The fact that Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha is not about Gautam Buddha comes as a surprise. The cover blatantly suggests otherwise. The protagonist in Hesse’s most famous novel is not the Kshatriya prince but a Brahmin boy who happens to share the same predicaments as the former. Both, the name and the characteristics of the protagonist, bluntly imply that the main character is drawn from Gautam Buddha.
Evidence further appears thus, as at one point, Siddhartha crosses paths with Buddha and what follows leaves the reader deeply confounded.
A handsome Brahmin boy, loved by all and troubled by the eternal question of self, leaving everything behind to quench his thirst for enlightenment is what lies at the crux of Hesse’s book.
The rendition is simple yet rhythmic. Hesse uses short, crisp sentences and drives the point home with calm, to the point banter between characters. There is a poetic quality about the narration which flows like the river that keeps appearing at important junctures in Siddhartha’s life. The book has a clear meditative tone but rarely does the pace drop, as Siddhartha never once deviates from his quest.
Illeism is used shrewdly with Siddhartha often referring to himself in the third person–which in eastern culture is seen as a sign of enlightenment–as the individual detaches his eternal self or Atman from the body self.
For instance, in a conversation between Siddhartha and his father, the father says, “Would you rather die than obey your father?” to which he replies, “Siddhartha has always obeyed his father.”
As Siddhartha goes through a plethora of emotions–both physically and mentally–while he practices the two extremes of self-indulgence (hedonism) and self-denial (ascetic), the plurality of the spirit becomes vividly apparent.
He experiences angst, love, lust and greed; feels tormented by pain, hunger and sadness, and not once does he desist from any of his emotions. His uninhibited quest–the search for self–to own it and possess it makes his journey not only remarkable but unpredictable as well. At one point he even composes poetry in return for a kiss.
An excerpt from the book:
“Into her grove went the fair Kamala,
At the entrance to the grove stood the brown Samana.
As he saw the lotus flower,
Deeply he bowed.
Smiling, acknowledged Kamala,
Better, thought the young Samana,
To make sacrifices to the fair Kamala
Than to offer sacrifices to the gods.”
In the end, the message becomes crystal clear. But like any good book, the rendition leaves enough space for every reader to carry away their own perception, manifesting with certainty that not everybody takes the same path. And that there is no ‘one’ answer.