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MonkeyNotes-A Passage to India by E. M. Forster
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PART TWO: CAVES

Chapter 12

The caves of Marabar are ancient. They are older than any religion or anything human in the world. Slowly, but surely, these caves are being covered by advancing soil, and the Marabar hills seem to be re-entering the earth. At the time of the novel, there is something uncanny, almost ghostlike, about their dramatic appearance.

All of the many Marabar Caves consist of a tunnel which is eight- foot long, five-foot high, and three-foot wide. This tunnel leads to a circular chamber about twenty feet in diameter. Inside the caves, there are no carvings, bats, or cobwebs. The rocks are splendidly polished to such a high sheen that when light falls on them, they reflect it like a mirror. All the caves are identical; they are dark and empty. It is very difficult for a visitor to decide whether he has had a pleasant experience or otherwise in the caves.


Notes

This chapter reflects back to ancient India, as old as the earth and the sky. Seen against the backdrop of such a cosmic landscape, man looks like a speck of dust who comes and goes. When a visitor goes to the Marabar Caves, he is given the same sense of unimportance. He normally comes back from the caves with a feeling of total emptiness because all the caves are identical, dark, and empty. They have a terrible monotonous echo that gives an endless message of nothingness. This emptiness of the caves is a symbol of a heart that is devoid of emotions and feelings.

When a matchstick is lit inside a cave, there is a reflection on all the walls, but these reflections never meet; the roof of the caves absorbs all the light. This image seems to suggest that the Atma, the soul of a human, can never meet the Parmatma, the Eternal soul. It is a reflection of Godbole's song that states that God never comes.

Forster chooses not to enlighten the readers on any point regarding the history of the caves, their relation to any religious sects, or their anthropological interest. Like India, they will always retain a sense of mystery to a westerner. Within the novel, the caves become a metaphor for the fragile relation between eastern and western "friends."

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