The Mark Of Vishnu By Khushwant Singh Essay

Basically, Khuswant Singh wants to convey the irony of one's beliefs in The Mark Of Vishnu.

In the story, Gunga Ram is a devotee of Vishnu. Vishnu is the preserver and protector of creation. For Gunga Ram, all living things are to be revered and cherished, even dangerous animals.

To him, all life was sacred, even if it was of a serpent or scorpion or centipede.

For the most part, he is an object of...

Basically, Khuswant Singh wants to convey the irony of one's beliefs in The Mark Of Vishnu.

In the story, Gunga Ram is a devotee of Vishnu. Vishnu is the preserver and protector of creation. For Gunga Ram, all living things are to be revered and cherished, even dangerous animals.

To him, all life was sacred, even if it was of a serpent or scorpion or centipede.

For the most part, he is an object of derision to the boys in the household. Above all, Gunga Ram's great regard for the Kala Nag (cobra) creates conflict between him and his master's children. It is obvious that Gunga Ram derives a sense of righteous dignity (in his position as a lowly servant) through his devoted defense of such dangerous creatures. Meanwhile, the boys are more concerned about displaying clear evidences of their masculine mastery over such treacherous wild enemies.

In the story, science is pitted against superstition. Both are sorely tested, but science wins in the end. The hapless Gunga Ram is attacked and brutally poisoned by the Kala Nag even as he bows his head in obeisance to the cruel god.

Gunga Ram collapsed with his hands covering his face. He groaned in agony. The poison blinded him instantly. Within a few minutes he turned pale and blue and froth appeared in his mouth. On his forehead were little drops of blood. These the teacher wiped with his handkerchief. Underneath was the V-mark where the Kala Nag had dug his fangs.

In describing the manner of his death, Khuswant Singh is highlighting the irony of Gunga Ram's implicit trust in his beliefs. Far from ensuring him long life, his blind worship has caused him to endure a cruel death. Alas, Vishnu, the one god who is supposed to tip the balance of the forces of good and evil in favor of the good, has chosen not to preserve the life of his seemingly devout supplicant, Gunga Ram.

The snake often emerges in Indian fiction as a multi-faceted symbol. Khushwant Singh seems to have made a tacit agreement in the use of serpent as a symbol in his short fiction – The Mark of Vishnu.

Khushwant Singh weaves a story around the superstition and blind reverence towards the snakes. The servant Gunga Ram, though a Brahmin was illiterate and full of superstition. He believes in the trinity Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, - the creator, the preserver and the destroyer. He is the devotee of Vishnu. And therefore, he smears his forehead every morning with V mark sandalwood paste to honour Vishnu. To him all life was sacred even if it was of a serpent or scorpion or centipede. Daily he puts saucer full milk outside the hole near the wall and says: this is for Kala Nag.

And by the morning finds the milk gone. The boys make fun of him, by saying that it is drunk by the cat. For, they are science students and know that the snakes don’t drink the milk and have also seen many in their science lab. But Gunga Ram does not agree this. Then the boys say they would kill Kala Nag. And the day comes, when there is a heavy rain and every hole is full of water, Kala Nag is seen basking in the bleak sun. The boys attack him and beat heavily and when he is weak they close him in a biscuit tin and bring it before their science teacher. The teacher opens it and Kala Nag with his hood spread attacks the teacher, who with fear and quick movement escapes.

Then the serpent waits for a while and then begins to move towards the door. There he sees another obstacle – Gunga Ram keeping saucerful milk before him – then Gunga Ram falls prostrate on the ground in full reverence. The serpent with all the anger bites on the forehead exactly where he has smeared V mark. The poor servant collapses with his hands covering his face. He is blinded and turns pale. There are little drops of blood on his forehead, which the science teacher wipes out his handkerchief. And there is V mark where the serpent has dug his fangs.


Gunga Ram, the devotee of Vishnu, is punished to death because he fails to understand fully the form and function of Kala Nag. Though he loves and reveres Kala Nag, but his love and reverence emanate from the superstition and improper comprehension of his deity. This shows how the serpent, if viewed irrationally and ignorantly, turns into a destroyer.

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