Modern Languages and Literatures, Department of


Date of this Version

June 2001


Published in The International Fiction Review 28:1&2 (2001), pp. 88-96. Copyright International Fiction Association, Fredericton, N.B. Used by permission.


Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita (1966-67) has been praised highly for both its literary merit and its spiritual significance. Many critical studies explain the complex nature of the interrelationship between the natural and supernatural in the novel. The unexpected roles that otherworldly beings play in the novel, the resulting satire, and the fantastic in the plot create a certain inevitable puzzlement about the structure and meaning of the novel. Attempts to explain the implications of the spiritual elements underpinning the fantastic span through various belief systems, but given the complexity of Bulgakov's novel, a coherent, conclusive explanation has been elusive.

Central to my reading of Bulgakov's novel is the recognition that divinity's presence in The Master and Margarita is more complex than its apparent Christian representation. This reading draws upon an older religious tradition, namely, the Hindu system of belief, to establish correspondences between Hindu images of God and Bulgakov's portrayal of otherworldly entities. Because these correspondences are scattered across a variety of Hindu myths and beliefs, it is difficult to draw a coherent picture and claim that Bulgakov based his fictional divinity on any specific Hindu system. However, various ancient beliefs of Hinduism can be seen to illumine the relationship between different worlds that are brought together, the role of God and the devil, and the nature of divine intervention in the lives of ordinary mortals in Bulgakov's novel. I will restrict myself to the portrayal of the devil, the Master, and Margarita, whom I will compare to relevant images from Hindu mythology.