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The Pilgrim Kamanita

Karl Gjellerup


Late one night, as he seeks shelter in a potter’s entrance hall, Kamanita meets an old ascetic. Encouraged by the monk, he relates the story of his life so far: how, born the son of an Indian merchant, he follows in his father’s footsteps; how, on his first trading trip, he meets and loses his great love Vasitthi; how he builds up a fortune and raises a family; and how one day he leaves everything behind to set on a pilgrimage. But the old monk is not who he seems, and when Kamanita refuses to accept his teachings, the consequences are startling and irreversible. What follows is a colorful, bewildering, revelation-filled journey through the past, present, and the Paradise of the West.

Sixteen years before Hermann Hesse published Siddharta, there was another European writer who used Buddhism as a source of inspiration for a novel. After earlier naturalistic works such as Minna and Germanernes Lærling (The German Apprentice), The Pilgrim Kamanita was a stylistic turning point for the Dane Karl Gjellerup. It became a worldwide success, and his subsequent novels would touch on Buddhism as well.

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