In ‘Kanthapura’, Raja Rao gives microscopic picture of the Indian Freedom Movement during 1930s. The impact of Gandhian thought on the village of India itself is the theme of this novel. Mahatma Gandhi had converted the entire country into a body of non-violent freedom fighters. Raja Rao prefers to deal with him through a local figure who appears to be his representative. Moorthy, the hero of the novel does the same miracle in Kanthapura.
In the novel, Raja Rao attempted an appraisal of the efforts made by the Indians under the leadership of Gandhiji to attain political and social freedom. Hanging between hope and despair, people of even obscure places were making efforts to eradicate poverty, ignorance and slavery. This inspired Raja Rao a sensitive young man to write this novel. Even in such an unknown village as Kanthapura, the wave of patriotism swept hard taking in it’s fold men, women and children.
Like Gandhi, Moorthy has preached brotherhood and equality and castelessness and abolition of untouchability. Moorthy’s social vision is manifested in his endeavors to bring about unity, equality and individual dignity. Rangamma sees him as the saint of Kanthapura, Moorthy, the good, Moorthy, the religious and Moorthy, the noble. Advocate Sankar finds no better Gandhist than Moorthy. Goldsmith Nanjundia discovers incorruptible qualities in him.
The teach-in programme at the Pariah night school is continued by Moorthy to disseminate Gandhiji’s ideas. He goes even to the Sheffinton Coffee Estate to teach the coolies the art of weaving. In essence Moorthy explicates his faith in Gandhism and acquires self-realisation after catching a glimse of the Mahatma. In the wake of Khadi spread, Moorthy frequently visited Pariah quarters. He wanted that all the people of Kanthapura should ply the charkha and wear only hand-woven cloth.
Gandhiji was firmly of the opinion that India’s salvation is depends on the sacrifice and enlightenment of her women. He wanted utmost freedom for women. He made no distinction between man and woman and desired equal status for the later. In Kanthapura, Raja Rao has also upheld the idea of equality for women, Uma Parmeswaran, the critic, traces the theme of shakti or female principles in this novel.
Gandhiji’s vision of life finds an outlet in Kanthapura. People start a congress committee in the line of Karwar congress committee. Moorthy, Patel Range Gowda, Rangamma, Rachana and Seenu all becomes members of it. Moorthy is the president, Range Gowda the super-president and Rangamma the women representative. The committee launched the programme of boycotting toddy shops and toddy booths. The government dealt with the Satyagrahis brutally. There were arrests and lathi charges.
Being a true Gandhian, Moorthy campaigned against the evil of drinking. More of women than men are attracted by his social activities. The slogan, Inquilab Zindabad, Mahatma Gandhi Ki Jai, Vande Mataram are drilled often. Finally the bloody government auctions most of the lands of Kanthapura to the rich people from outside forcing most of the villagers to other villages like Kashipura, Malur and Ramapura. They are forced to sacrifice their lands and assets for the liberation of their mother nation.
Thus, Raja Rao’s novel ‘Kanthapura’ presents the Gandhian ideology of non-violence and the greater Indian National Movement. The great importance given to caste, the mythological representation of Gandhi and mother India and the spiritualization of the freedom movement within the parameters of Indian cultural convention imply the tremendous impact of Gandhian ideology in Kanthapura.
- Raja Rao. Kanthapura, Gurgaon, Haryana: Penguin Books India, 2014.