Siddhartha: A Novel by Hermann Hesse

Think about authors who are artists as well and you have a potential Nobel laureate because their works tend to delve across several paradigms all at once. That leaves readers in awe of how a human mind can imagine and create a wonderful work of art. 

Hermann Hesse stands in the league of exemplary authors who were also poets and artists. Think Rabindranath Tagore for example, another Nobel Laureate. 

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Author : Herman Hesse
Originally Published : 1982
Publication : Bantam
Pages : 160
Genre(s) :- Fiction, Religious Literature

Hesse’s works have strived to bring forth a man’s authenticity and true spirit. 

This novel finds its roots in Hesse’s fascination, or rather inclination towards India and Buddhism in particular, a possible influence of his grandmother who was born there. 

There must be no confusion about the protagonist of Hesse’s novel who is also named Siddharth and who lives in the time of the Buddha. The author has dedicated the first part, The Son of the Brahman to his friend Romain Rolland and the second part to his friend Wilhelm Gundert.

Siddhartha has a blissful life with his parents and his best friend Govinda. The two are curious learners, but while Govinda accepts the preaching of the Buddha and joins the Buddhist order, Siddhartha wants to find his own way. He wants to find the innermost corner of his heart, the Atman which is the indestructible eternal heartbeat. He proposes to join the samanas or the ascetics but his father opposes. Siddhartha knows he wants to break free of all longing, joys and sorrows. At some point, Siddhartha and Govinda meet the Buddha himself, but Siddhartha does not wish to follow someone else’s path but to discover the truth by experiencing himself. 

He leaves the grove where the Buddha stays and leaves behind his best friend. He proceeds to find the ultimate truth himself and wanders along to a river. He has to cross this river in order to reach the other shore but he has nothing to offer the ferryman. He tells Siddhartha that he can pay him when he will ultimately return to the river. As he moves along, he confronts a beautiful woman , Kamala, to whom he is immediately attracted. But once his inner voice says ‘No’, all the fascination for the woman suddenly vanishes. Kamala begins teaching him the lessons of life, not as an asetic. The moment Siddhartha drops the robe and joins the groove of a common man, he is overwhelmed with worldly desires which he had consciously left behind all along. Kamala teaches him love. At her behest, he joins Kamaswami the merchant and begins a new life of excesses and materialistic joys. All because she wants him to earn money for her. He had been captured by the world- lust, covetousness, sloth and also greed. He had all the riches as a trader but his heart was longing for something different. He understands he has been playing a game which was not over. 

Siddhartha leaves everything behind and heads to the forest again. After a long time without food and water, he falls down only to wake up to the sight of his long lost friend Govinda, now quite old, passing by. Govinda asks him not to sleep at such places and to wake up and start walking again. He comes back to the river and requests the ferryman, Vasudev, to ferry him back again to the shore, leaving behind the materialistic world. 

At some point during his struggle in search of peace, he meets Kamala and her son who are traveling together to find him. Kamala perishes in a snake bite, as she breathes her last looking at the face of Siddhartha drenched in what she calls ‘Peace’. His son leaves him shortly thereafter. Siddhartha wanders along to find his friend again. The ferryman teaches him to listen to the river, to the one sound ‘Om’ that encompasses every meaning that life has to offer.

Key Takeaways

  1. The entire novel is replete with metaphors that the reader starts to decipher soon. All the turmoil of Siddhartha- named after the one who is present in the here and now before him but whom Siddhartha does not want to follow. So much like all of us who see the path ahead but we want to chalk our own paths
  2. The river that stands for the ever evolving and moving life. Lessons to be learned from the river as we use our oars on our journey
  3. The ferryman whom Siddhartha understand to be none other than God himself who shows lessons of life through the river and helps him ferry from one shore to the other without questioning. The ferryman allows Siddhartha to cross shores, both times at his own will, never forcing to be on either.
  4. Kamala, life’s attraction, the force that makes us delve into the materialistic world, is appropriately depicted as a courtesan who lures even a Samana away from the ascetic life, but teaches him the true meaning of life.
  5. Siddhartha makes us ponder upon life as a journey, which we all consciously make to understand the true meaning.

Why I recommend this book ?

It allows you to question your being, to not follow a path just because someone tells you but to make a path of your own and learn your lessons on the way. It shows you that its OK to fall into the trap of materialistic joys but to ultimately realize and return to the right shores. I recommend this book for its profound meaning, for the deepest secrets that Indian and Buddhist philosophies tried to share. Read also for the crisp narration of Hesse, for the complicated plot that unravels itself towards the end. For the flourishes of imagination, none of which is without a meaning. 

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