This article provides a close view on the beginning of Hindu revivalism during the seventeenth and the nineteenth century.
During the seventh of the nineteenth century in Bengal and eighties in Maharashtra. Hindu revivalism began to replace in popularity the creed of Brahmo Samaj and Prarthana Samaj, and a new note of assertive, even aggressive Hinduism began to be heard above the voice of rationalism which had reverberated in the land for nearly forty years.
In Bengal this tendency found expression through the leadership of the orthodox section of the Hindu middle class led by Radhakanto Deb of Sova Bazar who had founded the Dharma Sabha in opposition to Ram Mohan Roy’s Brahmo Sabha in 1830.
But this movement could not make any head-way and the radicals of Young Bengal and the reformers like Dwarakanath and Devendranath held the field for nearly half a century.
The social reform movement was supported by Akshay Kumar Datta, Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, Ramtanu Lahiri, Rajnarayan Bose and others whose co-operation largely enhanced the reputation of the Brahmo society.
In the decades following the Revolt of 1857, new factors came into play and modified social attitudes. The ideas and influence of radicalism and the urgency for social reforms began to recede bringing conservative tendencies into the foreground. The change became marked in Bengal in the seventies and in Maharashtra in the eighties.
In Bengal two ideas—those of nationalism and romanticism swayed the minds of the people. There were feelings of individual self assertion and of pride in the past heritage, resentment against the haughtiness and oppression of the ruling class, sympathy for the misery and poverty of the rural people and yearning for liberty and equality. These urges naturally stimulated the desire for political emancipation without which the social reforms seemed to be impossible.
A deep sense of pride was roused by religious movements initially. It was fed by archaeological discoveries and the works of the Indo-logists as also by historical studies. “Ancient literature, philosophy, science, law, arts and monuments which had been buried in oblivion were raised to life, and they enormously enhanced the reputation of India in the world and the self-respect of the people in their own estimation”. The result was a revulsion against the Western culture and religion and an eagerness to repudiate Western superiority of every kind.
The movement that followed came to be known as neo-Hindu- ism which had numerous adherents who were divided into two schools, one totally opposed to all reforms and the other while admitting reforms would not agree to changes in substance. The first school was pioneered by Sasadhar Tarkachuramani and the second by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. Those who were nearer to the views of Pandit Sasadhar Tarkachuramani were Krishnaprasanna Sen, Nabin Chandra Sen, Hem Chandra Bandyopadhyaya. “The most influential pioneer of the movement in Bengal was Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. He represented the general awakening which was taking place in the old traditional sects in the nineteenth century”.
Bankim Chandra combined his nationalist fervour with deep religious devotion. His English education and study of Kant, Bentham, Fichte, Mill, Spencer had aroused and sharpened his critical faculties. Comte’s Positivism had deeply influenced his thoughts. He grew into an ardent advocate of the study of Western Sciences.
But Utilitarianism of Bentham, nor Hedonism of Spencer nor godless positivism of Comte could satisfy him fully. He found intellectual satisfaction in the study of Hindu-Philosophy and religion. His methodology was, however, of Western philosophy which shaped his approach towards religion. ‘His aim was to develop independence of outlook, to overthrow the domination of Western thought, and speak to the masses in the languages they understand.” ‘Religion to him was the instrument for the moral and political regeneration society.’
Bankim Chandra was not in favour of piecemeal acts of reforms. He fervently believed that moral and religious regeneration alone, could remould the society. He believed in fullest and harmonius development of the individuals which could according to him, be achieved through Anusilan Dharma, i.e., religion of discipline which was based on love for self (atma priti), love for relations, (swajan priti), love for the country (swadesh priti) and love for the humanity as a whole (jagat priti). Thus Bankim Chandra’s ideas were a mixture of morality with nationalism, patriotism and internationalism.
In Ramkrishna Mission is to be found a synthesis of the Oriental and the Western forces and ideas which characterised the last religious and social movements of the nineteenth century. The mission is named after Ramkrishna (1836-1886), the saint of Dakshineswar who was a poor priest in a Dakshineswar temple in the northern outskirts of Calcutta.
He was uneducated in the formal sense of the term but carried an extra-ordinary element of ‘charm, sweetness and grace’ and an unparalleled humanism in his personality.
He believed in the inherent truth of all different religions and beliefs and put his conviction to test by practising religious rites of not only of the different Hindu sects but also of Islam and Christianity. “He was an illiterate Brahmin who by sheer force of character and personal magnetism as also homely wisdom stormed the hearts of thousands and earned the respect of even those who could not agree with his preachings”. He was a God-intoxicated mystic who saw in all forms of worship the adoration of Supreme Being. “This poor, illiterate, shrunken, unpolished, diseased, half idolatrous, friendless Hindu devotee stirred Bengal to its depth.” He worked as a powerful magnet for the sophisticated, Westernised Bengali middle class who were attracted by his humility and spiritual integrity, and even men like Narendranath Datta, later Swami Vivekananda, a Calcutta University graduate, Keshab Chandra Sen and others either came to stay with him or to dedicate their lives to spread his gospel or to receive instruction from him. The most famous of them was however, Vivekananda who carried the message of Ramkrishna all over India. “His learning, eloquence, spiritual fervour and wonderful personality gathered round him a band of followers which included prince and peasant.” Vivekananda’s speeches at the Parliament of Religions at Chicago and other places in the U.S.A. and the U.K. brought him both fame and friends and from that time the teachings of Ramkrishna as interpreted by Vivekananda became a world force and Hinduism assumed an international character.
Ramkrishna missions and monasteries came to be founded not only all over India but also in the United States and the other parts of the world. Ramkrishna mission stands for religious and social reforms based on the ancient culture of India, particularly, the Vedantic doctrines and aims at the highest development of the spirituality inherent in man. “It recognises the Value and utility of later development in Hinduism such as worship of images and the modern developments in science and technology”. Stress is put on the essential sprit of Hinduism and not on’ external rituals. Ramkrishna mission also follows the belief in the truth in all religions as demonstrated by Ramkrishna.
Ramkrishna mission has no aggressive proselytising zeal. It chooses to remain as a purely monastic order disseminating reforming ideas among the masses without violently uprooting them from their social or religious environment.
It placed the programme of social service in the forefront not as a mere philanthropic work but as an essential basis of religious and spiritual life. Ramkrishna mission has been responsible for establishment of many schools and colleges as well as charitable dispensaries, and has been rendering ungrudging help to the people in times of distress, natural calamities etc. Uplift of the dumb millions and the downtrodden is the main purpose of the mission.
Ramkrishna’s humanism found an ardent advocate and exponent in his beloved disciple Vivekananda, He graduated from the Scottish Church College, Calcutta and possessed a keem intellect which had been moulded in the philosophy and works of Descarte, Hume, Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Spinoga, Comte, Darwin, Schopenhauer, Mill etc. which also helped to develop a critical and analytical mind in him. At first he was attracted by the teachings of the Brahmo Samaj, but his coming in touch with Ramkrishna was a turning point in his’ life and he became an ardent follower of the saint of Dakshineswar.
On the death of his guru, Vivekananda renounced the world and vowed to devote his life to the propagation of Ramkrishna’s message. He wandered all over India, the Himalayan forests and followed the austere life and discipline of a recluse for long six years which gave him poise and peace and made him acquainted with the soul of India. His deep knowledge of the misery of the people and their sufferings made him exclaim : “The only God in whom I believe, the sum-total of all souls, and above all, my God the kicked, my God the afflicted, my God the poor of all races”. In 1893 he went to Chicago in the U.S.A. to address the Parliament of Religions where he projected the Indian spirit of universality and broadmindedness which captivated the hearts of the congregation of representatives of different religions of different parts of the world. He told the world gathering: “As different streams mingle their waters in the ocean, so different paths which men take lead to the Lord.” The New York Herald wrote: “Vivekananda is undoubtedly the greatest figure in the Parliament of Religions. After hearing him we feel how foolish it is to send missionaries to this learned nation.” Vivekananda stayed in America for some time and founded Vedanta Societies. He then went to England and addressed many societies there. He also visited France, Switzerland and Germany.
On his return to Indian in 1897 he addressed himself to the task of organising Ramkrishna mission about which mention has been made above.
The contributions of Swami Veivekananda were that:
(i) For the first time in the modern age of India he boldly proclaimed before the world the superiority of Hindu culture and civilisation, the greatness of her heritage and the hope for the future,
(ii) In the place of an inferiority complex, an inherent cowardice in relation to the Western culture and manners, there was a refreshing boldness and consciousness of an inherent strength in the Indian religion and culture, civilisation and heritage that marked the view’s and utterances of Vivekananda,
(iii) Although he was not in favour of agitational politics, yet building up of a strong, brave and dynamic nation was dearest to his heart,
(iv) He sought to rouse a spirit of heroism and love of the people, particularly, the distressed, the deprived, the downtrodden and the poor in whose service he saw service to God. He said “Do not forget your society the varies shadow of the great illusion, do not forget the lowly, the poor, the ignorant, the currier, the sweeper, are your blood, are your brethren. O ye brave one, take courage, be proud that you are an Indian and proudly proclaim—I am an Indian—every Indian is my brother…The soul of India is my highest heaven, India’s good is my good”,
(v) His political faith was proclaimed in his words “Believe, believe the decree has gone, the fiat of the Lord has gone—India must rise, the poor are to be made happy, and rejoice that you are the chosen instruments in His hands.”
According to Sir V. Chirol “He (Vivekananda) was the first Hindu whose personality won demonstrative recognition abroad for India’s ancient civilisation and her new born claim” to nationhood.”
The Theosophical Society which was more conservative and more mystical than other Samajas and missions was originally founded in the United States of America in 1875 by Madame Blavatsky and Col. H. S. Olcott. Four years later (1879) they came over to India and set up their headquarters at Adyar in the suburb of Madras. Soon its branches spread to different parts of India. It was after Mrs Annie Besant had joined the society in 1888 that the real success of the Theosophical movement began.
This movement from the very beginning got itself allied to Hindu revivalist movement. Mrs Annie Besant held that the present problem of India could be solved by revival of ancient ideals and institutions of India.’ “The Indian work is” she writes “first of all, the revival, strengthening and uplifting of the ancient religion. This has brought with it a new 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 a nation.” The beliefs of the Theosophical Society were a strange mixture of religion, philosophy and occultism.
These had four essential factors:
(i) Unity of God head,
(ii) Three-fold emanation of God,
(iii) Hierarchy of beings—goods, angels, human spirits etc., and
(iv) Universal brotherhood.
Mrs Annie Besant set up a central Hindu School at Benares for the purpose of achieving her objects. This school developed into a college and ultimately into the Hindu University of Benares with her patronage. The Theosophical movement led to a great revival of Hindu spirit and there was growth of individual and organised efforts for social reforms. One of the most important organisations was the Deccan Education Society founded under Ranade’s patronage in 1884.
It was started with the aim of remodelling education of the young in a way as to fit them for the service of the country which the then current education system failed to do. The Fergusson College of Poona and Willingdon College in Sangli were two other famous institutions set up by the Theosophical Society. Among the life-workers of the society the famous Gopal Krishna Gokhale was moist important.
Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar (1820-1891):
Iswar Chandra Vidya- sagar began his career as the Head Pandit of the Fort William College and by the dint of his merit gradually rose to the Principalship of the Calcutta Sanskrit College (1851). Although a classical scholar Vidyasagar learnt English language and literature and represented a fine blend of both Oriental and Western cultures.
In him the Bengal renaissance reached its peak and flowering. A man of genius and sterling virtues, Vidyasagar possessed a heroic character. He introduced a new technique of learning Sanskrit more easily and was responsible for a series of Sanskrit primers. His contribution to Bengali prose constituted a land mark in the development of the Bengali language and literature. Between the years 1847 and 1863 Vidyasagar wrote a series of Bengali books “which became classics to the students of Bengali literature. In these he drew his materials impartially from Indian epics and popular tales as well as Western fables and biographies’. His Bengali primer for the beginners had been for decades the inevitable book for the learners in every Bengali household.
Vidyasagar was not only a Bengali and Sanskrit scholar of great repute but was also an educational and social reformer. It was he who had thrown the Sanskrit college open to non-Brahmins and arranged for some English education for the classical scholars also. As the government Inspector of schools he founded as many as 35 girls’ schools and 20 model schools. He was an advocate of higher education for women.
Although never a Brahmo himself, Iswar Chandra was closely associated with the Tattabodhini group and when after the death of Ram Mohan Roy the trend of social reforms had become blunted, he revived it and it was he who had resumed the best traditions of Ram Mohan’s crusade against social evils and the uplift of the socially oppressed.
Vidyasagar raised his voice against child marriage and polygamy but his most memorable stand was his bold advocacy of widow-remarriage in the teeth of strong conservative opposition. Although the Bengal Spectator—the organ of Young Bengal had advocated widow remarriage it was Vidyasagar’s bold advocacy of the cause made it a real issue and although the government at first preferred not to initiate any legislation in this regard, it allowed itself to be persuaded by Iswar Chandra to pass the Hindu Widow Remarriage Act of 1856.
The spirit of independence and the strength of character and high moral quality that Vidyasagar possessed and displayed in his dealings with the government at a time when Indians were rather cowardly and weak-kneed, made a deep impression on the public mind.
Among the close associates of Vidyasagar were men like Pandit Madan Mohan Tarkalankar, Kaliprasanna Sinha etc.