The title of UR Ananthamurthy's novel "Bharath-ipura" leans on the ancient word for India, "Bharat"-"pura" meaning place. What is shown happening in this fictional south Indian town, it seems to suggest, is symbolic of the whole land. The action in the book takes place in the years just after India's independence in 1947, a time when the fledgling Indian state, pushing against the weight of Indian history, fashioned a new blueprint for society as a secular republic with universal suffrage. Bharathipura is famed for the power of the local deity, Manjunatha. Hinduism's strictures are in place here, with its myths, deities, ideas of personal morality and the hierarchical stratification of society into castes. In the cyclical time of the Hindu world, history moves drowsily through the ordered, unchanging world of rituals and festivals, and a God who pervades everything and must be propitiated for everything. This sense of time disturbs the novel's protagonist, a young Brahmin landlord called Jagannatha. Having just returned to Bharathipura from his studies in England, he is instead taken with the new linear time and secular aspirations of the Indian republic. Ananthamurthy sets up the two value systems to collide with each other. Such use of Hinduism as a narrative engine is probably unfamiliar to contemporary readers of Indian novels in English. Fiction from the subcontinent today mostly offers, often unconsciously, visions of the nation through Western ideas. Ananthamurthy, on the other hand, profoundly interprets India from within its own structures. Writing in his native Kannada, a language of the Indian south, he takes as his great theme Hinduism's relationship to modernity. His best known work is his first novel "Samskara" (meaning rite), a small, muscular book written in the 1960s. It describes the quandary of Praneshacharya, a learned Brahmin, or member of the priestly class, over the death rites of a rebellious, dissolute member of the community. Once translated into English, it was almost immediately established as a classic of the Indian pantheon. Shortly afterwards, Nobel Laureate V.S. Naipaul in his "India: A Wounded Civilization" pointed to "Samskara" as the novel that most clearly brought out "the idea of the self." "Bharathipura" is Ananthamurthy's second novel. Originally written in 1973, it has now appeared in a new English translation. Here, some of the questions raised in "Samskara" are given a more public, political form. The author explores the tension between the caste system, with its division of human beings into high and low based on birth, and the levelling ambitions of Indian democracy. The protagonist Jagannatha's main concern is the Holeyaru, the submissive, spectral, dark-skinned lowest caste of Bharathipura. Since time immemorial, the Holeyaru have been scavengers, carrying away baskets of faeces from the toilets so that the town may be kept clean. They have never been allowed into the temple of Manjunatha; instead, they have their own deity, Bhootharaya, on a mound outside the temple. The town's social order is locked into position by its gods. Bhootharaya is understood to be an agent of Manjunatha, so for a lower caste to upset Manjunatha is to invite retribution from none other than Bhootharaya. Any rebellion is self-destructive. Jagannatha plans to get a group of Holeyaru to enter the temple of Manjunatha and to destroy, by a dare, the long-held belief that this will provoke the deity's 'vengeance. "You're the majority in this country," he tells a group of Holeyaru youth. "If you stand up for yourselves, everything can change." "Bharathipura," then, prefigures the rumblings of history that over the last three decades have ushered in what the political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot calls "India's silent revolution"-the seizure of political power and ascent to self-respect by the lower castes not by violence, but through the ballot-box. The Bahujan Samaj Party, founded in 1984, has mobilized millions of Dalits (whom the caste system considers Untouchables) across northern India. Its leader, Kumari Mayawati, is one of the most powerful politicians in the country today. Yet, while this novel can be read as an allegory of the fractious forcing open of a door in Indian history, its power resides in the way its universal ideas are worked out through the frame of the local. We never forget we are in a single small town, thinking our way through the particular names, histories and legends that inflect its thought. Ananthamurthy brings to his material considerable gifts as a technician. His deft segueing between third-person narration and the protagonist's inner monologue allows us to experience the novel's world simultaneously from within and without. Although Susheela Punitha's translation is often uneven, it releases into English this work of formidable interpretative power by a writer who warrants the title, as much as Amitav Ghosh or Vikram Seth, of India's greatest living novelist. Choudhury is the author of the novel "Arzee the Dwarf" (2009) and editor of "India: A Traveller's Literary Companion" (2010). WSJ