Kanthapura

by

Raja Rao

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Kanthapura: Section 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Bhatta, unlike the rest of Kanthapura, wants “nothing to do with these Gandhi-bhajans.” He used to sympathize with Moorthy’s cause but gave up after visiting the city to register some business papers and allegedly lend some money. He helped buy an election, managed a widow’s lands, and was “always smiling, always ready, always friendly” whenever he saw an opportunity to profit. Achakka swears that “he would one day own the whole village […] had not the stream run the way it did.”
Bhatta exerts his power in Kanthapura through written documents sent to and from the city. Whereas most of the villagers are illiterate, Bhatta takes advantage of the written basis of the colonial government.
Themes
Oral Tradition, Writing, and Political Power Theme Icon
In his youth, Bhatta was poor and astrologically adept. He is always the “First Brahmin” at the Pandit’s house for the holy obsequial dinner, which he eats slowly and heavily. When he returns home, he runs through his daily transactions. One day, his first wife falls into a well and dies, but Bhatta soon remarries a new girl in an extravagant ceremony.
Achakka’s narration again suddenly shifts from general statements to specific episodes. Although Bhatta’s devoutness and business savvy might seem contradictory, in fact they are consistent—and both work to the benefit of the colonial government.
Themes
Oral Tradition, Writing, and Political Power Theme Icon
Nationalism and Colonialism Theme Icon
Labor, Exploitation, and Economic Independence Theme Icon
Bhatta’s wealth inflates and he becomes a major landowner. Every morning, Front-House Suranna and the priest Temple Rangappa fetch him from his house and take him to the river, where people from all over congregate to take out loans when the rain ruins their rice or they need a lawyer. Bhatta often settles disputes himself, calling himself “your humble servant.”
Again, brahmins’ religious power and landowners’ economic power are aligned—the village priest even facilitates the transactions that build Bhatta’s wealth at the expense of the other villagers. But he also does help those villagers who often need loans and lawyers.
Themes
Labor, Exploitation, and Economic Independence Theme Icon
Now, Bhatta owns more than 100 acres of land and everyone in Kanthapura owes him something, but nobody much minded because he was “so smiling and so good” (and charged more reasonable interest than Rama and Subba Chetty, “the ruin of our village”). He even sent a distant relative to study in the city, asking only that he “bring a name to Kanthapura” (or send back money if he strikes it rich). Achakka declares that, given Bhatta’s reputation, his disdain for Gandhi was a surprise—although not really, since “after all there was no money in it.”
Bhatta uses his reputation for religiosity and knowledge of the colonial system to help the other villagers, but his true underlying motive is always profit first (and reputation second). He therefore helps the villagers only when he can act as a middleman between them and the colonial government—but not when their interests conflict with his financial prospects.
Themes
Gandhism and the Erosion of Caste Theme Icon
Labor, Exploitation, and Economic Independence Theme Icon
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One day, Bhatta stops by Rangamma’s Kannayya House. Satamma greets him and asks about his family, and Bhatta replies by explaining that his business is terrible. Rangamma and meditating Ramakrishnayya join, and Bhatta complains about how hard it is to marry off his daughters with the focus on “nothing but degrees or this Gandhi vagabondage.”
Bhatta talks about his business when Satamma asks about his family, and then only mentions his family insofar as he cannot find suitably wealthy and traditional husbands for his daughters. These statements show that his mind is entirely oriented toward wealth and status.
Themes
Gandhism and the Erosion of Caste Theme Icon
Labor, Exploitation, and Economic Independence Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Bhatta complains that pariahs are mixing with brahmins, perhaps to one day usurp their place. Rangamma says not to worry, for elsewhere pariahs can even enter the temple once a year, but Bhatta claims that he is the one who truly knows the city and, actually, a temple there is welcoming pariahs. He laments the “strange age” Indians are living in, “what with their modern education and their modern women” who increasingly pick school over marriage, and sometimes even marry Muslims.
Despite his disdain for “modern” schooling and women, in many ways Bhatta is ironically one of the most modern villagers, with his profitable business run on English contracts. Achakka suggests that he disdains “modern” ways because they get in the way of his high status in Kanthapura. Educated villagers and the dissolution of caste could lead others to reject or overtake him as the village’s financial cornerstone.
Themes
Gandhism and the Erosion of Caste Theme Icon
Labor, Exploitation, and Economic Independence Theme Icon
Satamma blames recent floods for the “confusion of castes” and Rangamma worries that “the Mahatma is not for all this pollution,” but Bhatta complains that Gandhi has himself “adopted a pariah girl as a daughter.” Bhatta says that he recently visited the Swami in Mysore and saw his “wife’s elder brother’s wife’s brother-in-law” Seetharamu, who told him that the Swami “wants to crush” the Gandhian pariah movement “in its seed.” Seetharamu asked Bhatta to start a brahmin party in Kanthapura before Gandhi convinces villagers to accept even Mohomedans and Europeans. The Swami plans to “outcast every brahmin who has touched a pariah,” Seetharamu explained, and Bhatta returned to Kanthapura as a “pontifical brahmin” to convince others of his caste to drop Gandhism.
Bhatta reveals his underlying motivations for visiting Rangamma and Satamma: he wants to recruit them to his anti-Gandhian party. He appears to visit in his capacity as a devout brahmin, rather than as a businessperson, and invokes the authority of a higher religious leader, the Swami. But it is clear to Achakka that he is truly motivated by his business interests.
Themes
Gandhism and the Erosion of Caste Theme Icon
Labor, Exploitation, and Economic Independence Theme Icon
Rangamma, Satamma, and Ramakrishnayya sit in silence, hearing a children’s song and the noises of calves, wall-lizards, and bats in the village. They see a shooting star, and Ramakrishnayya says “some good soul has left the earth.” Bhatta tells Rangamma he wants to save her from all this “pariah business,” keep her on guard about “Moorthy and these city boys.” Achakka interjects that “our Rangamma is no village kid”—she reads newspapers from the city and knows about everything from worms that cause disease to modern technologies like radio and airplanes.
The noises and shooting star suggest that the environment of Kanthapura is somehow responding to Bhatta’s deceptive proposal. The departure of a “good soul,” pointed out by the village sage Ramakrishnayya, might refer to Bhatta’s apparent turn toward evil. Rangamma, like Bhatta, is literate and knowledgeable in the ways of the city (and, by extension, the British), so she understands that his pro-brahmin religious ideas are actually grounded in his pro-city and pro-government interests.
Themes
Oral Tradition, Writing, and Political Power Theme Icon
Gandhism and the Erosion of Caste Theme Icon
Nationalism and Colonialism Theme Icon
Labor, Exploitation, and Economic Independence Theme Icon
But Achakka explains that there was one thing Rangamma never stopped talking about—the day after a Northern sandal merchant stopped in town and told her about the distant land “of the hammer and sickle and electricity,” where women worked the same as men and families could take holiday in palaces when they were tired or having children, and where the Government fed and educated children, gave them jobs and homes and wives “and they lived on happily ever after.” Rangamma said that in that land “all men were equal—every one equal to every other—and there were neither the rich nor the poor.” One village pariah thinks this must be a “strange country” without castes or rice or farmers, although Rangamma replies that her paper “says nothing about that.”
Rangamma, like Moorthy, yearns deeply for a more equal world. This ideological commitment is far more important than her material interests as a wealthy brahmin woman. The land of “hammer and sickle and electricity” is probably the Soviet Union. By mentioning it, Rao foreshadows the debate between prioritizing freedom from British rule and prioritizing the equal distribution of wealth and property, which becomes important at the very end of the book. The pariah’s inability to conceive such an equal society demonstrates that even the people most oppressed within the caste system cannot imagine an alternative to it.
Themes
Oral Tradition, Writing, and Political Power Theme Icon
Gandhism and the Erosion of Caste Theme Icon
Labor, Exploitation, and Economic Independence Theme Icon
So Rangamma was knowledgeable and “could hold a word-for-word fight with Bhatta,” but chose instead to simply say she would see what Gandhi’s book and Moorthy say about the pariahs. Seething, Bhatta threatens to have Moorthy ostracized if he visits the pariahs, but Ramakrishnayya convinces him to calm down—Moorthy was an idealistic “nice brahmanic boy” not worth harming, and Bhatta calms down and says he hopes that Moorthy will marry soon.
Moorthy, Ramakrishnayya, and Rangamma exemplify the brahmanic ideal of spiritual wisdom much more than the furious Bhatta, who nevertheless claims to speak for their caste. The threat of excommunication, which would turn Moorthy into a pariah himself by ejecting him from the caste system, only matters insofar as the other villagers continue to closely follow that system.
Themes
Gandhism and the Erosion of Caste Theme Icon
Kamalamma, Rangamma’s sister, stops by with her daughter Ratna. Ratna is a widow but “still kept her bangles and her nose-rings and ear-rings,” dressing and acting like her husband hadn’t died. Kamalamma silenced and denounced her daughter, and Ratna would do laundry in the river alone as other women “would spit behind her and make this face and that, and throwing a handful of dust in her direction, pray for the destruction of the house.”
Widows are often ostracized in traditional Hindu societies, even when their marriages were arranged at such a young age that they had little understanding of the matter, let alone choice. Ratna is at the absolute bottom of the caste system even though she was born a brahmin, as proven by her own mother’s disdain for her. Oddly, Rangamma is also a widow, but she is nevertheless respected in Kanthapura.
Themes
Gandhism and the Erosion of Caste Theme Icon
Bhatta does not mention this, since he is not a woman; plus, Ratna’s father is his second cousin, and he used to play with her when she was a baby, and everyone who claims “she was found openly talking to Moorthy in the temple” is lying. But Bhatta also cannot bear to see Ratna’s “modern ways,” and especially the way she “bared her bodice,” so he runs off.
Although Bhatta has little sympathy for most of the pariahs, he does feel an affinity for Ratna because she is family. Despite his conflicting feelings, he cannot accept her if she contradicts his belief in the caste system. He rejects her not because of her widowhood  but because of her modern ways, which suggests that his motives are not truly religious.
Themes
Gandhism and the Erosion of Caste Theme Icon
On his way home, as he passes Rama Chetty’s shop, Bhatta sees “a figure moving with slow, heavy steps” and slowly approaches. “Who’s there, brother?” he asks, and he hears “a cough and a sneeze and the beating of a stick,” and then the figure says, “what does that matter to you?” Bhatta follows the figure into the courtyard and he turns out to be Badè Khan, who prostrates himself before Bhatta.
Badè Khan’s reverence for Bhatta is initially puzzling, since he has so far treated the rest of the villagers with condescension. Moreover, Badè Khan is a Muslim, and Bhatta decried the notion that Hindus would accept Muslims into their villages just a few pages before. However, they are natural allies, for both have a strong interest in preserving the caste system, and Bhatta’s knowledge about Kanthapura and his economic power lead Badè Khan to view him as a superior.
Themes
Gandhism and the Erosion of Caste Theme Icon
Land, Geography, and Belonging Theme Icon
Labor, Exploitation, and Economic Independence Theme Icon
Waterfall Venkamma, Temple Lakshamma, Timmamamma, and Chinnamma debate whether Moorthy truly wants the mixing of castes. Moorthy’s pious old mother, Narsamma, married his five sisters to large, well-to-do families, but Moorthy was her youngest and favorite even though he wanted nothing to do with marriage.
Since Moorthy is the only male child in his family, its continuation depends on him—traditionally, women move into their husbands’ households upon marriage in Hindu culture.
Themes
Gandhism and the Erosion of Caste Theme Icon
One day, Moorthy has a vision of Gandhi giving a discourse to a large crowd; he feels a “mellowed force and love” emanating from the Mahatma’s body. Moorthy takes over for a weary fanner and fans Gandhi as he preaches Truth, love of mankind, and  “the God of all.” Moorthy feels called to stay and weeps before jumping onto the platform and prostrating himself at the Mahatma’s feet, saying “I am your slave.” The Mahatma asks what he can do for Moorthy, who asks for a command—the Mahatma’s only command is to seek Truth, but Moorthy is ignorant, wearing foreign cloth and educated at a foreign university. The Mahatma tells him to work “among the dumb millions of the villages” and Moorthy throws out his foreign clothes and books later that evening.
Moorthy’s reverence for Gandhi comes from his experience of the Mahatma as an idea rather than a real man, which reflects Gandhi’s entirely symbolic role in this book. He never appears again except for in this imagined scene, but this discourse introduces the ideals of Truth and love that become the center of Moorthy’s movement.
Themes
Oral Tradition, Writing, and Political Power Theme Icon
Gandhism and the Erosion of Caste Theme Icon
Nationalism and Colonialism Theme Icon
Related Quotes
When Moorthy returned to Kanthapura as a Gandhian, Narsamma was distraught but ultimately let him stay, even after he rejected three more marriage proposals for the sake of maintaining his purity. Narsamma wants to marry him to the daughter of the wealthy landowner Maddur Coffee-Planter Venkatanarayana, working tirelessly to convince the family and plan the unlikely wedding. Waterfall Venkamma visits Narsamma’s house to proclaim that the marriage will never happen, and that she is delighted her daughter did not marry a “dirt-gobbling cur” like Moorthy. The next morning they briefly reconcile, but before long, she starts raging again, suggesting that the Swami has ordered the whole village excommunicated unless Moorthy stops “mixing with the pariahs.”
Moorthy’s mother Narsamma believes strongly in the caste system, and she deeply fears the Swami’s power to demote her family’s caste status. Whereas Narsamma holds out hope that Moorthy will change his mind, her son sees his Gandhian love for all of humanity as prohibiting him from marrying to perpetuate the caste system. Waterfall Venkamma, like Bhatta, defends the brahmin caste’s position in a way that fundamentally contradicts how brahmins are intended to act—that is,as the wise bearers of an ancient tradition.
Themes
Gandhism and the Erosion of Caste Theme Icon
Post-Office-House Chinnamma knows that this is a lie and suggests that only people who mix with pariahs will be excommunicated. Narsamma is unsure whether to believe her or Venkamma, since each claims to have heard the news from Bhatta earliest, and “burst[s] out sobbing” as she considers the dishonor Moorthy will bring his family. Chinnamma and Venkamma try to comfort her, “but Narsamma would have nothing of it” and weeps all the way home.
Chinnamma finds it unlikely that the Swami would punish the whole village for one inhabitant’s opposition to caste, but Venkamma’s fear that Moorthy will derail the entire village’s way of life is well-founded, for she knows that he is spreading Gandhism among Kanthapura’s inhabitants.
Themes
Gandhism and the Erosion of Caste Theme Icon