Saturday, 26 September 2015

Siddhartha- Hermann Hesse

I stumbled across 'Siddhartha' whilst perusing the India section of Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street and what a find it was. 

The introduction by Paulo Coelho perfectly encapsulates why this story is so appealing to so many people, he puts in a way that is far more eloquent than I ever could: 

'It's simple prose and rebellious character echoed the yearnings of a generations that was seeking a way out of conformity, materialism and outward power. In a world where we could see the many lies of governments and the incapacity of leaders to propose a real alternative, Siddhartha emerged as a symbol; the symbol of those who seek the truth- their own truth.'

Siddartha is a story of discovery and acceptance. He experiences everything, from the discipline of becoming a brahmin, the harsh reality of asceticism, the sensory pleasures of love and attachment. He loses everything, sometimes by choice and sometimes not, all in order to find out what is most important in life. I loved the dream like narrative of the novel and the very human experiences of Siddhartha despite his status as an (on/off) holy man. 

This summer I have been reading through the Buddhacarita by Aśvaghoṣa, a Sanskrit work on the life of the Buddha. Of course, these are completely different works, one depicting and honouring the life of the Buddha and the other following the journey of one of Buddha's contemporaries. But there are obvious parallels between Hesse's 'Siddhartha' and the actual story of the Buddha-apart from the themes of going from home to homelessness, renouncing worldly goods etc, both aim to depict of a journey of discovery. (If this a discovery of the Self or not is debatable.) What I found most interesting is that despite the Buddhacarita being an epic, written in the second century CE and 'Siddhartha' being a work of fiction from the 1920s, I felt far more touched by Hesse's writing. Perhaps this is because I have read too much kavya (for my liking) so wasn't able to connect with the text in the same way that I was able to with the somewhat modern novel, written in a style that is familiar to me.

All of my favourite books have depended entirely on the time and frame of mind that I was in when I read them. I'm so glad that I decided to go downstairs to the travel section of Daunt on that rainy Monday because 'Siddhartha' came to me at the perfect time. 

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