With nearly a billion worshipers, Hinduism is the third religion in the world after Christianity and Islam and one of the oldest religions (Roman-Amat 2013). The word Hinduism comes from the word "Hindû", a Persian term which indicates Indus (Lipner 1998) and Hinduism ended up designating the religion of the people living on the edges of Indus.


Unlike other major religions, Hinduism has no founder, no sacred book but several (Daniélou 2005). It is estimated that Hinduism appeared around 2000 BC and that Vedism or the religion of Veda represents its oldest aspect (~ 1500 to 900 BC). The Vedic texts are the first literary monuments of India and the most archaic testimony of the religion called Brahmanism (~ 900 to 400 BC) which later became Hinduism (Renou 1979, 5). It was during the Vedic period that the four Vedas, the founding texts of Hinduism were formed. The oldest texts are made up of the four Saṃhitā, or collections constituting the four Veda, namely: the Ṛgveda or "Veda of stanzas", the Yajurveda or "Veda of formulas", the Sāmaveda or "Veda of melodies" and the Atharvaveda of a magical nature (Renou 1979, 7). Each Veda is made up of four parts: Samhita, Brahmanas, Aranyakas and the Upanishads. Samhita is a collection of mantras (hymns). The hymns of the Vedas are recited to honor the natural elements: fire, rain, wind, rivers, mountains... (Ramnohur 2002, ii). The Brāhmaṇās include religious precepts and duties, the Āraṇyakas are forest treaties intended for hermits and the Upaniṣad comment on questions of a philosophical nature (Ramnohur, 3). The Vedas are referred to as Shruti (which is revealed) and more recent texts are called Smriti (which is remembered or memory/tradition).


Hinduism is also referred to as sanâtana dharma ("eternal socio-cosmic order") by Orthodox Hindus for whom the main source of religious education is the Puranas (Ramnohur, 1). The Puranas are part of Smiriti and are called the "popular" Vedas because their purpose is to allow the population to decode the ancestral texts. There are eighteen Puranas, six dedicated to Vishnu, six to Shiva and six to Brahma. The Smriti include the epics the Rāmāyana, the Mahābhārata (with the Bharatas from which the Bhagavad-Gita originates). These texts are considered sacred by the Hindus. The epic Rāmāyana, written by Valmiki, is a poetic description of the life and actions of the god Rama. The Mahābhārata, written by Vyasa, relates the fight between the Kauravas and the Pandavas. The Bhagavad-Gita includes eighteen chapters during which Krishna maintains Arjuna of many subjects among which the immortality of the soul, Yoga, war, devotion...


Hinduism is a polytheistic religion which contains several million divinities but the different divinities are regarded as the different forms of the same divine expression underpinned by an ultimate reality. Hindus believe in personal and impersonal gods. The major personal gods are those of the Trimūrti, namely Brahmâ, Vishnu and Shiva, who correspond respectively to the Creator, the Protector and the Destroyer (Ramnohur v). The Hindus accept the doctrine of various incarnations (avatar) of the Trimūrti (Krishna is an avatar of Vishnu). Minor deities are creations or procreations of major deities. For example, Ganesh, who is an important deity in Hinduism, is related to Shiva.


Hinduism is both a highly organized way of life and social and religious system, often compared to the course of a river and its tributaries. Thus, through its diversity, Hinduism reflects the diversity of human nature. We can therefore understand the impact that Eastern philosophies and Hinduism in particular have had on J.M.G Le Clézio. In an interview given in India, he declares "I always read with enough regularity the Oupanishads and the Bhâgavata gîta and I even recently discovered with much enthusiasm the Mahabharata (...) I believe that of all the books I have read are one of my favorites" (La Revue de l’Inde, 2010). In his novel La Quarantaine, Le Clézio places Mauritius in the Hindu sphere in opposition to the Mauritian oligarchy and he largely calls upon Hindu mythology to operate this reversal of perspective. A study on the symbolic role of the river in the novel shows that it is the Ganges which really bathes and irrigates the novel from start to finish (with its tributary La Yamuna). It is a novel within the novel that feeds the flow of narration and gives meaning to the text (Mauguière 2009, 162).

The legend of the descent of the Ganges is told in several ancient Hindu texts, in particular in the Bhāgavata Purāna and it is an extract from this text that Le Clézio highlighted in La Quarantaine:


At the twilight of this age

when all kings will be thieves

Kalki, the lord of the universe,

Will be reborn from the glory of Vishnu

(Bhāgavata Purāna I, 3, 26)


The novel is therefore placed under the aegis of the Bhāgavata Purāna, this religious treaty which describes the life of the hero-god Krishna (Mauguière 2004, 105). Kalki or Krishna is himself an avatar of Vishnu, guardian of the dharma, who incarnates on earth when the absence of law requires it ("when all kings are thieves"). The legend is also reported in the Rāmāyana (the journeys of Rama) which is considered to be the origin of all the Rāmāyana created in different periods by different poets. The legend of the Ganges is inserted in the first part of the Rāmāyana entitled Balkanda.

In La Quarantaine, as in the Rāmāyana, the rocks and the forests, the seas and the rivers, the clouds and the animals are an integral part of the epic in the same way as Rama, Sita or Leon and Suryavati. Le Clézio's project, like that of Valmiki, is to transform the Shoka (pain) into Shloka (verse). This is how we can understand the recitation of the 800 verses that line the descent of the river in La Quarantaine. We can see that the integration of Hindu mythology allows the true reconstruction of the origin in La Quarantaine (Mauguière 2009, 163).


A knowledge of Hindu philosophy related to the historical and mythical dimension of the novel makes it possible to supplement the reading of the text. Yama, who dominates the history of La Quarantaine, is the god of Death in India. In the Hindu epics, he appears as judge of the dead in a temporary place (Hades) where the bad deeds of humans are expiated in the interval between a birth and the next (Coomaraswamy 1967, 391). Among the avatars of Vishnu (10 in number) are Rama — Krishna and Buddha who is said to be the 9th. The tenth must come at the end of the present cosmic era. This is Kalki, of whom it is said at the end of La Quarantaine: “(…) We do not yet know Kalki, but he must come. No one knows when he will come, or who he will be, but it is becoming more and more obvious that his coming is near, that he will soon receive power ” (535). This quote recalls the highlighting at the beginning of the novel [“At the twilight of this age, […] Kalki, the lord of the universe, Will be reborn from the glory of Vishnu” (Baghavat Purana, I, 3, 26)] and reminds us that the end of the world is not an event to come, it is an event of psychological transformation, of visionary transformation (Campbell 1988, 230).


Bénédicte Mauguière



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