Siddhartha The protagonist of the novel, his life is vaguely based on that of Gotama Buddha (563?-483? B.C.), born Prince Siddhartha Gotama. Siddhartha is the personal name and means "he who is on the right road" or "he who has achieved his goal." Gotama is the clan name, and Buddha, which means "to know," is the title which his followers, who regarded him as almost a kind of god, gave to him.
Govinda Siddhartha's dearest friend and confidant. He is Siddhartha's follower, his "shadow."
The Samanas Three impoverished, emaciated ascetics who believe that temporal life is but an illusion; they practice extreme self-denial and meditation. Siddhartha and Govinda remain with the Samanas for three years.
Gotama Buddha The "Illustrious," the "Enlightened," the "Sakyamum" who achieved Nirvana, the supreme goal of Buddhism. "Sakyamum" means the "Sage of the Sakyas" and is a title given to the Buddha by those outside of his clan. Nirvana is a form of salvation from the process of rebirth (which is the result of desire) by the extinguishing of desire. What the Buddhist seeks to avoid is separation from the whole of life, the unity of existence. The life-death-rebirth cycle, rooted in the concept of the transmigration of souls, separates man from the whole and is thereby associated with evil. The Buddhist endeavors to extinguish desire and thereby suspend this cycle. The process of passing from one form of existence to another is suppressed by high aspiration, purity of life, and the elimination of the ego. The resulting suspension of the rebirth cycle is accompanied by a state in which man ceases to exist and, instead of becoming, he attains Being. Thought is the highest faculty of man and meditation holds a prominent place in the final steps of his deliverance. Buddha is nearly always depicted as sitting with his legs crossed and his feet facing upwards, the posture of meditation he had assumed under the Bo tree when he achieved enlightenment. The Buddha, although not a god, embodies the ideal of what any man may become; Buddhism seeks to vitalize this ideal in the minds of believers.
Kamala The courtesan from the city who claims that she is capable of dispensing and teaching love as an art, but who appears later among the followers of Buddha. In the city, Kamala is the embodiment of sensual desire, the polar opposite of Nirvana. She brings Siddhartha his son eleven years later; later still, she dies of snakebite.
Kamaswami The rich merchant for whom Siddhartha worked in the city. His name means "master of the material world."
Vasudeva The ferryman who takes Siddhartha across the river and with whom Siddhartha is later to live and work. Vasudeva is serene and enlightened and tells Siddhartha what the river can teach. Siddhartha eventually succeeds Vasudeva as the ferryman. Vasudeva is another name for Krishna, who is the teacher of Arjuna (the principal hero of the Bhagavad-Gita) and a human incarnation of Vishnu, a Hindu deity.