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21 Jan

The Transposed Heads- Thomas Mann

 The Transposed Heads- Thomas Mann

Subtitle: A Legend of India

Author: Thomas Mann

He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1929. His other works include Buddenbrooks, The Magic Mountain, Death in Venice and Doctor Faustus.

Plot Overview

In the village known as Welfare of Cows in the land of Kosala, there live two friends, Shridaman and Nanda.

Shridaman, the elder of the two, is twenty one years old. He is a merchant and the name of his father is Bhavabhuti. He is light of complexion and has some fat on the little belly. He has a soft fan-shaped beard. For him the head is the main thing.

Nanda is eighteen years old. He is a smith and the name of his father is Garga. He is dark of skin and has powerful arms and a strong body. He has a pleasant beardless face. For him the body is the main thing.

One day, the two youths go on a walking trip – Shridaman to buy rice mallets and firewood and Nanda to buy iron ore. They reach a bathing place sacred to goddess Kali, on the stream Goldfly. There they see Sita, the daughter of Sumantra, bathing fully nude. The word Sita means a furrow.

(All beings have two sorts of existence: one for themselves and the other for the eyes of others, the soul and the image. It is sinful to look at the image alone and not see the soul. When we see a beautiful person we see only the image. There is no claim on our consciousness to enter into its soul. But when we see a beggar we see the image first and at the very next instant we enter into his soul because of his misery.)

After the bath, Sita goes into the temple. After a brief conversation, Shridaman and Nanda go to their respective destinations – Shridaman to buy rice mallets and firewood and Nanda to buy crude iron.

They meet again the next day. Shridaman is late. His eyes are full of sorrow. The problem with Shridaman is that he is love-sick. He has fallen in love with Sita. Nanda, as he promises Shridaman, informs Shridaman’s father Bhavabhuti that he wishes to marry Sita. Bhavabhuti is overjoyed and he gives his consent. Nanda then goes as an envoy to Sita’s house. Finally the marriage between Shridaman and Sita takes place.

Six months later, the newly married couple decide to visit Sita’s house. Nanda is the driver of the cart. They go at midnight and lose their way. Shridaman goes to a nearby temple of goddess Kali. Upon reaching the temple, he finds a sword there with which he beheads himself. Later, Nanda comes to the temple in search of Shridaman. Finding Shridaman dead, Nanda too chops off his head.

Tired of waiting, Sita arrives at the scene, and finding both of them dead, decides to hang herself. At the spur of the moment goddess Kali appears before her and prevents her from committing suicide. Kali asks her the reason for the two youths to commit suicide. Sita tells her that after their wedding, her sexual feelings were aroused by Shridaman but he could not satisfy her. Distressed, she used to think of Nanda while she was in bed with Shridaman. One night it so happened that she uttered unknowingly Nanda’s name during the sexual act. Shridaman has not touched her ever since. Neither has Nanda. Hearing the story, Kali promises her to bring them both back to life provided she behaves better in the future.  Sita does as the goddess commands her.

The two youths, Shridaman and Nanda, come back to life. But in her hurry Sita transposes the heads. Shridaman’s head is now on Nanda’s body and Nanda’s head is on Shridaman’s body. Initially both of them seem happy in their new guise. Then problem begins. Both of them make a claim on Sita. Both of them claim that he is her rightful husband. Obviously, Sita is happy to have the person who has Shridaman’s head and Nanda’s body. But even she can’t arrive at a decision. So they decide to seek the opinion of a third person, Kamadamana, a hermit. Kamadamana’s family name is Guha but he took the religious name of Kamadamana. Thus, Shridaman, Sita and Nanda go to the Dankaka forest to meet him.

Three days later they reach the Dankaka forest. Kamadamana gives his verdict that the real husband is the one wears the husband’s head. Among limbs, head has the highest rank. Shridaman and Sita are overjoyed. Dejected, Nanda decides to lead the life of a hermit in the forest.

In the days which followed, Shridaman and Sita enjoy the marital bliss. But gradually Shridaman’s body begins to lose its muscles and strength. He falls more and more into his original shape. Sita observes this with pain. She draws conclusions about corresponding changes that might have taken place in Nanda. Soon she begins to see Nanda in her dreams.

When her time comes, she gives birth to a handsome baby boy. He is named Samadhi which means ‘collection’. The boy is near-sighted. He can only see three paces before him. The boy resembles more of Sita and less of Shridaman and Nanda. Because the boy is near-sighted, he gets the nickname of Andhaka (little blind one) and the name gradually outlasts his real name.

Desire rises within Sita to take the boy to Nanda, but she does not communicate this desire to Shridaman, her husband. One day, Shridaman goes away on business and Sita decides to seek out Nanda to console him. After a journey that lasts seven days, Sita and Andhaka reach Nanda’s hermitage.

There, the wedded bliss of Nanda and Sita lasts a day and a night. Then Shridaman comes on the scene. He waits for Nanda and Sita to come out of the hut. When finally they come out, they greet him. The three of them forgive each other. It is clear to them that life cannot go on as before. So Shridaman and Nanda kill each other with a sword. Sita performs Sati by entering the funeral pyre of her husband and friend. Thus the story of Shridaman, Nanda and Sita of the wide hips comes to an end.

Andhaka is left alone. He becomes prosperous. He becomes the cynosure of all eyes being the son of a sati and also because of his being handsome. When he is seven years old, a learned Brahmin takes charge of him and teaches him grammar, speech, astronomy and the art of thought. At the youthful age of twenty, he becomes the reader to the king of Benares.


Copyright © Manu Mangattu, Assistant Professor, Department of English, SGC Aruvithura

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