Raja Rao’s novel Kanthapura - The example of uniting fiction and reality

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2008 19 Pages



Table of contents

I. The significance of Raja Rao’s literary works

II. Raja Rao’s Kanthapura – the example of uniting fiction and reality
1. The village Kanthapura as the setting for the action
1.1. The characteristics of the village
1.2. Similarities between the author Raja Rao and Moorthappa, the protagonist of Kanthapura
1.3. Importance of nature and the meaning of legends and customs
2. Raja Rao’s literary technique in the novel Kanthapura
3. Gandhi’s strong influence on the fictional characters of Kanthapura
3.1. Myths and symbols depict Gandhi
3.2. The Civil Disobedience Movement in India and its consequences for the villagers of Kanthapura
3.3. Women’s role in Raja Rao’s novel

III. Literary review of the national freedom movement

IV. Bibliography

I. The significance of Raja Rao’s literary works

Studying Indian literature of the early twentieth century, one comes across the important Indian novelists Mulk Raj Anand, R. K. Narayan, Raja Rao. Their novels are still esteemed because of the realistic presentation of the past. Primarily, the novels owe their importance and famousness to the pressing political and social issues of the period, when the authors started their writing careers. For this reason, these authors have been placed among the foremost writers of the world.

This term paper focuses on the writer Raja Rao and his first major novel Kanthapura published in 1938. Raja Rao’s writings consist of several fictional and non-fictional works. Written in English, the literary works give the opportunity to become acquainted with the situation during the time in which the author lived, but also with ancient Indian traditions. Rao’s first novel Kanthapura presents the crucial historical events of the nineteen-thirties. The novel focuses on the villagers of Kanthapura who participate in India’s struggle for independence. In this term paper the features of the novel will be elaborated. It will have a good look at the credibility of the novel Kanthapura, at the East-West conflict as well as at Gandhi’s influence on the villagers of Kanthapura.

II. Raja Rao’s Kanthapura – the example of uniting fiction and reality

1. The village Kanthapura as the setting for the action

1.1. The characteristics of the village

The author relocated the events in a rural area. Thus, one might wonder why Rao did not select one of India’s cities, which - at that time - had been ruled by the British Government. For, in the first instance, the urban population clearly felt the consequence of the British decisions. Rao’s choice was connected with the fact that villages had always formed India (Weber, Max. The Religion of India: The Sociology of Hinduism and Buddhism. Ed. Hans H. Gerth, Don Martindale, New York: Free, 1967: 111). Long, before India came under the British rule, the village had been the only existing form of a community. The villagers were integrated in various economic and social functions. Due to division of labour, inhabitants of villages had to perform certain tasks. They either sold their hand-made products or they offered their services in exchange for payment (12). But it depended on the affiliation of the caste, which work the villagers had to do. Whereas members of the upper caste like the Hindus were in sophisticated positions like teachers or priests, other persons, who belonged to a lower caste, earned money e.g. by weaving. In the rural area, workers had a particular working-place which separated members of different castes (111).

Stratification into castes determined the members’ social position (30). Religious affiliation depended on birth (6). When a child descended from Hindu parents, then it likewise became a Hindu, too. But if a person belonged to another religion, he or she could not be a member of the Hinduism. In the village, the caste hierarchy was the “bearer of stability” (111). For centuries, religion had encompassed almost every facet of life. Spiritual experience and upholding Indian traditions gave the population reliability in a time, when their country came under the governance of Britain, and when the technical progress of the West was overflowing India (Sethi, Rumina. Myths of the Nation: National Identity and Literary Representation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999: 24). In the years after the beginning of the British Imperialism, the rural community provided orientation and steadiness in times of economic growth, rapid changes and disorder.

The British, however, regarded India as underdeveloped, precisely because India was mainly rural. India reflected the opposite of the “modern and progressive Britain”, where various towns were heavily industrialized (23). The inhabitants, however, connected the characteristics of India, neglected by the British, with India’s vigour and individuality (25). Furthermore, being considered to be the opposite of the city, the village took on an increasingly important role. In contrary to the city - basically associated with immorality and perfidy - the village, however, featured authenticity and naturalness, because the members of the society, their traditions and Indian values remained just as they had existed before the enforced influence resulting from the British rule (74 et seq.).

Raja Rao’s first novel becomes interesting for people who want to gain knowledge about the Indian rural life, because the community is displayed “as a ‘peasant society’” (28). The novel begins with a vivid description of the village Kanthapura which is “high on the Ghats” and “in the province of Kara” (Rao, Raja. Kanthapura. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1993: 1). The village is divided in five districts, namely in a “Brahmin quarter”, a “Pariah quarter”, a “Potter’s quarter”, a “Weaver’s quarter”, as well as a “Sudra quarter” (5). From this point of view, it results that every caste group has a particular social environment and an area in the “caste ridden traditional rural society”, where its members live and work (Sudhakar Rao, Akkinepally. Socio-Cultural Aspects of Life in the Selected Novels of Raja Rao . New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers and Distributors, 1999: 17).

By portraying the landscape and introducing her acquaintances, the narrator Achakka, an old woman of the village, takes the reader on a walk through the village. Mentioning the vicinity like the Tippur Hill, the river Himavathy and the red Kenchamma Hill, the novel creates a tranquil atmosphere. Unfortunately, the noise caused by labour, when Indian goods are shipped off across the sea, destroys the peaceful tranquillity for a moment (Rao 1993: 1). But as soon as the carts, which contain Indian commodities, have reached the hilltop, calmness returns to Kanthapura. This implies that the economical and political British intervention into the Indian daily life heavily disturbs the villagers.

1.2. Similarities between the author Raja Rao and Moorthappa, the protagonist of Kanthapura

While reading the novel Kanthapura, one notes the parallels between Raja Rao and the leading character of his first novel – concisely named - Moorthy. Concerning family background, intelligence and caste-affiliation, Rao and Moorthy are similar. Rao descended from a Brahman family and he was brought up as a Hindu. Like him, Moorthy also belongs to the Brahmin caste (Rao 1993: 20). Since Moorthy owns many acres of fallow land, waiting to be cultivated, he enjoys a high standard of living as other Brahmins do (37). As Rao was familiar with this region of India, for he was born in the city named Hassan, in South India, on November 9th in 1908, the action of the novel takes place in a village in Southern India. Both, the author and the protagonist of Kanthapura, are intellectually gifted. Rao had learned the French and English language at different universities of his country. Later, he attended Collège des Ecossais in France. Compared with Rao, Moorthy is also an intelligent man. At the beginning of the novel, Moorthy attends “the College”, but he resigns, when realizing his true destiny, i.e. his engagement in the fight for India’s independence (36).

Rao belonged to the “nationalist intelligentsia” of India (Sethi 1999: 117). As a member of this social group of people, but also as a writer, Rao attached importance to Indian culture, politics and literature. Therefore, he presented the complexity of the Indian village and embedded fables and legends in the story of Kanthapura. Moorthy also strives for upholding traditions of ancient India, for he arranges meetings in the evenings, when an invited story-teller honours different Hindu gods in his tales (Rao 1993: 8 et seq.).

Gandhi’ impact on the young author in the nineteen-thirties determined Rao’s writing. Rao highly esteemed Gandhi, because the political leader searched for freedom and liberty without using violence. Thus, the novel shows Gandhi’s powerful influence on the entire fictional village. Moorthy, the central figure of Kanthapura, has a close affinity with Rao concerning his political activity and views. Like Rao, Moorthy is inspired by Gandhi. Since Moorthy has decided to battle economic oppression and human degradation, he tries to improve the situation of the pariahs, who live in the village, as well as of those, who work at the Skeffington Coffee Estate. With this aim in view, Moorthy tries to gain the Brahmins’ support. Crossing traditional barriers of caste, Moorthy pursues the intention to unite people in order to achieve India’s independence.

1.3. Importance of nature and the meaning of legends and customs

Nature plays a significant role among the population of the village, because the mountains around the village and the river have always been present, even long before the first child was born in Kanthapura. All elements of nature have strong power over the village (Sethi 1999: 59). The attention is drawn to the river Himavathy as well as the Kenchamma Hill. According to the narrator Achakka, a legend has grown up around their origin. It is said that after a long and hard fight Kenchamma “the Goddess of the Hill” finally put an end to the terror caused by a demon in the village (Rao 1993: 2). His blood coloured the hill, named after the goddess, red. After having defeated the demon, Kenchamma started to live in Kanthapura. Her daughter Himavathy became the “Goddess of the River” (Rao 1993: 1).



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
466 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
University of Constance
Raja Rao’s Kanthapura British Government Hindu India Gandhi peaceful movement Non-Cooperation Movement religion fiction reality non-violent




Title: Raja Rao’s novel Kanthapura - The example of uniting fiction and reality