Chapter XXXIII from E M Forster’s A Passage to India (Part 3 Temples): Summary and Analysis
The last part in the novel begins with a celebration. The scene shifts to Mau palace. Forster notes in fine detail how the Hindus lose their spirit at the night of Janmashtami and everyone becomes the God who rid the world of evils. He follows every ritual and the entire frenzy that he calls a muddle. Readers come back to Professor Godbole and Dr Aziz. Godbole is strangely reminded of Mrs Moore that night. The celebrations carry on through out the night and the rituals show it is a special night for Hindus.
This is the beginning of the last part in Forster’s novel titled Temples. The scene in this part has shifted from Chandrapore and the Marabars to hundreds of miles westward. In the novel, Forster does not just highlight the shortcomings of the British but also notes the weaknesses of Islam and Hinduism that had kept them from adopting a modern outlook. This was also an important reason that the Indians could be ruled by force for so long. Apart from cultural realms, his novel explores the spiritual and religious side of India and how religion affects people’s mindset and outlook. The new scene is the Mau Palace in whose courtyard the preparations for ‘Krishnastami/Janmashtami’ (Lord Krishna’s birth anniversary – Lord Krishna is a Hindu God) are going on. The precise hour of birth was at midnight. Prof Godbole stood in the presence of God singing. God is yet to be born; he had already been born centuries ago – born or not born, He is God and he is above human processes and findings. One one side of a carpet was God’s small idol and on the other stood Godbole singing ““Tukaram, Tukaram,
Thou art my father and mother and everybody.
The well decorated palace was full of Hindus many of whom found speak on the carpet and others filled the adjoining corridors and the courtyard. They were mostly Hindus and villagers who had seen few things outside their village and everything outside their village was like a dream. The Toiling Ryot or the peasant and the labour class people were also called the real India. Among them were a few tradesmen from the neighbouring town, officers, courtiers and scions of the ruling house. Schoolboys were working to keep things in order. These villagers were simple people that grew happy to catch a glimpse of their God’s idol. Their was music but because of so many sources the final music was complete noise and chaos and into this chaos the sound of thunder melted. Rain too kept pouring at intervals throughout the night.
Prof Godbole sang with his choir. He was dressed in white and had a light blue turban on his head and a jasmine garland in his neck. His clashed their cymbals, hit small drums and played a harmonium. Forster calls it all a muddle because they were not singing to the God to be born but to a saint. There was nothing which a non Hindu say an English would find correct or logical and that is why it appeared a pure frustration of reason and form. The God himself (his idol) lay obscured from plain vision by other images and decorations. The inscriptions that praised Him were hung where no one was going to read them and one of them accidentally consisted of the words God is Love. Forster asks if this was the first message from India. In Forster’s words “This approaching triumph of India was a muddle”.
One could not make sense of anything where the real India was trying to express its joy over the birth of its God. The choir continued and Hindu ladies were participating from behind the curtains. Meanwhile A Europeanised band played Nights of Gladness unperturbed by Professor Godbole’s choir. Professor decided to change the song. After a bit of fuss among themselves and consulting a book Godbole and group started another song. The new song was much better and evoked images of love and warmth. Godbole was suddenly reminded of Mrs Moore while singing. Something brought her image back to his mind while he did not consciously attempt for it. While constructing her picture, his mind got focused on a wasp, he could not remember he had seen where, perhaps on a stone. As he came back to is senses he was dancing upon the carpet. His friends gave him company. The crowd behind him started shouting to cheer him and in his watch he saw it was ten minutes to midnight. Soon the Rajah of the state was bought there to witness the birth ceremony. He sat by a pillar and held a paper with red powder in it. They did not have to wait long because as soon as it was just three minutes to the birth, a priest brought a model of Gokul village (birth place of Lord Krishna). The model was set in a wooden tray and had an idol of Kansha the villain in the story of Krishna who killed innocent young kids. In a corner were were idols of the father and mother of Lord Krishna. the model was meant only for decoration and diverted attention from the Lord’s idol and added to their sacred bewilderment. Some of the villagers thought that vLord Krishna was already born and as the midnight struck the sound of the conch purified the environment. People threw red powder on the altar at the idol. the whole environment grew drenched in passion and spirituality and thus was born Lord Krishna who saved the world (Hindu world) from sin.
He killed all sorrow, not just for Indians but for everything that exists within the realms of India including birds, caves, railways, and the stars. What followed was a frenzy of devotion where everyone was dancing unconscious of his existence. People become one with the holy spirit but as soon as they try to believe it, the experience becomes history. These secrets are hidden from the non believers and even the believers cannot retain them. Forster is portraying a picture of Maharaas (the holy dance by Lord Krishna and his companions which is enacted again on the night of Janmashtami every year). He goes in great details to observe the rituals taking place on the holy night. On the one hand it gives a detailed glimpse of the Hindu part of Indian culture, on the other it is an apt introduction to the third part titled “Temples”. All is just holy in this chapter. Some more rituals followed most of which were related to Lord Krishna’s lives and then child Krishna (a napkin shaped like a child) was given to the Rajah to hold who named it Shri Krishna. Rajah was taken away to his room whether Doctor Aziz could attend to him. He was disturbed by the sound of a motor and so was given a sedative to sleep. Meanwhile in the corridors the environment had grown jollier and they were playing games to amuse the newborn Krishna and dancing as Krishna did with the dairymaids of Brindavan.
Lord Krishna loved butter and so they played with butter too. He used to play practical jokes like stealing Butter and stealing bathing maids’ petticoats but then he was a God and inside everyone. In this way, Forster notes that Hinduism has achieved something that Christianity has not- merriment. The circle of salvation remains incomplete without merriment and joy. Then the started showering love on little children in the fond remembrance of Lord Krishna and each child was selected by throwing a ball. They kept playing the game and then they started playing with sticks enacting the Pandava wars of Mahabharata ( a hindu epic with Lord Krishna in it). Then they struck at a jar hanging from the roof of the temple from which fell greasy rise and milk (a recipe called kheer). Each one leapt for his share and even the school boys trying to keep the things in order and then the flies. Forster explains the muddle that everyone became God that night and embraced love and affection. It was not just God who was born that night but a mud village, a pious resolution, an intangible spirit and much more. Amid all this Professor Godbole was again reminded of Mrs Moore. He did not know where the thought appeared from but tonight it was his duty to love. He was overwhelmed by the feeling that accompanies Lord’s birth.