This article throws light upon the three major religious and social movements initiated by Ram Mohan Roy.
I. The Brahmo Samaj:
Reference has earlier been made to a theistic organisation founded by Ram Mohan in 1828, called Brahmo Sabha which was meant to be assembly of all believers in the unity of Godhead and who discarded image worship.
A building was constructed and a Trust Deed executed in January (8), 1830 by which the building was to be used as place of public meeting of all descriptions of people without any distinction for the worship of one True God.
The name Brahmo Sabha was changed into Brahmo Samaj from that date.
It may be mentioned here that Ram Mohan regarded himself as nothing but a Hindu and wore sacread thread till the last day of his life.
The detailed programme of the Samaj comprised chanting of the Vedas by orthodox Brahmins. In this connection Devendranath Tagore’s observation is worthwhile to be mentioned.
He worte in 1867, when he was the leader of the Brahmo Samaj “We (the Brahmos) are in and of the great Hindu community, and it devolves upon us by example and precept to hold up as a bacon the highest truths of the Hindu shastras. In their light must we purify bur heritage of customs, usages, rites and ceremonies and adapt them to the needs of our conscience and our community. But we must beware of proceeding too fast in matters of social change lest we be separated from the great body whom we would guide and uplift”. Thus the Brahmo movement was not an anti-Hindu movement, but a protestant movement of the nature of the Reformation Movement of the West.
Before formally joining the Brahmo Samaj movement (1843) Devendranath Tagore had founded a cultural organisation called Tattwabodhini Sabha (1839). After joining the movement and taking up its leadership he ‘framed a covenant and introduced a formal ceremony of initiation, thus converting the somewhat loose organisation into a spiritual fraternity. Devendranath started the Tattavabodhini Patrika under the editorship of Akshoykumar Datta for the propagation of Brahmoism.
He also employed a number of preachers for the purpose. Devendranath’s mode of initiation into new faith was based on the Vedas. But gradually a critical attitude towards the belief in the infallibility of the Vedas began to emerge among the younger section of the Brahmos including Akshoykumar Datta. A new liturgy was drawn up based on Upanishad and embodying the principles of natural and universal theism in place of old Vedantic covenant drawn up by Devendranath.
At first Devendranath sympathised with the new idea. Encouraged by their success the younger section not only advocated far-reaching social reforms but wanted to apply dry test of reason to fundamentals of religion. When in 1857 Keshab Chandra Sen joined the Samaj this new movement found an eloquent, fervent and devoted worker who soon popularised the movement and the membership of the Samaj increased manifold. Keshab Chandra “carried its rationalistic principles to a still further degree and founded what may be called new Brahmoism. He infused the true spirit of repentance and prayer and introduced an element of strong emotion and devotional fervour into the cause of the new Church”.
Keshab Chandra visited Bombay and Madras and missionaries of the Samaj visited different parts of India and established its branches from the Punjab to East Bengal. Before the end of 1865 fifty branches were set up in Bengal, two in the North Western Frontier Province and one each in the Punjab and Madras. Devendranath at first sympathised with the views of Keshab Chandra and appointed him minister of the Church and Secretary of the Samaj despite objection of the older section of the members.
But the ultra-progressive ideas of Keshab Chandra soon led to an estrangement between him and Devendranath. Keshab Chandra and his close followers demanded that Brahmins wearing sacred thread must not be allowed to preach from the pulpit, they advocated and actually celebrated inter-caste marriage and widow re-marriage. Devendranath did not like the idea of allowing the Samaj to be drawn away from the Hindu lines as laid down by Ram Mohan and he dismissed Keshab Chandra and his followers by virtue of his power as the sole trustee of the Samaj. There was thus a split in the Samaj. Keshab Chandra took up the challenge and founded a separate organisation which included most of the local branches (1865).
The newly started Brahmo Samaj of Keshab Chandra called Brahmo Samaj of India began its triumphant career under the leadership of Keshab Chandra. Round him had collected fiery young men who included scholars and men of letters like Sivnath Sastri, Durga mohan Das, Dwarkanath Ganguly, Ananda Mohan Bose etc. These fiery young men soon bgan to over step Keshab Chandra in progressive thinking. Keshab Chandra introduced Samkirtan in the Vaisnava style, and Jesus was his inspirer at first now it was Sree Chaitanya.
Thus he effected a synthesis of two streams, namely Christianity and Vaishnavism. He also introduced Bhakti in the Vaishnava style and many of his followers fell prostrate at one another’s feet. This practice of man worship was the cause of another split. Soon other causes arose. Keshab Chandra’s moderate views about female education and female emancipation were not liked by the section of his more progressive followers. Total abolition of purdah, free mingling of men and women, university education for girls were considered to be fraught with danger by Keshab Chandra.
But when Keshab Chandra gave his fourteen-year old daughter in marriage with the Maharaja of Cooch Behar in 1878 it served as the last straw on the camel’s back and the second schism took place. Those who differed set up Sadharan Brahmo Samaj in 1878. After the first schism Devendranath’s Brahmo Samaj gradually receded into the background so did Keshab Chandra’s Brahma Samaj which was now called ‘the new dispensation or a synthesis of all religions’ or Nababidhan.
It must, however, be mentioned that the Brahmo Samaj of India under the leadership of Keshab Chandra by its efforts succeeded in getting the Government pass the Act III of 1872 which abolished early marriage of girls and polygamy and sanctioned widow re-marriage and inter-caste marriage for those who did not profess any recognised faith such as Hinduism and Islam.
The Sadharan Brahmo Samaj declared (1882) that “the Brahma ideal included not merely religious radicalism but also the universal liberation of all people under the banner of democratic republicanism”. Even before the second schism a band of young Brahmos under the leadership of Sivnath Sastri “proclaimed their faith in independence, foreswore service under the alien government, but promised to work in a peaceful way in view of the circumstances of the country. Their organ, the Brahmo Public Opinion took its full share in the political agitation of the day”. Thus ideal of independence, non-cooperation with the government and constitutional and peaceful movement were held before the public long before such movements had started in our country. Many far reaching changes in Hindu social and political ideas of the time had been brought about steadily and silently by the Brahmo Samaj.
Contributions of Brahmo Samaj:
The Brahmo Samaj upheld an advanced programme of social reform, followed the path of constitutionalism, held the ideal of independence:
(i) It contributed to the enactment of the Act III of 1872 by which early marriage of girls and poligamy were prohibited; widow re-marriage was permitted; attained results of far-reaching importance by removal of the purdah, worked for the higher education for the girls. The Hindu society has accepted these ideas by and large,
(ii) Interdining among different castes in the public and some times at social functions and travel to foreign countries across the seas without loss of caste etc. may be cited as other ideas which have been accepted by Hindu society due to the influence of the Brahmo Samaj. There is, however, no denying the fact that the Brahmo movement failed to make any appreciable influence in its emphasis on monotheism and abolition of worship of images which were the fundamentals of the movement.
II. The Prarthaua Samaj:
We have seen that Brahmo Samaj movement had spread outside Bengal to different parts of India. It had also spread to Maharashtra. But Bengali emotionalism and Maratha practical common sense gave the movement two different characters to these two different areas. As early as 1849 Paramahansa Sabha was founded in Maharashtra under the influence of Brahmo Samaj, but this sabha did not live long.
It was under the influence of the eloquent Brahmo Samaj leader Keshab Chandra that Prarthana Samaj was founded in Maharashtra in 1867. But unlike Brahmo Samaj of Bengal, Prarthana Samaj did not look “upon themselves as adherents of a new religion or of a new sect, outside or along side of the general Hindu body, but simply as a movement within it”. The Prarthana Samajists were devoted theists, followers of great religious tradition of Maratha saints like Namdev, Tukaram and Ramdas.
They devoted their attention mainly to social reforms such as inter-dining, inter-marriage between different castes, widow re-marriage and improvement of the lot of the women and the depressed class, rather than to religious speculation. They did a lot of good work such as establishing a Foundling Asylum and Orphanage at Pandharpur, founded night schools, Widows’ Home, depressed class mission and similar other institutions. Prarthana Samaj became a centre for various social reforms in Western India.
The success of the varied activities of this Samaj was mainly due to Justice Mahadev Govinda Ranade. In this connection observation of C. F. Andrews is worth quoting “the last and in many ways most enduring aspect of the new reformation in India had its rise in Bombay Presidency and is linked most closely with the name of Justice Ranade”. Ranade was one of the founders of the Widow Marriage Association in 1861 and famous Deccan Education Society.
It was he again who initiated the practice of holding a Social Conference along with the annual meeting of the Indian National Congress. His idea of reform was that “the reformer must attempt to deal with the whole man and not to carry out reform on one side only”. To him love of man was love of God and religion was inseparable from social reform. According to him there cannot be any good social system when there are not adequate political rights, nor can there be any useful exercise of political rights unless the social system is based on reason and justice. “You cannot have a good economic system when your social arrangements are imperfect. If your religious ideas are low and grovelling you cannot succeed in social, economical and political spheres. This interdependence is not an accident it is the law of our nature”.
Ranade did not believe that to break with everything of the past was reform. To his mind, a reformer was to complete the incomplete. “A true reformer has not to write on a clean slate. His work is more often to complete the half-written sentence”. Ranade gave a timely warning to the overzealous Indian reformers and gave a new orientation to Indian reforms. Among the reforms Ranade persistently advocated, the most important were the equality of men, abolition of casteism, recognition of inter-caste marriage, prohibition of child marriage, legalisation of widow remarriage, removal of seclusion of women, promotion of female education, repudiation of all irrational, cruel customs and practices that degrade human beings. To him “social reform was the purification and improvement of the individual and the recasting of the family, village, tribe, and nation into new moulds, the future of India with its past, marching on towards a bright future under the providence of God, united firmly in the pursuit of the ideals of equality and liberty, purified of social evils and inspired by the voice of conscience and morality”.
In conclusion it may be observed that both the Brahmo Samaj and the Prarthana Samaj were the products of association with the Western ideas and Indian response to Western rationalism.
III. The Arya Samaj:
The first Samaj to be founded was Arya Samaj by Swami Dayananda Saraswati, a Sanskrit scholar of repute who had no English education. His motto was to remodel the society on the basis of the Vedas and his basic point was very much akin to that of Raja Ram Mohan Roy. Dayananda believed in one God and decried polytheism and image worship. He raised his voice against caste restrictions, child marriage, prohibition of sea voyage, and encouraged widow remarriage and female education.
He started a movement of converting non-Hindus into Hinduism by means of Suddhi which became an important feature of the Hindu movement. His ideal was unification of India nationally, socially and religiously. Dayananda published several books for the propagation of his views and ideal and the most important of his works is Satyartha Prakash. Unlike other religious and social reformers, Dayananda appealed directly to the masses as a result of which his followers increased in number in a short time and his teachings struck deep roots among the masses particularly in the Punjab and the United Provinces. Dayananda lacked the critical spirit of Ram Mohan or Ranade but despite this limitation he becomes a dynamic force in the Hindu society.
His appeal to the masses served as an eye opener to all other reformers, social, religious or political. The social and educational work done by him achieved solid results, after his death his work was continued by his followers like Lala Lajpat Rai, Pandit Guru Dutt and Swami Sraddhananda. Arya Samaj, however, could not avoid the rationalism of the modern age and there was a growing recognition of the value of English education. The chief exponent of this progressive outlook was Lala Hansraj who founded the Dayananda Anglo-Vedic College of Lahore. A counter move was taken by foundation of the famous Gurukul of Hardwar in 1902 to revive the Vedic ideal. The Brahmo Samaj movement in the Punjab was absorbed by Arya Samaj ultimately.