A Passage to India

by E. M. Forster

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Part III, Chapter XXXIII: Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 921

New Character:
The Rajah of Mau: an old Hindu ruler

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When Part III opens, two years have passed since Fielding left India. The setting is now the Hindu state of Mau, where Professor Godbole and Dr. Aziz live. Professor Godbole and his choir are performing at the Hindu festival celebrating Shri Krishna’s birthday. The courtyard at Mau is filled with Hindu worshippers. There is music from many sources. In this setting, a small Europeanized band is almost unnoticeable.

Professor Godbole calls his musicians to a new rhythm. While he and his musicians melt into universal love, the professor remembers an old woman he had met in Chandrapore. When this memory comes to him, he transports her to a place of completion through his spiritual force. In that place, there is room even for a wasp. Professor Godbole is dancing on a strip of red carpet, lost in ecstasy.

At this juncture, a litter bearing the Rajah appears. His attendants seat him against a pillar. The Brahmin brings out a model of the village where Krishna was born, along with the figures who play a part in the birth legend. When the clock strikes midnight, the conch is blown, elephants trumpet, packets of colored powder are thrown at the altar, and shouts are heard. Sorrow vanishes; nothing remains but an all-embracing joy. The experience is beyond thought or memory.

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Next, a paper-maché cobra and a wooden cradle appear. Professor Godbole holds the red silk napkin that represents the god. Godbole hands it to the Rajah, who baptizes it, tears pouring from his eyes. He is carried away and put in the care of his other physician, Dr. Aziz.

Down in the courtyard, there is laughter and games are played. The narrator tells us that this worship, unlike Christianity, succeeds in including merriment. One by one, children are chosen from the crowd to be caressed and treated as Shri Krishna. The games continue.

The narrator reminds us that the literal truth of this reenactment cannot be established. It does not matter; all birth may be an allegory. To Professor Godbole, the fact that Mrs. Moore was a Christian and he is a Brahmin Hindu does not matter either. He, in effect, becomes God and loves her as God would love her. In a double transformation, he also becomes Mrs. Moore, and beseeches God to come.

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Latest answer posted March 21, 2016, 9:42 pm (UTC)

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The presence of the spiritual, which has made itself felt in varying ways throughout the novel, is now at centerstage. The traditional re-enactment of Krishna’s birth is performed in the courtyard at Mau. The action takes place outside of time and space, in the presence of God. Unlike Christians, Hindus believe that there have been and will continue to be many incarnations; the joyous celebration of Krishna’s birth might be compared to Christmas. The narrator draws some explicit parallels between the legend of Krishna’s birth and of Christ’s.

In India everything seems different. The central message common to both traditions, “God is Love,” appears as “God si Love,” hinting at a reversal that might stand for an India as seen through Western eyes. On one level it indicates that to understand India, Westerners must begin with its tradition of ecstatic devotional religion. On a simpler and more basic level, they must begin by loving the country and the Indians themselves. They will have to confront unfamiliarity, yet it may be that India offers them a mirror image of themselves.

The colorful and crowded spectacle of Hindu India, which contrasts with the Anglo-Indian enclave in Chandrapore, is displayed in the scene at Mau. Just as the jumble of objects on the altar almost conceals the image of the god himself, the accumulation of people, sounds, and sights in the courtyard overwhelms the spectator. On the red carpet, in the midst of this seeming chaos, Professor Godbole dances in a trance of religious ecstasy. His outer senses dim; he abandons logic and deliberate effort and surrenders himself to universal love.

This character, who has been somewhat aloof and elusive in the previous chapters of the novel, has now left the alien setting of the civil station and is on his home ground. The action he performs in “imitating God” and elevating Mrs. Moore to a state of spiritual completion is difficult to describe and to comprehend. Its nearest counterpart in Christianity might be in prayers that are said for the release of the spirit. The subtle aftereffects of this transcendence, however, can be perceived throughout the final section of the novel.

In this fully Hindu setting, transcendence has been achieved and brought to completion. Although, transforming himself into Mrs. Moore, Godbole beseeches God to come, there is a crucial difference between this scene and the song of longing he sang at Fielding’s party. That earlier song affected those who heard it with a kind of lingering malaise. In contrast, this scene is filled with joy. The division and conflict that have marked the plot so far have disappeared.

All individuality disappears from the faces of the worshippers as well; all reason, form, and beauty disappear from the scene. The principal values of Western civilization are annihilated. Yet something arguably greater takes their place: transcendent joy and a sense of union in which all differences and divisions vanish. Again, the point of view of the earlier chapters has now expanded to include all those shadowy, hovering suggestions of realities beyond his grasp. The voice of the narrator is now the reader’s guide.

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Part II, Chapters XXX – XXXII: Summary and Analysis


Part III, Chapters XXXIV – XXXV: Summary and Analysis