In Eastern India, the socio-religious reform movement was spearheaded by Raja Ram Mohan Roy, a reputed linguist, and an erudite scholar born of affluent family.
Ram Mohan started his service activities from 1814 on settling at Calcutta after relinquishing his job in the East India Company. He started Atemiya Sabha in 1814 and carried on his struggle against idolatry and propagated monotheism by contributing articles in Bengali language to the newspapers.
Ram Mohan was the first to use print media for the propagation of his views and philosophy to the public and for mobilization activity. The next step was the establishment of a new society, Brahma Sabha or Brahmo Samaj in 1828.
Raja Ram Mohan advocated the principles, one ‘Supreme Being’ and the Brotherhood of Men and encouraged the followers of various religions to come together. He also refused to regard the Vedas as the last words of God and interpreted religion on the basis of reason and logic. Ram Mohan also criticized and denounced ritualism of Christianity. By incorporating the best principles of other religions he made Brahmo Samaj the advocate of humanism, monotheism and social regeneration.
He preached monotheism and waged a crusade to better the condition of women by abolishing child marriages, by encouraging ascetic widowhood and putting a stop to sati, the inhuman practice of burning the wife along with the dead husband.
He also condemned polygamy, early marriage and subjugation of women. He advocated that Western education and scientific knowledge had to be introduced in India. He supported the moves of Macaulay and William Bentinck in introducing English as medium of instruction. Ram Mohan took the socio-religious reform as a necessary step in the direction of nation building. He was a democrat to the core and an internationalist.
Ram Mohan was not free from defects, but he stands as the first luminous star on the intellectual firmament of the 19th century. He breathed his last in 1835 at Bristol in England. The Brahmo Samaj’s influence began to decline after Ram Mohan Roy’s death but its influence was revived by Devendranath Tagore and Kesab Chandra Sen.
In 1839, Devendranath Tagore founded the Tattva Bodhini Sabha to carry on further the ideology of Brahmo Samaj and in order to stop the rapid growth of Christianity in Bengal; he advocated the development of Vedantism. Devendranath Tagore emphasized more on the indigenous language and culture of India rather than on universalism of Ram Mohan Roy.
In 1843, he established the Tattua Bodhini Patrika to propagate the new ideas of regenerated Brahmoism. It was another great intellectual of Bengal, Kesab Chandra Sen, who started a new organization known as Bharatiya Brahmo Samaj with the objective of bringing about a total social revolution.
He dedicated his life to the cause of Indian social reform especially to the uplift of women. He published a pamphlet justifying the need for widow remarriage, submitted petitions to government, rendered valuable service for the cause of woman’s education by opening 35 schools for girls, with his own money, encouraged intercaste marriages and advocated the renunciation of sacred thread. It is no exaggeration to surest that by his effort only, the Widow Remarriage Act of 1856 was passed by the government. One greater intellectual of Bengal who contributed to the great renaissance of Bengal and emancipations of woman was Pandit Ishwara Chandra Vidyasagar.
He was a great Sanskrit scholar and became the principal of the Sanskrit College in 1851. He opened the gates of Sanskrit College to non-Brahmin students. He introduced western thought as one of the subjects to be studied by the students of Sanskrit College. He was also the author of a Bengali premier which helped in the evolution of a distinct modem prose style in Bengal.
He devoted his entire life for the emancipation of women particularly by promoting the cause of higher education among women and widow remarriage. Between 1855 and 1860, nearly 25 widow remarriages took place in Bengal under his leadership. He also fought against child marriage and polygamy. The Brahmo Samaj by its efforts created a pride among the Indians by reforming the evil-ridden Hinduism and by stressing humanism as an ideal, necessary for the welfare of mankind.