In 1867, Keshab Chandra Sen helped Atmaram Pandurang found the Prarthana Samaj in Bombay. Earlier, the Brahmo ideas spread in Maharashtra. A precursor of the Prarthana Samaj was the Paramahansa Sabha, something like a secret society to spread liberal ideas and encourage the breakdown of caste and communal barriers. Mahadeo Govind Ranade (1842-1901), joined the samaj in 1870, and much of the
popularity of and work done by the society was due to his efforts. His efforts made the samaj gain an all-India character. Other leaders of the samaj were R.G. Bhandarkar (1837-1925) and N.G. Chandavarkar (1855-1923). The emphasis was on monotheism, but on the whole, the samaj was more concerned with social reforms than with religion. The Prarthana Sabha was very attached to the bhakti cult of Maharashtra. The samaj relied on education and persuasion and not on confrontation with Hindu orthodoxy. There was a four-point social agenda also:
- (i) disapproval of caste system,
- (ii) women’s education,
- (iii) widow remarriage, and
- (iv) raising the age of marriage for both males and females.
Dhondo Keshav Karve and Vishnu Shastri were champions of social reform with Ranade. Along with Karve, Ranade founded the Widow Remarriage Movement as well as Widows’ Home Association with the aim of providing education and training to widows so that they could support themselves.