• Nirmala

Brahmarākshasa : A Reflective Musing on Muktibodh

Somewhere, towards the abandoned corner of the city, lie ruins - ruins which live in carrying that which has died or is still dying. It is there where the living one dies and the dying one lives. It is certain that this corner of the city is abandoned and ruined though what is uncertain is - if the corner is ruined because it is abandoned or it is abandoned because it is ruined? However, it is certain that this corner of the city is both abandoned and ruined. Yet there is someone who still inhabits this space - but, but who could possibly want to live in such gloom? How could it? And why would it? Is this the one who got left behind? No, no - it isn't the one who got left behind - perhaps, it chose to arrive only because no one else is around. Maybe, maybe, this is the one who wants to be 'nowhere' near the other - thus chose to be here! Here is the 'nowhere'. In this nowhere, it is now everywhere - this is the Brahmarākshasa[1] - in his obscenely grand arrogance. They say that Brahma is the one who knows but this Brahma is so much more. This Brahma is also a Rakshasa[2]. What he seeks is nishkarsh - a conclusion - a culmination - to a life time's collection of gyaan (i.e. knowledge).

In this (im)-perceptible corner, just as abandoned as the rest of the setting, stands a bawdi - a step well - the steps of which go on into an insurmountable depth - a depth which has no base - a baseless depth, painfully haunted, coldly stagnant. This bawdi amidst the ruins is just as lonesome in its coldness - as the one sitting inside its depth - the Brahmarākshasa. The huge walls of the bawdi separate the Brahmarākshasa from the rest of the world. It isn't certain if the walls are protecting the Brahmarākshasa from the world or the world from the Brahmarākshasa. However, it is certain that these walls aren't just simple concrete. They are symbolic of this great civilization separation that stands in between this knowledgeable Rakshasa and the world. The air surrounding the bawdi is cold and thick - thick with suspicion. The thickness is palpable and it stands in anticipation of a tragedy - a tragedy has already occurred - or maybe, a tragedy that is to (re)occur. And the audumbar[3], the tall adumbar, standing around the bawdi, watches in silence, this tragedy which is (re)occurring.

This self possessed - fanatically obsessed - Brahmarākshasa is talking to his own self - relentlessly. In his solitary confinement, he hears his own voice, the echo of his voice, the echo of the echo of his voice... Maybe, that's why he chose these high walls, they are just so full of his own self. They say, Brahma is the one who knows, the one who has knowledge. This creature, majestic in his own glory, knows - Marx, Engels, Russell, Toynbee, Heidegger, Spengler, Sartre, Gandhi - he knows them all - and more! Yet, he struggles, he struggles to reach a conclusion - nishkarsh - a culmination.

He climbs up and down the steps in the well, yet he (s)-tumbles in his phastasmic pursuit of a conclusion. His pursuit isn't simple. There is almost a monstrous character to his struggle. It is painful for him. It is hurtful to him, this struggle. Maybe, the world was never seeking protection from the Brahmarākshasa. Neither was it the other way around. Maybe, it is his own self that the Brahmarākshasa needs protection from. This Brahmarākshasa, obscenely glorious in his own arrogance, is deeply suffering. He is a prisoner of his own 'knowing'. Like a maniac he cleans himself, obsessively so, compulsively so, yet the filth doesn't go away. Repeatedly he cleans himself, day in and day out, yet the filth doesn't do. Its sticky! Doesn't go. He is failing - and this is the tragedy which is (re)occurring! One wonders what is this filth he is so desperately trying to wash off? The one on him or the one within him? And like this, it goes on... a prisoner in his own creation!

The above imagery has been constructed from my reading of Muktibodh (1917 - 1964) and his creation by the name Brahmarākshasa. Muktibodh is acknowledged as one of the initiating forces of Prayogwaad -experimentalist approach- which marked a turn away from the otherwise prevalent Chayyawaad -Romanticism- in Hindi literature. In my reading of Brahmarākshasa, Muktibodh is expressing his deeply felt angst against the hitherto prevalent traditions of intellectual thinking which operate on the binary division of 'thinking' and 'doing' i.e. a kind of thinking that is disassociated or unrelated to any kind of doing. Through this character Brahmarākshasa -which signifies and represents the functioning of quintessential intellectuals- he is saying that the gyaan yukt Brahmarākshasa doesn't reach a conclusion not because his gyaan is not good enough but because his gyaan lacks samvedna. Perhaps, it is the lack of samvedna in this character who is part Brahma (the one with knowledge) that he has been called a Rakshasa. Muktibodh sees huge possibility in Brahmarākshasa. The tragedy is the un-realization of that possibility. And perhaps, the sticky filth that Brahmarākshasa is carrying is the guilt of this impossibility to reach a nishkarsh - he is burdened with his own 'knowing' and he is suffering with that burden. This Brahmarākshasa is chasing an illusion - the conclusion and the culmination of a life time's thinking which can't be realized in thinking alone. It is only the blending in of the thought and the practice that a peaceful culmination may be realized. The absence of this blending can be starkly felt in how the present day world of academics and the world of development related practitioners is organized. Both camps are seemingly working towards a better future but the former is mostly associated with thinking while the latter is mostly associated with doing. And very often, each camp[4] attests a sense of superiority to itself and disdain for the other. There is much to appreciate by enabling a mutually enhancing dialogue between thinking and doing.

Dr. Ashok Chakradhar, a celebrated scholar of Hindi literature and a keen reader of Muktibodh, in one of his interviews[5], appreciates his work because it challenges the binary division between gyaan yukt kavita and ras yukt kavita. Hitherto, it was understood that hridya mukti (liberation of the hridya) is through ras yukt kavita and atma mukti (liberation of the atma) is through gyaan yukt kavita. This misplaced sense of division between gyaan and ras was challenged by Muktibodh who ardently foregrounds the indivisible blend of gyaan and ras. Through this, Muktibodh presents the world a different view-point which is 'samvednaatmak gyaan' and 'gyaanatmak samvedna' i.e. the two as mutually constitutive. One enables the other - samvedna taking us to gyaan and gyaan taking us to samvedna. It is only in their blending that one may realize or reach the culmination, if such a thing is ever possible.

[1] Poem titled 'Brahmarākshasa' by Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh [2] Anna Chelnokova & Liliia Streltcova in their paper titled 'Brahmarākshasa in Modern Hindi Literature' (2016) note that this character 'Brahmarākshasa' has (re)appeared across many Hindu texts. Starting as early as the Vedas, Manu Smriti and Mahabharata. Furthermore, the character has found place in various literary works as early as the Sanskrit novel 'What Ten Young Men Did' (7th A.D.) to as recent as Muktibodh's poem. Across different texts, the portrayal of the character varies however there is always a negative value attributed to this character. [3] Ficus Glomerata - called Dumar in parts of Central India - a tree with medicinally healing qualities [4] Roberts Chambers painstakingly writes about this kind of divisions in his book 'Rural Development: Putting the Last First' (1983) [5] Retrieved from

[6] Image retrieved from


© Chinhari - 2019