This is the simple story of a prince who shuns his riches in order the seek the Ultimate Truth. The prince, Siddhartha, while still a young boy realizes the vacuous nature of the religious rites being practiced in his palace by his father. So he leaves his father's home, followed by his faithful friend, Govinda and joins the Samanas. For some time he leads the harsh life of a Samana in the hope of achieving enlightenment. But he is soon disillusioned by it. He then leaves the Samanas in order to listen to the teachings of Gotama, the Truly Enlightened. Unsatisfied still, he now decides to seek the truth amidst Sansara. He becomes a business man and gives in to worldly pleasures. Years pass by and Siddhartha remains unsatisfied. The story goes on to show how Siddhartha makes a final attempt to find what he has been seeking all his life- in the most unexpected of all places, in the humble company of an aged boatman.
This is a timeless tale that speaks of the inner quest of man and hence applies to all societies, ages and geographies. Perhaps this, combined with the simplicity of narrative technique, explains the immense popularity of this book. The story is set in India. The characters play various roles in a traditional eighteenth century social hierarchy. Yet each character exhibits a singular unique trait that is timeless- the religious father, the faithful friend, the materialistic superficial businessman, the beautiful seductress. These characters can be placed in any society and any time. In this aspect the characters are all flat, exhibiting singular personality traits.
An invisible narrator gives us the story of Siddhartha. The narrator is omniscient, omnipotent. The narrative is extremely simplistic but the ideas it expounds are profound. The vocabulary is limited, the stage is small and the plot is almost predictable. Yet the book makes statements that can have the reader pondering for days.
I cannot say I have grasped the book completely, inspite of its supposed simplicity. And perhaps this is the writer's intent. At one point in the story Siddhartha says 'nobody will obtain salvation by means of teachings'. This holds true for the reader also. I guess you have to experience the Truth. It cannot be preached to you. Similarly the ideas in the book have to be experienced (not vicariously) in order for the reader to grasp them completely.
With its multiple layers of readings the book is a must read for every thoughtful reader.
Book Reviewed By Ashmita Saha
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