Kanthapura

by

Raja Rao

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Kanthapura: Section 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The sun rises in the Ghats and the carts start up for the day, carrying their goods in every direction. With “a bundle of khadi on his back and a bundle of books in his arms,” Moorthy heads to Kanthapura, where his mother Narsamma asks him to “never show himself again until he had sought prayaschitta [penance] from the Swami himself.” She laments that her son has become a pariah and runs off, spitting and shouting at a pariah she encounters on the way before resolving to “go to Benares and die there a holy death lest the evil follow her.”
Moorthy carries two crucial symbols of Gandhism: books that are intended to bring the Mahatma’s ideas to a wide audience across India, and the khadi cloth that symbolizes Gandhian nationalism’s insistence on economic independence. Narsamma demands that Moorthy recommit to the caste system; her loyalty to caste continues to supersede her loyalty to family.
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
When she arrives, Narsamma starts washing her clothes on the Himavathy river’s stones with the other villagers and begins to calm down, so she goes home and starts cooking like her usual self. But Moorthy is not there, so she begins to rage again and tries to calm herself with meditation and prayer.
Narsamma purifies her conscience by washing her clothes in the holy Himavathy River and then meditating. She manages to briefly find spiritual solace from the  terror she feels at Moorthy’s rejection of caste, but only because she comes to hope he will change (rather than coming to accept him).
Themes
Gandhism and the Erosion of Caste Theme Icon
Land, Geography, and Belonging Theme Icon
Narsamma cannot see Moorthy on Rangamma’s veranda, and tells the passing Seenu to search for him there. Bhatta visits and tells Narsamma that he has spoken to Moorthy, whom the Swami has not yet excommunicated. But, “if he continued with this pariah business,” Moorthy will be excommunicated, since he has no intention of stopping and even called the Swami a heartless, “self-chosen fool” without “thinking power.”
Moorthy believes that the Swami lacks “thinking power” because he is controlled by a broader, more powerful ideology—the rigid adherence to caste that the colonial regime uses to keep lower-caste Indians subjugated. But Narsamma and Bhatta see Moorthy’s blind adherence to the Mahatma’s ideas as analogous.
Themes
Gandhism and the Erosion of Caste Theme Icon
Narsamma is horrified and Bhatta says there is nothing he can do—in fact, he will have to tell the Swami soon, for he does not “want our community polluted and the manes of our ancestors insatiate.” Narsamma finds her son’s arguments at once “reasonable” and unbelievable, but Bhatta assures her she “cannot even imagine the pollutions that go on” in the city. Moorthy returns and goes to the bathroom; Bhatta leaves and Narsamma cries, leaving Moorthy’s food in the hallway, where he eats it “like a servant” as Narsamma eats in the kitchen.
Although Bhatta clearly stands to gain from Moorthy’s excommunication (which would promise to stymie the village’s Gandhian movement), he acts as though he must inform the Swami out of religious obligation. Narsamma’s realization that Moorthy’s arguments are “reasonable” seems to reflect her increasing realization that the caste system treats her cruelly without cause.
Themes
Gandhism and the Erosion of Caste Theme Icon
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“From that day on,” Achakka laments, “they never spoke to each other, Narsamma and Moorthy.” They continued to eat separately and Narsamma grew “thin as a bamboo and shriveled like banana bark” as Moorthy spent more and more time with the pariahs. He even openly carries the corpse of a dead woman during her funeral procession, and everybody who saw shouted “oh, he’s lost!” Bhatta runs to the city and, two days later, reports that the Swami has officially excommunicated Moorthy, plus his family “and all the generations to come.”
Moorthy becomes something of a pariah even before he is excommunicated, as his relationships with brahmins, including his mother, begin to fall apart and he begins to associate primarily with under-caste villagers. Touching any dead person or animal is considered incredibly taboo for anyone but pariahs in Hinduism, which is why it seems to cross a line—even to Achakka—and justify the excommunication of Moorthy and all of his descendants.
Themes
Gandhism and the Erosion of Caste Theme Icon
Narsamma is distraught, and that night she runs to the village gate, where she spits in all four cardinal directions and then at the pariah huts, shivers thinking of “ghosts and the spirits and the evil ones of flame” and carries on because of “something deep and desperate.” She runs to the river Himavathy and looks at the sky, shudders and falls unconscious at the riverbanks, and is dead by the next morning. The townspeople cremate her on the spot and throw her ashes in the river.
The mysterious force that compels Narsamma toward the river seems to be the force of her caste ideology, and as she loses her position in the caste system (and that of her entire bloodline), she also loses her life. She dies in the holy river, as though trying to purify herself of Moorthy’s pollution, sacrificing herself in an attempt to do so.
Themes
Gandhism and the Erosion of Caste Theme Icon
Land, Geography, and Belonging Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Rangamma wants to hold Narsamma’s funeral ceremonies at her house, but Bhatta refuses to officiate and “sell [his] soul to a pariah.” That night, Moorthy leaves. Achakka explains that nobody knows where he went, or even talks about his departure anymore, but when he comes back he moves into Rangamma’s house. He still eats “by the kitchen door” and goes with the pariahs, brings them cotton and yarn, and teaches “alphabets and grammar and arithmetic and Hindi.” Regretfully, Achakka notes that Seenu, too, is going with him, and they even start teaching the pariahs at the Skeffington Coffee Estate.
Moorthy seems to embrace his newfound position as a pariah, as though his excommunication demonstrates his willingness to put the abstract love for all humans above the particular caste commitments into which he was born. Although his own family home is empty after Narsamma’s death, Moorthy nevertheless chooses the Gandhian headquarters (at Rangamma’s house) over the property that he would ordinarily inherit. Although she is nowhere near as extreme as Narsamma, Achakka is clearly worried that her own son has joined Moorthy’s movement, which suggests that (at this point in the narrative) she sides with the other brahmins who worry about caste “pollution.”
Themes
Gandhism and the Erosion of Caste Theme Icon