Raja Rao

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Raja Rao
Raja Rao.jpg
Born (1908-11-08)8 November 1908
Hassan, Mysore, India
Died 8 July 2006(2006-07-08) (aged 97)
Austin, Texas, United States
Occupation Writer and professor
Language English, French, Kannada
Alma mater University of Texas
Period 1938–1998
Genre Novel, short story, essay
Notable works Kanthapura (1938)
The Serpent and the Rope (1960)
Notable awards

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Raja Rao (8 November 1908 – 8 July 2006) was an Indian writer of English-language novels and short stories, whose works are deeply rooted in Metaphysics. The Serpent and the Rope (1960), a semi-autobiographical novel recounting a search for spiritual truth in Europe and India, established him as one of the finest Indian prose stylists and won him the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1964.[1] For the entire body of his work, Rao was awarded the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 1988. Rao's wide ranging body of work, spanning a number of genres, is seen as a varied and significant contribution to Indian English literature, as well as World literature as a whole.[2]


Early life[edit]

Raja Rao was born on November 8, 1908 in Hassan, in the princely state of Mysore (now in Karnataka in South India), into a Smartha Brahmin family of the Hoysala Karnataka caste. His father, H.V. Krishnaswamy, taught Kannada at Nizam College in what was then Hyderabad State. His mother, Gauramma, was a homemaker who died when Raja Rao was 4 years old. He was the one of 9 siblings, having seven sisters and a brother named Yogeshwara Ananda. His native language was Kannada, but his post-graduate education was in France, and most of his writings, apart from newspaper articles written in Kannada, have been in English.

The death of his mother, when he was four, left a lasting impression on the novelist – the absence of a mother and orphanhood are recurring themes in his work. Another influence from early life was his grandfather, with whom he lived in Hassan and Harihalli or Harohalli).

Rao was educated at Muslim schools, the Madarsa-e-Aliya in Hyderabad After matriculation in 1927, Rao studied for his degree at Nizam's College. at the Osmania University, where he became friends with Ahmed Ali. He began learning French. After graduating from the University of Madras, having majored in English and history, he won the Asiatic Scholarship of the Government of Hyderabad in 1929, for study abroad.

Rao moved to the University of Montpellier in France. He studied French language and literature, and later at the Sorbonne in Paris, he explored the Indian influence on Irish literature. He married Camille Mouly, who taught French at Montpellier, in 1931. The marriage lasted until 1939. Later he depicted the breakdown of their marriage in The Serpent and the Rope. Rao published his first stories in French and English. During 1931–32 he contributed four articles written in Kannada for Jaya Karnataka, an influential journal.

Nationalist novelist[edit]

Returning to India in 1939, he edited with Iqbal Singh, Changing India, an anthology of modern Indian thought from Ram Mohan Roy to Jawaharlal Nehru. He participated in the Quit India Movement of 1942. In 1943–1944 he co-edited with Ahmed Ali a journal from Bombay called Tomorrow. He was the prime mover in the formation of a cultural organisation, Sri Vidya Samiti, devoted to reviving the values of ancient Indian civilisation; this organisation failed shortly after inception. In Bombay, he was also associated with Chetana, a cultural society for the propagation of Indian thought and values.

Rao's involvement in the nationalist movement is reflected in his first two books. The novel Kanthapura (1938) was an account of the impact of Gandhi's teaching on nonviolent resistance against the British. The story is seen from the perspective of a small Mysore village in South India. Rao borrows the style and structure from Indian vernacular tales and folk-epic. Rao returned to the theme of Gandhism in the short story collection The Cow of the Barricades (1947). In 1998 he published Gandhi's biography Great Indian Way: A Life of Mahatma Gandhi. In 1988 he received the prestigious International Neustadt Prize for Literature. The Serpent and the Rope was written after a long silence during which Rao returned to India. The work dramatised the relationships between Indian and Western culture. The serpent in the title refers to illusion and the rope to reality.[3] Cat and Shakespeare (1965) was a metaphysical comedy that answered philosophical questions posed in the earlier novels.[4]

Later years[edit]

Rao relocated to the United States and was Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin from 1966 to 1986, when he retired as Emeritus Professor. Courses he taught included Marxism to Gandhism, Mahayana Buddhism, Indian philosophy: The Upanishads, Indian philosophy: The Metaphysical Basis of the Male and Female Principle, and Razor's Edge. Nobel laureate Czesław Miłosz, a friend of Rao's, published his only poem in the English language, "To Raja Rao", after a conversation with him.

In 1965, he married Katherine Jones, an American stage actress. They have one son, Christopher Rama. In 1986, after his divorce from Katherine, Rao married his third wife, Susan, whom he met when she was a student at the University of Texas in the 1970s.

Rao died on 8 July 2006 at Austin, Texas, at the age of 97.[5][6][7]

literary works[edit]

  • kanthapura

Raja Rao’s first novel Kanthapura (1938) is the story of a south Indian caste ridden village named Kanthapura.

The novel is narrated in the form of a ‘sthalapurana’ by an old woman of the village, Achakka. Dominant castes like Brahmins are privileged to get the best region of the village whereas Sudras, Pariahs are marginalized. The village is believed to have protected by a local deity called Kenchamma. Though casteist,the village has got a long nourished traditions of festivals in which all castes interact and the villagers are united.

The main character of the novel Moorthy is a Brahmin who discovered a half buried ‘linga’ from the village and installed it. A temple is built there, which later became the centre point of the village life.

Hari-Kathas, a traditional form of storytelling, was practiced in the village. Hari-Kathas are stories of Hari(God). One Hari-Katha man, Jayaramachar, narrated a Hari Katha based on Gandhi and his ideals. The narrator was arrested because of the political propaganda instilled in the story.

The novel begins its course of action when Moorthy leaves for the city where he got familiar with Gandhian philosophy through pamphlets and other literatures.He wore home spun khaddar and Discarded foreign clothes and fought against untouchability. This turned the village priest, a Brahmin, against him who complained to the swami who was a supporter of foreign government and Moorthy was ex-communicated.Heartbroken to hear it, his mother Narasamma passed away.

Bade Khan was a police officer, a non hindu of Kanthapura. He was brought and supported by the coffee planters who were Englishmen. Considered as an outsider, Bade khan is an enemy of the people who refuses to provide shelter to him.

After the death of his mother, Moorthy started living with an educated widow Rangamma, who took part in India’s struggle for freedom. Moorthy was invited by Brahmin clerks at Skeffington coffee estate to create an awareness among the coolies of the estate. When Moorthy turned up, Bade Khan hit him and the pariah coolies stood with Moorthy. Though he succeeded in following Gandhian non violence principle, the incident made him sad and unhappy.

Rachanna and family were thrown out of the estate because of their role in beating Bade Khane. Meanwhile, Moorthy continued his fight against injustice and social inequality and became a staunchest ally of Gandhi. Taking the responsibility of the violent actions happened at the estate; Moorthy went on a three day long fasting and came out victorious and morally elated.Following the footsteps of Gandhi, a unit of the congress committee was formed in Kanthapura. Gowada, Rangamma, Rachanna and seenu were elected as the office bearers of the committee and they avowed to follow Gandhi’s teachings.

Fearing the greater mobility of people of Kanthapura under the leadership of Moorthy, the foreign government accused him of provoking people to inflict violence it and arrested him. Though Rangamma and Rachanna were willing to release him on bail, he refused. He was punished for three months rigorous imprisonment.

While Moorthy spent his days in prison, the women of Kanthapura took charge of the struggle for freedom. They formed Women’s Volunteer Corps under the leadership of Rangamma who instilled patriotism among the women by presenting thr historical figures like Laxmi Bai of thansi, rajput princess, Sarojini Naidu etc... Moorthy was released later and he came out as strong as he was. People thronged at his house were dispersed peacefully.

Dandi March, Picketting of Boranna’s toddy grove were other activities led by Moorthy after his release. Arrest of the satyagrhis, and police brutality to women became a part of the everyday life of the people in Kanthapura. Atrocities against women added miseries of the people. In the last part o the novel, it is mentioned that people of the village were settled in Kashipur and Kanthapura was occupied by people from Bombay.


Fiction: Novels[edit]

  • Kanthapura (1938)
  • The Serpent and the Rope (1960)
  • The Cat and Shakespeare: A Tale of India (1965)
  • Comrade Kirillov (1976)
  • The Chessmaster and His Moves (1988)

Fiction: Short story collections[edit]

  • The Cow of the Barricades (1947)
  • The Policeman and the Rose (1978)
    • The True Story of Kanakapala, Protector of Gold
    • In Khandesh
    • Companions
    • The Cow of the Barricades
    • Akkayya
    • The Little Gram Shop
    • Javni
    • Nimka
    • India—A Fable
    • The Policeman and the Rose
  • On the Ganga Ghat (1989)


  • Changing India: An Anthology (edited with Iqbal Singh) (1939)
  • Tomorrow (edited with Ahmed Ali) (1943–44)
  • Whither India? (edited with Iqbal Singh) (1948)
  • The Meaning of India, essays (1996)
  • The Great Indian Way: A Life of Mahatma Gandhi, biography (1998)




  1. ^ "Conferred Sahitya Akademi Award in 1964". 
  2. ^ "University of Texas acquires Raja Rao's archive". The Hindu. Retrieved 17 June 2016. 
  3. ^ Ahmed Ali, "Illusion and Reality": The Art and Philosophy of Raja Rao, Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Leeds, July 1968, No.5.
  4. ^ "Editing Raja Rao". The Hindu. Retrieved 17 June 2016. 
  5. ^ "Noted author Raja Rao passes away". The Indian Express. Retrieved 8 July 2006. 
  6. ^ "Raja Rao passes away". Chennai, India: The Hindu. 9 July 2006. Retrieved 9 July 2006. 
  7. ^ Alterno, Letizia (17 July 2006). "Raja Rao: An Indian writer using mysticism to explore the spiritual unity of east and west". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 4 May 2008. 
  8. ^ "Padma Awards" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 2015. Retrieved July 21, 2015. 

External links[edit]