Ancient

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Brahma Samaj of India

Brahma Samaj of India was headed by Keshab Chandra Sen. --------------- BRᾹHMO SAMᾹJ : In 1815 Rāmmohan Roy forms ‘Ᾱtmiya Sabhā’ (Association of Friends), an association for holding religious discussions. In 1828, he forms ‘Brāhmo Sabhā’ which later on became famous as ‘Brāhmo Samāj’. This Brāhmo Samāj movement is the most remarkable aspect of the nineteenth century Indian awakening and reform.6 It attacks almost all evils prevalent in the then Indian society and tries to eradicate them. Rāmmohan Roy is the first person in modern India to fight against the social discrimination against women. Among the various reform activities of Rāmmohan, the most significant one is his crusade against ‘Satidāha’ or immolation of the widows at the funeral pyre of their dead husband. In July, 1819, he starts ‘Sambād Kaumudi’, a Bengali journal in which he ceaselessly attacks the practice of sati rite. Some other newspapers like the ‘Samāchār Darpan’ and ‘Bangadut’ supports Rāmmohan’s stand; while the ‘Samāchār Chandrikā’ defends the practice of sati. He writes many articles both in Bengali and in English against this evil practice and tries to make people aware that such practice was not sanctioned by the Vedic religions. He starts an organised movement against this horrible practice. The orthodox section of the society led by Rādhākanta Deb, Mahārāja Kālikṛṣṇa Bāhādur and others severely opposed at Rāmmohan’s attempt. But these oppositions could not desist Rāmmohan from his objective. At first he is not in favour of state interference for the abolition of this practice. His main intention in this regard is to inject in the minds of the people such enlightenment as to desist them from practicing this evil practice. But when Lord William Bentinck abolished it by Regulation XVII passed on December 1829, he fully supports it. Rāmmohan Roy is against the perverted caste system of his time. He is of the opinion that caste system is one of the causes of the political subjugation of India. About the demerits of the caste system he writes, “The present system of religion, adhered to by the Hindus, is not at all well calculated to promote their political interest. The distinctions of castes introducing innumerable divisions and subdivisions among them has entirely deprived them of patriotic feeling and the multitude of religious ties and ceremonies and the laws of purification have totally disqualified them from undertaking any difficult enterprise. It is, I think, necessary that some changes should take place in their religion, at least for the sake of their political advantage and social comfort.”7 To him, the hereditary claim of a higher caste is absurd. He repudiates Manu’s injunction that the lower caste people cannot study the Vedas. He translates a Mahāyāna Buddhist text ‘Vajrasuchi’ and holds that each one is born a Śudra, becomes a Dwija receiving a sacred thread, a Vipra with the Vedic Knowledge, and a Brahmin with the divine knowledge.8 He is dead against untouchability and branded it as undemocratic, inhuman and anti-national. A study of his tract ‘Brief Remarks Regarding Modern Encroachments on the Ancient Rights of Females’ published in 1822 reveals that Rāmmohan is against polygamy, kulinism9 and the practice of selling girls in marriage. He has firm conviction that evil practices like kulinism, sati etc. had crept into the Indian society as a result of intellectual 50 stagnation and misdirected instincts of such law-givers who wanted to maintain their predominance in the society. He dedicates his whole life to abolish the cruel practice of sati. He defends the legal rights of women and supports their rights to education. Another great contribution of Rāmmohan is to support modern English education. Evaluating the contribution of Rājā Rāmmohan Roy, Dr. H.C.E. Zacharias writes, “Rājā Rāmmohan Roy and his Brāhmo Samāj forms the starting point for all the various reform movements whether in Hindu religion, society or politics- which have agitated India during the past hundred years and which have led to her wonderful renaissance in these our own days.” Though Rāmmohan is the pioneer of Indian social reform movement, yet his reform measures fail to touch the basic problems faced by the Indian masses, viz., poverty, ignorance and illiteracy. It is often said that Rāmmohan had no programme of mass education or mass uplift whatsoever. He criticises the prevalent caste system of his time and seeks to abolish caste discrimination. But in his day to day life he uses to put on the sacred thread which is a mark of Brahmin. Romain Rolland points out that Rāmmohan’s ‘Universal Religion’ fell short of true universalism since he failed to recognise religious realities in the form of polytheism professed by world’s two-third population scattered all over the world.11 After the death of Rāmmohan Roy, the Brāhmo movement is carried on by Debendranāth Tagore and Keshab Chandra Sen. Debendranāth Tagore (1817-1905) assumes the leadership of Brāhmo Samāj in 1843. It has been rightly said that if Rāmmohan laid the foundation stone of Brāhmoism, it was Debendranāth, its architect, who first raised impressive structure upon it.12 Rāmmohan Roy denounces the belief in polytheism, but he never questions the authority of the Vedas, and considers them as infallible. But Debendranāth denies the infallibility of the Vedas and gave the Brāhmo Samāj a distinctly sectarian character. He relies on the Upaniṣads. He sets before himself the task of reform and reorganisation. He introduces a regular form of service. In 1839 he forms ‘Tattvabodhini Sabhā’ which became the main organisational wing of the Samāj. Later it merged into Brāhmo Samāj. In order to popularise the ideals of Brāhmo Samāj he starts the ‘Tattvabodhini Patrika’, a Bengali monthly in August, 1843. On August 1961, he starts the ‘Indian Mirror’, the first English daily journal with Keshab Chandra Sen as its editor. Under his influence a large number of youths joined the Brāhmo movement. However, the Brāhmo movement became an all India movement under the leadership of Keshab Chandra Sen Keshab Chandra Sen (1838-1884) joins Brāhmo Samāj in 1857 and assumes its leadership in 1861. He remarks that all social reforms are involved in a great radical reformation-religious reformation. “I do not undervalue social reformation”, he declares, “but make religion the basis on which reorganised, reformed and regenerated India will stand in future”.13 He establishes Sangat Sabhā for discussing religious and moral questions. He is in favour of radical reforms which were not liked by the older section of the Samāj. The younger section also opposes the wearing of Brāhmanical thread. Debendranāth Tagore is not against social reform but he and his followers wants to keep social life out of the purview of religious life.14 All these led to an open conflict between the older and the younger sections and as a result of such conflict Keshab Chandra Sen breaks away from the original Brāhmo Samāj in 1866. He forms a new organisation known as ‘the Brāhmo Samāj of India’ or ‘Bhāratiya Brāhmo Samāj’. The original 52 organisation, henceforth known as the Ᾱdi Brāhmo Samāj, quietly followed the pure monotheistic form of Hinduism. Shortly after the division of the Samāj, Debendranāth Tagore retires from active participation in the work of the Ᾱdi Brāhmo Samāj, and Rājnārayaṇ Bose became its president. But in spite of the tremendous personal effort of its leader, it soon went into oblivion. The new organisation of Keshab Chandra Sen adopts radical reforms such as abolition of Purdah, caste system, child- marriage, and polygamy; encourages widow remarriage and inter-caste marriage. Though both Rāmmohan Roy and Debendranāth Tagore repudiate caste system yet it is Keshab Chandra Sen who repudiates it without involving any scriptural authority. Keshab Chandra realises that unless the difference between the classes and masses, between the high castes and low castes, between the various creeds are eliminated, no national unity is possible, and consequently no solution of problems is possible. He is also pioneer in starting the Depressed Class movement which is the precursor of the Harijan Movement of M.K. Gāndhi. Along with his followers he set up a number of educational institutions for female education. It is because of the active efforts of the Bhāratiya Brāhmo Samāj, the Native Marriage Act (Act III) is passed in 1872. It legalised unorthodox casteless marriage and banned polygamy. It fixes the minimum marriageable age of the girls at 14 and of the boys at 18. But Keshab Chandra himself violates this Act in case of the marriage of his elder daughter and this creates conflict among his followers. Consequently, some Brāhmos breaks away from his organisation and forms Sādhāraṇa Brāhmo Samāj in 1878. 53 The Brāhmo movement of Keshab Chandra Sen takes a new turn when he comes in contact with Sri Rāmakrishna. The Bhakti element becomes stronger in him and in 1880 he declares his ‘Naba-bidhān’or the ‘New Dispensation’. It gives much emphasis on ‘Mother Goddess’. This is a remarkable change from original Brāhmo movement- a shift from ‘Jnana’(knowledge) to ‘Bhakti’(intense devotion).15 A feature of this new trend is the growth of Nagar Sankirtan. Scholars like Max Muller and Christopher Isherwood have attributed this change of Keshab Chandra Sen’s religious ideas and convictions to the influence of Sri Rāmakrishna. The Brāhmo Samāj movement gives a new life to Indian society in its all spheres. It leads the first organised movement against the evil practices of Hindu society and religion, and paves the way for other movements. It adopts many progressive steps like inter-caste marriage, education of women, widow re-marriage and the like as practical measures for removing social evils. It opens a large number of educational institutions which contributes in enlightening and modernising the Indians. It helps in building national sentiments among the Indians. But the main drawback of Brāhmo Samāj is that it could not break the walls of conservation and communicate its ideologies to the common people. YOUNG BENGAL MOVEMENT : Henry Vivian Derozio (1809-1831), a young Anglo-Indian teacher of Hindu College initiates this movement. His followers were also known as Derozians. Rev. Krishnamohan Bondopādhyāy, Tarachand Chakraborty, Dakshinaranjan Mukhopādhyāy, Ramgopal Ghosh, Ramtanu Lahiri, Pearychand Mitra were the important members of this group. Derozio inspires his 54 students to think rationally and freely. His motto is: ‘he who will not reason is a bigot; he who cannot is a fool, and he who does not is a slave’. Most of the supporters of this movement were Christians by faith. They use to follow Western culture, dress, food and manners. The Derozians were dead against the old, obsolete social customs of Hindu society of that time and protests against idolatry, polygamy, child- marriage, dowry, caste system, and the system of purdah. They were supporters of female education, widow remarriage, individual liberty, abolition of Sati etc.. One remarkable contribution of the Derozians is the establishment of the Calcutta Public Library in 1935 which later on becomes National Library, the biggest library in the country. They advocates for mass education, particularly education for women, and supports Western education. They set up a few schools at their own cost and they were in favour of introduction of mother tongue as the medium of instruction. But the followers of this movement were radicalists and their radicalism is bookish. They consider everything of Hinduism as bad, obsolete and valueless. They failed to grasp the realities of Indian society and as a result it could not last long. Nemai Sādhan Bose remarked that the Young Bengal Movement was like a mighty storm that tried to sweep away everything before it. It was a storm that lashed society with violence causing some good and perhaps naturally, some discomfort and distress. Though this movement is short lived, yet it contributed immensely to the reform movement of 19th Century

Medieval

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