The Holy River Narmada: A never-ending story

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Introduction:The holy River Narmada “re-incarnates” at every moment.

Stand at a fixed place on the banks of the river and observe the eternal flow. You will never see the mass of the river- water that flows in front of you for the second time in your life-time even if you stay on at that particular spot for ever. You only see the newly incarnated Narmada. The important themes of the stories in the book are related to the  law of action and reaction and the concept of incarnation.

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For the purpose of academic explanation, these may look different but both are interlinked. One can not be understood, without understanding the theories related to action. Whether a particular action is secular or related to spiritual domain!   For the sake of convenience, let us take action first. Every action has the reaction and the intensity of the reaction is in proportion to the intensity of the action.

Over this, no dispute exists between the scientists and the spiritualists. One of the rare agreements between the two contending forces; the two opposing forces; the forces that do not see eye to eye with each other! The continuous interplay between the power of action and the power of reaction is life. No equilibrium exists normally and when that state is achieved, it is spiritually known as the state of Realization. The working of the cultural and religious forces is depicted in the stories by Anita Desai.

The holy river Narmada is the permanent witness for the goings-on and the life’s activities along the banks of the river. She flows unconcerned and un-impacted about the turbulence of the human activities of life. The story of the monk and reincarnation:What is the lesson from the story of neophyte Jain monk, Ashok, opting out of the life of opulence to poverty? This monk is not an ordinary individual. He is a billionaire, before he gave up everything.

Apart from wealth, he has renounced his wife and children, because he has come to the firm conclusion “that a man who cannot suffer is not alive.” Such monks seek to lose all sense of themselves in the pursuit of strict ascetic principles. The self-mortification procedures are very strict. They live begging for food.

The doctrine of non-violence they practice is so strict; such monks never hurt any living creature. They wear muslin masks over their mouth. They say, an aesthetic has no past. One has transcended the dualities and is blessed with the second birth.

This is one’s reincarnation. Genuine changes occur within an individual, when one transcends the portals of the mind and reaches the transcendental level. When the thoughts process of an individual change, the action process also changes. Such a transformed individual does not cease to act.

He acts in the world outside, without any motivated desires, and the action and reaction theory is not applicable to him. The mind, freed from the effect of dualities helps to regain the level of purification and aids liberation. The supreme power, at the altar of which one has surrendered totally, controls one’s all major and minor actions! One’s heart responds to the call of that power only. Such an individual sings in joy, as the wise saying goes—‘whose heart it is and who controls its beats; this has become a strange property, on which the owner has lost right!’ The real owner at that level is the Omniscient Power! The story of an intense ascetic who surfaces in a surprising incarnation: The story of the ascetic is another surprising form of incarnation, from the layman’s point  of view but the ascetic has lived up to his spiritual ideals.

Renunciation is a state of mind. When a pertinent question is asked to Lord Krishna by warrior Arjuna (the sacred text of Hinduism-Bhagavadgita) in the battlefield, -which is better- whether renunciation of action or participation in action,  the definite answer provided to Arjuna is, participation in action is better. Many a times, one takes to ascetics, in a flush of enthusiasm, nurturing the false sense of renunciation and stick on to it, even though the minds refuses to accept that state internally. This ascetic in this story had the moral courage to reincarnate to the so-called secular life and return as a famous professor.

He has acted true to his inclinations, and this is reincarnation in the real sense. The professor in the story declares equivocally—only when a soul becomes a man “can it re-enter the world.” Now the practical philosophy of his life is— do not run away to a hermitage in jungle. Create a peaceful ‘hermitage’ where you are!  Do not think deeply about the state of perfect discipline.

Learn how to carry on perfectly with the available discipline! Every story has the latent ingredients of reincarnation revealed subtly, through the belief systems of the characters: In every story, through the utterances of the protagonist, the incarnation aspect is highlighted. The protagonist is made to realize that the process to reach the ultimate Truth is the arduous one.  Achieving the human life is the most difficult one and the rarest of the rare gift of God. The soul has to experience eighty four thousand births to secure the human birth.

This is the best chance to experience life. The theory of reincarnation thus, stands fully recognized and accepted by the protagonist. When you renounce a particular form of life to accept something else, the process is comparable to reincarnation.  You stand dissolved from one aspect of life and take to the other.

The object of renunciation   depicted in this novel are of three types—material, love and life. You renounce from a particular form to reincarnate in the other form. The holy river Narmada is ever-changing, because she is ever-flowing. The process of reincarnation goes on, on a continual basis, without intermission.

Her identity, her unhurried creative expression is one with this ever changing world. “Hurry is not known to all creative expressions in nature outside—the sun rising, the moon setting, the blossoming of the buds the arrival of the fruits, the germination of the seeds, the fetus in the womb, the bird in the egg, all have no hurry, but each takes its own time to grow and emerge out.”9(Swami Chinmayananda, p,96) The journey of the soul through eighty-four hundred  thousand births, with s series of re-incarnations, before attaining the human birth is not to express hurry in that process. “If the seeker tries to hurry up and double up his march to reach the goal, “haste is waste” on the path of Truth.

”(p,96) Noting final can be said about the spiritual concept of reincarnation. The influence of this aspect of the life-is accepted, by the followers of many religions including a minority part of those practicing Christianity. Though Anita Desai does not say anything relating to incarnation in clear terms, its influence is evident in many characters in stories at some level in one form or the other. She writes about the protagonist, “ I imagine the ascetics sitting in the darkness like myself, their naked bodies smeared in ash, their matted hair wound on top of their heads in imitation of their Ascetic God, witnessing the river’s birth as they chant,“Shiva-o-ham, Shiva-o-ham,I that am Shiva, Shiva am I.

” (Desai, 1994, p, 5)The experience relates to an entirely different level, when one transcends the mind-barrier. The body-consciousness vanishes. A new being ‘reincarnates.’ The wise saying goes, “The present is the product of the past.

”—“Meaning, our present life, environment that we are surviving in—everything is the product of our past activities. Also, it is according to the specifications given by our own thoughts and actions that this physical body is developed by Supreme Intelligence and is handed over to us without any partiality. The bodies we possess today have been designed by our own sequence of thoughts and actions in the past; likewise, what we think today, the way we act today formulate a blue print for the Almighty to design our future bodies, including our mental and intellectual equipments.”(Maharaj Ji, 2007, p, 53) Conclusion:Reincarnation, literally “to be made flesh again”, is a doctrine or mystical belief that some core part of a living being is beyond death and takes on new body to be born again.

This is also referred to as Spirit or Soul etc. The belief in reincarnation is as old as the religion itself, in many of the oriental religions like Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism. According go Hinduism, the soul is immortal. The effected part is the body which is subject to birth and death.

Just like old garments are shed by the body, the dweller with-in sheds the worn-out bodies. The dweller takes on new bodies. The underlying concept is, the soul, of all living beings, including animals, and plants) reincarnate and the next birth is linked to karma. Such accumulated karma is passed on to the next birth.

We can, harmonizing all our power faculties-physical, mental and intellectual—with our supreme faculty called soul or Pure Consciousness, know how to live life peacefully, and continue the efforts for Self-Realization. Seek liberation from the mortal bindings for ever! Strong aroma of spirituality and action and reaction philosophy can be felt through all the stories of Anita Desai. Each character speaks from the level of its spiritual progression. The fear and impact of reincarnation is experienced by most of the characters in the stories in one way or the other through different stages of their lives.  References:   Mehta, Gita: Book: A River SutraPaperback: 304 pagesPublisher: Vintage (June 28, 1994)Language: EnglishISBN-10: 0679752471ISBN-13: 978-0679752479  Swami Chinmayananda: Book: Bhaja GovindamPublisher: Chinmaya Publications Trust.., Madras-3(India)  Maharaj Ji, Ashutosh: Book: MindPublisher: Divya Jyoti Jagrati Sansthan, Delhi 110 034(India)

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