Raja Ram Mohan Roy

Raja Ram Mohan Roy is considered to be the first Indian who tried to pull out the Indian society out of the medieval age. He is known as “Father of Modern India“; “Father of Indian Renaissance” and “bridge between past and future“.

Birth and Family

Raja Ram Mohan Roy was born in Radhanagar village in Hooghly district in Bengal on May 22, 1772 in an orthodox Brahmin family. His forefathers were in the services of Nawabs of Bengal. He got early education in Patna and Varanasi.

Mahanirvana Tantra

He became profound learner and scholar of Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit, English and Bengali; and foreign languages such as Greek, Latin and Hebrew.

At the age of 20 years, he came in touch with William Carey, an English follower and propagator of Jesus Christ, who wished to translate the Bible into Indian Languages and then propagate the Christianity in India. Raja Ram Mohan Roy was interested in the English Language. He, William Carey and one more friend Hariharananda Vidyabagish, who was a tantric, published a work on Trantrism known as “Maha Nirvana Tantra” in 1897. This work tried to portray the One God of ancient religious texts and endeavored to link the Brahma with Jesus, but the work could not impress the British, who termed it a forgery.  Nevertheless, it was a great attempt to revitalize the ancient Hindu law, which was used by the East India Company to work out some disputes in Zamindari.

Work in East India Company

Raja Ram Mohan Roy joined East India Company and worked as Munshi of Registrar of the Appellate Court at Murshidabad. He left the company later on some minor corruption charges which were never proved.

Key Events

  • In 1815, he established the Atmiya Sabha, a precursor in the socio-religious reforms in Bengal.
  • In 1817, he founded Mahapathshala (Hindu College) at Kolkata along with Radhakanta Deb and others. It was renamed as Presidency College in 1855 and was upgraded as full university recently in 2010.
  • In 1821, He launched a Bengali weekly newspaper Sambad Kaumudi. Sambad Kaumudi was first Indian newspaper edited, published and managed by Indians. In this newspaper, he wrote on subjects such as freedom of press, induction of Indians into higher services and separation of judiciary with executive.
  • In 1822, he published a Persian newsmagazine titled Mirat-ul-Akbar.
  • His other Persian works include Tuhfat-ul-Muwahhidin (Gift to Monotheists) and Manazarutul Adyan {a discussion in Persian on various religions}
  • He translated some parts of Vedanta texts and also the Kena Upanishad.
  • In 1828, he launched Brahmo Sabha with Devendranath Tagore. By 1828, he had become a well known figure in India.
  • In 1830, he had gone to England as an envoy of the Mughal Emperor, Akbar Shah II, who invested him with the title of Raja to the court of King William IV. He was expected to represent to the British sovereign the inadequacy of the pension granted to the Mughal emperor.
  • He was well received in various circles in England, where he stayed for three years and died of meningitis there on September 27, 1833.

His Social Ideas

Raja Ram Mohan Roy was a reformist who wanted to get the Hindu Society rid of irrational practices and evil customs. The turning point in his life came in 1811 when wife of his deceased elder brother committed Sati. This event filled Raja Ram Mohan Roy with unspeakable remorse and pity and made him determined to get this inhuman practice abolished. He launched a sustained campaign for promulgation of a law for the abolition of Sati. As a result of his sustained efforts, the Governor General Lord William Bentinck passed Regulation XVII on December 4, 1829 which declared Sati illegal and punishable as a criminal offence. This regulation, though was effective in Bengal only, began the process of social reform through social legislation.

In 1822, he had published “Modern Encroachments on the Ancient Rights of Females according to the Hindu law of Inheritance.” In this pamphlet, on the authority of the ancient Smriti writers, he opposed all discriminations and evil practices against women. He opposed polygamy, Kulinism and Sati and came out in support of the inheritance of property by daughters. He was also a relentless crusader against child marriage and the rigidity of the caste system, which he described as undemocratic and inhuman.  He stood for the freedom of widows to remarry and equal rights of men and women.

Religious Ideas-Brahmo Samaj

Raja Ram Mohun Roy was deeply influenced by the monotheism and anti-idolatry of Islam, Sufism, the ethical teachings of Christianity and the liberal and rationalist doctrines of the West. He attacked idol worship as degrading and expounded the conception of “One God of all religions and humanity“.

To propagate the monotheistic doctrine of Hindu scriptures, he founded the Atmiya Sabha (1815-19). In 1828, he established the Brahmo Sabha, later the Brahmo Samaj. The new faith did not lay down any definite rites and rituals.  It was the society of the worshippers of one God. The principles of the Samaj were defined in the Trust Deed and in a pamphlet published about the same time.

  • Brahmo Samaj believed that God is the cause and source of all that exists; so that nature, earth and heaven are all His creations.
  • In the Brahmo conception of God, there is no place for such doctrines as incarnation and meditation.
  • It does not recognize any specially privileged priestly class as mediators between God and man.
  • In the Brahmo Samaj no sacrifice was permitted nor was any object of worship to be reviled.
  • Brahmo religion laid emphasis on the love of mankind, irrespective of colour, race or creed and upon the service of humanity as the highest rule of life.

Political Ideas

Raja Ram Mohan Roy looked favored the British rule and admired it for inaugurating progressive measures of social reform and establishing modern educational institutions.  At the same time, he also organized a protest movement against the measures to restrict the freedom of the press.  He also criticized the government for excluding Indians from the higher posts.

He asked the government to concentrate on modern western education. He was opposed to the Sanskrit system of education, because “it would keep the country in darkness“. He silently worked for the foundation of the Hindu College, Calcutta.

An exposition of the Revenue and Judicial Systems in India

In a pamphlet titled “An exposition of the Revenue and Judicial Systems in India“, Raja Ram Mohan Roy raised some very important questions on the administration system of the day and also urged the Government to separate the legislative and judicial powers. He suggested 22 years as minimum qualification age for the appointment to the Civil Services. He advocated the Jury system also.

Legacy and Death

Raja Ram Mohan Roy demanded property inheritance rights for women and fought the social evils of the Bengali Society. Sati, Caste rigidity, polygamy, child marriages etc. were targeted and his led this reform movement personally. He died of meningitis in England in 1833. He along with Mahatma Gandhi represented the two ends, the beginning and the culmination, of the first epoch of Modern India.

Tattvabodhini Sabha

After death of Raja Ram Mohan Roy in 1833, there was a dearth of dynamic leadership in Brahmo Samaj for some time. However, later true leadership was provided by Devendranath, eldest son of Dwarkanath Tagore. Before joining the Brahmo Samaj, Devendranath Tagore had organized the Tattvaranjini Sabha at Jorasanko (Calcutta), which was later renamed as Tattvabodhini Sabha. Its inception “ushered in a new epoch not only in the Brahmo movement, but in the Bengal Renaissance“. Its main objectives were promotion of religious enquiry and dissemination of the knowledge of the Upanishads. Weekly meetings were arranged and papers on different subjects were read and discussed in it, and once a month Divine Service was also held. Shortly, a sizable section of the elite became its members. As its programme was intimately connected with the Brahmo Samaj, the Tattvabodhini Sabha became its main organizational wing.

In 1840, the Tattvabodhini School was founded, where Akshay Kumar Datta  was appointed as a teacher. Among its members were Pandit Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, Rajendra Lal Mitra, Tara Chand Chakravarty, Peary Chand Mitra and others representing people of different shades of opinion and different walks of life. No other organization in the first half of the 19th century exercised so much influence on society as did the Tattvabodhini Sabha, which published a monthly journal called Tattvabodhini Patrika to propagate its social welfare programmes.

Devendranath and his 20 associated formally joined the Brahmo Samaj on December 21, 1843. He not only continued the religious mission of Ram Mohan Roy with renewed zeal, but also boldly stood against the ultra radical trend of missionary attacks on Indian culture.

He compiled a religious text called ‘Brahmo Dharma’ containing spiritual and moral texts from different Hindu scriptures and also introduced the Brahmo form of worship or Brahmopasana. For about two years he retired to Simla hills (1856-58).

Keshav Chandra Sen and Sangat Sabha

When Debendranath was retired to Shimla, Keshav Chandra Sen joined the Brahmo Samaj in 1857 and became a full-time missionary. Under the combined influence of Devendranath and Keshab Chandra Sen, the Brahmo Samaj entered into a new phase of unusual activity. Young Keshab drew around him a number of earnest enthusiasts, mostly young men with whom he established in  1859 a small society known as Sangat Sabha (‘Friendly Association’). Its main objective was to discuss the spiritual and social problems of the day.

In various meetings of the Sangat Sabha, members decided to give up their caste, to discard the sacred thread, to accept no invitation to any idolatrous festival, to give no countenance to the dancing of public women, to practice temperance, to give their wives and sisters the advantages of the light they had themselves received and to be strictly truthful, honest and just in all their dealings with their fellowmen.

In 1861, Keshab Chandra launched a fortnightly journal “Indian Mirror” which later became First Indian Daily in English in 1871. Under Sangat Sabha, he also launched humanitarian and philanthropic activities, such as providing help during famines and epidemics. He tried to make the Brahmo Samaj an all-India movement, for which he extensively toured various parts of the country. As a result of his mission Ved Samaj was established in Madras and Prarthana Samaj in Maharashtra. He strove for radical social changes and emerged as a staunch supporter of emancipation of women, female education, inter-caste marriages and launched an organized campaign against child marriage.

The First Schism

In 1866, the radical reforms by Keshab Chandra Sen led to a schism in Brahmo sabha. The Debendranath Tagore group calling itself as “Adi Brahmo Samaj” separated from Keshab’s group , which had now assumed the name “Brahmo Samaj of India” or Nav Vidhana. While the slogan of Adi Brahmo Samaj was “Brahmoism is Hinduism“, the slogan of Nav Vidhana was “Brahmoism is Catholic and Universal“.

The key features of Nava Vidhana were as follows:

  • Emphasis on the mystic aspects of religion
  • An attempt to combine Christian and Hindu ideals and practices, marking a distinct break with Hinduism.

Keshab visited England in 1870 and returned with more vigor. He rallied for putting the Brahmo Marriage Act in statute book legalizing the marriage as per Brahmo rites. He also established the Indian Reform Association, which greatly worked for the spread of western education, emancipation of women, female education and social work.

However, Keshab Chandra Sen failed the organization in the end. He gave his daughter in marriage to Maharaja of Cooch Behar in 1878, but both the bride and groom were under-age. Not only this, the marriage was conducted as per Hindu rites and this violated the Brahmo Marriage Act of 1872. Due to this, many of the Nav Vidhana members separated in a second schism from Keshab and established the Sadharana Brahmo Samaj. The constitution of the Sadharana Brahmo Samaj, drafted by Anand Mohan Bose, was based on democratic principles and gave equal rights to all members in the management of the Samaj.

However, this schism gave a fatal blow to Brahmo Samaj as no leader of his stature rose later.

Evaluation of Brahmo Samaj

The important contribution of the Brahmo Samaj was in its negative approach. It aimed at building a new social order devoid of all evils of the distinction of caste, creed and sex. The incessant efforts of the Samaj for the regeneration of Indian women are of no less value.  “Ram Mohun Roy and his Brahmo Samaj form the starting point for various reform movements whether in Hindu religion, society or politics which have agitated Modem India”.  Raja Ram Mohun Roy strove to create a consciousness in his countrymen and that was achieved through the Brahmo movement.

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