A Passage to India By E. M. Forster Summary and Analysis Part III: Chapters 33-37

The apparent confusion of the Hindu festival in the opening chapters is indicative of the disorder that characterizes India, but with a difference: there is harmony among the people, a harmony achieved through love and a momentary transcendence of self. "Talkative" Christianity coined the phrase "God is love". Hinduism practices it. Love exists and dominates the scene.

A brief discussion of some aspects of Hinduism here may be of some help to the reader in understanding at least the outward aspects of this festival.

In the Hindu religion, the eternal and infinite is usually called "Brahman" rather than "God"; the essential teaching of the religion is the oneness of all living things, all of which partake of Brahman; the ideal is the loss of the ego and of individuality — a concept not congenial, or even understandable, to most Westerners. It is a highly complex philosophy, and no attempt will be made to explain all of its ramifications here; those interested may read the pertinent books listed in the bibliography.

The importance of Krishna in the novel, however, may be somewhat clarified by a statement of his place in Hindu mythology, according to which there are three aspects of God: Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva the destroyer. There have been nine chief incarnations of Vishnu, in which God is assumed to have taken human form. The most important of these are Rama and Krishna, and the latter is the more popular; his story, as Forster indicates, is in some respects similar to that of Christ (who in Christian theology, of course, is an incarnation of God the Father). Krishna, however, has amatory experiences, which the Hindus interpret symbolically; one of the legends concerning him (referred to several times in the novel) deals with his flirtation with the milk maidens and his affair with one of them (Rahda). It is the birth of Krishna that the festival is celebrating.

In the trancelike state brought on by Godbole's religious fervor, the thought of Mrs. Moore enters his mind, followed by that of a wasp. This would seem to be an indication that her sympathy with the tenets of Hinduism was recognized, perhaps intuitively, by Godbole.

Aziz, through Godbole's influence, has become the attending physician to the rajah of the state of Mau. He has found peace and contentment among the Hindus. The secret of his peace among them is due to one thing — tolerance. He does not understand their religion and does not attempt to do so, but continues to write his poems, into which Islam continues to intrude. The one remnant of Islam in the Hindu state is a decaying shrine about which Aziz's children play.

Into this Hindu state comes Fielding with his bride and her brother. At first Aziz has no desire to see Fielding, believing him to have married Adela Quested; he feels that she would be a disrupting influence, bringing ugliness and trouble. When he learns that Stella Moore is Fielding's wife, he is torn between embarrassment and happiness, for the memory of Mrs. Moore is still a tender one.

Floods attend Fielding's arrival. The hot weather broken, men's spirits revive, and the promise of life is renewed. This is first symbolized by the birth of the god. The festival continues after the initial ceremony and everyone is caught up in it. Forster makes a point of the precedence of religious matters over the affairs of state.

Contrast to this the attitude of Ronny Heaslop and the British in general; for them, political matters always predominate and religion is subservient.

Forster also points up the difference that Mrs. Moore noted earlier between the wisdom of Godbole and the simpler mind of Aziz, who felt "like a baby" in Godbole's presence.

Two things are significant in the incident of the bee stings. One authority says that the bees are significant of the hostility of India to interracial relationships. This, coupled with Mrs. Moore's appreciation for the wasp, would confirm Aziz's opinion that she has an Oriental mind and therefore is one of them. Another facet of the bee-sting episode is that when Aziz treats Ralph, Ralph tells him that his "hands are unkind." He has sensed that Aziz's rough treatment has an emotional source; it is retaliation for the unkindness with which Nureddin, grandson of Nawab Bahadur, was rumored to have been treated by Major Callendar, and also retaliation for Aziz's general mistreatment by the English.

But when Ralph shows signs of his mother's understanding, Aziz typically warms to him. Forster stresses many times that what India needs most is kindness, and Ralph tells Aziz that kindness is the one thing he "always knows." In return for this confidence, Aziz classes Ralph with Mrs. Moore, calling him an Oriental.

The collision of the boats, one carrying Aziz and Ralph, the other Stella and Fielding, with the holy tray borne by the servitor, serves again to emphasize the "muddle" of India; it is not a dignified climax to the ceremony, but the Hindus are not unduly disturbed by it, nor by the downpour which follows. It also serves to ease the tension between Fielding and Aziz.

One of the most significant points in Part III is Fielding's reaction to Hinduism. By marrying an English girl Fielding travels less light (he has earlier contended that he "travels light"). He has aligned himself with the British Raj. However, he is intrigued by the effect of Hinduism on his marriage — his relationship with Stella is better here than it had been previously — and for the first time he seems consciously aware of, and interested in, matters beyond his comprehension. This interest in the spiritual is an important admission by Fielding, but Aziz is not interested in his questions, for he has no such interest himself.

One of Forster's conceptions is that of the cyclical nature of life. With the acquaintance of Ralph, Aziz sees everything "beginning all over again." The expanding symbol, the ever-widening circle, seems to be operating at the end of this book.

Aziz makes a portentous statement about future generations driving the English out of India. The concept of universal love and understanding that India — and all the world — needs, Forster leaves to another circle of time. This is symbolized by the rocks that force Fielding and Aziz apart and by the sky that speaks for all the discordant voices which come to it from India.

Glossary

Turkuram A Maratha poet.

ryot A peasant or tenant farmer.

bhakti Religious devotion; love directed toward a personal deity.

Chhatri A funerary monument; a chapel built over a tomb.

Ganpati Elephant god.

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