A Passage to India – Hindu Influence
Several different literary elements work in tandem to produce the magic seen in E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India. Because this novel was presented to the world less than a decade after World War I, the fantastic and exotic stories of India seized the attention of the relatively provincial society of the day, and the novel’s detailed presentation of Hinduism certainly excited the imaginations of thousands of readers. Benita Parry supports this assertion when saying, “Hinduism takes its place at the core of the novel just as it lies at the heart of India” (164).
How powerful was Hinduism in India? Historians have pointed out that the Indian masses united with strength only when Gandhi appealed to them through Hinduism (Parry 164). With this in mind, it seems reasonable for Forster to devote much energy to portraying the Hindu religion. Furthermore, Forster himself expressed that he viewed himself as on “nearer nodding terms with Krishna (the Hindu god of literature, art, music, and dance) than with any other god” (McDowell 105).
The clash between Hinduism and Christianity in A Passage to India parallels the conflict between the Indians and the English. Hinduism is best represented in the novel by Professor Godbole, and Christianity is epitomized in Mrs. Moore. Mrs. Moore comes to India with the kindness and understanding heart of a devout Christian but leaves morose and peevish. Perhaps she is haunted into this state by Professor Godbole’s strange song:
“At times there seemed rhythm, at times there was the illusion of a Western melody. But the ear, baffled repeatedly, soon lost any clue, and wandered in a maze of noises, none harsh or unpleasant, none intelligible…. The sounds continued and ceased after a few moments as casually as they had begun – apparently half through a bar, and upon the subdominant” (84-85).
When Godbole explains that his song is about a milkmaid begging for the Krishna’s assistance, and Krishna’s failure to appear, Mrs. Moore asks, “But he comes in another song, I hope?” to which Godbole immediately replies, “Oh no, he refuses to come. I say to him , Come, come, come, come, come, come. He neglects to come” (85).
It is this song that forces Mrs. Moore and Adela Quested into emotional cocoons from which they only escape to meet horrible circumstances: Mrs. Moore is terrorized to the point of apathy, and Mrs. Quested meets horror in the caves.
Although Forster admits that he finds the Hindu religion to be the most agreeable, he obviously does not hesitate to depict the flaws of the religion. Professor Godbole is undeniably distant from the mainstream society, and because of this forbidding remoteness, Godbole can never hope to actually bring about any reforms.
Many critics pay special attention to authors’ mastery of characterization, but in A Passage to India, Forster proves that abstract ideas, such as the Hindu religion, can be developed and portrayed with as much detail as a protagonist.
Because of Forster’s talent, the reader, upon completing the novel, feels equally acquainted with both the Hinduism of Professor Godbole and the Christianity of Mrs. Moore.