Siddhartha
Hermann Hesse
Contributed by Sharen Felty
Kamala
Summary

Siddhartha wanders aimlessly for a period. He perceives the world with new eyes, admiring the animals he catches sight of and the lovely plants that greet him along his path. He feels a real part of the present for the first time. He sees the world as it is now instead of casting it aside to focus only on more abstract and spiritual thoughts. The first night of his new life is spent in a ferryman’s hut. He drinks of Govinda. In one of his dreams, Govinda seems to imitate Christ. He asks “Why hast thou forsaken me?” He then transforms into a woman. Siddhartha suckles at Govinda’s breast.

Siddhartha requests that the ferryman take him across the river the following day. The ferrymen informs Siddhartha that he has learned a great deal from the river. Siddhartha is comforted by what the ferryman says. When they get to the other bank, Siddhartha feels guilty about not being able to pay the ferryman. The ferryman does not appear to mind not being compensated for his services. He announces the prophecy that Siddhartha will come back to the river in the future. He says that Siddhartha will present him with a gift at that time.

A young woman appears at the village’s edge. She tries to seduce Siddhartha. While she temps him, an inner voice instructs him to resist. Yet the next woman he sees as he goes into the city tempts him in a way he finds he cannot resist. This is Kamala. She is an elegant and beautiful courtesan. She is carried in a sedan chair past Siddhartha. He smiles at her and she smiles back. It is clear what his first worldly goal will be.

Siddhartha goes to the river for a bath. He gets a haircut and a shave from a kind barber. After this, he goes back to Kamala. She finds it amusing that a Samana would emerge from the forest and ask to be instructed in the art of love. Although she is willing to give him a kiss in exchange for a poem, she declares she will teach him no more until he comes back adorned with fine clothes and bringing gifts. In spite of the amusement she appears to feel, she gives Siddhartha a recommendation to Kamaswami, a wealthy businessman and friend. She says that Siddhartha must be his equal and not his servant.

Analysis

The title of his chapter is “Kamala.” This title along with those of the next two chapters indicate that Siddhartha will look for meaning in the world of the senses. This is a radical change from his exploration of the spiritual world. The root word of the name Kamala is kama. Kama is the Hindu god of love and desire. Siddhartha’s decision to immerse himself in this world will awaken aspects of himself that he has forced to be quiet for a very long time. This drastic transformation starts even before he comes across Kamala or Kamaswami. It is clear that his awareness of the sensory world is increasing. This is apparent from the opening of the chapter and shows that he is letting the world influence him. Before this, he taught himself to deny the senses and look for truth by casting aside the world and time, which he thought to be illusory. The concept of the world being an illusion is referred to as Maya. It is common in both Hindu and Buddhist philosophy and indicates that the material world is a mere distraction from the divine. By ceasing to observe the idea of Maya and attempting to see the world clearly, Siddhartha has clearly broken from his previous understanding of his journey.

The dream Siddhartha has in which Govinda transforms into a woman indicates a transitional point in Siddhartha’s life. He is moving away from his previous life of asceticism that he had with Govinda and moves toward a new life of the senses and desire. He will share this life with Kamala. At first, this change primarily concerns Siddhartha’s imagination and senses. His encounter with the washerwoman at the village’s edge makes him wonder whether or when he will enter the world of desire. He rejects this woman despite the fact that he desires her. This implies his awareness of the distinction between heeding one’s inner voice and giving in to impulse. When he becomes lover to Kamala, he has made a conscious decision to enter the world of desire. He becomes attached to this world.

The encounters Siddhartha has with the two women indicate that sex and physical desire are parts of the material world that he needs to explore. When Siddhartha is invited to engage in a sexual act with the first woman, he refuses her. However, he still has curiosity about sex. When he comes across Kamala, the beautiful courtesan, she becomes the focal point of his lust. When he decides that sex will be his new project, he immerses his mind into it intensely, as he usually would for a religious apprenticeship. While he has cast off spiritual teachers, he will accept desire as a teacher at this point. He is conscious in his decision to accept the teachings she offers. We see that Siddhartha is not an innocent. He is not open to passive acceptance of whatever sexual experience might fall in his way. To a certain extent, he is ambitious and calculating. He makes inquiries about Kamala. When he has the chance to speak to her, it is apparent to both of them that he is deeply committed to transforming himself in order to gain her love. Siddhartha completes his break from the world of spirit when he has his hair trimmed and shaves. He is finally noticing his physical body and changing himself so that he can better fit into the material world.

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