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Raja Rammohan Roy and Brahmo Samaj

Raja Rammohan Roy and Brahmo Samaj

Raja Rammohan Roy and Brahmo Samaj

Raja Rammohan Roy (1772-1833), often called the the father of Indian Renaissance and the maker of Modern India, was a man of versatile genius.

Note :- This post will be available in Hindi soon

Rammohan Roy believed in the modern scientific approach and principles of human dignity and social equality. He put his faith in monotheism. He wrote Gift to Monotheists (1809) and translated into Bengali the Vedas and the five Upanishads to prove his conviction that ancient Hindu texts support monotheism.

In 1814, he set up the Atmiya Sabha (or Society of Friends) in Calcutta to propagate the monotheistic ideals of the Vedanta and to campaign against idolatry, caste rigidities, meaningless rituals and other social ills. Strongly influenced by rationalist ideas, he declared that Vedanta is based on reason and that, if reason demanded it, even a departure from the scriptures is justified.

He said the principles of rationalism applied to other sects also, particularly to the elements of blind faith in them. In his Precepts of Jesus (1820), he tried to separate the moral and philosophical message of the New Testament, which he praised, from its miracle stories. He earned the wrath of missionaries over his advocacy to incorporate the message of Christ into Hinduism.

He stood for a creative and intellectual process of selecting the best from different cultures, over which, again, he faced orthodox reaction.

Raja Rammohan Roy founded the Brahmo Sabha in August 1828; it was later renamed Brahmo Samaj. Through the Sabha he wanted to institutionalise his ideas and mission. The Samaj was committed to “the worship and adoration of the Eternal, Unsearchable, Immutable Being who is the Author and Preserver of the Universe”. Prayers, meditation and readings of the Upanishads were to be the forms of worship and no graven image, statue or sculpture, carving, painting, picture, portrait, etc., were to be allowed in the Samaj buildings, thus underlining the Samaj’s opposition to idolatry and meaningless rituals.

The long-term agenda of the Brahmo Samaj—to purify Hinduism and to preach monotheism—was based on the twin pillars of reason and
the Vedas and Upanishads. The Samaj also tried to incorporate teachings of other religions and kept its emphasis on human dignity, opposition to idolatry and criticism of social evils such as sati.

Rammohan Roy did not want to establish a new religion. He only wanted to purify Hinduism of the evil practices which had crept into it. Roy’s progressive ideas met with strong opposition from orthodox elements like Raja Radhakant Deb who organised the Dharma Sabha to counter Brahmo Samaj propaganda. Roy’s death in 1833 was a setback for the Samaj’s mission.

Raja Rammohan Roy and his Brahmo Samaj form the starting
point for all the various reform movements—whether in Hindu
religion, society or politics—which have agitated modern India.

—H.C.E. Zacharias

The features of Brahmo Samaj may be summed thus—

  • it denounced polytheism and idol worship;
  • it discarded faith in divine avataras (incarnations);
  • it denied that any scripture could enjoy the status of ultimate authority transcending human reason and conscience;
  • it took no definite stand on the doctrine of karma and transmigration of soul and left it to individual Brahmos to believe either way;
  • it criticised the caste system.

His ideas and activities were also aimed at political uplift of the masses through social reform and, to that extent, can be said to have had nationalist undertones.

Raja Rammohan Roy’s Efforts at Social Reform

Rammohan was a determined crusader against the inhuman practice of sati. He started his anti-sati struggle in 1818 and he cited sacred texts to prove his contention that no religion sanctioned the burning alive of widows, besides appealing to humanity, reason and compassion. He also visited the cremation grounds, organised vigilance groups and filed counter petitions to the government during his struggle against sati. His efforts were rewarded by the Government Regulation in 1829 which declared the practice of sati a crime.

As a campaigner for women’s rights, Roy condemned the general subjugation of women and opposed prevailing misconceptions which formed the basis of according an inferior social status to women. Roy attacked polygamy and the degraded state of widows and demanded the right of inheritance and property for women.

Rammohan Roy did much to disseminate the benefits of modern education to his countrymen. He supported David Hare’s efforts to found the Hindu College in 1817, while Roy’s English school taught mechanics and Voltaire’s philosophy. In 1825, he established a Vedanta college where courses in both Indian learning and Western social and physical sciences were offered. He also helped enrich the Bengali language by compiling a Bengali grammar book and evolving a modern elegant prose style.

I regret to say that the present system of religion adhered to by
the Hindus is not well calculated to promote their political
interests…. it is, I think, necessary that some change should take
place in their religion at least for the sake of their political
advantage and social comfort.

—Raja Rammohan Roy

Rammohan was a gifted linguist. He knew more than a dozen languages including Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic, English, French, Latin, Greek and Hebrew. A knowledge of different languages helped him broadbase his range of study.

As a bold supporter of freedom of the Press and as a pioneer in Indian journalism, Roy brought out journals in Bengali, Hindi, English, Persian to educate and inform the public and represent their grievances before the government.

As a political activist, Roy condemned oppressive practices of Bengali zamindars and demanded fixation of maximum rents. He also demanded abolition of taxes on tax-free lands. He called for a reduction of export duties on Indian goods abroad and abolition of the East India Company’s trading rights. He demanded the Indianisation of superior services and separation of the executive from the judiciary.
He demanded judicial equality between Indians and Europeans and that trial be held by jury.

Rammohan was an internationalist with a vision beyond his times. He stood for cooperation of thought and activity and brotherhood among nations. His understanding of the universal character of the principles of liberty, equality and justice indicated that he well understood the significance of the modern age. He supported the revolutions of Naples and Spanish America and condemned the oppression of Ireland
by absentee English landlordism and threatened emigration from the empire if the reform bill was not passed.

Roy had David Hare, Alexander Duff, Debendranath Tagore, P.K. Tagore, Chandrashekhar Deb and Tarachand Chakraborty as his associates.

Debendranath Tagore and Brahmo Samaj

Maharishi Debendranath Tagore (1817-1905), father of Rabindranath Tagore and a product of the best in traditional Indian learning and Western thought, gave a new life to Brahmo Samaj and a definite form and shape to the theist movement, when he joined the Samaj in 1842. Earlier, Tagore headed the Tattvabodhini Sabha (founded in 1839) which, along with its organ Tattvabodhini Patrika in Bengali, was devoted to the systematic study of India’s past with a rational outlook and to the propagation of Rammohan’s ideas.

A new vitality and strength of membership came to be associated with the Brahmo Samaj due to the informal association of the two sabhas. Gradually, the Brahmo Samaj came to include prominent followers of Rammohan, the Derozians and independent thinkers such as Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Ashwini Kumar Datta. Tagore worked on two fronts: within Hinduism, the Brahmo Samaj was a reformist movement; outside, it resolutely opposed the Christian missionaries for their criticism of Hinduism and their attempts at conversion. The revitalised Samaj supported widow remarriage, women’s education, abolition of polygamy, improvement in ryots’ conditions and temperance.

Keshab Chandra Sen and the Brahmo Samaj

The Brahmo Samaj experienced another phase of energy, when Keshab Chandra Sen (1838-1884) was made the acharya by Debendranath Tagore soon after the former joined the Samaj in 1858. Keshab (also spelt Keshub) was instrumental in popularising the movement, and branches of the Samaj were opened outside Bengal—in the United Provinces, Punjab, Bombay, Madras and other towns. Unfortunately, Debendranath did not like some of Sen’s ideas which he found too radical, such as cosmopolitanisation of the Samaj’s meetings by inclusion of teachings from all religions and his strong views against the caste system, even open support to inter-caste marriages. Keshab Chandra Sen was dismissed from the office of acharya in 1865.

Keshab and his followers founded the Brahmo Samaj of India in 1866, while Debendranath Tagore’s Samaj came to be known as the Adi Brahmo Samaj.

Whoever worships the True God daily must learn to recognise all
his fellow countrymen as brethren.

—Keshab Chandra Sen

In 1878, Keshab’s inexplicable act of getting his thirteen-year-old daughter married to the minor Hindu Maharaja of Cooch-Behar with all the orthodox Hindu rituals caused another split in Keshab’s Brahmo Samaj of India. Earlier, Keshab had begun to be considered as an incarnation by some of his followers, much to the dislike of his progressive followers. Further, Keshab had begun to be accused of authoritarianism.

After 1878, the disgusted followers of Keshab set up a new organisation, the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj. The Sadharan Brahmo Samaj was started by Ananda Mohan Bose, Shibchandra Deb and Umesh Chandra Datta. It reiterated the Brahmo doctrines of faith in a Supreme being, one God, the belief that no scripture or man is infallible, belief in the dictates of reason, truth and morality.

A number of Brahmo centres were opened in Madras province. In Punjab, the Dayal Singh Trust sought to implant Brahmo ideas by the opening of Dayal Singh College at Lahore in 1910.

Significance of the Brahmo Samaj

In matters of social reform, the Samaj attacked many dogmas and superstitions. It condemned the prevailing Hindu prejudice against going abroad. It worked for a respectable status for women in society—condemned sati, worked for abolition of purdah system, discouraged child marriage and polygamy, crusaded for widow remarriage and for provisions of educational facilities. It also attacked casteism and untouchability though in these matters it attained only limited success.

The influence of the Brahmo Samaj, however, did not go much beyond Calcutta and, at most, Bengal. It did not have a lasting impact

Read More History

Vishal Singh

Vishal Singh

“Hi, I am Vishal Singh. I completed my Graduations in Physics in 2020 at VKSU, Arrah. Now I'm Preparing For Civil Service Exams. I'm Interested Physics as well as History, Polity, Geography, Technology & Science.

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