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The presentation of Christianity, Islam and Hinduism in A Passage to India

E.M Forster’s ‘A Passage to India’ is a literary work which operates on two levels simultaneously- private and impersonal. Scenes involving the innermost thoughts and feelings of the characters alternate with scenes vocalizing the voice of the omniscient narrator, who straight addresses some of the heavier problems which lie at the heart of the novel. The theme of religion operates in the very same way. On a bigger plane, it enables Forster to deliver social commentary by supporting the themes of colonialism and ethnic relations. His portrayal of the tensions which exist inside the diverse segments of Indian society foreshadows historical events which occurred years following the novel was published. Nevertheless, each of the three significant religions is also portrayed as a philosophy by means of which man makes sense of himself and the universe around him. The presentation of its effects on person characters allow Forster to discover philosophical ideas such as infinity and head vs. heart. The reactions and individual values of the adherents of every single religion, in turn, reinforce the other themes of the novel, connecting every little thing to Forster’s grand vision.

On a socio-historical level, religion is portrayed as a divisive force. The sections ‘Mosque’ and ‘Temple’ are separated by the section ‘Caves’, representing the gulf which lies between the Moslems and the Hindus in India. The Marabar Caves are linked with the idea of negation- the trip to it is stated to have “challenged the very spirit of the Indian Earth, which keeps men in compartments”, and ends in disaster. Its insidious presence, each in the structure and throughout the novel nullifies any hope of unification amongst the Indians and the Moslems, regardless of Dr. Aziz’s heroic battle cry at the finish of the novel (“Hindu and Moslem and Sikh shall all be a single!”). Almost a quarter of a century later, the partition of India into the Union of India and the Dominion of Pakistan justified Forster’s premonitions. Meanwhile, the sole Occidental religion, Christianity, is conspicuously absent- not just in the structure, but in the rest of the novel as effectively. The Oriental areas of worship are described in detail by Forster, and are the places of crucial plot events (e.g Dr. Aziz’s 1st meeting with Mrs. Moore). The mosque and the Hindu temple are each evoked in concrete terms while there is no mention of something Christian constructed on Indian soil. The religion appears only through characterization and biblical references, each of which do not leave lasting impressions. Hence, Forster hints that Christianity, and by extension the British colonialists, have no location in India. Despite their attempts to subjugate the Indians, they will never ever be in a position to establish themselves permanently in the country. Once more, Forster’s prediction was accurate. In 1947, India obtained its independence from the British, 23 years following the publication of the novel.

The description of places of worship also illustrates the central contrast between the attitudes of the English and the Indians- the former are rational and reserved, whilst the latter openly show emotion. Each the mosque and the Gokul Ashtami festival are described by way of the usage of imagery, and evoke a sense of the spirit behind the religion. Dr. Aziz’s quiet appreciation of the beauty of the mosque (“…the contest among this contention and dualism of the shadows pleased him…”) and the different sensations he experiences vaguely (e.g the amateur orchestra, the smell of jasmine flowers) produce an impression of stillness, showing how Islam is a supply of solace for the emotional Dr. Aziz. His recitation of a poem shows how he connects with Islam from his heart. The Gokul Ashtami festival is described differently- it is a vibrant burst of colour and motion, with a myriad of sensations described one following yet another. There is a sense of collectiveness- even Professor Godbole’s vision is tempered by his interactions with other characters (e.g speaking to the drummer, his colleague disentangling his pince-nez). Even though the vitality of the festival and the scene at the mosque convey diverse atmospheres, both are brimming with feelings. Christianity, on the other hand, is in no way shown in practice (except for Adela’s short prayer on the morning of the trial). Only the formal trappings of religion, such as biblical quotes and missionaries, seem, which is reflective of the English people’s rationality. Religion, regardless of becoming something private, is not close to their hearts. The exceptions are Mrs. Moore and, towards the trial, Adela Quested, but they discover it unable to calm their mental turmoil.

The very first religion which seems in the novel is Islam, which is portrayed as a religion reveling in past glory. This is shown via the characterization of Dr.Aziz. The decay of Islam is 1 of his favored topics, and he possess a wealth of expertise about the Mughal emperors of the past, such as Akbar and Alamgir, which he typically brings into conversations with Fielding and the Englishwomen, impressing them with his passion. Nonetheless, the Moslems in the novel do not follow their religion blindly. Specific Islamic ceremonies such as circumcision prevail- others such as polygamy, are rejected by educated Moslems. Conventional religious values are therefore tempered by Western ones. Dr. Aziz initially rejects his arranged marriage as he was “touched by Western feeling…disliked union with a woman whom he had in no way met.” Adela’s question about polygamy was akin to asking him if he was civilized, and created Dr. Aziz feel insulted. He felt a higher need to defend himself as monogamy was a new conviction. As the novel progresses, Dr. Aziz’s initial zest for Islam wears off. The Shrine of the Head and the Shrine of the Physique at Mau go against Islam’s forbiddance of idolatry. Dr. Aziz, even though initially scornful, quickly accepts it, even bringing his young children to pay a visit to it.

Regardless of Islam’s seeming lack of endurance, the Moslems in the novel contemplate themselves superior to Hindus. They use different unflattering adjectives (e.g “flabby”, “slack”,) to describe the Hindus. Dr. Aziz criticises Mrs. Bhattacharya’s false invitation to the Englishwomen on the grounds that they are Hindus, then ironically proceeds to make the exact same error himself. The engineer, Mr Syed Mohammed described Hindu religious fairs with contempt, and Dr. Aziz as soon as rapped a Brahmany bull (which is sacred to Hindus) with a polo stick, enraging Panna Lal. This lack of respect for other religions is one reason why the chasm between Moslems and Hindus are so deep. Every single thinks of the other in terms of their religious identity, and not as individual men and women. Dr. Aziz reconciles with Mr. Das but thinks of him as a Hindu very first, whilst Mr. Das thinks “Some Moslems are violent” with out contemplating whether or not Dr. Aziz himself falls beneath this category. The herd mentality is too robust to allow the continuation of the brief unification brought about by Dr. Aziz’s trial. Nevertheless, Dr. Aziz himself finally seeks employment in a Hindu state, because his hatred of the British is stronger than his dislike of Hindus. He nevertheless makes flippant comments about Hindus, but is significantly less harsh (“… he hoped that they would appreciate carrying their idol about, for at all events it did not pry into other people’s lives.”).

Like Islam, Christianity is also presented as a religion which erects barriers in between people, regardless of the presence of biblical quotations which encourage mutual acceptance. This shows the hypocrisy of the Anglo-Indians, who do not practice what they preach. “In our Father’s house there are a lot of mansions” is the message preached by Maurice and Mr Sorley, the two Christian missionaries, however the Anglo Indians treat the natives with contempt, dehumanising and humiliating them. Mr McBryde’s wife expresses her opposition towards missionaries, ostensibly simply because she sees the Indians as inferior beings, and so unworthy of heaven. The Anglo- Indians are not particularly religious- they appear to ignore the missionaries, whose lack of resources is shown by their living beyond the slaughterhouse and travelling third class on the railways. Ronny Heaslop embodies the common Anglo-Indian attitude towards religion- the “sterile, public school” brand which lacks practical application. It is component of the Anglo-Indian identity and not a way of life (“Ronny approved of religion as lengthy as it endorsed the National Anthem, but objected when it attempted to influence his life.”) Nevertheless, because religion is meant to serve as a moral guide, the textbook version of it, which focuses on clear divisions in between very good and evil, is not enough in India, with its lack of explicit boundaries.

The only particular person who can be regarded as a ‘true Christian’ in the novel is Mrs Moore, who is a single of the most spiritual characters. Her loving acceptance of the wasp and her consideration for the Indians (“God has place us on Earth to adore our neighbors…”) shows her inherent great nature. Even so, even she fails to discover solace in Christianity. The phrase “poor small talkative Christianity” is used, foreshadowing Mrs. Moore’s disillusionment with the religion. Its tenets are not vague- on the contrary, Christianity is the most organised religion and is linked with churches, Chaplains and missionaries. Nevertheless, the word ‘talkative’ implies that its teachings are merely rhetoric, since the deeper side of divinity, that which is unknown and incomprehensible to man, is not addressed. Mrs. Moore believed a lot more about God in India, but out of the familiarity and structure of English society this presented tiny consolation. The echo in the Marabar caves gave Mrs. Moore a vision of negation, exactly where man is powerless to influence something around him. As a outcome, she realized her own insignificance, and became bored of living. Similarly, Adela Quested took to prayer right after the Marabar incident. It was ineffective, nonetheless as she had not reconciled her feelings and her intellect. Christianity locations emphasis on rational moral codes without having fostering correct spiritual understanding. It is a reflection of the Anglo-Indian character logical to a fault and unable to apprehend the “muddle” of India.

In contrast to Islam and Christianity, Hinduism is religion portrayed as a unifying force, and 1 which is not hindered by racial barriers. Mrs. Moore is a Hindu at heart (“then you are an Oriental”). As a outcome of her straightforward kindness towards all creatures, Mrs. Moore is Indianized as a Hindu Goddess, “Esmiss Esmoor”- she is symbolically elevated to the spiritual plane of which she had been acutely conscious. Mrs. Moore’s spirit is also carried on by means of her two children, Ralph and Stella Moore, whose instinctive appreciation for Hinduism is additional proof of the religion’s inclusiveness. All the major characters ( representative of the three religions) seem in the final section of the novel- Adela’s voice is heard by way of her letters and Mrs. Moore’s, by means of Ralph Moore. Pictures of peace and harmony dominate, as even Dr. Aziz (who is initially skeptical) is caught up in the joyous mood of the worshipers, and behaves kindly towards Ralph Moore. The atmosphere of togetherness is further strengthened by the description of the procession, which unites folks in devotion and ultimately reunites Dr. Aziz and Fielding as effectively, when their boats collide in the water and with some of the devotees. Therefore, Hinduism presents the possibility of connection amongst folks of various religious and ethnic backgrounds. Hinduism focuses on the unification of man and God by way of really like and the equality of all creatures. This is shown through Professor Godbole, the principal representative of Hinduism in the novel. In the heat of the festival, he has an practically divine glimpse of Mrs. Moore and the wasp. Like a benevolent God, he finds it in himself to adore them equally. “It does not appear like significantly, but still, it is more than I am myself,” he thinks, of the two. This is reminiscent of Mrs. Moore’s appreciation of a wasp on her coat peg, exhibiting the straightforward acceptance which is at the core of Hinduism. Professor Godbole acknowledges that he can only do so a lot, as a tiny element of the universe. But Mrs. Moore, in spirit, and the wasp which he saw, collectively, are component of the wider universe and so more spiritually linked than he is. This is contrasted towards the Christian missionaries’ rejection of the wasp (“We must exclude a person from our gathering, or we shall be left with practically nothing.”) Hinduism emphasizes spirituality as an alternative of rules and formality, despite the fact that there are caveats, such as Professor Godbole’s dietary restrictions. Ironically, the inscription “God Si Love” on the temple wall was spelt wrongly, although the Hindus in fact practiced the biblical phrase.

For Hindus, God is not an inaccessible figure higher up in the heavens. He is a force which flows by way of the blood of all living beings. The games played in the course of Gokul Ashtami, such as feeding the deity butter, might look bawdy and tasteless, yet it shows how God is believed to be close to His subjects. Hence, he is provided human attributes such as the enjoyment of playing games. They do not just pray to God, but see themselves as a portion of Him and the wider universe. Hinduism also includes an acceptance of the unknown. Professor Godbole’s ‘song of the unknown bird’ had every person spellbound, from the Anglo-Indians to the lowly water chestnut collector alike. Its haunting quality emerged precisely simply because it could not be identified, yet it touched their souls. This parallels Ronny and Adela’s failure to identify an unknown bird. Their uneasiness points to an inherent require to classify issues, as an alternative of feeling and appreciating them, as they did with Professor Godbole’s song. There are things outside the boundaries of human understanding, and being aware of this is the key to apprehending infinity. The cosmos is so immense hat no one can fully penetrate its mysteries. Mystical events such as Professor Godbole’s vision and Ralph Moore guiding Dr. Aziz to the Rajah’s statue proves that there are unseen forces at perform. Trying to ‘label’ issues will only outcome in confusion, which is what Adela seasoned when she entered the Marabar caves, top to her false accusation of Dr. Aziz.

Despite the fact that Forster seems to favor Hinduism more than the other two religions, setting an entire section against the backdrop of the Hindu festival at Mau, he is careful to present its drawbacks as properly. There are divisions within the religion itself, between Brahman and non-Brahman. Strict rules also exist for Brahmans, such as the touch of a non-Hindu requiring another bath. Hindus are also not averse to arguing with Moslems. Their protest more than the Moslems cutting of a branch of the sacred pepul tree to facilitate the paper tower procession in the course of Mohurram, is an instance. Nevertheless, Hinduism is portrayed as the most accessible of all the 3 religions, and the most suitable for establishing mutual goodwill.

In conclusion, Forster maintains a delicate balance among presenting his authorial opinion and allowing the reader to draw his/her personal conclusion. He uses religion to highlight the troubles of colonial India, but leaves space for interpretation. None of the religions are presented as the best remedy but neither are any of them presented as the root lead to of the country’s concerns. Rather, they are a reflection of the communities’ thoughts-sets. Forster combines his examination of religion as a socio-historical factor with religion as a indicates for self-actualization. The former focuses on the collective attitudes of a neighborhood while the other bargains with spirituality on a personal level. This enables him to make a subtle distinction in between religion and its followers. While a religion’s teachings could be morally adequate, an individual who does not comply with them would receive no benefit. In the end, religion is subjective and inextricably linked to human nature, the vagaries of which Forster explores in detail.
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