Tag Archives: Viswanatha Satyanarayana

Dharma Chakram by Viswanatha Satyanarayana: A Review by Santwana Chimalamarri.

Dharma Chakram, the confessional biography of an iconoclast. I would call myself a novice in the realm of Vishwanatha’s literature, being only around ten novels old. Most of the ones I read belong to Purana Vaira Granthamala, the ones that left my modern fantasy soaked mind astounded with their magical warp and weft. I was struck by the pride of nationalism afresh, and I found myself jabbering frenetically to the few heeding friends about the real history of Hindustan, not without a lump held back in the throat at times, when talking of how 1300 years of golden history was strategically nullified.

But Dharma Chakram was different. Could be called the most complex work I ever read by far. The Wheel of Righteousness, how it turns, what makes it turn and how it is bound to turn perpetually in time is the nexus of the story. What is right, what is not? What if it feels right to you? Would it mean it has to be right to all? Is the righteousness relative? If evil is relative, can good be relative too? Or is it the absolute, unchanging truth? These and a motley mass of other contrasting questions break in as I finish the book.

The book predominantly is an account of the period in history that witnessed the momentous clash of ideologies between Hinduism and Buddhism. Or perhaps it focuses upon a few out of several reasons that led to its advent and establishment, displacing the long formed Hindu ideals. That is the outer shell to the reader. But the kernel, that only becomes evident after dismantling the layers of philosophy that garbs this work, is the story of an individual’s struggle with rejection and a compelling account of how a rejected individual sends currents of dysfunction into the society, especially when he holds a strong position in hierarchy.

The book begins with a chilly description of how VeeraPurusha Datta, a boy baby of dubious origins is made the royal heir of the Iskhwaku dynasty, ruling the kingdom of Andhra, on one clandestine moonless night. He is accepted by a few and doubted by others, but welcomed by all as the much awaited male heir of the kingdom. He grows up to hear the half true stories that engulf his past, doubts himself at times, but being of an adamant nature, he learns to assert himself, taking cues from his aunt Shantishree. He has all the virtues and valor that becomes of a king, but none would illuminate the dark shadow of dubious past that lay beneath these. He vanquishes the king of a distant kingdom and wins his daughter, Bhatti Devi as his wife by force. Bhatti Devi, a divine beauty, is described as the one to match VeeraPurusha in all his vigour and effulgence. He begins to love her obsessively, though she would never warm up to him. He never asks her what the reason was, he only goes on assuming that it concerns with the tiny sliver of public opinion about him being a non-Kshatriya. The acceptance he desires from the object of his admiration turns unachievable to him. The indifference begins to puncture his soul. He begins to tumble down the stairs of righteousness, by marrying several times, including his aunt’s daughters, may be wanting to assert himself as always before, or to secretly and unspokenly, beseech Bhatti to cast a glance of compassion at him. He gets all the respect from Bhatti Devi, but he can’t help himself from sensing the coldness in it. He begets two children through her, but the coldness remains. One day, he discerns an aura of peace in the house of Shantishree, his other wife and cousin and begins to go in search of the starting point of the peace. Shantishree introduces him to the Buddhist priest Bhadantacharya, who tries to enlighten him through his philosophical and logical discourses. Vishwanatha dares to point an arrow of criticism towards the Ikshwaku dynasty by saying that the people of dynasty are more concerned about the public opinion rather than their own, citing King Rama estranging the pregnant Seetadevi, caring for a meagre washerman’s words. (I somehow felt that the discourse has a little of Shri. Vishwanatha’s opinion in it, which would justify the non-existence of Uttarakandamin the Ramayana Kalpavruksham series, but It is just a fleeting opinion, I stand to be enlightened). He urges VeeraPurusha not to care the public opinion and his origin does not matter, he urges him to become a Buddhist believer and start his spiritual pursuit to eliminate all his doubts.

VeeraPurusha, instead of accepting himself, tries to make the people accept him. He then begins to feel the ire against the Hindu ideals that have long been extant in the country, the caste system and vedic traditions, considering them as the reason for his non acceptance by the society. Instead of finding peace, he begins to feel his discontentment rise, inflame and take a form. He decides to sacrifice all the vedic rituals, he starts forcing his citizens to be Buddhists, massacres Brahmins who reject to convert all around the kingdom.

Rejection from loved ones always leads to a simmering, unpredictable wrath within the individual. It may burn himself slowly, devouring his soul to ashes, or as in this case, get magnified to an uncontrollable level, sabotaging the surrounding equilibrium indiscreetly. The feelings and reactions are not confined to that century but have travelled down, as examples to human intricacies, arousing the question again and again as to why a righteous person would seem wrong to another.

The kingdom becomes a huge Buddhist establishment as time passes on, and Chaityas and Viharas are built everywhere. Monks begin to visit the kingdom from all the four corners of the world. Vishwanatha points out the virtues of such global spirit, by stating that the monasteries housed great universities where multifarious arts and sciences were taught. But as always, he never gives blanket coverage to anything. He cleverly introduces the questions of Dharma there. He gently starts to ignite the reader’s psyche regarding the futility of the nihilistic theory of Buddhism. As an intelligently conceived archetype, he illustrates Kodabalisri,the daughter of VeeraPurusha and Bhatti. She is portrayed as the real embodiment of all the nihilistic ideals. She is a woman who doesn’t know that she is one. Or who doesn’t care if she is one. She has very limited tasks on her regime, seeking alms like a Buddhist monk for feeding herself and defending herself from adversaries. The portrayal is a perfect symbolism of what nihilism in its most primary form does to a human being. If there exists nothing, there exists not even hope. There is no hope to learn, to live, to marry or to procreate. People would regress to Stone Age, only bereft of the enthusiasm to discover better ways of life, which would make the entire universe a black hole in due course. The very character emphasizes the hollowness of the ideal and hints at the direness of consequences.

Vishwanatha also criticizes the hierarchy, as subordinates follow superiors with no further thought. All the officials become Hindu haters in a sheepish fashion and they begin to guard the new ideals with no idea of what they are doing. Some use it to their own convenience to torture people they had hated for long while some take it as a license to kill and feed their blood thirst. These references too, are not limited to the ancient society, but their venomous tendrils have the world under their grip whichever timeframe you would consider.

VeeraPurusha reaches the peaks of intolerance and ignorance, when he denigrates a Shiva Lingam with his feet on the auspicious Karteeka Pournami[i] night. Vishwantha’s undisputed literary genius gleams bright through the passages in this part when he describes that the silver moon appeared to be tarnished after the incident. There are several sentences that rasp like sharpened blades, stab bluntly at times, or spiral in and out of head. I wish new readers would discover those by themselves so I recede from mentioning references.

VeeraPurusha races in a direction exactly opposite to what he seeks in doing all this. He never finds peace, never gains acceptance all through this ordeal. The realization dawns upon him only after the introduction of a pivotal character in the story. How the story turns thereafter would be best if read, but expect a thrilling penultimate chapter that whets your thinking  power and a climax that reiterates Vishwanatha’s unflinching belief in the vedic marital rites in undertones.

When the heat dies down, when the blood in veins slows down, when debility’s talons begin to grip the muscles, a man cannot help but repent his youth, whether it was well spent. When nearing the corporeal oblivion, contemplation perches upon him, of the ill balanced sins and virtues. Few are lucky enough to be free of repentance at that stage. From my limited sphere of knowledge and even limited list of literature I love, that part of the book kindled a thought to draw a parallelism between Veera Purusha to another negative protagonist that I could never get out of my head, Heathcliff.  Both were victims of social non-acceptance due to their nebulous origins. Their obsession, their monomaniac passion, their belligerence, their heights of self-abhorrence that makes them hate everything that is theirs, even their offspring, using them as weapons to vanquish their objects of desire and their repentance unto the end and realization that they are nowhere near what they desire.. The similitude clarifies something to us. People like VeeraPurusha or Heathcliff are not a rarity. But they have that shattering impact only when they begin to rise above others in terms of money or power. Conceiving such characters and spinning the story around them is for sure a daunting task, which might become an overdose of negativity without the exercise of caution. But Viswanatha excels in sculpting out the plot to such finesse, where he evokes not just the feelings of apprehension and repulsion, but a tinge of compassion within those.


© Santwana Chimalamarri.

This article has been published on pustakam.net and reprinted here courtesy of pustakam.net.

[i] Full moon in the month of Karteeka (8th month in lunar calendar)

The Soul Wills It by Viswanatha Satyanarayana.

There was an island on the ocean in a far-flung corner. It was located in a remote area. A few people from an advanced country set out on their ships to find it. Even after an intensive search, they could not find it. Actually, it took several thousands of years for them even to realize that the island had been in existence. They came to know about it only after they were convinced that they had occupied every island on the ocean. As soon as they found the island, they transported all the components of their culture—their religion, commerce, and guns—to that island. It became a part of their world.
The people on the island had been enjoying freedom for thousands of years; they had been enjoying it much better than all the others who had surrendered to the civilized world. Therefore, they could not accept slavery that easily. Like in other places, rebellions, machine guns and fierce fight took place on that island also.
A military chief from one of the civilized nations was appointed the ruler of that island. He was a bachelor, meaning he was not married yet. The island was located in the arctic region and therefore the people there were of fair complexion. They were just like any other barbaric race, which meant they had been living thus for millions of years. They believed that there was a divine power in trees, hills, the sun and the clouds, and so, worshipped them. They were singing the praise of the lightning and stayed away from the fireflies. They had great respect for the human spirit or life force(Jivudu). They never stepped on a living organism on the ground; never stomped on it. They never treated gold as currency; they thought it was a metal with unique powers and worshipped it. They were cooking their food in clay pots, being unaware that using metal pots was a mark of civilization. They wore clothes just enough to cover the vital parts but not the entire body. Now, the time had come for these barbaric people to become civilized. Their island was found by the enlightened race.
The military chief saw a woman. Her beauty caught his eye. The same evening, he sent word to her husband, asking him to send the woman to his mansion. That poor soul of a husband, the Jivudu! What could he do? For some time now, he was aware of the atrocities that were being committed on their island. Yet, it was in his nature to fight back. Therefore, he replied that the request was unfair, and that he would not let go of his wife, even if it meant losing his own life.
The Chief was furious. He went to Jivudu’s house along with ten armed men. Jivudu knew they were coming. He pulled out two pieces of firewood; he held one stick himself and gave the other stick to his son. They both stood in front of their house with their sticks.
The Chief looked at their weapons—the sticks—and laughed.
“Why are you laughing?” Jivudu asked him.The Chief replied, “You, idiot! Did you really think that your sticks are a match for our guns?”
Jivudu said, “I know these sticks are no good against your guns. I am doing this only to register my stance against yours but for no other purpose.”
The chief was enraged. He swung his sword and slashed their heads in one blow. Then, he went into the hutment and seized the woman. There were four children with her—from a six-year-old boy to a breastfed baby. They all were crying. The woman could not leave them alone and go away with the military chief. She threw herself on the dead bodies of her husband and son and kept wailing.
Soldiers took away the corpses and threw them into the sea. The woman hugged her remaining children and kept lamenting.
The chief ordered the soldiers to take away those children as well. The soldiers took the three older children and thrashed them on the floor several times. The children sustained several injuries and died of weariness. The mother went with the chief, taking her little baby with her.
Five years passed by. The little baby turned five. The woman and the little girl were living in the chief’s mansion.
One day, the chief came to visit her. He said, “You’re not living with me as appropriate for a woman; probably you will not until after that child also was gone.”The woman replied, “There is no despot worse than you. You are not a human being. Do you want to kill this little child too?”

He said, “She was a little baby when I brought you here, but not anymore. Have I not snatched away the other children of yours from you in the past? They were of the same age as she is now; and her fate is going to be the same now.”
After living with him for five years, the woman has gotten used to his words; now she could understand the meaning of each word of his. She picked up the child, handed her to him, and said, “Here, take her and kill her. As long as she is alive, I cannot let go of her.”
He hacked the little girl into two in front of the mother.
The mother went away, crying.
For a few nights, she thought of hanging herself but did not.
For a few more nights, she thought of drowning herself in the ocean but did not.
And on some nights, she considered dousing herself in kerosene and set herself on fire but did not do that either.
She went on entertaining similar thoughts s for several nights.
After a few days, one day the chief got drunk and came into her room.
She looked as if she was the personification of grief.
He said to her, “Your husband and children are dead for ten years now; and your little baby is dead for five years.”
“It is twenty-five years since my country had lost its independence.”
The chief laughed hideously and said, “How long are you going to mourn them?”
“As long as this body exists.”
“You are wanting for nothing. You are wearing better clothes now than before; living in a better house, and eating better food than before. I love you. My race is superior to yours; and I am a greater man than your husband.”
“You are not a greater than my husband.”
Chief (angrily); Am I not the greater of the two? Tell me in what respect?Woman: You have rifles. You have swords. Yet my husband stood up to you holding a stick in an attempt to save my children and me. He was aware that he would not be able to protect us, yet he performed his duty. He did not let go of me, not until after he was dead. If I were your wife, and if somebody stronger than yourself came along, you would have run away. You are a coward.
Chief (screaming): I am not a coward.
Woman: I knew it even on the first day, that you were a coward. If you were brave, you would have fought my husband with another stick. Why did you bring so many soldiers?
Chief (laughing): Do you think I could not fight that feeble idiot with a stick?
Woman: He is dead. How can you prove it now? You cannot prove your valor to me now. If you were really a brave man, you would not have acted the way you did on that day.
Chief: It is not that I was not brave. I just did not have this cleverness then.
Woman: For us, the people of my race, there is no difference between courage and cleverness. For us, justice is cleverness; and cleverness is courage.
Chief: Then, why are living with me, knowing the kind of person I am?”
Woman: I am not living with you.
Chief: Anybody, who has heard your words, would think you are an idiot.”
Woman: I will consider him an idiot.Chief: So, you are saying you do not like to live with me.
Woman: I am telling you for the one hundred and thousandth time; no, I do not like to live with you.
Chief: I know you do not love me. I should have earned your love in a gentler way. Then, you would have loved me.
“I’ll love you after your entire race has been eradicated”.
“I will kill you.”
“I’ve been waiting for over ten years for you to do the same.”
“You love death that much?”
“Beyond measure.”
“Are not there other ways to die?”
“Yes, there are.”
“Then, why did you not kill yourself? You can jump into the ocean or hang yourself.”
“I do not like to die in that manner.”
“How do you like to die?”
“I want to goad you on and be killed by you.”
“It only shows that you love me that much.”
“Yes, I love you, and I’ll tell you what kind of love mine is for you. I wish to die by the same hand that had killed my husband and children.”
“Never mind all that talk. The truth is you do not want to die.”
“You are mistaken. I do want to die. But there are two kinds of death. The first is the death that comes of its own accord. And the second is the kind that happens when somebody kills. I like the second kind.”
“That means you do like living with me.”
“I have known you for over ten years now. You are a beast. All your sophistication lies only in your liquor, the clothes you wear and the ammunition you hold in your hand. But it is not in your heart, not in your culture and certainly not in your creativity. I do not love you. You are not a human being. You are surprised that I continue to live.
“My Jivudu will not want me to kill myself by hanging or by jumping into the ocean. My Jivudu
is hanging on to this body. He would never quit on his own. This Jivudu wishes that I squirm and shrivel while pining for my dead husband and children, and smolder in the great flames of their loss. This is a unique experience for Jivudu. This Jivudu will not die on his own; he will not like it. That is not because he wants to enjoy life. He believes that both pleasure and pain must be experienced in conjunction with this body. There is a constant connection between this body and Jivudu. He will experience whatever pleasure he wants by means of this body.
“You might think that Jivudu must be enjoying the fact that I am in this body and am living with you. That is not true. I just do not want to kill myself. I like to die very much when you kill me. Also, I would like it even more if death came on its own. It is the same with Jivudu. He prefers to enjoy the pleasures of life as he pleased through the use of this body. The joys imposed on him by others are not pleasurable for him. He would like it just the same if it were pain.”
“If that is the case, I do not want you.”
>”I did not ask for you.”
“I will kill you.”
“Why keep saying the same thing over and again?”
The Chief killed her. A happy smile flashed on her lips as she fell to the ground. While breathing her last, she said, “In your life, this is the only good deed you have done. Now I am dying. What will you do after I am dead?”
“I will get another woman.”
“The words are befitting to you! Your race can never understand what Jivudu wishes for.”
Telugu original, Jivudi ishtam was published in Andhra Patrika Weekly in 1941.
Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on thulika.net, March 20)
The term means the life-force or human spirit, and is used as a proper noun in the story.