Social and Religious Reform Movements in the 19th Century

22 Oct 2019

Social and Religious Reform Movements in the 19th Century

Introduction to Social and Religious Reform Movements:

The reform movements of nineteenth-century in the realm of religion fall under two broad categories:
i). reformist movements like the Brahmo Samaj, the Prarthana Samaj and the Aligarh Movement; and the ii). revivalist movements such as the Arya Samaj, the Ramakrishna Mission, and the Deoband Movement. There were also attempts to challenge the oppressive social structure by Jyotiba Phule in Pune, Narayana Guru and Ayyankali in Kerala and Ramalinga Adigal, Vaikunda Swamigal and Iyothee Thassar of Tamil Nadu.

Complete Social and Religious Reform Movements in the 19th Century PDF free Download, Check the link – Social and Religious Reform Movements.

Early Reform Movements in Bengal:

(a). Raja Rammohan Roy and Brahmo Samaj:

Rammohan Roy (1772–1833) was one of the earlier reformers influenced by Western ideas to initiate reforms. He was a great scholar, well-versed in Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, and English apart from his knowledge in his mother tongue, Bengali. Rammohan Roy was opposed to meaningless religious ceremonies and all forms of pernicious social customs. Yet he wanted to preserve continuity with the past. In his religious-philosophical social outlook, he was deeply influenced by monotheism and anti-idolatry. Based on his interpretation of the Upanishads, he argued that all the ancient texts of the Hindus preached monotheism or worship of one God.

Deeply concerned with the prevailing customs of sati, child marriage, and polygamy he published tracts against them and petitioned the government to legislate against them. He advocated the rights of widows to remarry. He wanted polygamy to end. His opinions were resisted fiercely by orthodox Hindus. He appealed to reason and humanity and compassion of the people. He visited the crematorium of Calcutta to try and persuade the relatives of widows to give up their plan of self-immolation. His campaign played a key role in forcing the Governor-General William Bentinck’s legislation abolishing sati in 1829.

Rammohan Roy condemned the subjugation of women and opposed the prevailing ideas that women were inferior to men. He strongly advocated education for women. He gave his full support for the introduction of the English language and western sciences in schools and colleges. Rammohan found in the Upanishads a new revelation of one infinite, divine Being, the eternal Brahman, while Hinduism, as he saw in the daily life around him, was a perversion of their teaching.

Rammohan Roy founded the Brahmo Samaj in 1828. On 20 August 1828, he opened a temple in Calcutta, where there was no image. There he laid down that ‘no religion should be reviled or slightly or contemptuously spoken off or alluded to.’ The Samaj forbade idol-worship and condemned meaningless religious rites and ceremonies. However, from the beginning, the appeal of the Brahmo Samaj remained limited to the intellectuals and enlightened Bengalis. Though the Samaj failed to attract the people from the lower sections of society, its impact on the culture of modern Bengal and its middle class was quite significant.

(b). Maharishi Debendranath Tagore:

After the death of Rammohan Roy (1833), Maharishi Debendranath Tagore (1817–1905), the poet Rabindranath Tagore’s father, carried on the work. He laid down four articles of faith:

1. In the beginning, there was nothing. Debendranath Tagore The one Supreme Being alone existed who created the Universe.
2. He alone is the God of Truth, Infinite Wisdom, Goodness, and Power, eternal, omnipresent, the One without a second.
3. Our salvation depends on belief in Him and in His worship in this world and the next.
4. Belief consists in loving Him and doing His will.

(c). Keshab Chandra Sen & Brahmo Samaj of India:

Debendranath was a moderate reformer. But his younger colleagues in the Sabha were for rapid changes. The greatest of these, Keshab Chandra Sen, (1838–84) joined the movement in 1857. He was greatly influenced by Christianity, believing in its spirit but not in the person of its founder. But in 1866 a split occurred in the ranks of Brahmo Samaj. Keshab left the Samaj and founded a new organization. Debendranath’s organization, thereafter, came to be known as Adi Brahmo Samaj. After Keshab had his fourteen-year-old daughter married to an Indian prince, in contravention of the Samaj’s condemnation of child marriages, the opponents of child marriage left the Brahmo Samaj of India and started the Sadharan Samaj, which developed anti-Christian tendencies.

(d). Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar:

Another outstanding reformer in Bengal was Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar(1820 – 1891). While Ram Mohan Roy and others looked to western rationalist ideas to reform society, Vidyasagar argued that the Hindu scriptures were progressive. He provided evidence from scriptures that there was no sanction for the burning of widows or for the prohibition on the remarriage of widows. He wrote a number of polemical tracts and was the pioneer of modern Bengali prose. He played a leading role in promoting the education of girls and helped them in setting up a number of schools. He dedicated his whole life for the betterment of the child widows of the Hindu society. The movement led by Vidyasagar resulted in the Widows’ Remarriage Reform Act of 1856. This Act was intended to improve a lot of child widows and save them from perpetual widowhood.

It was also to the credit of Vidyasagar that the first age of consent Act was enacted in 1860. The age for marriage was fixed as ten years. It was raised to twelve and thirteen years in 1891 and 1925 respectively. Sadly, as reported in the Age of Consent Committee (1929), the law remained on paper and the knowledge of it was confined to judges, lawyers, and a few educated men.

(e). Prarthana Samaj:

The Maharashtra region was another region where reform activities gained steam. A movement similar to the Brahmo Samaj, but founded in Bombay in 1867, was Prarthana Samaj. Its founder was Dr. Atma Ram Pandurang (1825–1898). The two distinguished members of this Samaj were R.C. Bhandarkar and Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade. They devoted themselves to activities such as inter-caste dining, inter-caste marriage, widow remarriage and improvement of women and depressed classes. Ranade (1842–1901) was the founder of the Widow Marriage Association (1861), the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha (1870) and the Deccan EducationSociety (1884).

While the above reformers worked among the upper castes, during the same time Jyotiba Phule worked for the uplift of depressed castes and the cause of women. His book Gulamgiri (‘Slavery’) is an important work that condemned the inequities of caste.

ii). Hindu Revivalism:

(a). Swami Dayanand Saraswati and Arya Samaj (1875):

In Punjab, the reform movement was spearheaded by the Arya Samaj. It was founded (1875) by a wandering ascetic in the western Gangetic plain, Swami Dayanand Saraswati (1824–83). Swami Dayanand later settled in Punjab to preach his ideas. His book, Satyarthaprakash, enjoyed wide circulation. He declared the practices
such as child marriage, the prohibition of widow remarriage, and the alleged polluting effects of foreign travel had no scriptural sanction. The positive principles enunciated by Dayanand were: strict monotheism, condemnation of idolatry, and rejection of Brahman domination of ritual and social practices. He also rejected superstitious beliefs in Hinduism, especially Puranic literature and his cry were “go back to Vedas.”

Arya Samaj attempted to check the incidence of religious conversion in British India. One of its main objectives was counter-conversion, prescribing a purificatory ceremony called suddhi, directed at Hindus who had converted to Islam and Christianity. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were a period of great turmoil in undivided Punjab with intense debates between Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity.

The primary achievements of the Arya Samaj were in the field of social reform and the spread of education. The Samaj started a number of Dayananda Anglo–Vedic schools and colleges.

In 1893 Arya Samaj split over the question of doctrinal purity. Swami Shraddhananda (1857–1926), a charismatic figure after Dayananda, accused the group of running the DAV School of being too Westernized and thereby ignoring the founder’s ideology. From 1900 onward, he established his own network of schools, the Gurukulas, which were outwardly modeled after ancient Hindu seats of learning, emphasizing the study of the Vedas.

(b). Ramakrishna:

As we saw earlier, the Brahmo Samaj, as a response to Christian and rationalist criticism had criticized idolatry and other orthodox Hindu practices. The popularity that Ramakrishna (l836–86), a simple priest of Dakshineswar near Kolkata, gained in the latter half of the nineteenth century was a response to this. He emphasized the spiritual union with God through ecstatic practices such as singing bhajans. An ardent worshipper of goddess Kali, the sacred mother, he declared that the manifestations of the divine mother were infinite. In his view, all religions contain the universal elements which, if practiced, would lead to salvation. He said, “Jiva is Siva” (all living beings are God). Why then talk of showing mercy to them? No mercy, but service, service for man, must be regarded as God.’

Ramakrishna Mission:

Ramakrishna’s primary achievement was his ability to attract educated youth who were dissatisfied with the rational orientation of religious reform organizations such as the Brahmo Samaj. After his death in 1886, his disciples organized themselves as a religious community and undertook the task of making his life and teaching known in India and abroad. The chief spirit behind this task was Vivekananda. Following the organizational structure of Christian missionaries, Vivekananda established the Ramakrishna Mission which did not restrict itself to religious activities but was actively involved in social causes such as education, health care and relief in times of calamities.

(c). Swami Vivekananda:

Narendra Nath Datta (l863–1902), later known as Swami Vivekananda, was the prime follower of Ramakrishna Paramahansa. An educated youth, he was drawn to Ramakrishna’s message. Dissatisfied with conventional philosophical positions and practices, he advocated the practical Vedanta of service to humanity and attacked the tendency to defend every institution simply because it was connected with religion. He emphasized a cultural nationalism and made a call to Indian youth to regenerate Hindu society.

His ideas bred a sense of self- confidence among Indians who felt inferior in relation to the materialist achievements of the West. He became famous for his addresses on Hinduism at the 1893 World Congress of Religions in Chicago. Despite his fame, he was condemned by orthodox Hindus for suggesting that the lower castes should be allowed to engage in the Hindu rituals from which they were traditionally excluded. Vivekananda’s activist ideology rekindled the desire for political change among many western-education young Bengalis. Many of the youths who were involved in the militant nationalist struggle during the Swadeshi movement following the Partition of Bengal were inspired by Vivekananda.

(d). Theosophical Movement:

During the nineteenth century, Hindu religion and culture were being discredited in the West, especially due to missionary propaganda. However, some Western intellectuals looked to the East for spiritual salvation as a remedy to the materialistic orientation of the West. The Theosophical Society, founded by Madame H.P. Blavatsky (1831–1891) and Colonel H.S Olcott (1832– 1907) played a key role in this. Founded in the USA in 1875, it later shifted to India at Adyar, Chennai in 1886.

Theosophical Society stimulated a study of the Hindu classics, especially the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. The Theosophical Society also played an important role in the revival of Buddhism in India. Western interest in Hindu scriptures gave educated Hindus great pride in their tradition and culture.

Contribution of Annie Besant:

In India, the movement became further popular with the election of Annie Besant (1847–1933) as its president after the death of Olcott. She played a role in Indian nationalist politics and formed the Home Rule League demanding home rule to India on the lines of Ireland. Annie Besant spread Theosophical ideas through her newspapers called New India and Commonweal.

Complete Social and Religious Reform Movements in the 19th Century PDF free Download, Check the link – Social and Religious Reform Movements.
For Social and Religious Reform Movements Tamil Material PDF – 9ஆம் நூற்றாணடில் சமூக, சமய சீர்திருதத இயக்கங்கள்

social reform movements in India during 19th-century pdf, socio-religious reform movements UPSC notes, list of social reform movements in India, causes of social reform movements in India, the conclusion of socio-religious reform movements, socio-religious movement in 19th century MCQ pdf

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *