The Meaning of Hindu Birth Ceremony in E.M. Forster’s a Passage to India
A commentary on the ways in which Forster presents the Hindu ceremony in A Passage to India
Forster uses the Hindu Birth ceremony in the final section, Temple that has the purpose of tying together loose ends and reaching conclusions, to create the atmosphere of chaos. He uses humor, action and description to present this air confusion. This portrayal of the Hindu religion is significant to Godbole’s ideas of inclusivity and the implications of it. Furthermore, it represents an aspect of India, exploring themes and questions posed throughout the novel.
The entire passage radiates a snese of displacement, along with a profound confusion. This is supported by the description of the lights being “electric”. The use of the word seems out of place and thereby is also humorous, as “electric lights” are often associated with youth culture and the connotations are not that of holiness, reverence or spirituality. Forster uses this not just to highlight the chaos but also to mock the religious ceremony, mockery being another striking tone that resonates in the passage.
Similarly, mockery is brought out in the girl’s leg shooting out “like an eel”. Eel have negative connotations and the reader relates it to creatures of the deep sea, unspoken, undiscovered, evil too. This, in addition to it having “shot out” creates an overall negative impression which is in contrast to what a reader would expect to find during a religious ceremony. this mocks the Hindu religion, whose principles we know through Godbole revolve around inclusivity. By mocking this, Forster brings out the futility of the concept. This is further supported by Mrs Moore’s death and bizarre divinizing, she being someone who embraced the ideas of oneness and inclusivity.
The portrayal of an all-encompassing view as being imporssible, is sustained through the passage, changing the readers’ view on what might have been the ideal outlook. At the beginning of the novel, signs of a more open minded outlook are appreciated, amidst the hierarchical Anglo- Indians. This is seen in Mrs Moore’s attitude to the wasp and a general acceptance of each other seen at the tea party with Fielding, Aziz and Godbole, himself. However, this pleasant scene set in the first chapter of the novel is mocked in the passage with the inclusion of a choir, which is usually an Anglican or Christian tradition, and the purdah, a Muslim contribution at a Hindu festival, in a very chaotic perhaps violent setting.
Besides mocking integration of religion, Forster goes on to mock the joining of the English and the Indians. This is also very significant to the novel, being one of the main themes addressed. However, Forster, in this passage presents a theme made very serious and emotional through the characters of Fielding Aziz and Mrs Moore., rather subtly and nonchalantly. This almost dismissive attitude towards this fusion of cultures, seen in the “europeanized band “stumbling”, adds to mocking any attempts to bridge the cultural gap between the races.
Furthermore, the inadequacy of “universality” is portrayed in Godbole’s remembering the wasp. This, while having positive connotations and obvious relation to “pretty dear” reminds the reader that acceptance of all creatures must come with practicality. Like the missionaries pointed out, you could not accept the “bacteria in Mr Sorley”. This drives us to the conclusion that something must be excluded or we will have nothing. Godbole, in response, accepts that a stone cannot also be God. When the reader looks to Hinduism, as Christianity and Anglican culture cannot provide a fully inclusive outlook, even Hinduism fails the seeker.
Forster also uses the passage significantly to crush out the illusions of grandeur of India that is built up by Adela’s quest to find the “real India”. Adela is not the only one who builds up a sense of mysticism around India, as is evident when on looks at Aziz’s cultural past and stories of Emperors, and Godbole’s mystical account of the caves. These cause the reader to gnaw at the question posed by the entire novel: is India a mystery or a muddle. As, in Temple, Forster attempts to reach a conclusion on the themes, the exotic, fascinating nature of India is undone. This is seen in the inversion in “God si love”, which insists that India is more muddle than mystery.
Forster reaches a vague conclusion on India and the questions asked throughout the novel, perhaps bitterly, facing the inadequacy of India to satisfy the mystery and the ideas built up. Forster uses description largely to indicate the muddle of India and the futility, creating what is almost and anti- climactic end that cuts off loose ends rather than ties them off. Forster understands and forces the reader to deal with the fact that there is no resolve in the matter. It is as it is.
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