Significance of Mosque, Caves & Temple in A Passage To India

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      A Passage to India is E. M. Forster's novel on India and its racial problem. It is divided into three parts — Mosque, Caves and Temple. The novel opens with a description of the city of Chandrapore and a brief reference to the extraordinary caves. After this the action of the novel starts and brings almost all the major characters together at Fielding's party. And most of the action of the novel issues from this party. Aziz and Fielding become friends; Mrs. Moore and Miss Adela Quested are invited by Aziz to visit the Marabar Caves and the unfortunate incident at the caves brings about the climax of the novel. Miss Adela Quested is allegedly attacked in one of the caves and is persuaded to accuse Aziz of trying to rape her. A trial follows and the whole town is agitated over it. Then comes the anti-climax in the novel: Miss Adela Quested withdraws her charge and after further misunderstandings and complications the novel ends on a rather melodramatic note.

Three Parts of A Passage To India


      As mentioned above, there are three parts of the novel. Its first section is the Mosque which deals with the possibilities of personal relationships. Mosque stands for Islamic brotherhood and "Oneness" of God. It creates an atmosphere in which human bonds of affection and personal relationships can develop. In this section, two distinct points of view are developed by the novelist - that of mystery and that of muddle. Both have their limitations and neither is exclusive of the other. Muddle produces misunderstandings and vitiates not only the personal but also the racial relationships. Through a series of juxtaposed scenes, the section on the Mosque show's us its central position in the relationship between an Englishman and an Indian as well as between members of the same race. The muddle for the present is symptomatic of a state of mind which may easily precipitate into serious consequences. In spite of their mutual desire to form a strong bond of friendship, the relationship between Aziz and Yielding is ruptured at times because the muddle is caused less by disruptive circumstances than by temperamental differences which are not easily removable. Aziz is impulsive and lacks patience whereas Fielding is patient but lacks impulsiveness and it seems unlikely that either of them will acquire the virtue of the other. But there are moments in the novel when the muddle is transformed into mystery - mutual understanding despite mutual incomprehension. As the section approaches the end, one is made aware more and more of the impact of circumstances on human relationship which is beyond the control of human beings. The more this is emphasized the more the mystery deepens.


      The second section — Gives — is an answer to the question posed in the first section. The answer is negativity and chaos. The Caves represent a primitive universe of evil, chaos and annihilation. The hopes of union and friendship raised in the first section are totally frustrated. The echoes in the caves spell disaster. Adela Quested is no longer the detached observer. Mrs. Moore is disenchanted and withdraws into herself. Even the friendship of Fielding and Aziz is put to the test. The differences in their attitude which is clear enough even before, now come in their way. Ronny too faces his own moment of truth. He sheds what he calls his "shallow adolescence" and identifies himself completely with the British ruling class in India. The mystery that begins in the first section gets deeper in the second section and everything, both men and matters, seem to express a negative attitude and purposelessness.


      Temple is the last section of the novel. This section reveals another aspect of India. It comes as a restorative of harmony and happiness to the weary and distracted souls in the novel. The essence of the novel as contained in this section is, that love, Christian love as represented by Mrs. Moore, unaided by the kind of Brahman mysticism represented by Prof. Godbole, is not capable of resolving the moral and spiritual dilemmas of A Passage to India. The Marabar Caves are only one of a thousand possible to India. The novel keeps probing to find some point of test. It seems the Hindu festival might serve this purpose. The journey may seem unending, but if one does not lose heart like Mrs. Moore, one may at moments, outside time, perceive the end. On the level of personal relationship too — of Aziz and Fielding—the novel ends on a similar note of hope. Englishman may after all be friends with an Indian, at least at some future time.

Various Interpretations of the Three Sections

      Different critics have interpreted in different ways the three sections of the novel. Gertrude M. White considers the division of the novel into Mosque, Caves and Temple as coinciding with thesis, antithesis and synthesis of the Hegelian dialectics. But G.D. Allen rejects her contention saying that the three sections represent the ways of work of knowledge and of love (as specified in Hindi philosophy) as well as of Islam, Hindusim and Christianity. According to Wilbur L. Cross, Forster has tried to depict "The native as he appears to himself, as he appears to the British official and as he really is when his mind is revealed, presenting a civilization which the West can disturb but will never acquire". To R. A. Brower, "the communication between Britons and Indians, are more generally the possibility of understanding relationships between the two persons."

      Most of these interpretations are partial and fail to understand Forster's basic intention. The truth is that the three sections represent the three phases of man's spiritual quest. In Howards' End, Forster had advocated the connection of the seen and the unseen and in the novel he examines the different ways in which this connection can be best realized. The unseen has an impact on the social, spiritual and emotional lives of the people and Forster seeks to establish the manner in which this impact is best sustained.


Trace the events leading to the expedition to the Marabar Caves and point out the consequences of the expedition.
What happens when heaving Mrs. Moore, to her fatigue and exhaustion, along with Adela and Dr. Aziz, visit the next Cave? What is the significance of this particular visit?
How did the different members of Aziz's party react to the Marabar Caves?
What is the significance of the meeting of Mrs. Moore and Dr. Aziz at the Mosque?
In dividing the novel, A Passage to India in three sections-Mosque. Caves and Temple, has E.M. Forster sought to divide India into three incompatible sections or is his intention to present the three aspects of India?

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