Kanthapura

by

Raja Rao

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Kanthapura: Section 19 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Achakka explains that a year and two months have passed since the events at Kanthapura. The villagers have moved in with others in Kashipura, and life continues as usual, with the women cooking and arranging marriages for their sons and daughters. The village’s children consider them relations of the Mahatma and listen fondly to their stories. A local student even holds readings of Hindu scripture (but “it can never be like Ramakrishnayya’s”).
Achakka zooms back out from her narrative to the present, where, although the massacres have ended, unfortunately little has changed in people’s everyday lives. Women have returned to their previous role in the domestic sphere and Kashipura, like Kanthapura, is organized around storytelling gatherings—although the most popular story is precisely the one Achakka has told here.
Themes
Oral Tradition, Writing, and Political Power Theme Icon
Rangamma and Seenu will supposedly be released from prison soon, and Ratna has already gotten out. When she visited, Ratna told them about “the beatings and the tortures and the ‘Salute the Union Jack’ in the prison.”
The Gandhians continue to suffer from the government’s response to their protests. This includes Achakka, who has been separated from her son for over a year.
Themes
Nationalism and Colonialism Theme Icon
But the Mahatma and the Viceroy have come to an agreement, compromising many of the pilgrims’ initial conditions: Gandhians have to pay revenues and stop boycotting toddy shops, and “everything they say, will be as before.” Yet “nothing an ever be the same again,” for while they certainly lost something with Kanthapura’s destruction, they also gained “an abundance like the Himavathy on Gauri’s night” when the lights of their village scattered “down the Ghats to the morning of the sea,” where “the Mahatma will gather it all” and bless everyone.
In contrast to the Gandhians’ unflinching demand for independence and rejection of the colonial government, Gandhi himself has acquiesced to British demands. It seems that the villagers’ efforts were all for naught, although Achakka retains a deep faith that the Mahatma will save India and his disciples from Kanthapura will spread his message in their new homes. Achakka’s ambivalence about the independence movement also reflects the book’s circumstances of publication, for Rao wrote Kanthapura early in the Indian independence movement and published it ten years later, but ten years before India was freed from the British.
Themes
Nationalism and Colonialism Theme Icon
Land, Geography, and Belonging Theme Icon
The dead have been cremated on the Himavathy’s banks. Ratna reported that Moorthy has been released, but he never returned to see the other villagers from Kanthapura. In fact, he sent a letter saying that the English will cheat the Mahatma, for he has too much faith in his enemies. “It is the way of the masters that is wrong,” writes Moorthy, for “there will always be pariahs and poverty” as long as modern technological progress continues to divide rich from poor. He has decided to follow Jawaharlal Nehru, who favors nonviolence but is also an “equal-distributionist” when it comes to wealth.
Most shockingly of all, the leader of the Gandhian movement that swallowed Kanthapura has abandoned Gandhi. Rao may be suggesting that Moorthy was too naïve a leader, confused or insincere in his Gandhism all along, but Moorthy’s newfound support for Nehru may also express Rao’s critique of Gandhi. After independence, Indians risk oppressing one another in much the same way unless they prioritize the equal distribution of power and wealth above ideals of moral purity.
Themes
Nationalism and Colonialism Theme Icon
Labor, Exploitation, and Economic Independence Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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Ratna went to Bombay the week after her visit, but Achakka is hopeful about Rangamma’s upcoming release, for she still supports Gandhi and “we are all for the Mahatma.” Around India, there are people for the Mahatma, and “they say the Mahatma will go to the Red-man’s country and he will get us Swaraj. He will bring us Swaraj, the Mahatma. And we shall all be happy.” She likens this to the Mahabharata, in which the lord Rama returns from exile to be with his love Sita and defeat the evil demon Ravana.
Like Moorthy, Ratna abandons the other villagers and takes up a modern form of independence politics in the city. But Achakka still believes in Gandhi as a mythical hero, ordained by the gods to save India even through the nonsensical method of going to Britain and “get[ting] us Swaraj.” As throughout the legendary history she narrates, Achakka continues to see a world saturated with magic and morality.
Themes
Oral Tradition, Writing, and Political Power Theme Icon
Nationalism and Colonialism Theme Icon
Rangè Gowda was the only villager to return to Kanthapura. His wife and daughter went to stay with the Patel in Kishipura and waited for his return. He told them he “couldn’t leave” Kanthapura until he had “three handfuls of Himavathy water.” In reality, Achakka admits, Rangè Gowda went to dig up the jewels that he hid underground.
Rangè Gowda used to have political control over Kanthapura, and the fact that he is the only villager to return there suggests that its existence has come to be defined by its political and economic relationships to the rest of India, rather than its local inhabitants and landscape. While he professes to have been motivated by religion, Achakka knows that Rangè Gowda really wanted to retrieve the wealth he hid there.
Themes
Nationalism and Colonialism Theme Icon
Land, Geography, and Belonging Theme Icon
Labor, Exploitation, and Economic Independence Theme Icon
Rangè Gowda reports that most of the houses are destroyed and men from Bombay have taken over the land and built houses for coolies on the hill where the massacre took place. Even Bhatta sold his land to the Bombay men, and even Waterfall Venkamma left town. Rangè Gowda prayed for blessings from Mother Kenchamma and Father Siva before leaving town, but admits that “my heart it beat like a drum.”
Ultimately, as with much of India during the 20th century, Kanthapura’s history is erased and the village is converted from a locality with deep significance for its inhabitants into mere property to be exploited for the sake of profit. Rangè Gowda’s final prayer to Siva cements the villagers’ shift from a local to national basis for their collective identity.
Themes
Land, Geography, and Belonging Theme Icon
Labor, Exploitation, and Economic Independence Theme Icon