Biography of Raja Rao

Raja Rao was one of the most prominent writers in 20th-century India, known for his novels and short stories. The critic Ivar Ivask said his “greatest achievement [was] the perfection of the metaphysical novel.”

Rao was born in Hassan (now Karnataka), South India in 1908. His family were Kannada Brahmins, and his father was a professor of the Kannada language in Hyderabad. Rao went to the University of Madras for undergraduate studies and France’s Montpellier University to study literature for postgraduate. He also studied the French language at the Sorbonne.

He began publishing his first stories in magazines and journals in 1931, with his first novel, Kanthapura, coming out in 1938. When he returned to India the next year, he became involved in the nationalist movement. He labored alongside Jawarhal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, and sought his guru, Sri Atmananda, whom he met in Trivandrum, Kerala.

From 1966 to 1983, Rao lived in the United States and taught Indian philosophy at the University of Texas, Austin. Rao’s works, all written in English, include the novels The Serpent and the Rope (1960), The Cat and Shakespeare (1965), and The Chessmaster and His Moves (1988), and short stories such as “A Client” (1934), “The Cow of the Barricades” (1938), “The Policeman and the Rose” (1963), “Jupiter and Mars” (1954), and “The Writer and the Word” (1965). He won the Neustadt prize in 1988 and the Sahitya Akademi award in 1992. In 1996, he published a series of his nonfiction writing on various topics, entitled The Meaning of India.

In 2000, with his approval, the Samvad Undia Foundation, a nonprofit charitable trust, created the “Raja Rao Award for Literature” in order to “recognize writers and scholars who have made an out standing contribution to the Literature and Culture of the South Asian Diaspora.” The award was bestowed seven times between 2000-2009, then discontinued.

Rao died at the age of 92 on July 8, 2006. He married three times, the last being in 1986, and had one son.

Study Guides on Works by Raja Rao

Kanthapura (1938) is Indian author Raja Rao’s most famous work, and especially notable for it being a debut novel written when Rao was only 21 years old. Rao sought to, Alpana Sharma Knippling writes, “experiment with the English language,...