From his childhood, Hesse was interested in the Orient, and he visited India in 1911. His mother had been born in that country, and his father was a missionary there. Hesse went there, he said, “to see the sacred tree and snake (of Buddha) and to go back into that source of life where everything had begun and which signifies the Oneness of all phenomena.” He later wrote of his “deep veneration of the spirit of the East, which in Indian or Chinese dress...has become my consolation and prophecy.”
Hesse started Siddhartha in 1919 and finished it in 1922. The writing was interrupted for eighteen months while he immersed himself in the comparative study of religion. The major texts of Buddhism had been translated for the first time only twenty years previously, when Hesse was in his early twenties.
Siddhartha has always been one of Hesse’s most popular novels, and, not surprisingly, it has appealed to the East as well as the West. It was translated into nine Indian dialects and also achieved great popularity in Japan. In the elegance of its style and in the simple yet profound philosophy of life it expresses, it is probably the Western novel which best captures the spirit of India. Siddhartha represents the culmination of a long fascination which the Western literary mind, particularly German Romantics such as Novalis, whom Hesse venerated, felt toward the East.