Raja Ram Mohan Roy was the pioneer and the most important figure of the reform movement. He was born probably in AD 1772. He was a learned man and knew over a dozen languages including Sanskrit, Arabic, English, Greek, Italian, French, Latin and Persian. Being a scholar of repute and having read the religious texts of different religions in their original form, he was the best example of the synthesis of the philosophies of the East and the West. He wrote a number of books in Hindi, Bengali, Sanskrit, Persian and English. He also started two newspapers, one in Bengali and another in Persian. He was given the title of Raja and sent to England. He lived I England for two years and died in AD 1833.
Raja Ram Mohan Roy advocated both social and religious reforms. He laid emphasis on reason. He opposed the caste system, untouchability and superstitions. He believed in the freedom of the press and wanted no restrictions to be imposed on it. He advocated the introduction of the English language in India. He was also greatly moved by the low position given to women in Indian society. He supported widow remarriage and wanted women to be educated. One of his greatest achievements in the field of social reform was his campaign against ‘sati’. As a result of his efforts, this inhuman practice was abolished in AD 1829.
Raja Ram Mohan Roy realized that the reform of Indian society had to be preceded by a reform of the Hindu religion itself. To do so, people should be made aware of the original texts of their religion. For this, he took up the task of publishing the Vedas and the Upanishads into Bengali. He believed that Hindu religion should be freed from the control of the Brahmins, who opposed progress and supported the oppression of the so-called lower classes. He believed in the existence of one supreme God. He was greatly opposed to idol-worship and meaningless rituals, especially the practice of making sacrifices. He set up the Brahmo Sabha in AD 1828 to work for social and religious reforms. It began to be later called the Brahmo Samaj. Followers of all religions and castes were invited to come and worship together.
The reform movement started by Raja Ram Mohan Roy was an inspiration to other reform movements in different parts of the country. For his views, Raja Ram Mohan Roy faced much opposition and ridicule from the orthodox sections of society. But, he carried on his work like a true patriot. After him, the unfinished work was carried on by Debendranath Tagore, Keshab Chandra Sen and other reformers. Keshab Chandra Sen travelled throughout Madras and Bombay and later through northern India to spread the message of Raja Rammohun Roy.
In AD 1886, the Brahmo Samaj split. This was because Keshab Chandra Sen and his associates were more radical than other Brahmo Samajists. They wanted society to break away from caste restrictions and customs and the authority of scriptures. They performed inter-caste marriages and widow remarriages. They also opposed the purdah system this group became more popular than the other one.
The Brahmo Samajists stood for the new spirit of reform and reason. They ate with people of other castes, did not follow restrictions of food and drink, worked for women’s upliftment and devoted their lives to the spread of education. They condemned the traditional opposition to sea voyages. The movement started by Raja Ram Mohan Roy inspired similar reform movements all over the country.
David Hare, a friend of Raja Ram Mohan Roy was instrumental in starting the Hindu College of Calcutta. This college became the centre for carrying on the modernizing movements of Bengal.