R. K. Narayan portrays a South-Indian conservative society in the village, Mangal, in the novel The Guide. Though the contact of Western culture brought many changes in the village, castes and traditional occupations continue to exist. Marriages are still arranged. Astrology is accepted there. Washing the feet before visiting a temple or a saint as a ritual of purification, pulling the temple chariot along the streets on festive days, smearing holy ash on the forehead, reciting all kinds of sacred verse, consulting an astrologer for auspicious or sacred time, lighting the lamp in the god’s niche, reading the Bhagavadgita are some of the minor rituals appearing in the novel in connection with the village of Mangal. Touching the feet of the saint, making offerings in kind or prostrating before god, are other ritualistic forms.
Raju’s fasting to appease the rain gods and bringing rain to save the people is the most significant ritual in the novel. The people of the village have a clear idea of the fasting ritual and it is reflected through Velan’s words. Velan gives a very clear account of what the saviour is expected to do—stand in knee-deep water, look to the skies, and utter the prayer line for two weeks completely fasting during the period—and lo, the rains would come down, provided the man who performs it is a pure and great soul. Referring to the fasting ritual by Raju to appease rain-god, Narayan writes: “He felt suddenly so enthusiastic that it gave him a new strength to go through with the ordeal.” Ritual is depicted as an ordeal because this is forced on the reluctant Raju who has no faith in it. However, the drought and the plight of the villagers have a persuasive effect on him and so he genuinely prays to heaven to send down rain to save the villagers. Narayan does not glorify the superstitious rituals. Similarly he does not deny the existence of a strong strain of faith among the villagers in the native rituals.
It is the belief of village people of Mangal that it would rain and thus put an end to the drought if a true sanyasi does genuine fasting for twelve days. That is a belief prevalent among the Hindus as such in India. Whether the people have direct experience of the miracle or not, it does not lessen their faith in it. Narayan only wants to portray that such beliefs and rites prevail among his people. He does not want to glorify or condemn such beliefs. There is no clear hint at the end of the novel whether it rains.
The village, Mangal, signifies native strength, continuity of tradition, the ecology of a whole race with its inescapable influence on the individual consciousness and elemental determinism of individual destiny. Narayan does not endorse tradition in a loud or sententious manner. He does not reject or condemn it but rather creates a space for that.