Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Because “Under the Banyan Tree” celebrates the life and art of an illiterate storyteller, its underlying theme is the concept of art as divine inspiration. Nambi’s character embodies and exemplifies this concept. He represents the maker or magician who dreams up fantastic tales. Because he never learned how to read and write, he believes that his talent to weave enchanting stories in his imagination and then deliver them eloquently to his audience is a gift from the goddess. Being a staunch and self-effacing devotee, he regards himself as only a medium through which the goddess speaks. His isolation in the sanctum, his deep meditation, and his dreamlike inspiration before the commencement of each story all seem to support this interpretation. When he comes out of the temple in a trancelike state, he looks like an old wizard, with his forehead resplendent with ash, vermilion, and the white heat of imagination.

Narayan’s recurrent use of a number of images and symbols in the story further supports this interpretation. For example, Nambi attributes his creative powers to the goddess Shakti. The word shakti literally means power or energy. The goddess Shakti, as consort of the god Siva, represents the creative energy of the universe in Hindu art and mythology. Further, every time Nambi tells a story, he lights a small lamp and keeps it at the trunk of the banyan tree. A lamp, which illuminates, projects, and transfigures ordinary objects, is...

(The entire section is 436 words.)