Finally, to the basic plot itself. The focus of the novel is on two Gujarati Brahmin families. The family of Lakshminandan is settled in Bombay, has a roaring business, and is very wealthy. Saraswatichandra, the brilliant scholar-to-be, is born to Lakshminandan and Chandralakshmi. He has a dazzling career to look forward to as he is steeped in Sanskrit and English classics, is a barrister by qualification and has tried his hand successfully at his father's business. The other family is that of Vidyachatur, the highly knowledgeable prime minister of the court of King Maniraj of (the fictional) kingdom of Ratnanagari. To him and his wife, Gunasundari, the lady of tremendous qualities, are born two daughters, Kumudsundari (the elder) and Kusumsundari. Saraswatichandra's mother dies, and Lakshminandan remarries. The step-mother, Guman, is a typical specimen, and treats her step-son with suspicion and dislike. Meanwhile, Saraswatichandra and Kumudsundari are engaged to be married, subsequent to which they exchange letters and fall in love without having seen each other; he, charmed with Kumud's tenderness and similar likes and she, taken in by his vast knowledge and excellent qualities.
Things reach a head in Saraswatichandra's home when he realizes that even his father suspects him of having an interest only in the family wealth and he decides to renounce his home. His best friend, Chandrakant, tries his best to use every argument he can think of to prevent his friend from carrying out this terrible vow. But Saraswatichandra is not amenable to argument, and he leaves, thus not only renouncing home and wealth, but also leaving young Kumud in the lurch. He proceeds by sea to (the fictional) Suvarnapur. By the time he reaches there, Kumud has already been married off to Pramad-dhan, the wayward son of Buddhidhan, the man who is slated to become prime minister of Suvarnapur.
And thus, we come to the third family. Buddhidhan is a Bania (vaaNiyaa) and has a sharp intelligence and political sense, by which he manages to overturn the reign of Suvarnapur's ruler, Jadsinh, and his administrators, Dushtrai and Shathrai. His own Rajput friend, Bhoopsinh, becomes king and Buddhidhan, his prime minister. Saraswatichandra stays at Buddhidhan's place calling himself Navinchandra, and watches all this political activity with interest. Inevitably, he comes into contact a few times with Kumud, the daughter-in-law of the house. Love for each other ignites again, and a lowly companion of the daughter of the house takes advantage of this and incites Pramad-dhan against his wife.
On the day Buddhidhan gets the prime minister's post, Saraswatichandra leaves his house due to the tensions that contact with Kumud is causing them both and leaves without a destination in mind. He steps into a cart going towards Manoharpuri in Ratnanagari. Meanwhile, Kumud is also on her way in a palanquin and accompanied by guards, to see her mother in Manoharpuri. Saraswatichandra's is attacked by bandits and they leave him injured in a forest. An attack on Kumud is also planned by the bandits, and knowing this, Kumud's grandfather, Maanchatur, leads a team to counter the bandits. They manage to foil the bandits' plans, capture their leader, but then, Kumud, fearing shame and infamy, tries to commit suicide by jumping into the Subhadra river. Despairing for her life, Maanchatur returns and everybody assumes her dead.
Saraswatichandra, meanwhile, is rescued by a group of ascetics and taken to their ashram on the nearby mountains of Sundargiri. Here, Saraswatichandra impresses the head monk, Vishnudas, by his breadth of knowledge and eventually makes him name him as his successor to the post of head monk. Kumud also survives and her unconscious body is caught by a lady ascetic, Chandraavali, and her companions. This group takes Kumud to Vishnudas' ashram and both she and Saraswatichandra come to know of each other's presence there.
The ashram ascetics realize the facts of the past life of these two, and try their best to reunite them. In this attempt, they take them both to an isolated cave on the peak of Chiranjeevshrung. Here, spending four days and nights together, they undergo a mystical experience which convinces them to reunite. The major impediment is how the society will view this reunion. This is a complex problem, and they think of three different alternatives.
All this time, Lakshminandan has almost lost his mind in his son's absence, and Chandrakant vows to find his friend and is lodged at Vidyachatur's place for a long time. Ratnanagari's police and detectives find out where Saraswatichandra and Kumud are, and eventually, his entire family, as well as Lakshminandan and Guman, decide to visit Sundargiri, talk to Vishnudas about getting the two 'back into the world', and convince the two about the same. However, there is no consensus on the marriage of Kumud to Saraswatichandra. Ultimately, the only alternative possible without anyone getting outcast by society is this: Saraswatichandra must marry Kusum, Kumud's younger sister, Kumud must live an ascetic life with Chandraavali, although while visiting her relatives often, and Saraswatichandra must return to Bombay and manage his family business again.
This is the plot of the novel described in the briefest possible manner, without conveying even an iota of the emotions, the tension, the idealism of some characters and the pragmatism of others, the sheer vicissitudes of life in these three families after Saraswatichandra renounced home.