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CHAPTER 5: Kamala
Siddhartha learns something new at every step; the world seems transformed for him and he is enthralled by it. He sees the beauty of the sun, moon, and stars journeying through nature. The animals, bees, clouds, weeds, flowers, and dew on the bushes all have an enriching affect on him. The world is wonderful when he looks at it in a simple child-like manner, without seeking anything. Siddhartha has learned to experience and enjoy everything in nature.
Siddhartha remembers all that he experienced in the garden of Jetavana; he recalls the teachings of Gotama, his parting from his friend Govinda, and all that he said to the Buddha. He knows what the religious texts teach, but he has been unable to find the self within him because he wants to trap it in the net of his thoughts. During the night, Siddhartha sleeps in a ferryman's straw hut. He dreams of Govinda in the yellow robe of the ascetic. His friend sadly asks him why he left him. When Siddhartha puts his arms around Govinda, he changes into a woman with a full breast. Siddhartha tastes her sweet milk and finds it intoxicating. When Siddhartha wakes up, the pale river shimmers past the door of the hut. As the day begins, he asks his host, the ferryman, to take him across the river. When he reaches the other side of the river, he journeys through a village where children are playing in front of clay huts, shouting and wrestling with each other. He then sees a woman washing clothes. Siddhartha looks at her smiling face and feels a longing for sex, even though he has never touched a woman before. He gently caresses her cheek and disappears.
Before evening Siddhartha reaches the outskirts of a town where he sees busy servants and maids. He then spies a woman being carried on an ornamented chair. He stands at the entrance of the grove and watches the procession. The woman is very beautiful. She appears clever and observant. He gazes at her bright face and inhales the fragrance of her perfume. She nods at him, smiles, and disappears into the grove, followed by her servants. Siddhartha finds out that she is the well-known courtesan, Kamala.
Siddhartha tries to make himself handsome by shaving, oiling his hair, and bathing in the river. When he next sees the beautiful Kamala approaching her grove, he bows and receives her greeting. He then sends a message through her servant that he wishes to speak to her. He introduces himself as a Brahmin's son who has left home to become a Samana. He tells her that he would like her to be his teacher, for he knows nothing about the art of which she is the mistress. He says that he would be an ideal pupil. She laughs and says that eagerness is not good enough; he must have enough wealth to buy her presents.
Kamala asks Siddhartha what he can do. He says that he knows sacrificial songs, incantations, and the scriptures. She is not impressed and tells Siddhartha to go away, for she has a visitor; but she promises to see him again. The next day Kamala tells Siddhartha that Kamaswami, the richest merchant in town, expects a visit from him. If Siddhartha can please him, he will be taken into his service and will gain clothes and shoes. He can also earn money to buy her the things that she desires. She advises Siddhartha to be friendly with him and not too modest. Kamala then tells him that he is a handsome man who is pleasing to look at. Siddhartha kisses her and says good-bye.
This chapter begins the second part of the novel and Siddhartha's plunge into the world of the sensual. The scene shifts from the forest to the town. This change is symbolic of the internal transformation that Siddhartha experiences as he goes from a life which denies bodily pleasure and focuses on the mind to a life which is focused on sensual pleasure and material gains. The river which Siddhartha crosses symbolizes the division between two very disparate worlds, the spiritual and the sensual.
In this chapter, Siddhartha is busy freeing himself from the spiritual world with gusto. In the first few pages of the chapter, Siddhartha takes in the sights, sounds, and smells of the natural world around him; he revels in the physical presence of life. Hesse highlights the sharpness and keenness of Siddhartha's growing powers of observation with lyrical and highly descriptive prose.
The ferryman is introduced; he will become a future friend and guide to Siddhartha in subsequent chapters. Although Siddhartha now dismisses him as a simpleton like Govinda, the ferryman reveals his understanding of the river when he says, "I have learned from the river too; everything comes back." Siddhartha is now interested in his wise sayings and makes his way to the town, where he meets Kamala.
Along with his newfound power of observation, Siddhartha experiences a new sexual awareness, first revealed in his dream when Govinda changes into a woman. When he crosses the river and journeys through the town, he sees a pretty young female who makes sexual gestures at him. Siddhartha feels a stirring from within himself. Though he has never touched a woman before, he reaches out to her and caresses her cheek.
The most important aspect of this chapter is Siddhartha's encounter with Kamala, the courtesan. It is from Kamala that Siddhartha will learn about the intricate nature of desire and physical love. She is his match in beauty and intelligence, but she is his opposite in desires and goals. Her sole purpose is to obtain wealth and materialistic possessions, and she does this through her highly refined lovemaking skills. Siddhartha wants to learn the art of love from her.
Kamala has very high standards for her partners, expecting them to be both rich and handsome. She mocks Siddhartha for his lack of possessions, but is impressed by his good looks and intelligence. If he is to become her student, Siddhartha must acquiesce to her demands and shower her with gifts. By telling him about Kamaswami, Kamala is doing Siddhartha a favor. She is facilitating his entrance into the world of material values and worldly affairs.