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A Rite for a Dead Man

by U.R. Ananthamurthy, Translated from the Kannada by A. K. Ramanujan

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Samskara is one of the acknowledged masterpieces of modern world literature, a book to set beside Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North. It begins when Naranappa, an inhabitant of a small south Indian town and a renegade Brahmin who has scandalously flouted the rules of caste and purity for years—eating meat, drinking alcohol, marrying beneath him, mocking God—unexpectedly falls ill and dies. The question of whether he should be buried as a Brahmin divides the other Brahmins in the village, and they turn for advice to Praneshacharya, the most devout and respected member of their community, an ascetic who also tends religiously to his invalid wife.

Praneshacharya finds himself unable to supply an answer, though an answer is urgently needed since as he wonders and the villagers wait and the body festers, more and more people are falling sick and dying. But when Praneshacharya goes to the temple to seek a sign from God, he discovers something else entirely—unless that something else is also God.

Samskara, beautifully translated by the great poet and scholar A. K. Ramanujan, is a tale of existential suspense, a life-and-death encounter between the sacred and the profane, the pure and the impure, the ascetic and the erotic.

U.R. Ananthamurthy, translated by A. K. Ramanujan

Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 9781590179123
Pages: 176
Publication Date:


[Samskara] contains a plot of Sophoclean intensity that with the passing of the years seems to have gathered ever more revelatory power…It’s a startling story, one as provocative for its time and place as those of Cervantes, Sterne and Diderot must have been in theirs.
—Chandrahas Choudhury, The Wall Street Journal

[Samskara] takes us closer to the Indian idea of the self.
—V. S. Naipaul

NYRB Classics' reissue of this book comes at an opportune moment, as societies around the world face the dangers of religious extremism and its focus on ritual and regulation rather than humanity. U.R. Ananthamurthy, in A.K. Ramanujan's translation from the Kannada, tries to teach Indian society a lesson in this story about the trouble with prioritizing tradition over compassion.
—Melissa Beck, Asymptote Journal

Ananthamurthy’s most controversial and celebrated work, Samskara, is a novel about a decaying Brahmin colony. . . . Throughout the novel, Ananthamurthy builds extraordinary tension and atmosphere. It is an India that is instantly recognizable to its Indian readers.
—Pankaj Mishra

Samskara is an effective tale of a community choked by unsustainable tradition. Ananthamurthy offers fine portraits of a variety of characters as they struggle between natural urges and societal expectations, and has crafted an impressive story here.
—M. A. Orthofer, The Complete Review

Ananthamurthy’s ability to turn the world on the most unexpected pivot gives [Samskara] an enduring human dimension.
—María Helga Guðmundsdóttir, The Quarterly Conversation

[A] richly allegorical tale...a springboard for even broader questions concerning...religious experience and the inherent tension between works and grace.
—William Waldron, Education About Asia

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