Kanthapura Study Guide

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, nativizing it to produce the rhythm and cadence of his mother tongue, Kannada.”

The title comes from the fictional setting of the story, Kanthapura in Southern India, and the book follows the impact of Mahatma Gandhi and his movement to liberate India from British colonial rule on this small, common village. It is told from the perspective of an old woman in the village, who notes all of the comings and goings in Kanthapura, bringing along years of expertise and life experience with her.

The novel received widespread appreciation and is now considered among the leading significant Indian novels to be written in English. It is a combination between a traditional folk tale and a modern contemporary novel as it combines the drama and legends of a typical Indian folk-epic with the poeticism of a modernist work of literature. The Hindu extolled Rao’s merits by claiming, “More than any other writer of his generation [Rao] established the status of Indian literature in English,” and the New York Times did so for his “conveying the distinctive cadences of his native country.”