Sunday, January 2, 2011


                   The 19th Century India witnessed a strong wave of reformation activities in religion and society. There were attempts made by the educated young Indians to end the evils and abuses in religion and society. Western ideas of reason, equality, liberty and humanity inspired them. They tried to remove the defects in their culture. They wanted to revive the glory of Indian culture. Hence we call the socio-religious reform movement of the 19th century India as the Indian Renaissance movement. Raja Rammohan Roy was the pioneer of this movement.

Causes for the Social and Religious reform movement

Political Unity : India was politically united due to the expansion and consolidation of British rule. It led to the understanding of many common problems of the Indians. The nature of the British rule provoked many young Indians to find out the causes of their misery and degradation.

Reaction against the propaganda of Christian Missionaries : The Christian missionaries made all possible attempts to spread Christianity particularly among the poor and the oppressed. Educational institutions, hospitals, charity services and official support
were also made use for this purpose. Therefore, both the Hindus and the Muslims made efforts to protect their religions.
Contribution of foreign scholars : Many western scholars like Max Muller and William Jones rediscovered India’s past. They studied the scholarly works of Indians of the ancient period. They brought to light the rich cultural heritage of India which was even superior to the western culture. They translated many literary and religious texts. These works received worldwide recognition. It made the educated Indians develop faith in their culture. They wanted to establish the superiority of Indian culture against the western culture.

Indian Press : The Europeans introduced the printing press in India. It made possible the appearance of many newspapers and magazines. Books were also published in different Indian languages. Mostly their subject matter was Indian. It certainly helped to open the eyes of the educated Indians with regard to the national heritage and glory. Therefore they started to work for the revival of Indian culture.

Western Education : The spread of western education led to the spread of the western concepts of democracy, liberty, equality and nationalism. The Indians who went abroad came in direct contact with the working of these concepts. After their return they were pained to see the lack of awareness among the Indians about such concepts. They did the spade work for the spread of such ideas. There is no denying the fact that Indian nationalism and modernism are largely the result of the efforts of the English educated Indians in different fields of life.

The Brahmo Samaj – 1828 : The Brahmo Samaj was established by Raja Rammohan Roy in 1828. He was born in a Brahmin family of Bengal. He learnt many languages like Arabic, Sanskrit, Persian, English, French, Latin, Greek and Hebrew. He also studied several religious philosophies like Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and Sufism. His primary aim was to reform the Hindu society and religion. He wrote a number of books in Bengali, Hindi, Sanskrit, Persian and English. Precepts of Jesus Christ, The Guide to Peace and Happiness are some of them. He started newspapers one in Bengali, and the other in Persian. He was given the title of Raja and sent to England by the Mughal Emperor Akbar II as his envoy. 

                     The Brahmo Samaj was an assembly of all those who believed in a universal religion based on the principle of one Supreme God. Raja Rammohan Roy condemned idol worship, rites and rituals. But he never lost his faith in Hinduism and the Vedas. The Brahmo Samaj condemned caste, untouchability, the practice of Sati and image worship. 

                     In order to improve the position of women Raja Rammohan Roy and Lord William Bentinck tried to abolish Sati. Bentinck declared in 1829 that the practice of Sati as an offence, punishable with death sentence. The young Rammohan had seen how the wife of his elder brother, who was so dearer to him, was forced to commit Sati. It made a deep wound in his tender heart. Therefore he made up his mind to eradicate this evil practice at his young age. 

                     The Brahmo Samaj also opposed child marriage and Polygamy.It supported widow remarriage. Due to the efforts of Keshab Chandra Sen, one of the leaders of Brahmo Samaj, an Act was passed in 1872. It abolished polygamy and childmarriage. The Act also supported intercaste marriage and widow remarriage.
                     After the death of Raja Rammohan Roy, the work of the Samaj was carried by great men like Keshab Chandra Sen and Devendranath Tagore.

The Arya Samaj – 1875 : Swami Dayananda Saraswathi started the Arya Samaj in 1875. He was born at a small town in Gujarat in a conservative Brahmin family. His childhood name was Mul Shankar. He met Swami Vrajanand at Mathura. He became the disciple of Vrajanand. There he studied Vedas. He devoted his life to the propagation of the Vedas. He wanted to reform the Hindu Society. According to Dayananda Saraswathi the Vedas contained all the truth. His motto was “Go Back to the Vedas”.
                    His book Sathyartha Prakash contains his views about Vedas. In the field of religion Arya Samaj opposed idol worship, ritualism, animal sacrifice, the idea of heaven and hell and the concept of fatalism.  

                    Dayananda Saraswathi started Suddhi movement to reconvert the Hindus who had been converted to other religions earlier. By his efforts, large number of people were taken back within the fold of Hinduism. 

                    Swami Dayananda Saraswathi is described as the Martin Luther of Hinduism. Martin Luther was a great religious reformer of Germany. The Arya Samaj provided useful service to Hindu society. It opposed child marriage, polygamy, purdah system, casteism and the practice of Sati. The Samaj insisted the education of the women and upliftment of the depressed classes. Intercaste marriages and interdining were encouraged. 

                    The Samaj established a number of educational institutions in India particularly in the North. Gurukulas and Swami Dayananda Saraswathi Kanya Gurukulas provide education mostly on Sanskrit, the Vedas and Ayur Vedas. Dayanand Anglo-Vedic (DAV) Schools and Colleges provide modern education in humanities and sciences.

                    His followers Lala Lajpat Rai, Lala Hansraj and Pandit Guru Dutt propagated the ideas of the Arya Samaj. Many Indian national leaders like Bala Gangadhara Tilak and Gopala Krishna Gokhale were deeply influenced by the philosophy and principles of the Arya Samaj.

                    Swami Dayananda was perhaps the first Indian to preach the gospal of ‘Swadesh’ and ‘India for Indians’. His another motto was ‘Satyam Eva Jayate’, ‘Na Anritam’ which means truth alone triumphs and not untruth.

Theosophical Society – 1875 : The word theosophy has been coined by combining two Greek words Theos and Sophos. Theos means God and Sophos means wisdom. Therefore theosophy means knowledge of God. In Sanskrit it is called Brahma Gyan. The society was first established by Madame Blavatsky and Colonel H.S. Olcott in the United States of America. They were inspired by Indian thought and culture. Then they shifted the headquarters of the society to Adyar in Chennai.

The main principles of the Theosophical Society :
1. To form an organization of all people on the basis of fraternity,
2. To study ancient religion, philosophy and science and
3. To find out the laws of Nature and development of divine powers in man.

Mrs. Annie Besant, a prominent member of this Society came to India in 1893. She became the President of this society. She devoted herself to the revival of Hindu religion. Her activities in the field of education were more significant. She founded the Central Hindu College at Varanasi which was ultimately merged with the Varanasi Hindu University. Her paper “New India” spread the theosophical ideas. Later she started the Home Rule Movement to give momentum to the national movement in India.

Rama Krishna Mission – 1897 : Another important reformer of the 19th century was Rama Krishna Paramahamsa. He was a priest in a temple of Kali at Dakshineswar near Kolkata. He had no formal education. However, he won the hearts of all who gathered around him by his simplicity of character and homely wisdom. He had deep faith in the basic truth of all religions. He preached the unity of all religions. He explained the principles contained in the Vedas and Upanishads through simple stories, called  parables. He stressed that every individual is a part of God. Therefore, according to him “service to man means service to God.” 

                  The credit of propagating his ideas goes to his great disciple, Swami Vivekananda. Vivekananda’s childhood name was Narendra  Nath. He was educated in English schools and graduated himself. He studied the works of the western philosophers. Once he went to meet Ramakrishna in the Kali Temple. He was attracted by him. From that time onwards he moved  closer with Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. After the death of Ramakrishna, Vivekananda carried the messages of his master all over India. His eloquence and personality endeared both Princes and Peasants around him. 

                   According to Vivekananda, “The best way to Serve God is to serve the poor and the downtrodden.” It became his motto. He participated in the World Religious Congregation held at Chicago in the United States of America in 1893. He started his speech by addressing the audience with the words, “Brothers and Sisters of this universe.” Vivekananda raised the prestige of Indian culture and religion in the eyes of the world. His speeches at Chicago and other places in the United States of America and the United Kingdom brought him fame and friends. 

                   Ramakrishna Mission was established in 1897 by Swami Vivekananda at Belur near Kolkata. It has branches all over India and the other parts of the world. The Missions’ motto is “Service to humanity”. It serves for the education, upliftment of women, removal of poverty among the poor and downtrodden. The Mission has opened many schools, technical institutions, Orphanages and hospitals. It also rendered service to the people in times of distress caused by natural calamities like flood and famine. Swami Vivekananda made a solid contribution towards Hindu religion, culture, society and Indian nationalism. The Ramakrishna Mission, therefore, became a strong movement. It is still doing useful service to the Indian Society.

Muslim Movements : For a long time, the Muslims remained outside the influence of western education and the British rule. Reform movements among the Muslim community began in the later half of the 19th century. They aimed at the spread of modern education and removal of social abuses like the Purdha System and polygamy. In the beginning Mohammeden Literary Society of Kolkata was founded in1863 by Nawab Abdul Latif. It played an important role in the spread of education among the Muslims and started a number of schools in Bengal.

Aligarh Movement : The most important movement for the spread of modern education and social reforms among the Muslims was started by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. He had been in the service of British Government as a judicial officer. He remained loyal to them during the revolt of 1857. He insisted on the co-operation of the Muslims with the British Government. So he opposed the Indian National Congress. He believed that the Muslims would be affected if they started taking part in political agitation. Though Syed Ahmed Khan opposed the Indian National Congress, he insisted the unity between the Hindus and Muslims. He viewed that both the Hindus and the Muslims belong to the same country and the progress of the country depend on their unity.

                    In 1864 Sir Syed Ahmed Khan started a school at Ghazipur. It was later called as the Scientific Society. The Society translated many scientific works into Urdu and published them. His greatest achievement was the establishment of the Mohammeden Anglo Oriental College (MAO) at Aligarh in 1875. In course of time, this became the most important educational institution of Indian Muslims. It later developed into the Aligarh Muslim University.    
                   The reform movement started by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan was called the Aligarh Movement. He was in favour of the abolition of Purdah and education of women. He propagated his views through his magazine called Tahzil-ud-Akhlaq (Reform of Morals). A large number of societies were started for the service of the Muslim community.

Parsi Reform Movements : Dadabai Naoroji and Naoroji Furdoonji were the pioneers of religious and social reform among the Parsi community. For the progress of women and the spread of modern education they, together, started a journal Rast Goftar. Another important social reformer in the Parsi community was Sorabji Bengali.

Sikh Reform Movements : Among the Sikhs, the movement for reform was started by the Singh Sabhas. They were started at Amristar and Lahore. The two Sabhas merged together and played an important role in the spread of education. The Khalsa College was founded at Amristar in 1892 and many schools were also started. 

                     In the early decades of the 20th century, the Gurudwaras (the places of worship for the Sikhs) were under the control of priests and Mahants. They treated them as their private property. Both Shiromany Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee and the Akali Dal party aimed at handing over the control of the Gurudwaras to the representative of the Sikh community. The leaders of the freedom movement supported them. In 1925 a law was passed which gave the right of managing the Gurudwaras to the Shiromany Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee.

Effects of The Reform Movements :

1. The reform movements brought about remarkable changes in the society and religion. Initially the great changes affected a small group of people, but gradually these ideas spread among many sections of the people, 
2. The reform movements strengthened the Hindu and Muslim religions and made efforts to remove social evils among them, 
3. The educated Indians started to think reasonably, 
4. The reform movements helped in the revival of the past glory. They also helped in making up of a modern India,
5. It led to the progress of literature in different regional languages, 
6. The caste system began to lose its hold on the society,
7. There was a significant achievement in the field of emancipation of women. Some legal measures were introduced to raise their status,
8. To travel abroad, which was considered as a sin before, was accepted,
9. The reform movements created the rise of a middle class which consisted of the teachers, the doctors, the lawyers, the scientists, and the journalists who helped in the progress of India in different fields, and 
10. The reform movements also contributed for the growth of Indian Nationalism as the reform activities united the people all over India and created a feeling of oneness.



  1. The growth of indian Nationalism has improved a lot...there is unity in diversity by these reform movements

  2. The freedom we have is by the reforms made by our ancestors