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Free Study Guide for Life of Pi by Yann Martel Book Summary

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Pi tells of his first visit to a Hindu temple. He describes with delight, the rituals of worship, then goes on to explain the beliefs behind the rituals. He takes pleasure in being religious, in being Hindu, but cautions against fundamentalism using a parable about how Krishna vanishes when milkmaids become possessive. He compares Hindus, specifically Hare Krishnas (misunderstood to be “hairless Christians” by Pi’s foster mother), to Christians because of their trust in love. And “Muslims, in the way they see God in everything, are bearded Hindus, and Christians, in their devotion to God, are hat-wearing Muslims.”


Chapter 16 speaks principally about Hinduism. However, many parallels between religions are brought out in the chapter. This religious syncretism is an ongoing theme throughout the novel, though Pi practices each religion in his own way. Subsequent chapters will focus on Catholicism (Christianity) and then Islam as Pi develops his own increasingly complex relationship with God.

Simplified definitions of Hindu concepts/terms from this chapter that may be unfamiliar to some readers follow: samskara - the Hindu series of sacraments to purify and perfect man

“foreheads carrying, variously signified, the same word - faith” - probably refers to tilaks, the shapes marked on the forehead as symbols of the divine, or bindi, dots made with kumkum (vermillion) used to signify female energy and marital status, worn to protect women and their husbands

murti - statues of deities

prasad - an offering, sometimes sweets or flowers that is returned to the offerer to eat or wear

atman - the universal inner spiritual force or soul

“Bank of Karma” - karma means “action” i.e. whatever you do, and also the consequences, are your responsibility therefore your actions in this life determine the nature of your next life



Pi continues his discussion of religion. While on vacation in Munnar, Pi notices there are three hills, each with a “Godhouse,” one Hindu temple, one mosque, and one Christian church. Hindu is the foundation for his first notion of faith and this faith leads him to “meet Jesus Christ.” Pi watches a priest from a distance and he is moved by the priest’s appearance of offering love and guidance. Timid and confused, Pi enters the church wondering which “murti” was supposed to represent the Catholic god.

The next day Pi goes into the rectory and meets Father Martin. The priest explains that Christianity revolves around the belief that God sent His Son to suffer and die for man’s sins, and then the Son was resurrected. Pi tries intensely to understand this and makes several comparisons of the stories of Hindu gods to the story of the Christian God. Over the next few days Pi meets for tea again and again with Father Martin in attempt to shed light on his confusion. Father Martin answers all of Pi’s questions and objections with, “Love.” Eventually Pi understands the meaning of love in the story of God’s Son and is inspired to run to Father Martin to ask to be a Christian. With the priest’s blessing, Pi goes into the church and prays to Christ. He then leaves and goes to the Hindu temple to thank Lord Krishna for bringing Jesus into his life.


The irony of involving Krishna in being introduced to Christ is obvious. However, this does not seem incongruous to Pi. He is used to the many manifestations of one God due to his Hindu background. To him, another story does not conflict with his existing beliefs, but enhances them giving Pi yet another way to know God.

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