Raja Rao as a Novelist 

Raja Rao A Great Indian Novelist of International Fame

Raja Rao as a Novelist

Raja Rao as a Novelist  : Raja Rao is a great novelist. He is one of those Indians who have earned international fame in literature. He writes in English in such a natural tone and flow that it seems as if we were reading Hindi in place of English. His “Kanthapura” is a representative novel that brings to light his true talent as a novelist.

 Raja Rao, A Great Indian Novelist of International Fame

His Literary Contribution:

As a novelist, Raja Rao’s contribution is full of quality in place of quantity. In all only four novels: Kanthapura (1938)The Serpent and The Rope (1960)The Cat and Shakespeare (1965) and Comrade Kirillov (1976); are published by him. No doubt among them “Kanthapura” and “The Serpent and The Rope” are most popular. “Kanthapura” made him a novelist of first rank. “The Serpent and The Rope” brought him Sahitya Academi Award in 1964. “Kanthapura” deals with the early phase of India’s struggle for freedom. It includes the Dandi March and The Non – Co – operation Movement. Gandhi – Irwin Pact ends the novel. The novel projects influence of Mahatma Gandhi and the following of his ideal as well as programme in a small village of Karnataka. Moorthy, the hero of the novel is a true Gandhian. If “Kanthapura” is Raja Rao’s “Ramayana” then “The Serpent and The Rope” is his “Mahabharata”. It is the story of a South Indian Brahmin who marries a foreign lady. Deaths make him an ascetic.

“The Cat and Shakespeare” is a philosophic comedy. Comrade Kirillov is novel of leftist viewpoint. Besides novels he has contributed a number of short stories too.


Raja Rao is a true Indian in this matter. All of his themes are directly or indirectly related to India and its society. In “Kanthapura” for example the central theme is the struggle for independence and Gandhian philosophy. With it there are present so many themes of general importance like the evil of untouchability, the evil of ill matched marriages and widowhood, the evil of drinking and the evil of exploitation. All the themes are developed with such a great skill that all events look natural. Raja Rao succeeds in showing that in the struggle for independence, the pariah prove more active than the so called high caste people. The novel throws light on the importance of women’s liberty, education and active participation in all important events. In The Serpent and The Rope the themes of deeper consequence are introduced. The basic question is what is reality is Serpent or The Rope. “The world is either unreal or real – The Serpent or The Rope”. The novel brings to light the theme of marriage with a foreign lady also.


Raja Rao’s art of characterization lies in making his characters as natural as possible. In “Kanthapura” characters appear in a foil. For example, The Waterfall Venkamma is a foil to Rangamma. Patel Range Gowda is a foil to Bhatta, the greedy Brahmin money – lender. No doubt mostly characters lack roundness and remain flat from the beginning to the end. Only two characters grow during the action of the novel. They are Moorthy and Ratna, the child widow. Moorthy is representative of Gandhi in Kanthapura and Ratna is what a widow ought to be making her own way in life without ever departing from the path of simple virtue. In “The Serpent and The Rope” Ramaswamy is the central character. At the age of 21 he goes to France for research in history and marries a lady five years his senior in age. The conflict appears with the birth of a child whether to give an Indian name like Krishna or a foreign one like Pierre. The character of Madeleine, his foreign wife is impressive. She becomes very impressive after the death of her child. She experiences the glory and agony of love, marriage and motherhood.


Raja Rao is expert in introducing unifying devices in a complex plot. In “Kanthapura” he selects only those episodes that are directly or indirectly related to the main theme of struggle for independence and Gandhian philosophy. In this matter he takes help of the notable events of the history of the movement. For example Mahatma Gandhi’s Dandi March, massacre at Amritsar, sympathy showed to volunteers by constables in Peshawar, non – co – operation movement, picketing of toddy groves and shops and the Gandhi – Irwin Pact. The novel shows how religion and politics are intermingled. Jayaramachar, the famous Harikathaman infuses the spirit of patriotism in “Kanthapura”.

He interprets Parvati as the country and Siva’s three eyes as three virtues: self-purification, Hindu – Muslim unity and Khaddar. The Siva himself stands for Swaraj. According to him Mohandas Gandhi is a divine incarnate whose purpose is to kill the serpent of foreign rule. With this purpose he goes from village to village. The police arrests Jayaramachar for speaking against the government. Raja Rao constructs the plot on ‘cause and effect’ method. Because the Harikathaman is arrested, Bade Khan, the policeman is posted. Because he is a Muslim, he does not get a house in the village. Because the owner of Skeffington Coffee Estate is a corrupt man he obliges Bade Khan by offering a hut without payment. Because Bade Khan lives there free of cost, on suggestion from the authorities of the coffee estate, he does not allow Moorthy to enter the estate for night classes. Raja Rao mingles social reform with politics. Gandhi’s main stress was on removal of untouchability.

Moorthy goes to collect money in all quarters. When he brings charkhas, he goes to distribute them among the pariahs also. Before constructing the Congress Committee of Kanthapura Moorthy has to sip a cup of milk offered by Rachi at her hut when Moorthy goes to meet Rachanna.

Here it is to be noticed that the object of the novelist is not to project Moorthy but Mahatma Gandhi’s programmes and their impact. The same spirit works behind organizing night classes among the Pariahs. But Gandhi’s message to be non – violent has to be followed. Consequently after violence related to those night classes, Moorthy keeps fast.


Raja Rao succeeds in drawing a lively picture of rural India with the help of his dialogues in natural tone that expose the psychology of the speaker also. For example, in Kanthapura a new temple is built and the Sankar – Jayanthi is celebrated. Achakka narrates the next morning. Moorthy comes to us and says, ‘Aunt, what do you think of having the Rama festival, the Krishna festival, the Ganesh festival? We shall have a month’s bhajan every time and we shall keep the party going.’

‘Of course, my son,’ say we, and we shall always manage each to give a banana libation if nothing else.’ 

‘But,’ says he, ‘to have everything performed regularly we need some money, aunt?’ ‘Money!’ 

It made us think twice before we answered, ‘And how much money would you need, to my son? But, if it’s camphor, I’ll give it. If it’s coconut, I’ll give it. If it’s sugarcandly …’ 

‘No aunt,’ says Moorthy, it’s not like that. You see, aunt, while I was in Karwar we had Rama’s festival and Ganapati’s festival, and we had evening after evening of finest music and Harikatha and gaslight procession. Everybody paid a four anna bit and we had so much money that we could get the best Harikatha – men like Belur Narahari Sastri, Vidwan Chandrasekharayya … ‘

‘Do you think they’ll come here?’ say I. 

‘Of course, aunt. And what do you think: pay them ten rupees and give them their cart fare and railway fare and that’ll do. They don’t ask for palanquins and howdahs. And we shall have Harikathas such as no one has ever heard or seen in Kanthapura.’

‘All right my son. And how should we pay?’ 

We know Moorthy had been to the city and he knew of things we did not know. And yet he was as honest as an elephant. ‘One rupee, aunt. Just one rupee. And if there is some money left, we shall always use it for holy work. You understand, aunt? That is what we did in Karwar.’

It is a brief conversation between Moorthy and Achakka. It shows the dramatic tone of his novels.


Raja Rao’s novels have complex atmosphere. On the one hand there remains social, religious and political atmosphere while on the other humour, satire, irony pathos and violence. In ‘Kanthapura’, for example all the social problems create social atmosphere. Religious activities give it a religious touch while political activities are so strongly woven that the atmosphere does not remain free from politics. There are instances of humour with the arrival of Bade Khan who asks Range Gowda to arrange a house for him.

‘Representative of the Government,’ repeated the Patel ‘Yes, I am. But the Government does not pay me to find houses for the Police. I am here to collect revenue.

‘So you are a traitor to your salt – givers!’

‘I am not a traitor. I am telling you what is the law!’

‘I didn’t know you were such a learned lawyer too,’ laughed Bade Khan. His threatening words go in vain.

‘You don’t know who you’re speaking to,’ Bade Khan grunted between his teeth as he rose.

‘I know I have the honour of speaking to a policeman,’ the Patel answered in a sing song way.

It is Bade Khan’s disappointment that creates humour.

“Oh, you—!’ spat Bade Khan, trying not to swear, and once he was by Sampanna’s courtyard he began to grumble and growl, and he marched on, thumping over the heavy boulders of the street. At the Temple Square he gave such a reeling kick to the one – eared cur that it went groaning through the Potter’s Street , groaning and barking through the Potter’s Street and the pariah Street , till all the dogs began to bark , and all the cocks began to crow , and a donkey somewhere raised a fine welcoming bray.”

Bhatta is an example of irony of character. If Moorthy distributes charkas in parish quarter, he should be excommunicated but Bhatta takes their money and land, on the same line, he too should be excommunicated. It too is irony of his character that in spite of being a middle aged man he marries a girl of twelve.

Irony of justice is exposed when Moorthy is charged for provoking the people against the Police while in reality he had asked them to be calm and quiet.

Raja Rao as a Novelist, description of pathos is at its best in the disappointment of Moorthy’s mother. Narsamma when she learns that on account of her son’s doing she may face excommunication. When she takes food alone in kitchen she weeps pathetically.

The atmosphere of violence, exploitation and atrocities is created from time to time when the force attack non – violent volunteers including women and children.


Raja Rao as a Novelist, impresses with his simple language and poetic style. In this regard the description of Kartik is worth – praising.

“Kartik has come to Kanthapura, sisters – Kartik has come with the glow of lights and the unpressed footsteps of the wandering gods; blessing all leaves and flowers. Kartik is a month of the gods, and as the gods pass by the Potter’s Street and the Weaver’s Street, lights are lit to see them pass by. Kartik is a month of lights, sisters, and in Kanthapura when the dusk falls, children rush to the sanctum flame and the kitchen fire, and with broom grass and fuel chips and coconut rind they peel out fire and light clay pots and copper candelabras and glass lamps. Children light them all, so that when darkness hangs drooping down the caves, gods may be seen passing by, blue gods and quiet gods and bright – eyed gods. And as they pass by, the dusk sinks back into the earth, and night curls again through the shadows of the streets. Oh! have you seen the gods. sister?” 

Raja Rao as a Novelist, introduces songs to highlight strong emotions. When coolies are forced to march, the Pariah women, the Pariah girls and Pariah kids beat their mouth and shout on the path to stop the march of coolies.

“He’ll never come again. He’ll never come again;
He’ll never come again, Moorthappa.
The God to death has sent for him,
Buffalo, and rope and all,
They stole him from us, they lassoed him at night,
He’s gone, He’s gone, He’s gone, Moorthappa,
and Rachann’s wife cries out,
He, leave us our men, He, leave us our souls.
He, leave us our King of the veranda seat,
But say, sisters, He’s gone, Moorthappa,
He’s gone, He’s gone, He’s gone, Moorthappa.” 

Their laments grow louder and the children slip into the gutters and throw stones at the Police. No doubt Raja Rao is at his best in ‘The Serpent and The Rope’. He writes about Banaras:

“Banaras is eternal. There the dead do not die nor the living live.”

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