Thursday, 27 June 2013

Sanyasi or the Ascetic - Rabindranath Tagore

In this season of SAT/GRE I have induced a number of students to go for a reading of Tagore's Sanyasi OR Ascetic - to a good effect. I am here publishing a response from Raeesa Mehjabeen. She read the text in the class. I really like the piece. The writing has its own line of weakness too - it is merely a narrative. It could have included a line of ANALYTIC vein. However, the writing shows that the writer has spent a lot of effort in understanding the story-line.

Enjoy your time with the reading.

Sanyasi or the Ascetic is a play written by Rabindranath Tagore which talks about the underlying connection between the finite and the infinite. The play is about an ascetic who isolated himself from the materialistic finite world in order to enter the spiritual infinite world. In the end Sanyasi’s internal struggle is resolved when his love for a little girl made him realize that he cannot attain the infinite by rejecting the finite.

The play begins with an arrogant declaration by Sanyasi who considers himself superior to other men because he detached himself from the trivial and materialistic world. Pleasures of this world are an illusion; they deceive but do not satisfy. Sanyasi took shelter in the dark castle of the infinite which protected him from the “deceitful light” of the finite. Sanyasi celebrates his triumph over all materialistic desires and claims that they now lie powerless at his feet. By isolating himself from the village he no longer feels fear or desire, and has reached a higher level of understanding. Defeating the deceitful pleasures of this world was the ultimate victory for him; he compares his joy to that of God Shiva when he woke to find himself in the heart of the infinite. Sanyasi leaves the darkness of the cave to enter the deceptive world and he promises to remain detached from all emotions and cravings.

To Sanyasi the world is merely a phantasy. To him there is no difference between dust and beauty because it is all an illusion. He thinks the world is a “bottomless chasm” and people who seek shelter only enter a vast abyss of emptiness where they get lost. Shelter lies in one’s soul. Sanyasi’s hatred for the world becomes apparent when he mocks its futility and nothingness. Sanyasi’s dissatisfaction is bolstered by the shallowness, vengefulness and ignorance of the villagers. Sanyasi criticizes and mocks the villagers and he remains determined to not indulge in any desire in order to differentiate himself the commoners. In Sanyasi’s village the weak and poor are neglected and people value other depending on their wealth and status. All their aspirations are insignificant and exist within the boundary of the finite world. People are easily deceived by the luxuries of the world and Sanyasi considers them “a pollution” and fears shrinking to the “smallness of these creatures.” Sanyasi slowly begins to form an attachment to a little girl named Vasanti. This shows that despite Sanyasi’s resolution to stay away from earthly affairs he still could not let go off his attachment to Vasanti. Like all humans Sanyasi could not overcome his worldly commitments. Fearing that Vasanti will prevent him from achieving infinity, he abandons her. Sanyasi’s aversion to the world arose from fear that its illusions will interfere in his journey to infinity.

During his time away from Vasanti, Sanyasi was overwhelmed with a longing to go back to the world which he despised in order to return to Vasanti. Ultimately Sanyasi left the dark seclusion of his cave to look for her. He acknowledged that the relationship between the origin and the end (“The origin is the end, and the end is the origin”) is the same as the relationship between the finite and infinite. The distinction Sayansi made between the two was out of his own ignorance. Sayansi realized that finite and infinite are the same and the path to both is through love. This erased his hatred towards the world. Sanyasi abdicated his status by breaking his staff and alms-bowl. He called himself a fool for giving up the light of the sun and stars to travel alone with the help of a glow-worm lamp. When he returns for Vasanti he hears about her death which terribly shocked him.

Throughout the play Sanyasi looked down on others because he believed that they were deceived by an illusion. In the end Sanyasi understood that he has also been living in an illusion. Vasanti’s presence brought him out of his cave of isolation which opened his eyes to the truth. In the beginning of the play Sanyasi claimed he obtained freedom by renouncing the world and in the end he truly reached freedom by returning to the world.

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