The Theosophical Society also played a crucial role in moulding and shaping the socio-religious movement of the 19th century.
It was founded by H.P. Blavatsky and Col. H.S. Olcott in 1875 in USA. Its headquarters were shifted to Adayar in Madras city in 1893. Its main exponent in India was Mrs Annie Besant.
In her words, the mission of the Theosophical Society was the revival, strengthening and uplifting of ancient religions, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism and Buddhism. This brought with it a new sense of self-respect, a pride in the past, a belief in the future and as an inevitable result, a great wave of patriotic life, the beginning of the rebuilding of the nation.
No doubt, it stood for revivalism but it sought for the abolition of child marriage, illiteracy and alcoholism. The other association that worked for revival of age-old culture was Deva Samaj formed by Satyanand Agnihotri in 1887, which was limited to the Punjab Sanatana Dharma. Rakshini Sabha of Bengal which was set up in 1883, the Madhava Siddhanta Unnayini Sabha set up in south in 1887 and Bharat Dharma Maha Mandal of Benaras with their urge for socio-religious reform movements among the Muslims and Sikhs was reflected in their efforts during the 19th century. In the regeneration of the Muslim society, two intellectuals.
Sir Sayyad Ahmed Khan and Maulvi Chirag Ali played an important role. Sir Sayyad Ahmed, a Western educated intellectual pleaded for the abolition of pardha, polygamy and child marriage and emphasized the need to impart Western education to the youth among Muslims. In 1875, he started the Muhammadan Anglo Oriental College at Aligarh for imparting Western education to the Muslims which was opposed by the orthodox Muslims, Sir Sayyad Ahmed considered Quran as the most authoritative and rational religious text for the Muslims.
He also opposed religious bigotry and fanaticism. Maulvi Chirag Ali was another Muslim intellectual who made sustained effort to modernize the Muslim community by propagating monogamy and need to better the condition of Muslim women. Contrary to the above movements, Mirza Gulam Ahmed of Qadiun in Gurdaspur district started a movement to counter the missionary activities of Arya Samaj and Christianity and opposed western culture and education.
The other important Muslim organizations that influenced the social and educational activities of the Muslims were Anjuman-i-Himayat-Islam established in 1885 at Lahore, Navakhat-ul-Ulema set up at Lucknow in 1894 and Khudai Khidmatgar started by Gafar Adbul Khan in North-Western frontier provinces. The Sikhs of Punjab also made sincere efforts to purify the Sikh life and behaviour by creating the chief Khalsa Dewan along with local level assemblies, the Singh Sabhas. They also started schools and colleges for the promotion of education among the Sikhs.
Now let us take up those who rejected in toto the ancient culture of India and preferred western culture. This movement was led by a group of young Bengali intellectuals known as the Young Bengal.
The leader of this group was Henry Vivan Derozio (1809-1831), an Anglo-Indian teacher of Hindu College, who was a free thinker and a rationalist. His followers known as the Derozians denounced the old and ‘decadent’ customs and traditions and questioned the whole fabric of Hindu society and religion. Derozio was dismissed from the Hindu College in 1831 for opposing the existing cultural values and he died shortly at a young age of 22.
The Young Bengal movement could not attract the masses because of its radical ideas of rationalism. Their impact on contemporary Bengal in particular, and on India in general, cannot be minimized. They strengthened the movement of public enlightenment through mass media initiated by Ram Mohan Roy by spreading the ideas of freedom of press, trial by Jury, protection of cultivators from the oppression of the landlords and providing higher employment to Indians in civil administration.
There is enough truth and justification in Surendranath Banerjee’s statement that the Derozians were the pioneers of the modem civilization of Bengal. We may conclude the aspect of the socio-religious reform movement of the 19th century which identified the socio-cultural evils that plagued the Indian social order like the degraded position of women, child marriage, sati, polygamy, enforced widowhood, caste system, untouchability, idolatry, polytheism ritualism, priesthood and other superstitions and they were interwoven with new practices like upliftment of the position of women, abolition of infant marriages, monogamy, widow remarriage, elimination of caste distinctions that led to oppression and segregation, monotheism, humanism and brotherhood.
In the words of Bipan Chandra, the nineteenth century witnessed a cultural ideological struggle against the backward elements of traditional culture on one hand, and the fast hegemonizing colonial culture and ideology on the other.
Bipan Chandra further points that, the cultural ideological struggle represented by the socio-religious movements was an integral part of the evolving national consciousness which aimed at the emergence of a new society with new values of equality, liberty, fraternity, social justice and democracy.