A Reexamination of The Master and Margarita

Radha Balasubramanian, University of Nebraska

Bulgakov's Master and Margarita is studied for the most part from the point of view of Christianity, specifically orthodox Christianity, to explain the natural and supernatural realms and their interrelationship in the novel. I propose to extend this study and look at the novel from some ancient beliefs of Hinduism to further illuminate the criss-crossing of different worlds, the role of God and devil, and the way to find the ultimate truth through divine intervention. I feel among non-western religions, Hinduism offers a very wide scope of explanations including within it seemingly contradictory elements to form a harmonious whole. Hindus firmly believe that, if God is looked upon as the savior of man, he must manifest himself, whenever the forces of evil threaten to destroy human values. In Indian mythology God is incarnated in this world different forms at different times for different purposes (the more well known of such incarnations of Rama and Krishna are recorded in the epics Ramayana and The Mahabharata). Similar to the role of God in Hindu mythology, divinity intervenes (as a devil) to expose moral degradation in Moscow in Bulgakov's novel. In order to reaffirm the divinity of the devil, Bulgakov parallels his stay in Moscow with the Holy Week in Jerusalem, crunches the time elapsed between Christ's life and present-day Moscow, and has the devil recounting the facts from the historical past when Christ was crucified. It is not God, but the devil, who comes to Moscow, as the emissary to assert the existence of God.

The epigraph to the novel points to the importance of Bulgakov's devil's unexpected characteristic: as one who "forever works good," but seldom "wills evil." Seen through Hindu beliefs, this dichotomy in the devil is a part of the divine (which is God or "Brahman"). That is, the supreme one combines all opposites within itself. Some of these broad concepts of Hinduism explains the unconventional premise on which the novel is based. Regardless of whether or not Bulgakov was directly influenced by Hinduism, there are many more smaller details which lead me to believe that he was presenting a pantheistic understanding of the world akin to Hinduism. This becomes evident in Bulgakov's inclusion of animals, birds, precious metals, colors, and symbols (triangles, diamonds, etc.), all of which have a particular function to play the bizarre plot. For example, Voland, who adorns himself with gold which is linked to the gods and goddesses of the sun (Cunningham 1992), claims he was present inconspicuously at the crucifixion. It appears that he might have taken the form of a sparrow which is also connected to the sun god (Andrew 1995).

The hero and heroine are mystified and unrealistic. The Master, besides being compared to Pilate, Woland and Bulgakov, has also been identified with Christ in the novel. Obviously, his personality which appears fantastic and unfinished, has been given a purpose: reestablishing faith through his writing. It will not be far-fetched to see his being as an incarnation of God Vishnu who is personified in ten forms ("dasa avatars") when he is concerned with social and political realities of the world and moral balance on earth. Like, Christ and Vishnu, the Master's sole purpose is to restore human values in the morally corrupt, atheistic Russia through his writing. The heroine, Margarita, is presented as neither human nor a witch and is often difficult to characterize. But when seen as Hindu deities, Radha and Kali, who embody feminine love and power through their sublime and fierce images, her role as a lover and a restorer of goodness and truth becomes easily comprehensible.

Thus I propose to delve beyond Old Testament and Hebraic tradition to explain some of the features from a new angle. My interpretation does not repudiate the antecedents established until now, but rather enhances them and gives a richer understanding of the novel.