Research Scholar, Andhra University


Raja Rao is the first Indo-Anglian novelist who has effectively exploited the Gandhian Myth–translating reality into the poetry of his novel Kanthapura. The spirit of Gandhi pervades the whole story. The hero, Moorthy, is called a “Gandhi Man”. How Moorthy was first impressed by Gandhi, forms an interesting anecdote of the novel. When still young,


“...One day he had seen a vision, a vision of the Mahatma, mighty and God-beaming; stealing between volunteers, Moorthy had got on to the platform, and he stood by the Mahatma, and the very skin of the Mahatma seemed to send out a mellowed force and love, and he stood by one of the fanners and whispered, ‘Brother, the next is me’.”


Soon he gets his chance to fan, but being unable to endure the atmosphere, suffused with high seriousness, he falls at the feet of the Mahatma, crying aloud, “Mahatma Gandhi ki Jai”.


“The Mahatma lifted him up and, before them all, he said, ‘What can I do for you, my son?’ and Moorthy said, like Hanuman to Rama, ‘Any command’ and the Mahatma said, ‘I give no commands save to seek the truth’ and Moorthy said, ‘I am ignorant, how can I seek the Truth?’ and the people around him were trying to hush him and to take him away, but the Mahatma said, ‘You wear foreign cloth, my son’–‘It will go Mahatmaji’–You perhaps go to foreign universities.’–‘It will go Mahatmaji’–‘You can help your country by going and working among the dumb millions of the villages. ‘So be it, Mahatmaji, and the Mahatma patted him on the back, and through that touch was revealed to him, as the day is revealed to the night, the sheath-less being of the soul...”


Moorthy immediately chucks up his studies to become a “Gandhi’s Man”. This episode reminds us of the Narendra encounter with Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, in its spiritual awakening. No wonder then, Moorthy, as regularly as he can, arranges Harikathas at the, temple–the story generally being “Gandhi Purana”. Raja Rao vividly describes the actual recital of a Harikatha in which Gandhi is represented as the holy Avatar of Siva. Even the ideal of Swaraj assumes a divine significance:


“Siva is the three-eyed, and Swaraj too is three-eyed: Self-purification, Hindu-Muslim Unity, Khaddar.”


The Mahatma is compared to Krishna: “men followed him, more and more men followed, as they did Krishna, the flute-player.” Gandhi-Bhajans come in handy for Moorthy to rouse the dormant national consciousness of the villagers.


Though the Mahatma is not directly presented as one of the characters in action, the entire action is sustained by the spirit of Gandhi; Moorthy invokes the blessings of Gandhi in every one of his actions; he exactly puts in practice whatever is said by the Mahatma. He undertakes, for instance, a self-purificatory fast–just as Gandhi would have done in a similar position–after the violent scenes at the Coffee Estate. Naturally, therefore, the people of Kanthapura regard him as the Mahatma himself! Range Gowda says to Moorthy, “You are our Gandhi “, and proceeds to explain to others in his own simple way:


“….He is our Gandhi. The State of Mysore has a Maharajah, but that Maharaja has another Maharaja who is in London, and that one has another one in Heaven, and so everybody has his own Mahatma and this Moorthy…will be our Mahatma.” Thus the presence of Gandhi is always felt. “Gandhi Mahatma ki Jai” and “Vande Mataram” are vital war-cries of the non-violent soldiers of the Congress Movement. When news reaches Kanthapura about the Mahatma’s Salt Satyagraha March to Dandi, everyone in Kanthapura eagerly awaits orders from the Congress to join the march. The arrest of the Mahatma shocks them, but they continue their peaceful fight under the leadership of their saintly Moorthy. Their faith in Gandhi is unshakable: joyously they sing,


“There’s one Government, Sister,

There’s one Government, Sister,

And that’s the Government of Mahatma.”


Finally, when Gandhi goes to the Round Table Conference prior to the Gandhi-Irvin Pact, Sri Rama’s exile, and his invasion of Lanka to bring back Sita, killing Ravana, is invoked in comparison:


“He will bring us Swaraj, the Mahatma…And Rama will come back from exile, and Sita will be with him, for Ravana will be slain and Sita freed, and he will come back with Sita on his right in a chariot of the air, and brother Bharata will go to meet them with the worshipped sandals of the Master on his head. And as they enter Ayodhya, there will be a rain of flowers”..Like Bharata we worship the sandals of the Brother Saint.”


Thus, Mahatma Gandhi is the invisible hero of Kanthapura; the Gandhian Image is convincingly integrated with the main action.


In Nagarajan’s Chronicles of Kedaram, Gandhi is represented, not as an Avatar, but as a benign and tactful national leader and a successful peace-maker (and probably vote-catcher too, to judge from what that arch-politician Vanchi does).


“Kedaram in the later half of 1934, bore no resemblance to the Kedaram of a generation; before.”


So says the narrator, Koni. Congress decides to enter the legislatures; but they have to wage the toughest fight with the Justice Party. The local Congress candidate, Vanchinatha Sastry, realizes the value of even a single visit of Gandhi, and persuades him to visit Kedaram

once. Pleased with Vanchi’s Work, Gandhi includes Kedaram also in his itinerary. His tour ends successfully, as he could make the most vivid and lasting impression on the minds of the people. His tour results, firstly, in the routing of the Justice Party in Kedaram and, secondly, in the settlement of a long-standing dispute between two sections of Aiyangars. The priests, however, feel happy:


“It was worth having a quarrel to have it settled by Mahatmaji.”


There are two contrasting points in the Gandhian Image of Raja Rao’s Kanthapura and Nagarajan’s Chronicles of Kedaram. Firstly, unlike in Kanthapura, Gandhiji is regarded as a Mahatma but, the aura of an Avatar as in Kanthapura, is not to be found in the Chronicles. Secondly, Gandhiji, takes a part, however minor, directly, in the action of the Chronicles of Kedaram. But Nagarajan and Raja Rao, both deal with the National Movement during the 1930s. The former presents the Congress organisation in action, while the latter stresses the greatness of the Moving Spirit of the Congress. But, after all, the Image of Gandhi is but the political variant of nationalism.


Perhaps a closer parallel of the Gandhian Image of Raja Rao, appears in Mulkraj Anand’s Untouchable. The novel narrates the experiences of a young untouchable, on one of the ordinary routine days. Having suffered the most miserable treatment, Bakha, the untouchable young man of eighteen, bitterly complains to his father,


“…They think we are mere dirt because we clean their dirt. That Pundit in the temple tried to molest Sohini (sister) and then came shouting ‘Polluted, Polluted’... I won’t go down to the town again.”


In the evening he rambles along in a thoughtful mood when he hears the enthusiastic cheers of the followers of Gandhi; and, amidst the deafening cries of “Mahatma Gandhi ki Jai”, he suddenly hears the shouting, “Mahatma has come,” “Mahatma has come”. The word Mahatma has a magnetic effect on him; and, all the excitement and commotion “portended one thought and one thought alone in the surging crowd–Gandhi.”


Bakha stands staring at the flowing humanity. He recalls all that he heard of this man:


“People said, he was a saint, that he was an Avatar (incarnation) of the gods Vishnu and Krishna And they said no sword could cut his body, no bullet could pierce his skin, no fire could scorch him.”


To a peasant, “Gandhi was a legend, a tradition, an oracle. He had heard from time to time, during the last fourteen years, how a saint had arisen as great as Guru Nanak, the incarnation of Krishnaji Maharaj, of whom the ‘ferunghi sarkar’ (English Government) was very much afraid.” At last Gandhi addresses the meeting; Bakha is thrilled to hear the Mahatma.


This Image seems to be the closest to that of Raja Rao.


Even so detached a novelist as R. K. Narayan seems to have been awakened into a consciousness of the new national upsurge during and after Gandhi’s Salt Satyagraha of 1930. His Waiting for the Mahatma is based more on history than on legend. Even the popular imagination seems to be so well-disciplined under the guidance of Narayan. His Waiting for the Mahatma offers an interesting study in contrast with Raja Rao’s Kanthapura.


Waiting for the Mahatama has only a heroine, and no hero; and Kanthapura has only a hero, and no heroine. True, of course, Sriram in Waiting for the Mahatma and Ratna in Kanthapura may act the respective roles; but their personalities are either constantly constrained or simply dwarfed by the more vigorous and dynamic Bharati and Moorthy respectively. Idealistic and strong-willed, Bharati responds to the call of Bapuji and dedicates herself completely to the national cause. Sriram is fascinated by her charming personality and is, in fact, smitten with love at first sight. And in order to get her friendship and love, he joins the Volunteer Corps; his whole romantic affair takes place against the multi-coloured background of Gandhian politics. On every Occasion; it is Bharati who masters the situation, and not Sriram. Bapuji merely smiles on the childish pranks of Sriram, and entrusts him to the care of Bharati. She is his “guru”. This is how Gandhi is first introduced to us:


“Who is She?” Sriram asked…..


The jaggery merchant threw a swift look at him which seemed slightly sneering, and said, “She has something to do with Mahatma Gandhi and is collecting a fund. You know the Mahatma is coming.”


Sriram suddenly remembers that “Malgudi was about to have the honour of receiving Mahatma Gandhi”.


But it is actually in the evening that Gandhi appears before the people:


“In the evening, on the banks of the Sarayu, the people anxiously await the arrival of Gandhi. Then there was a sudden lull when Gandhi arrived on the platform and took his seat…”


Gandhi’s southern tour commences, almost immediately; his message of love, non-violence and Swarajya is carried to every nook by his vigilant and energetic and dedicated volunteers. Sriram also wants to join them.


Sriram’s first interview with Gandhi is in sharp contrast with the vision-meeting of Moorthy and Mahatma. Doubtless, Sriram’s interview is more touching, on the human level quite appropriate to its romantic theme; and it has none of the mystical and awesome qualities of Moorthy’s vision. Sriram’s mistaken zeal surely lands him in troubles; he is converted into a terrorist–doing exactly the opposite of Gandhi’s teachings.


Perhaps, the most vital difference between Kanthapura and Waiting for the Mahatma is in the maintenance of the Gandhian Image in the same undisturbed focus throughout. Narayan’s attempt is the most ambitious–beginning in the Thirties, it ends with the assassination of Gandhi in 1948. The Image, as it is sought out, is too titanic to be presented in undimmed light within the chosen compass. On the other hand, the action in Kanthapura concludes with the departure of Gandhi to attend the Round Table Conference in London, soon after the Salt Satyagraha is halted. The range is radically limited–that the story in relation to the village Kanthapura comes to a full stop by the year 1931. The concentration and rapid action of Kanthapura are impressive, while the want of those qualities in Waiting for the Mahatma makes it rather otiose as a political novel.


Secondly, in Kanthapura the impact of Gandhi is indirect, though not imperceptible, while Bapuji in Waiting for the Mahatma is almost one of the most active characters, directing the action; and, after all, everyone–including the assassin–waits for the Mahatma. Thus, it appears, in Anand’s Untouchable, it is incidental; and, in Nagarajan’s Chronicles of Kedaram, it is all part of a political plan or strategy carefully conceived and efficiently executed by the scheming Vanchinatha Sastry. Narayan’s novel has it more realistically, without any mystical mist. But, in Raja Rao’s Kanthapura, however, it is the archetypal Image.


It is also a masterly exposition of the Gandhian phase of the Indian National Movement. However, Kanthapura is primarily a Sthala Purana, but not a mere panegyric or “Gandhi Purana”. Of course, Gandhi is the living Image that sustains it, the myth-making, hero-worshipping tradition of India regarding him as a remote legendary leader with saintly virtues and divine ordinance. Gandhi, being the symbolic prototype of the universal values of life–Truth, Non-violence and Freedom–elevates this Sthala Purana of Kanthapura to the status of a Jagat Purana.