Places: A Passage to India

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1924

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: c. 1920

Places DiscussedChandrapore

Chandrapore Passage to India, AOld, remote Hindu city with filthy alleyways and mean streets that is divided into three parts: old Chandrapore on the Ganges River; inland Maidan on higher ground, and the Civil Station on the second hill. Although it is located on the river, Chandrapore has no riverfront and no bathing steps. Nothing distinguishes Chandrapore except for its proximity to the Marabar Caves. It is home for the Indians.


Maidan. Central section of Chandrapore that contains the hospital in which Dr. Aziz practices medicine and which is the section in which most Europeans live, in houses near the railway station. Maidan has an oval parade field on which polo is played and where soldiers practice.

Civil Station

Civil Station. Section of Chandrapore made up of British civil offices and residences. It is a city of gardens, forests, birds, and streets laid out and named for generals. If not charming, it is functional, with houses for the officials, a grocery store, a cemetery, the Chandrapore Club, Government College, and the official offices. The police station and courthouse are located in the Civil Station. The police station is where Aziz is incarcerated after he is accused of an attack on Adela. The court is the formal courtroom for legal proceedings and is composed of several platforms for various service persons and magistrates who function in the courtroom.

The Civil Station is more formal than some of the other settings of the novel. Mr. Fielding’s residence is located near the Government College. Social interaction among Aziz, the British officials, and visitors before and after Aziz’s trial occurs here. It is also the only place for Adela to stay after the trial ends. The residence of the superintendent of police is where Mrs. McBryde provides nursing care and sanctuary for Adela after the attack and before the trial. However, because of cultural and religious prejudices, the home is closed to Adela when she recants her accusation of Aziz.


Mosque. Islamic place of prayer that is a peaceful, gracious, but crumbling holy place. It is enclosed with a low wall around the courtyard, with a stream that runs through the garden and a three-sided covered part. Aziz frequents this mosque and one night is disturbed to see an Englishwoman there. After admonishing her for entering the mosque and wearing her shoes inside, he learns of her knowledge and genuine appreciation for the Islamic religion and for India.

Chandrapore Club

Chandrapore Club. Social center for British government officials from which Indians are denied admittance. Instead of bridging the gap between the colonizers and their subjects, this club makes the gap wider.

Marabar Caves

Marabar Caves. Complex of caverns in the rough Marabar Hills overlooking Chandrapore. The caves are not sacred, contain no sculptures or drawings, and are not tourist attractions. They are all just alike. The entrance is a long human-made tunnel that leads to a circular center room. It is believed that the caves were opened in the seventeenth century by the orders of Shivaji, perhaps for the Hindu military to flee to the hills from Muslim invasions. The ruined water tank near one is probably the remains of the elaborate cistern system that was built to supply water for those who sought refuge in the caves. Kawa Dol is the only cave mentioned by name, but it is not accessible.

The most important scene in A Passage to India is Aziz’s visit to the caves with the British women. Puzzling and terrifying to both Muslims and Anglo-Indians, the caves form the center of the novel. The caves are elemental. They have been there from the beginning of the earth. They are not Hindu holy places, but Godbole can respect them without fear. Cave worship is the cult of the female principle, the Sacred Womb, Mother Earth. The Marabar Caves, both womb and grave, demand total effacing of ego. The individual loses identity, and whatever is said returns as Ommm, the holy word. The caves are terrifying and chaotic to those who rely on the intellect. The outing itself emphasizes the chaos that is India. Once in the caves, the party encounters the Nothingness that terrifies.

Aziz’s home

Aziz’s home. Small hut, simply furnished with minimal furniture, that is the meeting place of Aziz’s friends. The only thing of value that Aziz owns is a picture of his deceased wife.

Mau Palace

Mau Palace. Beautiful white stucco palace with a courtyard and expensive, exotic furnishings. Inside is a small shrine that serves as the setting of a British ceremony. The streets near the palace provide the setting for the Procession of the Chief God, an evening torchlight procession.

BibliographyBradbury, Malcolm, ed. E. M. Forster, “A Passage to India”: A Casebook. London: Macmillan, 1970. Nineteen essays about every aspect of the novel. Particularly interesting are an interview with Forster in which he discusses his writing of A Passage to India and a selection of early reviews and reactions to his novel.Furbank, P. N. E. M. Forster: A Life. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978. Provides many details about Forster’s travels in India. Explains Forster’s struggles to write his masterpiece and how he coped with its critical and financial success.Godfrey, Denis. E. M. Forster’s Other Kingdom. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1968. Focuses on the mystical themes in the novel. Shows how Mrs. Moore–a symbol of good–influences the other characters and the plot even after her death.Herz, Judith Scherer. “A Passage to India”: Nation and Narration. New York: Twayne, 1993. Overview of the novel with a section explaining the historical background of the British Raj. Detailed discussion of Forster’s style and use of symbolism; also addresses the problem of narrative voice.Shahane, V. A., ed. Perspectives on E. M. Forster’s “A Passage to India”: A Collection of Critical Essays. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1968. Fourteen essays about A Passage to India, many of which discuss its symbolic qualities. Insights include those from Indian literary critics.
Categories: Places