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Quest for Eco-consciousness in Sumnima

Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala (8 September 1914-21 July 1982), first democratically elected Prime Minister of Nepal, is the propagator of democratic socialism as one of the best options for the development of Nepal to be applied in Nepali politics. He is an equally influential writer in Nepali literature, too. He has written novels, short stories, and some poems. He is one of the most-read writers of Nepal, as he is well known for his distinctive genre; psychological realism. His novel, Sumnima, first published in 1969 received the reader’s attention since its publication to present. This novel has been discussed, analyzed, criticized, and studied from multiple lenses like psychoanalytical perspective, ethic-consciousness, deconstruction, etc. But my reading of this novel differs from the previous readings as I found this novel strengthens the idea of eco-consciousness from every angle. 

The term eco-consciousness refers to the state of mind and behavior where human beings are conscious of their treatment with nature and ecology. Eco-criticism is the new trend developed during the late Twentieth century to deal with the texts from an ecological point of view. This theory grasps the different perspectives by studying the text through the lens of the biosphere than other theories as they criticize the text through a human-centered perspective. Consciousness is the state of mind where a man can think for their well-being and behave accordingly. Freudian psychoanalysis studies about human psychology as the aware mind in which a man thinks in a rational way. The conscious mind includes sensations, perceptions, memories, feeling, and fantasies. In the Hindu religion, it has been said that consciousness leads to the path of salvation by liberating the body from its soul through various methods like yoga, meditation, penance, etc. When ecological consciousness comes together, it helps for the wellbeing of the entire cosmos. In this novel, Koirala has dealt with the two different cultures coinciding with each-other to run and liberate not only human life but also the whole biosphere. 

The writer, file photo.

Human beings establish a harmonious relationship with the natural environment for their existence. This universe is made up of varieties of matters which can be simply categorized into two divisions; natural and cultural environment. The entities which exist by themselves are the natural environment whereas the entities which are constructed by human beings are the cultural environment. In Sumnima, Koirala has adopted the eco-conscious viewpoint by dealing with the two types of human races; Kirati and Brahmin. The protagonists of the novel; Sumnima and Somdutta represent these two races respectively. The entire setting of the novel is located in the bank of the Koshi river, the forest around it, pastoral land around it which is situated at Baraha Chhetra of Eastern Nepal. Sumnima belongs to the Kirati family. Kirats are the minority ethnic groups in Nepal. According to the novel, their lifestyle is very close to nature as they live in a forest among their own ethnic group of people, wear no clothes to cover their bodies, feed themselves by cutting animals like cows and pigs. On the contrary, Somdutta belongs to the superior caste, Brahmin who are educated and cultured people. Somdutta every day wakes up before Brahma Muhurta (dawn), doesn’t speak until takes bath at Koshi river, does Pranayam, chants Mantras, eats satwik (purely vegetarian), and goes to the forest for grazing his cow. To this point, Sumnima is purely a ground to the earth, a primitive, uneducated, and uncivilized girl who believes simply that bodily interests should be fulfilled. On the other hand, Somdutta is an educated, cultured, civilized man who believes in his Karma rather than his bodily instincts. For Somdutta, the body is a vehicle of sin, and if human beings follow bodily desire, it restricts them from reaching to the level of having knowledge and cognition. For the redemption of humankind, one should sacrifice bodily desires and lust then only salvation is possible. He believes himself as the descendant of a god, a part of the Supreme Soul, and one day he will be able to become one with that Supreme soul. So, his dedication and activities lead him to the path of truth which he believes is the soul. There is a saying in Sanskrit shastras, “Aham Brahmasmi” (I am also the part of the Supreme soul). He does penance to overcome the austerity. In Bhagavat Gita, there is a Shloka:

                        Mamaiwamsho jeevaloke jeevabhootah sanatanah,

                        Manahshashthaneendriyani prakritisthani karshti.[1]

A person who understands his/her constitutional position as the fragment of Supreme soul and engage in devotional activities will be able to save the entire human race from sin. As there is the glimpse of sunlight in the pond and it gets lost when sun sets, actually the ray returns back to the sun. Just like this, human beings are also the fragment of the Supreme power and they get back to that power when the body dies. The Rishimunis since primordial time, are trying to liberate the human race from sin by following the path of Brahmacharya. Somdutta also applies the same by controlling the bodily senses and following the path of spirituality to relate himself with the cosmic power. 

In spiritual journey, the bodily senses appear as the hindrance which spoil the journey from reaching to the destination. So, Somdutta argues with Sumnima that he speaks the language of the god and behaves accordingly to achieve the salvation. He feels that Sumnima is the girl with whom he feels passionate. So he decides to overcome the lust by becoming a sadhu. Regarding the deadly passions that hinders the spiritual journey, in Bhagavat Gita, there is a line:

                        Trividham narakasyedam dwaram nashanamatmanah,

                        Kamah krodhastatha lobhastasmadetaattrayam tyajet.[2]

It says that lust, anger and greed are the three greatest enemies of man so one should avoid these three things from themselves. Believing in this value Somdutta travels for the path of austerity, he leaves his home, his parents, his love Sumnima and walks like a sadhu. When he finds himself winning over these vices, he returns back to his home. He gets married with Puloma, a Brahmin girl, educated and cultured to his equality. Since both of them have avoided the pleasure totally from their lives, they can’t beget a child even after having sexual intercourse for years. Finally, Somdutta knocks the door of Bijuwa, chief leader of Kirati for assistance. According to Hindu religion, a man needs a son as his successor so that the man’s soul resides in peace after death of his body. Bijuwa turns out to be the father of Sumnima, and he accuses that Somdutta discarded the bodily feelings as a result his manuwa (manliness) is angry with him. Furthermore, he also orders his daughter, Sumnima to take Somdutta with her and seek for the solutions. She takes him in the forest, massages his body with herbal oils, and lets him to dive into the Manuwa pond. Afterwards, she disguises him as a villa boy. When Somdutta returns to his cottage, his wife, Puloma is lost in the imagination of her childhood friend, a villa boy. As a result, both of them indulge in sexual intercourse and become able to beget a son.

Koirala has thus shown the confluence of Kirati culture and Hindu philosophy in depth in this novel. The Kiraticulture is influenced by the natural entities, they are very ground to the earth and humble to nature. Their life is centered towards the body and its interest. To satisfy the bodily needs is their basic life skill.  That’s why Sumnima thinks that the Brahmins, particularly, Somdutta wears the mask by covering the naked body with clothes, by assuming his mother as divine goddess, by introducing himself as successor of his father, by involving himself in yagya and other religious activities. At this point, it may seem like there is the difference between Kirati and Brahmin culture. But these two distinct cultures have a nexus as both of them try to connect with nature in essence. Koirala shows the failure of Somdutta as he indulges in spiritual reality avoiding the practical need of body. Once he realizes that man should also address the bodily desires, he immediately becomes productive. So, Koirala by bringing the totally two opposite cultures of Kirati and Brahmin, through this novel tries to focus on the eco-consciousness. Human body is the natural phenomenon whereas spirituality is the cultural phenomenon. The ecology only exists when there is the balance between nature and culture. 

One of the most striking messages that Koirala intends to give the society is reconciliation between the binaries. Human being has to reconcile not only with fellow human being but also with nature and other components of human life. Through the marriage of Somdutta’s son and Sumnima’s daughter, Koirala has forcefully justified the need of reconciliation of divergent culture, creed, and belief. It can be considered Koiral’s philosophy of life.

Just like, Hindu religion explains that human soul is the fragment of Supreme soul and it mixes ultimately to become one, every biosphere in this universe are the fragments of that supreme power; Nature. From the surface, human beings may look divided into varieties of cultures and sub-cultures but in essence their quest is the eco-consciousness, their destination is the same. The ending of the novel by showing Sumnima’s daughter and Somdutta’s son getting married with each other, the writer highlights the commonness and sharing of human cultures. So there is the ongoing lifecycle of human races in collaboration with the nature.

[1] ममैवांशो जीवलोके जीवभूतः सनातनः।
मनःषष्ठानीन्द्रियाणि प्रकृतिस्थानि कर्षति।।

[2] त्रिविधं नरकस्येदं द्वारम नाशनमात्मन: ।

काम: क्रोधस्तथा लोभस्तस्मादेतत्त्रयं त्यजेत्।। 

The writer is Assistant professor of Nepal Sanskrit university .

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