how in the Hindu culture, bathing every morning in a sacred river is an oft-practised, deeply spiritual ritual practised by devotees. This could be an early indication of Krishna's receptiveness to spiritual stimuli, and a prediction of his slow journey into spirituality in the future.

The Hostel Bathroom Metaphor:
"Hostel bathrooms are hell on earth...God said to his assistants, "take this man away to hell"...and they brought him down to the hostel bathroom...and...said, "the room is engaged."...and in due course they could not see where their victim was, for grass had grown and covered him up completely while he waited outside the bathroom door." page 17

Although saturated with irony and a very dry sense of humour, one could see that Krishna already takes it for granted that God and "his assistants" already exist. Shows the mindset of the people in British India: even British colonialism could not rule out the people's inherent beliefs and cultures that have spanned centuries. Nevertheless, one could also argue that the 'God' Krishna was speaking of was the Christian one; a belief more common to the British and otherwise Westernised cultures in the world.

"I [washed myself] and...brushed my hair...as a religious duty." page 31

Krishna does not come across as religious or spiritual at all during the beginning of the novel, and yet he intrinsically realises that washing himself is almost a spiritual act - which, in the Hindu concepts, it is.

"There on a pedestal she kept a few silver images of gods, and covered them with flowers; two small lamps were lit before them every morning."
page 31

An indication of Susila's devotion to Hinduism. Although the name of the gods and the religion is not openly stated, brief research into the customs of Hindu devotees (as seen above) shows that the rituals Susila practised were very common.

"I often saw her standing there with...her eyes closed and her lips lightly moving...To this day I have never learnt what magical words she uttered there." page 31

"Even when I mildly joked about it, 'Oh! Becoming a yogi!' she never tried to defend herself...she seemed to have a deep secret life." page 31

Though jesting about it, Krishna finds something "magical" and "secret" in the rituals that Susila practises. Susila probably did not defend his accusation of her "becoming a yogi" because she was, in a sense, becoming one: she was practising the yogas, or methods, in which she wanted to achieve her goal in life. If one follows the Hindu beliefs, one could say that Susila is far closer to achieving enlightenment than her husband, and one could say that Narayan has highlighted this by the way that he describes her: she is almost supernaturally fresh and beautiful with...not a sign of fatigue (page 28), after a heinous train journey, and the crowds made way for her (page 28) after a single request from her.

"Her eyes sparkled with joy; she spread the fragrance of jasmine more than ever. 'The divine creature!' I reflected..." page 48
Hinduism associates many symbols, which include the lotus, chakra and veena, with particular deities <Source: Wikipedia> and this shows how, after
giving her divine status in his own mind, Krishna has associated jasmine as a symbol of her.

"He uttered some mantras with closed eyes, took a pinch of sacred ash and rubbed it on her forehead, and tied to her arm a talisman strung in yellow thread." page 79

Another instance of Hindu beliefs and traditions.

"'Do you remember the name of our child?' 'Yes, Radha'...[this name] is a piece of your friend's own mind." page 110

In Hindu beliefs, Rhada is almost always associated with Krishna as his wife/lover. In the novel, the spirits claim that it is "Krishna's friend," the mystic who automatically and subconsciously supplied this name - an indication of how intrinsic Hindu beliefs are in his life.

"The semi-dark air seemed to glisten with radiant presences - like myriad dewdrops sparkling on the grass on a sunny morning." page 109-110

Could be a reference to thedevas, or heavenly beings, of Hindu belief.

/" The sight of [Leela's work] filled him with a mystic ecstacy." page 129

"'Just watch [the children] for a while...this is the meaning of the word joy - in its purest sense.'" page 119

These two quotes could be a reference to the Hindu
yoga, or method, of "love and devotion" in reaching spiritual fulfillment. The Headmaster, in all his actions and speech, seems to have reached this fulfillment, especially after he "dies" and leaves his family.

"A considerable portion of our state is take up in meditation, and our greatest ecstasy is in feeling the Divine Light flooding us...things here are far more intense than on earth." page 125

"You must keep your body and mind in perfect condition, before you aspire to become sensitive and receptive..." page 147

"My astrologer has written a month-to-month report, and my life has been going on in its detalis like a time-table" page 156

Another instance of Hindu beliefs permeating every-day life - in this case so gripping the Headmaster's life that he is convinced he will die at that day simply because a beggar claiming to be an astrologer claimed so.

"'You may treat me as dead or as one who has taken Sanyasa Ashrama.'" page 162

Sanyasa Ashrama: the Hindu belief of completely withdrawing from the world,and completely dedicating oneself to spiritual pursuits, the seeking of moksha (spiritual freedom), and practicing meditation.

"My mind was made up. I was in search of a harmonious existence and everything that disturbed that harmony was to be rigorously excluded, even my college work." page 173

Krishna finally finding spiritual enlightenment and purpose.

Vak Matha
The temple near which Krishna and the medium try to communicate with Susila is that of Vak Matha. Vak means speech, which symbolises communication. Krishna might therefore be indicating that God(ess) is trying to help him reunite with his (late) wife.

Religious significance of the ice poem
he Indian doctor who tries to treat Susila is called Dr. Shankar. "Shankar" is another name for the Lord Kailash who is mentioned in the poem. The poem describes how the ice (given by this God) fails to save Susila.

The poem:
The Great Kailas is one Mound of Ice
Where Shiva and Parvathi sport, which catch the
Gleam of ethereal lights, heavenly Rainbows.
Here for us God has sent a piece of Kailas down
To subdue the Mercury column...
And here out of its wood dust it comes,
Cold mist cloud rises on its crystal face,
And it reflects not mountain light
But my face...

And here is a great battle ground,
The great fight goes on
On either side of this red bag.
But so far it is not the fever which cools,
But Ice that melts.//

The piece of ice sent by the Gods might be representative of the doctor. On the previous page krishna mentions that the doctor was 'losing his cheerfulness' and therefore the melting of ice symbolizes his failure to cure the fever.

Ethereal lights and heavenly rainbow show how Susila is going to go to a sacred spiritual place which might be foreshadowing her death.

Rainbow: shows rain and sun which symbolizes sorrow and joy. This might be indcating that there is a good and bad side to her death.

By relating the battle to the mercury column and ice he distances Susila's involvement in the battle alost as thpugh it is not in her hands. But that her fate is going to be determined by the outcome of the battle between mercury and ice. Perhaps he also doesn't want to face the fact that she is going to die, so he doesn't mention his wife directly.

"on either side of this red bag" refers to the red bag the ice is in that is placed on her forehead. This shows the battle between the ice and the disease, they are struggling to win.

The poem is split into two stanzas. The top part comprises of descriptions of heaven while the bottom talks about battles on "ground". This might signify that life on earth is a battle whereas life in heaven is full of "light". Furthermore, the fact the first stanza is bigger than the second one might suggest heaven's superiority over earth.

The use of ellipses in the poem signifies the here and now. Before the ellipses the reality is mentioned, and before signify that life and death mold into each other.
This is further emphasised by the use of enjambement which signifies the passing of time and that life(earth) and death(heaven) flow into each other.

The length of the second to last line symbolises a last glimpse of hope before life abruptly ends (short sentence).