Kanthapura

by

Raja Rao

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Kanthapura: Foreword Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Rao explains that every Indian village has a “sthala-purana, or legendary history, of its own.” Often, a god or hero has passed through the village and left their mark in the memories of its inhabitants, so that in everyday life “the past mingles with the present, and the gods mingle with men.” Kanthapura is one such story about a village.
By narrating Kanthapura as a sthala-purana, Rao translates a traditional genre of oral history grounded in the peculiarities of local religion into the modern medium of the English-language novel. As a story of anticolonial resistance, it is worth noting that Rao is appropriating the colonialists’ language to tell this story. It suggests that it was important to him that the British and other westerners be able to read his words.
Themes
Oral Tradition, Writing, and Political Power Theme Icon
Land, Geography, and Belonging Theme Icon
Rao notes that “the telling has not been easy,” chiefly because translating Indian ways of thinking and constructing meaning into an “alien” language like English is so difficult. But English is not truly alien to Indians—it forms their “intellectual make-up.” Indians can write in English, but they “cannot write like the English”—rather, Indian English must become a “distinctive and colourful” dialect of the language, which “time alone will justify.” Indian writing in English must express “the tempo of Indian life,” which is a process of “rush and tumble and move on.”
Rao justifies his decision to tell Kanthapura's history in Achakka's distinctive style, which breaks most conventions of narrative voice by following a meandering stream of consciousness rather than a linear storyline. Thus, even though English is a colonial language, it still offers Indians a form of expression that subverts the colonial regime. Rao adapts a colonial tool to anticolonial purposes, writing in a style of English that is not the dry language of education and recordkeeping but rather the sort of vernacular language in which a sthala-purana would ordinarily be told.
Themes
Oral Tradition, Writing, and Political Power Theme Icon
Nationalism and Colonialism Theme Icon
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Rao suggests that this distinctive tempo accounts for the length of important Hindu epics like the Mahabharatha and Ramayana, which demonstrate the rambling, “ordinary style of our story-telling” that his narrator adopts. Rao imagines the story told by a grandmother, addressing a newcomer on her veranda at dusk, recounting her village’s “sad tale.”
Rao sees India as a way of thinking, layered and additive rather than linear and argumentative, and Achakka's oral style reflects that. He makes explicit her role as a village elder and suggests that his story of a village responding to colonialism can be read as the story of India's struggle against colonialism in miniature.
Themes
Oral Tradition, Writing, and Political Power Theme Icon
Nationalism and Colonialism Theme Icon
Related Quotes