Myths, Legends and Rituals in Bhyrappa’s Novels – Part 2

This article is part 2 of 7 in the series Myths, Legends and Rituals in Bhyrappa’s Novels

The use of myth in ‘Saakshi’ also functions beautifully at another level by equating the mythical and magical power with the creative power of disinterested observation in an artist (novelist). This reminds me of what Coleridge says ‘’about the magical power of creativity, the power of an artist, in his poem ‘Kublakhan’:

‘That with music loud and long

I would build that dome in air,

That Sunny dome! Those caves of ice;

And all who heard should see them there

And all should cry, Beware! Beware!

His flashing eyes, his floating hair!

Weave a circle round him thrice,

And close your eyes with holy dread

For he an honeydew had fed

And drunk the milk of paradise

Here Coleridge says that he would build a magnificent palace with sunny domes, caves of ice in the air with the magic words; the artist is compared to a magician who is inspired and engenders a holy dread in the eyes of the onlooker, for the artist has partaken, the mild of paradise, that is divine or magical genius. An artist or a writer or a poet can build his magnum opus with the magic of words. That is what we witness in ‘Saakshi’ - the result of fusing the mythical with the creative genius. By this peculiar technique of fusing the mythical and creative forces, the novel unveils the immediate human situation at its centre, that is of a cosmic vision, and takes us to the maximum limit of mythical experience. This kind of novel creates and expands our inner consciousness and awakens our sleeping conscience. The vision offered by the fusion of these two forces is that of the face of evil that negates the positive virtues of man. And this creates a murky, nightmarish situation. The question that is raised at the end of the novel (by the preta of Parameshwarayya) takes the philosophical inquiry of truth and untruth from the venue of this world, from psychological and sociological planes of life into the venue of the mythical plane of the supreme Lord of Justice, of the God of Death himself. As no answer is offered by the Supreme Lord of Justice himself, the complexity, the mystery, unanswerableness and the very question itself is bounced back again into this world and to this life. And this suggests that the answer to this question is to be explored and sought here, in this world itself, in the deep dark caves of the human psyche. The dichotomy of truth and untruth has to be resolved right here and only here. One cannot even imagine the immensity and range of untruth if it cannot be solved and answered even in the mythical world of Dharma itself. The use of myth has thus reinforced what the author wants to convey.

It is said that the light which shines in the world of Yamadharma or Niyantru is totally different from the light which could directly assist the eyes to see in this world. Except for this new kind of light there was no other object, no sign to inform the thumb-sized preta of Parameshwarayya. It is a mythical concept that human beings would acquire the form of a spirit the size of the thumb after death.and remain that way till they attain the status of pitrus, etc. This shape is invisible to the people of this world. This spirit of Parameshwarayya is given this special power of knowing what is going on in the minds of everyone, from the inside, even without having any kind of contact with them. This spirit can enter anybody’s mind and can also see the minds of many people at the same time. But it does not have the power to influence or transform the minds and emotions of anyone. The power that is given to the spirit is merely that of a witness - that is, to merely know and report the past incidents of its life. All these descriptions are in a way concerned with creative power, and with the disinterested observation of an artist. The power of the spirit to scrutinise and report everything as a witness is equated with the mode of creative expression of an artist. As the novel is conceived as the perception of this witness-spirit of Parameshwarayya who hanged himself on account of a single lie that he had uttered in life, it is guaranteed that the incidents are free from exaggeration and falsehood.

If Sarojakshi begins the process of nemesis on Manjayya, Lakku completes it by cutting off his penis when she comes to know that he has molested her innocent daughter Latha, and this leads to his death. It becomes known at the end of the novel that Janakamma, wife of Parameshwarayya, was fascinated by Manjayya, who was only of her son's age, and that she had betrayed her husband and finally committed suicide. Parameshwarayya had hidden this truth from his children and from society. Manjayya seduces Janakamma’s daughter when Savitri wants to marry Manjayya.  Parameshwarayya does not expose the truth and this leads to many complexities, though this hiding of truth was with good intention. The meeting of the pretas of Manjayya and Janakamma at Yamadharma’s abode reveals that the instincts and tendencies, the pull of relationships continue even after death, as ‘Karma’. These pretas recognise each other, wail and groan. So death does not really end all. More than this, it does not put an end to the lies. People like Manjayya dare to question the system of Lord Yamadharma himself. The Chitraguptas now narrate the new myth: a belief about Manjayya has now taken root; it is said that, after his death, his evil spirit has acquired such power that anyone who enters his garden, be it man, woman or animal, he would become mad with heat. Manjayya, while alive, had instigated pious persons like Satyanarayana to engage in sex and had victimised him. The desire was also lying hidden in Satyanarayana’s inner mind as well. Manjayya, in a way, resembles the witches of ‘Macbeth’, who instigate the inner evils, greed and ambitions that dwell deep down in the minds of men. When Manjayya lies even before Yamadharma, the spirit of Parameshwarayya is prompted to question Yamadharma about  the origin of lies. He asks him if it can never be destroyed. This question, which is pertinent to our world, to our day to day existence, is taken out into the mythical world, to Lord Yamadharma. Yamadharma, the spirit and Chitragupta function like an externalisation of our own conscience and of positive and negative forces.

The dream of Parameshwarayya after he has lied as a witness in Manjayya’s case is important, for it unveils his psychic world, which is full of tension (Pages 23-24). It is also pertinent to know what Martin Esslin (in ‘The Theatre of the Absurd’) and Mircea Eliade of ‘Myths Dreams and Mysteries’  have to say about myths and dreams. Martin Esslin in The theatre of the Absurd states '…… Equally basic among the age old tradition present in The theatre of the Absurd is the use of mythical allegories and dream-like modes of thought – The projection into concrete terms of psychological realities. For there is a close connection between myth and dream. Myths have been called the collective images of mankind. The world of myth has almost entirely ceased to be effective on the collective plane in most rationally organised Western societies’. But as Mercea Elicide points out, it has never completely disappeared at the level of individual experience, it makes its presence felt in the dreams, the fantasies and the longing of modern man....’. The concept of the indestructibility of falsehood and evil, the helplessness of human beings before the power of falsehood is expressed in Parameshwarayya’s dream. It seems that, at a certain level of consciousness, dreams, image and myth become fused.

Parameshwarayya’s dream is described like this: It was a deep sleep, where  external sights could not enter even in the form of dreams; a sleep without any obligations, which would make him feel as if he was completely engulfed in himself. "It was dark when I was awake. Then I rose, searched in the star smeared sky, came out of the shade of the banyan tree. I knew that it was around 2 a.m. Not a single sound, not even the rustling of dry leaves in the dense darkness, where the eyes could see nothing, the murmuring of the dry leaves was heard... very mild breeze.... Not being able to bear even that, I felt I was falling down, I was floating like a dry leaf - I had lost my weight I had lost my centre of gravity which controlled the balance of my personality... Then, fearing I may fall down, I lay on my back. Like fire the anger did burn in me.... The idea of burning that lawyer Venkataramayya, Ramakrishna and Savitri in that fire did come to mind. When I did open my eyes, the black sky of crores and crores of sparkles had become a burning red globe, the banyan trees were burning too. Savitri was screaming from within that burning fire. But Manjayya was not to be found anywhere. However hard I tried, it was not possible for the mind to push him into the fire as well and burn him.... All my anger is only against my people.....’ The dream continues and  Parameshwarayya feels like he himself is being burnt in the fire, but he feels no pain, he is not screaming....’. I am not going to analyse or interpret this dream symbolically. I want only to say that the dream presents before us the power and indestructability of primordial evil, and the impotent rage and helplessness of good before that. Good can destroy itself, destroy what is related to it, but evil always hoodwinks everyone and escapes. Even in his dream Parameshwarayya can burn himself and his children, but not Manjayya the perpetrator of evil. The dream of Rangamma in ‘Daatu’, the dreams of Kalappa and Kumara in ‘Nele’, and the dream of Katyayani are other examples of the use of dreams in Bhyrappa’s works. In many of Bhyrappa’s novels, dreams play an important role.


(To be continued…)

Thanks to Gowtham Srihari for keying in the article



Prof. Shantakumari is a teacher, writer, translator and literary critic. Her seminal work ‘Yugasaakshi’ is a critical and definitive study of S. L. Bhyrappa’s Kannada novels. ‘Chaitanyada Chilume’ and ‘Nenapu gari bicchidaaga’ are her autobiographical works. ‘Satyapathika-Socrates’ and ‘Kaggada-Kaanike’ are some of her major works. She has co-translated many of Bhyrappa's novels into English and parts of Will Durant's 'Story of Civilization' into Kannada.

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