Kanthapura

by

Raja Rao

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Kanthapura: Section 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Moorthy approaches Rangè Gowda first, for “nothing can be done without Rangè Gowda.” Rangè Gowda tells Moorthy “if there’s anything this fool can do, do but open your mouth and it shall be done.” Moorthy explains his program. Fewer brahmins are coming to the bhajans, and some—like Waterfall Venkamma, Temple Rangappa, Patwari Nanjundia, Schoolmaster Devarayya, and especially Bhatta—are staunchly opposed to Moorthy’s ideas. Rangè Gowda admits that Bhatta had come to visit him, asking him to become “his dog’s tail,” but Rangè Gowda admits he is on the Mahatma’s side and they argue about pollution.
Rangè Gowda has significant power in Kanthapura, especially among the lower castes: beyond his significant landholdings, he is responsible as Patel for collecting taxes from the other villagers. He both represents the government in this capacity and becomes a crucial figure in resisting it. The village brahmins, whose power depends on their caste supremacy over other groups, continue to favor the traditional caste system.
Themes
Gandhism and the Erosion of Caste Theme Icon
Nationalism and Colonialism Theme Icon
Moorthy tells Rangè Gowda that he wants to create a Congress in Kanthapura that can join the Congress of All India. This would require them to pay a small sum and length of yarn yearly, plus “vow to speak Truth, and wear no cloth but the khadi cloth.” Moorthy admits that this might bring trouble with the government in the future, especially with Badè Khan around.
Moorthy recognizes that resisting the colonial government requires participating in a parallel, national Gandhian government. Much like the existing government, the Gandhian Congress would take significant control over their lives, forcing them to pay taxes and perform labor by making cloth.
Themes
Nationalism and Colonialism Theme Icon
When Rangè Gowda mentions his fury at Badè Khan, Moorthy explains that “the Mahatma says you must love even your enemies” but Rangè Gowda insists that this love is “not for us poor folk!” Moorthy suggests that hate just spreads more hate, whereas love creates compromise. Rangè Gowda argues that he cannot convince farmers to till their lands through love and respect, but Moorthy argues that, as a village Elder, Rangè Gowda must model the Congress’s values—in fact, to even join the Congress in the first place he must practice ahimsa (nonviolence), speak Truth and spin yarn. Rangè Gowda concludes that he shall do whatever Moorthy wishes, for the Mahatma’s word is the word of God and he will suffer anything to fulfill it. Before heading away, Moorthy reminds Rangè Gowda that the Congress’s word is also the Mahatma’s and therefore God’s.
While Rangè Gowda is justifiably angry at the policeman who has come to silence the villagers’ demands for freedom, Moorthy insists that every Gandhian mirror Gandhi’s personal character and love their enemies. Whereas Moorthy seems to see a world of equals capable of compromise through love, Rangè Gowda seems unable to shake a fundamental belief in hierarchy. Indeed, he worries about how he can persuade farmers to work and only follows the Mahatma because he sees Gandhi as relaying a divine command.
Themes
Gandhism and the Erosion of Caste Theme Icon
Nationalism and Colonialism Theme Icon
Moorthy visits Ramayya, the Weavers’ Elder, and then Siddayya, the Potters’ Elder, and both agree to join the Panchayat (village council or Congress). He goes to visit the pariah Rachanna, but he is out and his wife, Rachi, invites Moorthy inside. For the first time, Moorthy enters a pariah’s house—previously, he always met them outside—and panics, smelling “the stench of hide and the stench of pickled pigs” and hearing “all the gods and all the manes of heaven” crying his sinfulness. Rachi offers Moorthy milk, but he is afraid to take it and claims he just had coffee. She asks him to simply touch it, and “with many a trembling prayer,” he slowly takes a sip.
Despite his Gandhism, Moorthy still cannot shake his residual fear of caste pollution: the stench he believes he smells references the prohibition against touching dead people or animals for everyone but pariahs (even though he has become a pariah and was excommunicated precisely for carrying a dead body). This illustrates both the caste system’s incredible power in the minds of Kanthapura’s people and the partial nature of Moorthy’s belief in equality across castes.
Themes
Gandhism and the Erosion of Caste Theme Icon
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Rachanna’s grandchildren enter, and then Madanna’s and his wife, and then “all the children of the pariah quarter” come and stare at Moorthy “as though the sacred eagle had suddenly appeared in the heavens.” Moorthy tells the group that “there is a huge Panchayat of all India called the Congress” that belongs to the Mahatma. He explains that they need to spin yarn, and the women laugh in agreement, joking that they want to meet the Mahatma and show him their cloth. Frustrated, Moorthy asks if they can truly spin a hundred yards of yarn per day, and he asks them to take an oath before the goddess Kenchamma—but they refuse, saying they cannot handle her anger.
Moorthy assembles the pariahs, the villagers most oppressed by caste divisions and those who stand to gain the most from Gandhism’s anti-caste position. But the women’s laughter indicates that they understand that they will never meet or answer directly to the Mahatma, while they do still believe in Kenchamma’s direct providence over them. In other words, even the pariahs initially choose their traditional religion over the Gandhian movement, whose promise of freedom seems far-fetched.
Themes
Oral Tradition, Writing, and Political Power Theme Icon
Gandhism and the Erosion of Caste Theme Icon
Land, Geography, and Belonging Theme Icon
In desperation, Moorthy asks Rachi if she will spin, and she says she will if her husband orders her to. He says he will return that evening and heads to the temple, where he performs blessings before heading home to chat with Rangamma.
Rachi refuses to decide for herself whether she will spin, which again shows the pariahs’ deep entrenchment in tradition (here, gender roles).
Themes
Gandhism and the Erosion of Caste Theme Icon
On his way to Rangamma’s house, Moorthy remembers the milk at Rachanna’s house and asks if he is permitted to enter. Rangamma asks him to enter through the rear and bathe first. He does, but he cannot change his holy thread every day if he is planning to keep visiting the pariahs. He takes a spoonful of Ganges water instead. He meditates by the river after dinner and then heads to the Pariah Night School in the Panchayat Hall and informs Seenu about the Congress Committee, to his delight.
Like Moorthy, Rangamma continues to fear caste pollution despite her overt opposition to the caste system. Holy water, this time from the Ganges, again figures as a purifying force in contrast to the pollution of caste-mixing.
Themes
Gandhism and the Erosion of Caste Theme Icon
Moorthy heads back to see Rachanna, who sits with Siddanna, Madanna, and Lingayya on the veranda. He tells them about the Congress Committee; they agree to join and bring their women. He returns to the potters and weavers, who affirm their commitment (for their Elder, Patel Rangè Gowda, and the Panchayat all said yes), and tells Rangè Gowda about everyone’s agreement in the morning.
Although Moorthy successfully wins much of the village to the Gandhian cause, they do not believe the Mahatma’s teachings in the same fundamental way as Moorthy—rather, they follow Rangè Gowda out of conformity and fear, which are the same forces that keep them economically subjugated to the British.
Themes
Gandhism and the Erosion of Caste Theme Icon
Land, Geography, and Belonging Theme Icon
Labor, Exploitation, and Economic Independence Theme Icon
That evening, Moorthy convenes a procession and gives a bhajan. Rangè Gowda begins to explain the Congress but everyone stands when Moorthy enters, which he finds presumptuous—Rangè Gowda calls him “our Gandhi” and the crowd roars in agreement as Moorthy cries a tear in “quiet exaltation.” He speaks to the crowd and then asks their loyalty to the Congress and, although some worry they may not be able to produce the requisite yarn, Rangè Gowda shouts that they must keep their promise and they agree out of fear. The pariahs ask to take their vows in the courtyard, and a confused Moorthy agrees as Rangè Gowda encourages them to go ahead.
Rangè Gowda intimidates skeptical villagers into swearing loyalty to the Mahatma, again using methods contrary to Gandhi’s movement in order to win adherents to it. Similarly, the pariahs remain in the courtyard rather than entering the temple due to their caste at the precise moment when the villagers commit themselves to an ideology whose core is the rejection of caste. There is a consistent gulf between Moorthy’s values and everyone’s practices, and Rao seems to be questioning whether actual Gandhian congresses used (or even could have used) true Gandhian methods to win support.
Themes
Oral Tradition, Writing, and Political Power Theme Icon
Gandhism and the Erosion of Caste Theme Icon
Nationalism and Colonialism Theme Icon
Rangè Gowda declares Moorthy “our president” and Seenu jokingly declares Rangè Gowda “our Super-President and Protector” before asking Rangamma to be “the third member,” but she declines. Moorthy says they need a woman and Rangamma reluctantly agrees. Moorthy calls for a pariah to join the committee, “and then there is such a silence that a moving ant could be heard.” He appoints Rachanna as the fourth member and Seenu the fifth.
The villagers pick five members to form a council analogous to a traditional panchayat (which roughly translates to “five-person assembly”). Moorthy is careful to have the village’s most oppressed groups—women and pariahs—represented on the council, and Achakka’s personal stake in the narrative increases as her son Seenu is chosen to be the panchayat’s fifth member.
Themes
Gandhism and the Erosion of Caste Theme Icon
Nationalism and Colonialism Theme Icon
Land, Geography, and Belonging Theme Icon
Two days later, Moorthy’s final list of members counts 23, and they apply to the Provincial Congress Committee. Rangamma receives a blue paper with Moorthy’s picture and “everybody” wants to see it. They declare Moorthy “a great man” and accelerate production, spinning “bundles and bundles of yarn” for Moorthy, who says that “the Mahatma was very pleased.” Achakka declares that “maybe he would remember us!”
The blue paper is alluring to the villagers because it shows Moorthy’s importance in the places beyond Kanthapura where it was published.
Themes
Oral Tradition, Writing, and Political Power Theme Icon
Gandhism and the Erosion of Caste Theme Icon