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Book Review of 'Khanthapura'

by Tasneem Raza
(Aligarh, UP, India)


Title of the Book - KANTHAPURA
Author - Raja Rao

Kanthapura being the maiden novel of Raja Rao beautifully draws a parallelism between Indian mythology and the freedom struggle of Gandhi. It was written and published in 1930s when the struggle for Indian independence was at its peak. Rao magnificently intermixes the myth of India to the life of Gandhi.

Raja Rao has written this novel in France and it was first published in London in the year 1938. He resembles Rama and Bharatha in a very stupendous manner. He describes Gandhi and Indian mythology in such a wonderful way that Gandhi’s struggle seems to be an imitation of Indian myth. Kanthapura is a kind of depiction of spiritual power over demonic forces. Myth in India is an integral part of Indian lives and plays a crucial role in creating a spiritual and religious role in Hinduism. The epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata have a vital place in one’s life. That is why the intermingling of the events of Gandhi’s life with the myth of Rama and Krishna plays a prominent role in the life of the people of Kanthapura.

Raja Rao depicts Parvati as motherland India and compares Swaraj to Shiva. He writes, “And Parvati in penance becomes the country and Siva becomes heaven knows what!” (20). Our motherland is suffering from a kind of penance in order to achieve freedom like Parvati did to achieve Shiva. Parvati’s restlessness to win over Shiva is analogous to mother India’s restlessness to get freedom. Rao also compares the three-eyed Shiva to the three motives of Swaraj and quotes, “‘Siva is the three-eyed’, he says, ‘and Swaraj too is three-eyed: Self-purification, Hindu-Moslem unity, Khaddar’” (20).

Through the story of Jayaramachar, a storyteller, Rao asks Brahma, “the Self-created One” (21), to send one of his Gods “ that he may incarnate on Earth and bring backlight and plenty to your enslaved daughter...” (21). He represents Gandhi as the incarnation of Shiva who will free the daughter of the Earth (India) from the enforced slavery (by Britishers). He opines, “Siva himself will forthwith go and incarnate on the Earth and tree my beloved daughter from her enforced slavery” (20-21).

Rao again draws a comparison between Krishna and Gandhi through Jayaramachar’s harikatha. Alike Krishna, who started fighting against the devilish forces in his infancy and killed a serpent named Kalia at a very young age of four, Gandhi too started fighting against the Britishers who is our enemy and will win like Krishna. Rao compares foreign rulers to the serpent Kalia. Gandhi’s voice and words are compared to Krishna’s flute, his voice and words are as pure and sweet as the flute of Krishna due to which people get attracted towards him and start following him in large numbers. He then says that Gandhi is a saint and “his enemies fall at his feet” (23). Here Gandhi is presented as the incarnation of Krishna.

At one instance of the novel, parallelism has been shown between Gandhi and Harishchandra (the only earthly king who got a place in the assembly of Gods). Harishchandra appears in many Indian epics, who gave up all his materialistic desire and became a slave in order to fulfill his promise to Vishwamitra. He is also termed as Satyawadi, a truthful man, who never lied in his lifetime. Similarly, Gandhi also gave up all his materialistic love and worldly desires and followed the path of Satyagrah. Rao quotes, “Like Harishchandra before he finished his vow, the gods will come down and dissolve his vow, and the Britishers will leave India, and we shall be free, and we shall pay fewer taxes, and there will be no policemen” (172). There is direct parallelism drawn between Gandhi and Harishchandra by the author and in the above lines he says that something miraculous will take place and the Britishers will leave India and then we will be free from the demonic clutches of Red-man (Britishers).

Later in the last chapter of the novel, Rao compares Gandhi to Rama and Nehru to Bharatha. He says,

“You know Jawaharlal is like a Bharatha to the Mahatma, and he, too, is for non-violence and he, too, is a Satyagrahi, but he says in Swaraj there shall be neither the rich nor the poor. And he calls himself an ‘equal-distributionist’...” (256-257). Swaraj is represented as Sita whereas Ravana is replaced by Britishers or Red-man by the author. Rao depicts that like Rama who went to Lanka (where Sita was kept captive by Ravana) to bring back Sita from the clutches of Ravana and ultimately won the battle brought back Sita and Bharatha, the younger and half brother of Rama, goes to meet them with the sandals of Rama on his head and brings them back to Ayodhya in the same manner Gandhi (Rama) will go to Redman's country (Ravana place) and bring Swaraj (Sita) to us and Nehru (Bharatha) will welcome him. K.R.S. Iyengar in his book The Indian Contribution to English Literature quotes, “ Kanthapura...Rama and Bharatha or Gandhi and Jawaharlal are but powers and personalities assumed by Bharatamata to make herself real and radiantly visible to the four hundred million that live in the seven lakhs of Kanthapuras that constitute her potent and life-giving nerve-cells.”

It is clearly illustrated that Rao has interwoven mythology with reality in this novel. It is a wonderful representation of how the majority of people of Kanthapura are mesmerized by this new way of telling Harikatha. K.R.S Iyenger rightly says, “The reign of the Red-Man is as Asuric rule, and it is raised by the Devas, the Satyagrahis.” It can also be said that Rao has represented Gandhi in Kanthapura as a real God with divine power, Moorthy as his true follower, Satyagraha as a religion, Swaraj as Sita, Ratna as Shakti and Patel as Nehru.


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