Shridaman, a merchant who is well versed in classical learning, twenty-one years old and of delicate build. His father, also a merchant in the village of Welfare of Cows in the land of Kosala, was of Brahman stock and very familiar with Vedic texts. Shridaman has all the attributes of a man of the mind. It is for this reason that he is attracted to his mental and physical opposite, Nanda. They are friends and inseparable. It is through Nanda that Shridaman is introduced to the pleasures of the flesh and the senses. It is also through him that he comes to know the identity of his future wife. By accident, he and Nanda witness Sita’s ritual ablutions near the temple of Kali. Shridaman falls in love with her. Because Nanda and Sita knew each other as children, Nanda is able to bring Sita and his friend together. It is Shridaman’s admiration for his friend’s physical strength and uncomplicated mind, as well as his love for Sita, that finally leads him to acknowledge Sita’s longing for Nanda by sacrificing himself in the temple of Kali, “the great mother.” With the same loyalty and devotion, he accepts his new existence as an amalgam of his former self and that of his friend. His honesty, fair-mindedness, and love for Sita ultimately lead him to agree to a murder-suicide pact that results in a triple funeral pyre. Through this, the conflict between the friend and the couple may be resolved and their child’s future happiness ensured.
Nanda, a shepherd and blacksmith who is eighteen years old. He is dark-skinned, with a big, flat nose and a strong, muscular body. His father is also a smith. Nanda has a “lucky calf lock” on his chest. Nanda is devoted to his friend Shridaman, whom he admires for his learning and slender, “elegant” physique. Nanda, although loyal to Shridaman and intent on avoiding any hint of an interest in Sita, Shridaman’s wife, is nevertheless secretly desirous of her, just as Sita is of him. After his unquestioning immolation before the corpse of his friend in Kali’s temple and his cheerful acceptance of a new physical identity, he also accepts willingly...
(The entire section is 881 words.)