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A Canonical Text

Tridip Suhrud

Conceptualised and Edited by Hasit Mehta
N.M. Tripathi, Mumbai, 2002, pp. xv 104, Rs. 50.00


Govardhanram Madhavram Tripathi (1855- 1907) wrote and published four parts of his novel Sarasvatichandra between 1887 and 1901. For over a century it has remained a canonical text of Gujarati literature, unmatched in popularity and influence. Govardhanram chose the novel form not for its aesthetic possibilities but because it allowed shaping the minds of his people. Govardhanram’s creative self was predicated upon his project of mediating civilizational forces to shape the future of his people. His creative impulse was tempered and guided by ‘the philosophy of consumption’. Those, according to Govardhanram, who consume themselves for the good of the society have virtue and are righteous. Consumption was dharma for him. The novel explores the ideas of family, society, state and religion through the ideals of consumption. A story of love and longing between the hero Sarasvatichandra and the heroine Kumud link these reflections. The novel ends with the marriage of Sarasvatichandra with Kusum, younger sister of Kumud. Kumud, a widow becomes an ascetic, while Sarasvatichandra and Kusum dedicate themselves to the regene- ration of society through their project of Kalyangram (a community dedicated to the welfare of people). For over a century now the intertwined fates of Sarasvatichandra, Kumud, Kusum and Kalyangram have been the subject of speculation and debate. Attempts to write a sequel to the original were also made by lesser known writers. Govardhanram resisted attempts to draw him into the speculative debates.   In 1902 Govardhanram wrote a three act play, Kshemraj ane Sadhvi. This play was written on the request of his landlord Chottalal Mulchand who owned a theatre company in Mumbai. Govardhanram had hoped to receive some money for his efforts, at least enough for him to pay for the treatment of his ailing daughter Lilavati. The play was rejected by the theatre company. Meanwhile Lilavati died. The play was neither performed nor published. For one hundred years, till its eventual publication in 2002, the text remained unexplored.   The play is significant because it provides pointers towards understanding two questions. First, what was the fate of Sarasvatichandra, Kumud, Kusum and Kalyangram? Two, what happened to Govardhanram’s creative self after the completion of the novel and almost simultaneous death of Lilavati? The play centres around the debates of reform movement in Gujarat. ‘West’ (Vilayat) as a cultural presence and as a sign was crucial to this debate. It provided to some the possibility of reform, of progress, of cultural and ...

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