Gandhian Politics and Religion in Raja Rao's 'Kanthapura'

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Gandhi’s mass movement during the freedom struggle aimed solely at arousing a nationalistic consciousness which would help in forming up a unique national identity constructed by uniting the masses. Achieving this is not an easy task considering the diversity in religion, caste, creed, etc. of the nation. In order to bring together those diverse sects under a common roof, Gandhi feels the need for secularism and religious tolerance. He professes his secular notion of religion and incites to the mind of the masses, the oneness of men, negating any sectarian religion and caste and class based divisions. As he observes: Man’s ultimate aim is the realization of God, and all his activities, political, social and religious, have to be guided by the ultimate aim of the vision of God. The immediate service of all human beings becomes a necessary part of the endeavor simply because the only way to find God is to see Him in His creation and be one with it. This can be done by service of all. And this cannot be done except through one’s country. (Chakrabarti 35)

This aspect of the Gandhian thought had an impact on the creative impetus of the Indian novelists in English. In this paper I will discuss on how Gandhian blending of politics and religion gives an impact on the minds of the Indian masses, especially of the villagers. Taking instances from Raja Rao’s novel kanthapura, I will seek to show how Gandhian political thoughts and teachings come in the guise of traditional religious terms and how it stirs the innocent and superstitious imaginations of the village folk. Gandhian secularism and spiritual teachings aim to dismantle the rigid social caste based structure, thereby enabling the masses to unite under a common religion, the religion of Truth and Love. The social and political programs of Gandhi converge with the religious aspect of his thought thereby making them appealing to the religious and superstitious Indian masses. The Gandhian revolution during the mass-upsurge of the freedom movement was deeply rooted in the religious tradition of the nation. As Rama Jha puts it, “with an uncanny understanding of his country men, Gandhi is the first Indian leader to realize that it was impossible to revolutionize them without drawing upon the resources of their religion” (Jha 88). India was religious by tradition and therefore in his political and social programs, Gandhi views religion and politics as inextricably intertwined. Gandhi was well aware of the Indian people’s lack of enthusiasm in collective actions and felt the need for stimulating their own indigenous resources. He based his thoughts on the traditional myths and religious terms which have their groundings on a more secular notion. In his novel Kanthapura, Raja Rao extensively observes the traditional religious sensibility of the villagers of Kanthapura and depicts how they endorse and follow the tenets of the Gandhian thoughts as words of God. Religion is deeply in the blood of the Indian masses and is inseparable to their life. The people of Kanthapura are deeply religious and superstitious like any other Indian villagers. Every sphere of their life activities are related to and influenced by religious myths and legends. This religious sensibility of the villagers is well understood by Gandhi and hence his political thoughts are propagated to the masses through its spiritual aspects. Prior to the advent of the Gandhian thoughts, Kanthapura lives a life of ignorance and religious superstitions keeping their absolute faith on Goddess Kenchamma as their only protector. Their life activities are mainly engaged in the devotion and rituals performed to offer to the Goddess. Separations between the castes are strictly observed and the atmosphere is deeply conservative. The whole scene of these innocent serenity and conservative rigidity begin to be disturbed with the advent of the Gandhian thoughts through Moorthy, the “little mahatma” of the village. However bringing...
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