Kamala in Siddhartha

Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby
Kamala may be one of the most unique heroines in literature. In this lesson, we'll take a look at how a courtesan is transformed into a Buddhist disciple in ''Siddhartha''.

Who is Kamala?

Every great story needs a heroine, and Siddhartha is no exception. In fact, despite the fact that she begins the story as a courtesan, Kamala ultimately becomes one of the most dynamic characters in the story.

Yes, you read that right - Kamala begins the story as a courtesan. However, through her relationship with Siddhartha, she eventually discovers a path to enlightenment. In this lesson, we will see not only the role she played early in the story as a courtesan but also how, very probably, meeting Siddhartha made her set out on a completely different path that took her back to him.


When we first meet Kamala, she is represented as the most beautiful courtesan in town. Siddhartha has to use every bit of self-control to look her in the eye. She eventually becomes his great teacher of all things about physical love. However, there's a problem. It seems that the woman who has made her life about not falling in love may have just started to fall for Siddhartha. She tells him that she'd like to bear his child, but then says something heart-breaking: 'And yet, my dear, you've remained a Samana, and yet you do not love me, you love nobody. Isn't it so?'

When Siddhartha leaves, she decides to become a disciple of Buddha, giving up her courtyard house. She does keep one reminder of the past, however - her son with Siddhartha, also named Siddhartha. Ultimately, while traveling with her son, she is bitten by a snake and dies at the river ferry crossing where her former lover now lives.

Interactions with Siddhartha

We can really divide Kamala's interactions with Siddhartha into three distinct periods. At the beginning, there was puzzlement. Why is this holy man wanting to learn something from her? After all, she's used to Brahmins and other well-dressed people, but not a Samana. In fact, she sees him as a price tag: 'No, my dear, he doesn't satisfy me yet. Clothes are what he must have, pretty clothes, and shoes, pretty shoes, and lots of money in his pouch, and gifts for Kamala.'

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