Raja Rao: Scholar, Philosopher, Literary Artist


Raja Rao's Work

"'Teacher' is perhaps the first word that comes to mind when one thinks of Raja Rao. 'Novelist' yes, 'philosophical novelist' even better, and though 'scholarly Sanskritist' (Salman Rushdie's peculiar description in The New Yorker) is not right, it is not altogether wrong either."

--excerpted from Robert D. King's essay, "Raja Rao, Teacher" in Word as Mantra, Robert L. Hardgrave, ed., Delhi, Katha, 1998.

"Raja Rao is one of those enigmatic writers whose novels have been received with wholehearted commendation by such critics as C.D. Narasimhaiah and Edwin Thumboo and with as intense or bemused a condemnation by many critics in India and by the reviewers of Time and the New York Times abroad. Rao is a powerful writer. He is profoundly metaphysical in the way he thinks and feels, and he has a scholarly background, an intimate familiarity with primary texts of Hindu, Bhuddhist, and Christian philosophies; his mastery of English vocabulary is indisputable (as is his mastery of French), and his prose is often scintillating poetry. ... All of Rao's novels explore philosophical concepts."

-- excerpted from Uma Parameswaran's essay, "Siva and Shakti in Raja Rao's Novels," in World Literature Today, Autumn 1988


Nonfiction Books
Changing India: An Anthology. Raja Rao, Iqbal Singh, ed. 1939.
Whither India? Raja Rao, Iqbal Singh, ed. 1948.
Soviet Russia: Some Random Sketches and Impressions. by Jawaharlal Nehru,
      edited by Raja Rao, 1949.
The Meaning of India. essays by Raja Rao, 1996.
The Great Indian Way: A Life of Mahatma Gandhi. biography by Raja Rao, 1998.

Essays and Articles
"Pilgrimage to Europe," in Jaya Karnataka (Dharwar), 1931.
"Europe and Ourselves," in Jaya Karnataka (Dharwar), 1931.
"Romain Rolland, the Great Sage," in Jaya Karnataka (Dharwar), v.11, no.1, 1933.
"Pandit Taranath," in Asia (New York),1935.
"The Premier of Sakuntala," in Asia (New York),1943.
"Jupiter and Mars," in Pacific Spectator, 1954.
"Varanasi," in Illustrated Weekly of India (Bombay),1961.
"Trivandrum," in Illustrated Weekly of India (Bombay), 1962.
"Books Which Have Influenced Me," in Illustrated Weekly of India (Bombay), 1962.
"Andre Malraux Among the Gods of India," in United Asia (Bombay), 1964.
"Recollections of E.M. Forster," in E.M. Forster: TRIBUTE with Selections from His
      Writings on India.
K. Natwar-Singh, ed. 1964.
"'Jawaharlal Nehru: Recollections and Reflections'--A Symposium," in Illustrated Weekly
      of India
(Bombay), 1964.
"The Gandhian Way," in Illustrated Weekly of India (Bombay), 1965.
"The Writer and the Word," in Literary Criterion (Mysore), 1965.
"Irish Interlude," in Saturday Review (New York), 1966.
"The Climate of Indian Literature Today," in Literary Criterion (Mysore), 1972.
"The Meaning of India," in The First Writers Workshop Literary Reader.
      C.D. Narasimhaiah, ed. 1978.
"The Caste of English," in Awakened Conscience: Studies in Commonwealth Literature
      C.D. Narasimhaiah, ed., 1978.
"Autobiography: Entering the Literary World," in Journal of Commonwealth of Literature
      (London), 1979.
"The Cave and the Conch," in The Eye of the Beholder: Indian Writing in English.
      Maggie Butcher, ed. 1983.

For full bibliographic information, click here: Nonfiction Bibliography


Raja Rao taught philosophy at The University of Texas at Austin from 1966 through 1980, when he retired as Professor Emeritus of Philosophy.

"...it is as teacher that I know Raja Rao best... Raja Rao began his formal affiliation with the University [of Texas] as a member of the Faculty of Philosophy in 1966. ... He was a campus icon, acclaimed for his lectures on Buddhism and Eastern thought.

Raja Rao would deny that he is a teacher, and above all that he is a guru. No, above all not a guru. He shuns those designations. But there he is wrong. He is a teacher, a guru, and a generation of his Texas students are the witnesses. As I am too. His method is subtle, seductive, humorous at times. I do not think Raja Rao is aware of whether he is talking to a class or to many people or to only one person. It is always a subdued discourse, a monologue at times, quiet, level, steady. ...

Raja Rao's lesson, though I could not absorb it whole at any one time, has always been that we must each of us seek our way to salvation in our own way. It is a lonely search, not communal; each man is alone. Out of our emptiness will come knowledge, understanding, forgiveness--all that matters. There is only the One Way: not Indian, not Western, but both. Never the dualistic Either-Or; always the monistic Both-And. The secrets lie in our own hearts. ... His message, I have now come to know, is not so much knowledge and understanding as it is something very close to the supreme achievement of love. Or perhaps it is simply love.

That, in the end, is what we all learnt from Raja Rao, Our Teacher. We learnt love. That is our debt, a debt that can never be repaid in full but only in karmic installments, of which this is one."

--excerpted from Robert D. King's essay, "Raja Rao, Teacher" in Word as Mantra, Robert L. Hardgrave, ed., Delhi, Katha, 1998. Robert King is a professor of German and linguistics at The University of Texas, and served as dean of the College of Liberal Arts during much of Raja Rao's tenure there.


Raja Rao is a writer who insists with honesty and fervor that he is not the creator of his works.
(--Edwin Thumboo)

"I write. I cannot not write. Yet he who writes does not know that which writes. So, does one write? If so who? Which?

Why write? Two birds, says the Ramayana (our oldest epic) were making love, when a hunter killed the male bird. The cry of the widowed bird, says the text, created the rhythm of the poem. ...

Why publish? That others may hear the cry of the bird hunted and killed whose mate is lost in sorrow. Uncovering the vocables is a poetic exercise. The precise word arises of love, that is pure intelligence. That is why in Sanskrit the word Kavi means the poet--and the sage." --Raja Rao

"[Raja Rao's] fiction centers on the search by the self for a self capable of fulfillment in a world shaped by a tradition that is alive, inexhaustible, subtle, and on the move, a broad and complex continuum whose matrix consists of metaphysics, religion, and ritual as embodied in texts ranging from the Vedas to the emblematic tales from the Ramayana that carry, as appropriate to the capacity of reader or listener, religious, social, and political linguistic instruction and reaffirmation. Key texts are shared, pan-Indian, and connect with those that are regional... down to ones associated with the rhythms of life presided over by a village deity, a village history. The continuum is marked at one end by the most taxing, abstract metaphysics, at the other by humbler religious practices. It has the mutually reinforcing power of written and oral traditions... that instruct and nourish priest and villager.

Characters in search of self on various levels offer the major fictional foci and energies. More often than not they must contend with change arising from the pressure of events or the challenge of understanding the ethos of another culture. ...

Rao's themes include the metaphysical apprehension of God, the nature of death, immortality, illusion and reality, duality and nonduality, good and evil, existence and destiny, Karma and Dharma; the quest for self-knowledge, the place of the guru, the influence of religion and social concepts and patterns and prejudices on individual and group behavior, corrupt priests; the ideal and meaning of love and marriage, the impact of tradition on the individual and collective life and the meaning of India's real and symbolic content, and the historical or contemporary meeting of East and West in religious, political, and psychological terms tested against the vertical/horizontal distinction. The list is by no means exhaustive. Neither does it suggest the way themes conflate, complement, or construct oppositions depicted through the increasing psychological authority of the characters from the early short stories, through Kanthapura, The Serpent and the Rope, and the Cat and Shakespeare, to the firm, monumental authority of The Chessmaster and His Moves. This listing belies Rao's achievement of bringing into the life of each character and his or her relationships the extraordinarily complex worlds they each occupy--Indian, French, Greek, Hebraic, African, Chinese--and which overlap and contain, in a single moment, the mundane and the metaphysical.

That is a major achievement, as is Rao's remarkably successful reorientation of a language and his assembling of a narrative mode to articulate life fully within the continuum of tradition and change in which life is played out against the larger movements of personality, situation, and environment."

--excerpted from Edwin Thumboo's speech at the 1988 Neustadt award ceremony

Novels and Short Story Collections
Kanthapura 1938.
The Cow of the Barricades and Other Stories 1947.
The Serpent and the Rope 1960.
The Cat and Shakespeare: A Tale of India 1965.
Comrade Kirillov 1976.
The Policeman and the Rose: Stories 1978.
The Chessmaster and His Moves 1988.
On the Ganga Ghat 1989.
Daughter of the Mountain to be published this year.
A Myrobalan in the Palm of Your Hand to be published next year.

Published Stories
"Javni" 1933.
"Akkayya" 1933.
"A Client" 1934.
"In Khandesh" 1934.
"The True Story of Kanakapala, Protector of Gold" 1935.
"The Little Gram Shop" 1937.
"The Cow of the Barricades" 1938.
"Companions" 1941 or 1942.
"Narsiga" 1944.
"India--A Story" 1953.
"The Cat" 1959.
"Nimka" 1963.
"The Policeman and the Rose" 1963.
"Creatures of Benares I" 1988.
"Creatures of Benares II" 1988.

Published Verse
"Expiation of a Heretic" 1932.

For full bibliographic information, click here: Fiction Bibliography

Photos    1. delivering his acceptance speech at the Neustadt award ceremony, 1988
               2. teaching philosophy at The University of Texas, 1973
               3. writing in India, 1960