The Brahmo Samaj:
The Brahmo Samaj was the earliest reform movement of the modern type which was greatly influenced by Western ideas. Raja Ram Mohan Roy was the founder of Brahmo Samaj. He has been rightly hailed as the father of modem Indian nationalism. As Rabindranath Tagore put it, it was Raja Ram Mohan Roy who ushered in the modern epoch in India.
Although Ram Mohan Roy was a man of versatile genius, the governing passion of his life was religious reform. At a time when the Bengali youth under the influence of western learning was drifting towards Christianity, Ram Mohan Roy proved to be the champion of Hinduism.
While he defended Hinduism against the hostile criticism of the missionaries, he sought to purge Hinduism of the abuses that had crept into it. Therefore, he set to himself the task of purifying Hinduism and sweeping away from it the cobwebs of superstitions which has accumulated through the ages. He wanted Hinduism regenerated as a truly national religion suited to the new conditions of social life.
Raja Ram Mohan Roy reinterpreted Hindu doctrines and found ample spiritual basis for his humanitarianism in the Upanishads. He launched a campaign for the abolition of Sati, child marriage, female infanticide etc.
He condemned polygamy and concubines and advocated the right of Hindu widows to remarry. He invaded the caste system and declared it anti-national, anti-democratic, inhuman. He led a crusade against all injustices done to women and stood for equality between man and woman.
Ram Mohan opposed polytheistic ritualism and upheld monism. According to him, turning towards one Eternal Being is a natural tendency of human mind.” He used Vedantic monism as a weapon in his struggle against orthodoxy and as a lever to raise the people to a higher, nobler life.
But, it would be wrong to look at it merely as the continuation of an earlier movement. For, Ram Mohan’s monism had been further strengthened by the mono-theistic outlook of both Islam and Christianity. He sought to assimilate the new values created by Western science and to blend them with the traditional values of India so as to meet the challenge of the new age.
He advocated a rational approach to religion. He asked everyone to study the scriptures by himself without a Brahmin priest as an intermediary and accept only those religious doctrines which stand the test of his own ethical reasoning.
Ram Mohan strongly supported the introduction of modern education. Pointing out the inadequacies of the old educational system in the changed conditions of life he stressed the need for the new Western type of education based on the Western ideals of liberalism, rationalism, democracy, nationalism etc; for, he saw it as a vehicle of modern thought that could acquaint the Indians with the, vast advances made by the West in science, social reform etc.
For Raja Ram Mohan Roy, British rule in India was not an unmitigated evil. He discovered in it something positively good, because it launched certain progressive measures like abolition of Sati, female infanticide and established a number of educational institutions, free press etc.
He was, however, not a blind admirer of the British rule in India. He did not hesitate to protest and criticize the British government whenever he thought it had taken n reactionary measure. For example, he organised a protest movement against the government when it curtailed the freedom of the press. He, too, strongly criticized the British policy of excluding Indians from higher posts in the administration.
The Brahmo Samaj was not a purely religious reform movement, for, in these days, social and political progress was inseparably linked with religious reform. By its popularization of the ideals of individual freedom, national unity and liberation of social institutions and social relations the Brahmo Samaj movement undoubtedly played a great role in quickening the forces of national regeneration which later found political expression in the Indian National Congress formed in 1885.
In the Brahmo Samaj covenant composed by him in 1843 the following precepts were included. “God is a personal being with sublime moral attributes God has never been incarnated. God hears and answers prayer. Temples and fixed forms of worship are unnecessary. Men of all castes and races may worship God acceptably. Nature and intuition are the sources of knowledge of God. No book is authoritative.” Tagore condemned idol worship, discouraged pilgrimages, ceremonials and penances among the Brahmos. Under his influence the Samaj sought to preserve the best in Hindu religion and morals.
Keshab Chandra Sen, it is said, took Brahmo Samaj closer to Christianity. It is true that Christianity exerted a great influence on him. But he opposed the dogmas of the Christian faith as vigorously as he opposed the dogmas of Hinduism.
Keshab Chandra Sen dreamt of a universal religion in order to unite the East and the West. He was of the opinion that there ought to be no barriers between brothers and sisters. According to him spiritual unification of the different peoples was impossible without the enlightenment of modern science.
He wanted to blend idealism and science. Calling upon his followers to make science their religion “above the Vedas, above the Bible”, he pleaded in his “Epistle to Indian Brethren”. “Astronomy, geology, botany, chemistry, anatomy and physiology are the living scriptures of the god of nature, just as philosophy, logic and ethics are the scriptures of the god of the soul.”
To conclude, the Brahmo Samaj played a c crucial role in the Indian Renaissance. HCE Zacharias writes :” Ram Mohan Roy and his Brahmo Samaj form the starting point for all the various reform movements whether in Hindu religion, society or politics – which have agitated Modern India” The intellectual mind which had been cut off its moorings by the Christian propaganda found a way out in the Brahmo Samaj.
Socially the Samaj has purged Hinduism of many dogmas and superstitions. The Samaj has worked wonders in improving the status of women through abolition of the Purdah system, discouragement of child marriage and polygamy, introduction of widow remarriages, provision of higher education etc. Casteism, untouchability and other social taboos were also attacked and some success achieved.
The Brahmo Samaj movement, however, was not successful in attracting the masses, because it was essentially an intellectual movement inspired by Western ideals. It is no wonder then that its membership was mainly confined to the Western educated elite of the society. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, schisms and dissensions began to appear within the Brahmo Samaj and, after the death of Keshab Chandra Sen in 1884; it entered the path of decline. Meanwhile, a new dynamism was at work, a movement with a message which left a deeper impress on the nation’s mind. The man who led it was Swami Vivekananda.
The Arya Samaj:
The economic and political developments in India in the first half of the nineteenth century became more and more incompatible with the outmoded religious beliefs, obsolete customs and ossified social relations. But, deep-rooted religious beliefs and social customs did not readily give way to rationalism, scientific thought and the modern way of life. Under such conditions, economic and political struggles naturally put on a religious garb. Two contradictory and often conflicting tendencies were in evidence.
One section of the intelligentsia considered the revival of religious traditions an important factor for safeguarding “national” culture from the attack of the West. They counterpoised the “spiritual” culture of India to the “materialist” culture of the West.
They asserted that Indian culture was superior to the Western and denounced all foreign cultural influences. They insisted on the strict observance of many of the traditional customs, rituals and ceremonies of Hinduism, although they were opposed to some of the obsolete customs.
The second tendency was manifested by intellectuals who stood unflinchingly for a reform of the Hindu religion and society in accordance with the needs of the time. Their appeal was not to a revivalist faith in the country’s past but to the spirit of eagerness to move forward to a better and greater future with the help of modern science and culture.
Explaining the difference between reformism and revivalism Lajpat Rai observed: ” The real significance of these words – ‘ reform1 and ‘revival’ – if any, seems to be in the authority or authorities from which the reformers and revivalists respectively seek their inspiration for guidance in matters social.
The former are bent on relying more upon reason and the experience of European society, while the latter are disposed primarily to look at their Shastras and past history, and the traditions of their people and the institutions of the land which were in vogue when the nation was at the zenith of its glory.
The Arya Samaj movement, basically revivalist in nature, was an outcome of the reaction to Western influences. The Samaj was organised by Swami Dayanand Saraswati in 1875. He rejected Western ideas and sought to revive the ancient religion of the Aryans.
In his “Satyarthi Prakash” or “Light of Truth”, he expounded the ideas and aims of his movement.
Dayanand outlook was basically different from that of modernist reformers like Ram Mohan Roy and Ranade. He too pleaded for national unity, but his concept of national unity was based on the acceptance of Hinduism and the authority of the Vedas by all Indians. According to him, Muslims and Christians were enemies of Aryan culture and therefore, could have no place in any scheme of national unification.
He attacked not only the teachings of prophets like Christ and Mohammed, but also the ideals of saints like Kabir, Nanak and Chaitanya who enriched the cultural heritage of the country in the middle Ages.
One of his reasons for opposing the Brahmo Samaj was that “in the sacred book of the Brahmo Samaj, the names of Christ, Moses, Mohammed, Nanak and Chaitanya are mentioned in the list of holy men but not a single name from among the sages and seers of the part.
One can easily infer from this that these people hold the same beliefs as have been taught by those whose names are recorded in their sacred books as holy men.”
Dayananda and the Arya Samaj, founded by him in 1875, strove to rouse the patriotic feelings of the people by the revivalist slogan:” Back to the Vedas.” He regarded the Vedas as derived from God and. therefore, infallible. To him, they embodied the knowledge and wisdom not only of the past, but also of the future.
“In the acceptance of the Vedas, the whole truth is accepted.” While Ram Mohan Roy and Ranade preferred reliance on reason in the event of a conflict between Vedic precepts and reason, Dayanand was firm in his conviction that the Vedas provided the final authority on any question. He explained his credo as follows:
“1 holds that the four Vedas – the repository of knowledge and religious truth – are the words of God. They comprise what is known as the Samhita Mantra portion only. They are absolutely free from error, and are an authority unto themselves. In other words, they do not stand in need of any other book to uphold their authority. Just as the Sun or a lamp, by his light, reveals his own nature as well as that of other objects of the Universe such as the earth, even so are the Vedas.”
Similarly Kshatriya, Vaishya and Sudra classes also remain unadulterated. In short, there can be no mixture of class, hence no class will be disgraced or become the subject of reproach in the public eye.” He raised his voice against inter- caste marriages also and preached that people should marry persons of their own caste. “It is then and then only that the people will faithfully discharge the duties of their respective class and secure thereby perfect harmony.”
This does not mean that every activity of Dayanand Saraswati was outmoded and reactionary. Some of his views undoubtedly had a positive significance. He rejected polytheism, advocated the worship of one formless God, criticized the bigotry of the hereditary Brahmin priests, opposed idolatry and child marriage. He condemned untouchability and casteism, as not sanctioned by the Vedas. He advocated widow remarriage and a high status for women in society. He tried to raise the status of lower caste Hindus by spreading education among them.
He was in favour of equality between sexes in all social and educational matters. Of all the social reforms he introduced “the concept of “Suddhi” was the most outstanding and revolutionary. By this, he threw open the doors of Hinduism to members of other religions. Suddhi earned the reclamation of lakhs of Hindus who were earlier converted into other religions.
Suddhi was also used to uplift the Harijans to a place of equality with other Hindus. Dayananda also realised that the main cause of India’s poverty and degradation was foreign rule. Therefore, he propagated the idea of “Swarajya” among the people.
If Ram Mohan Roy was a student of comparative religion, Dayananda confined his attention to the Vedas. Dayananda advocated that the sacred books contained all knowledge of arts and sciences and that many of the modern scientific inventions had been anticipated in the Vedas. Further, Dayananda did not feel satisfied with the development of Hindu culture during the past 3000 years.
He took delight in religious controversies and in a spirit of debate often pinpointed the weak points in other religions. The boldness of Dayananda has been interpreted by orthodox circles as indicating his spirit of intolerance and exclusiveness. In fact, Dayananda catholicity was in full consonance with the liberal traditions of Hinduism.
Perhaps the most phenomenal achievement of the Arya Samaj has been in the field of social reforms and spread of education. The Samaj based its social programme entirely on the authority of the Vedas, of course, conditioned by rationalism and utilitarianism. The DAV institutions spread over the length and breadth of the country are a standing proof of the educational achievement of the Samaj.