E.M Forster’s A Passage to India’ operates simultaneously on both a personal and an impersonal level. Scenes which reveal the innermost emotions and thoughts of each character alternate with scenes in the voice the omniscient, unknowing narrator. This narrator addresses some of heavier themes that are at the core the novel. In the same manner, religion is also a theme. Forster can deliver a social commentary on a wider scale by addressing themes like colonialism, ethnic relations and racism. His depiction of tensions that exist between the various segments of Indian Society foreshadows historic events that occurred years after his novel was published. Each of the major religions are also presented as philosophical systems through which man can make sense of his own existence and that of the world around him. Forster can explore philosophical ideas such as head vs. the heart and infinity by examining its effect on characters. The responses and values of those who follow each religion reinforces the themes in the novel.
A socio-historical perspective portrays religion as an unifying force. The gulf that separates Hindus from Moslems can be seen in the section of ‘Caves.’ This is the space between the two sections, ‘Mosque.’ The Marabar Caves represent negation. According to one account, the trip “challenged even the spirit of Indian Earth that compartmentalizes men” and ended with disaster. The insidious nature of its presence in the novel’s structure and in all of its pages negates any hope for unification of Indians and Moslems despite the heroic battle cry of Dr. Aziz at the end (“Hindu, Moslem, and Sikh shall be one !”). Forster was right. The partition of India in the Union of India (now Pakistan) and Dominion of India (now India) took place almost 25 years later. Christianity is the sole religion practiced in Occident, yet it is absent in the entire novel. Forster gives a detailed description of the Oriental places and locations, which are important to plot developments (e.g. Mrs. Moore’s first meet with Dr. Aziz). Forster describes the Hindu and Muslim temples in detail, while he does not mention anything Christian that was built on Indian land. Religion is only mentioned through biblical references and characterizations, which are not memorable. Forster suggests, therefore, that Christianity, and thus the British colonies, do not belong to India. The British will never have a permanent presence in India, no matter how hard they try to subjugate Indians. Forster was right again. India was freed from British rule in 1947 – 23 years later than the novel.
The description is also a way to illustrate the main contrast between English and Indian attitudes. English people are more reserved and logical, while Indians show their emotions. Images are used to convey the essence of both the Gokul Ashtami and the Mosque. Dr. Aziz, in his quiet appreciation for the beauty the mosque (“…, enjoyed the competition between the dualism of shadows and this contention …”). His vague experiences (e.g. an amateur orchestra playing, the smell jasmine flowers), create an impression that Islam is a place of peace and comfort. In his recitation, he shows that Islam is a connection he feels from the heart. Gokul Ashtami is described in a different way- as a colorful explosion of motion and color, with many sensations being described. The collectiveness is evident in the way Professor Godbole interacts with others (e.g., talking to a drummer or watching his colleague undo his pince-nez). The festival’s vitality and the scene in the mosque have different feelings, but both are filled with emotions. Christianity is not shown (except Adela’s short prayer the morning of trial). Only the formal trappings, like biblical quotes or missionaries, are shown, reflecting the English rationality. They are not particularly religious, even though it is something they care about. They are only Mrs. Moore or Adela Quested who, during the trial, found it to be a comfort.
Islam is the first faith to be mentioned in the book. It’s portrayed as an old-fashioned religion. Dr.Aziz’s character shows this. His favorite topic is the decay of Islam. He also has an extensive knowledge about Mughal Emperors, like Akbar and Alamgir. Although the Moslems are not blindly religious, they do follow it. Some Islamic ceremonies are more popular than others. For example, polygamy. Western values temper traditional religious beliefs. Adela’s question on polygamy made Dr. Aziz uncomfortable. The monogamy he had just accepted was new to him, so he felt the greater need for defense. The novel’s progression shows that Dr. Aziz has lost his initial enthusiasm about Islam. The Shrine of the Head, and the Shrine of the Body are in violation of Islam’s ban on idolatry. Dr. Aziz’s initial scorn soon turned into acceptance, and he even brought his own children to the Shrine.
In spite of Islam’s apparent incapacity to endure, the Moslems consider themselves superior than Hindus. The Moslems use unflattering words to describe Hindus, such as “flabby” and “slack”. Dr. Aziz accuses Mrs. Bhattacharya of sending a false invitation to Englishwomen by claiming they were Hindus. He then, ironically, makes the same error himself. Syed Mohammed was the engineer who sneered at Hindu religious festivals. Dr. Aziz had beaten a Brahmany, a Hindu sacred bull with a polostick. The chasm that exists between Moslems, Hindus, and other religions can be attributed to this lack of respect. Both groups see each other through the lens of their respective religious identities, rather than as individuals. Dr. Aziz reconciles himself with Mr. Das. He first thinks about him as Hindu. Mr. Das is of the opinion that “Some Moslems may be violent” before he considers whether or not Dr. Aziz belongs to this group. The herd-mentality is too strong for the trial of Dr. Aziz to continue the temporary unification. Dr. Aziz is finally hired by a Hindu state because of his hatred for British. He makes the same flippant remarks about Hindus as before, but his tone is more lenient (“….
The same is true for Christianity, which is presented in the same way as Islam. This is despite biblical quotations that encourage mutual acceptance. The Anglo-Indians are hypocrites, as they do not live up to their words. Maurice Sorley and Maurice, two Christian missionaries preaching the same message, but the Anglo Indians are treating the natives in a dehumanizing and humiliating manner. Mrs McBryde expresses opposition to missionaries ostensibly due to her view of Indians being inferior and unworthy of Heaven. Anglo-Indians don’t seem to be very religious. It is as if they ignore missionaries. Ronny is the perfect example of the Anglo-Indian approach to religion. He represents the “sterile and public school” attitude that lacks any practical application. It is part and parcel of Anglo Indian culture and is not a life style.
Mrs Moore is a spiritual character and the only one who can be referred to as a true Christian’. Her willingness to accept the wasp as a friend and her kindness toward the Indians (God sent us here on Earth for us to love each other …”)) show that she is a good person. Even she cannot find comfort in Christianity. It is implied that Mrs. Moore has lost faith in Christianity by the phrase “poor, talkative Christianity”. Christianity’s teachings aren’t vague. It is, in fact, the most organised of all religions, and it is closely associated with churches and Chaplains. But the word ‘talkative,’ suggests that it is merely a rhetorical approach, as the deeper aspects of divinity are not discussed. In India, Mrs. Moore was more receptive to God’s teachings. But the familiarity with English society and its structure did not provide much comfort. Mrs. Moore had a vision where she saw man as powerless in his surroundings, thanks to the echo of the Marabar caverns. She realized that she was insignificant and lost interest in life. Adela quested began to pray following the Marabar tragedy. She was unable to reconcile her emotions and intellect, so her prayer was ineffective. Christianity emphasizes rational codes of morality without encouraging true spiritual understanding. It is a manifestation of Anglo-Indian culture; overly logical and unable understand the “muddled” nature of India.
Hinduism can be seen as an unifying religion, which does not suffer from racial prejudices. Mrs. Moore’s heart is Hindu (then, you are Oriental). Due to her kindness toward all living things, Mrs. Moore has been Indianized into a Hindu goddess, “Esmiss Esmoor”. She is elevated symbolically to the spiritual plane that she was acutely aware of. The spirit of Mrs. Moore is carried forward by her children Ralph and Stella Moore. Their instinctive understanding of Hinduism is a further proof of the inclusiveness in this religion. Adela’s letter is read by Ralph Moore, and Mrs. Moore speaks through Adela. Dr. Aziz’s initial skepticism is overcome by the joyous atmosphere of the worshipers. Ralph Moore is treated with kindness. The feeling of unity is further enhanced by the description given of the procession. It unites the people in devotion, and even reunites Fielding with Dr. Aziz, after their boats collide on the water. Hinduism offers the opportunity for people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds to connect. Hinduism is based on the belief that love unifies man with God and all other creatures. The main Hinduist in the book, Professor Godbole, demonstrates this. He sees Mrs. Moore and her wasp almost in a divine light during the festival. He loves them both equally, like a good-natured god. He reflects that, although it may not appear to be much, the two are more than what he is. This reminds me of Mrs. Moore noticing a wasp hanging on her coat hook. This demonstrates the acceptance that is the foundation of Hinduism. Professor Godbole is aware that his role in the universe is small and he cannot do much. The wasp and Mrs. Moore are both part of a larger universe, so they’re more spiritually connected than he. Hinduism emphasizes the spirituality of life over formality and rules. Ironically the Hindus spelled the phrase “God is Love” incorrectly on the temple’s wall, but the Hindus do actually use it.
Hindus do not see God as an unreachable figure in the sky. He is an energy that flows through every living creature. It may appear that the games played at Gokul Ashtami are tasteless and sleazy, but they show how close God is to His followers. He has human qualities such as enjoying games. They don’t only pray to God. Instead, they consider themselves part of Him as well as the greater universe. Hinduism is also a religion of acceptance. Everyone was spellbound by Professor Godbole’s ‘song of an unknown bird’, whether it was the Anglo Indians or the humble water chestnut collecter. This song was haunting precisely because they could not identify it, but it still touched their hearts. Ronny’s and Adela’s inability to identify a bird is similar. They are unable to appreciate the song of Professor Godbole because they feel uncomfortable. It is important to realize that things exist outside of our comprehension. This will allow us to appreciate infinity. The mysteries of the cosmos are so vast that no one can unravel them. It is evident that unseen forces are at work when you look at mystic events such as Ralph Moore’s guidance of Dr. Aziz and Professor Godbole. Adela’s confusion when she entered Marabar’s caves was caused by her attempt to ‘label.’
Forster does not just favor Hinduism, but also points out its shortcomings. Within Hinduism there are differences between Brahmans (Hindus) and non Brahmans. Brahmans are also subject to strict rules, like the requirement of another bath if a non Hindu touches them. Hindus do not shy away from arguing against Moslems. An example of their protest is when they saw the Moslems chop a pepul branch to make way for the paper tower processions during Mohurram. Hinduism, however, is presented as the religion that can best foster mutual understanding and respect.
Forster strikes a delicate balance in his conclusion between giving his opinion as an author and letting the reader draw their own conclusions. Forster uses religion in order to show the problems that colonial India faced, but he leaves plenty of room for interpretation. The religions are not presented as the solution to the problems of colonial India, but they are also not presented as their root causes. Instead, they reflect the mentality of each community. Forster integrates the study of religion in terms of its socio-historical significance with that of religion being a way to self-actualize. The former is concerned with collective attitudes and the latter, spirituality. He can then make a subtle difference between religions and their followers. Even if a religion has morally sound teachings, a person who doesn’t follow them will not benefit. Forster examines in detail the inextricable link between religion and human nature.