Raja Ram Mohan Roy the noted social and religious reformer of India was born of an orthodox Brahmin family at Radhanagar, West Bengal on May 22, 1774.
The noted social and religious reformer of India was born of an orthodox Brahmin family at Radhanagar, West Bengal on May 22, 1774. His education, thorough and extensive, involved study of secular texts as well as those concerned with the various religions of the world.
He became familiar with a number of languages—the oriental languages Persian, Arabic and Sanskrit and others such as English, French, Greek, Latin and Hebrew. His earliest reformist writing was a rational critique of idolatry in Hinduism when he was merely 16 years of age. A result of that work was that he was forced to leave home. He gained employment with the East India Company in 1803 and worked there till 1814, when he left his job desiring to devote himself to activities of social reform.
Disturbed by the degenerating aspects of the society as he witnessed them in Bengal, he adopted an approach to social reform that sought to expose narrow religious believes and practices, emphasise the importance of modern Western education and thought in this context and involve the state in reform work.
Hoping to cleanse Hinduism of the corrupt beliefs and practices that had crept into it, he firmly opposed polytheism, idolatry, monopoly of the brahmins over the Hindu sacred texts and also the belief in revelations and miracles. He wrote the Tuhfat-ul Muwahhiddin in Persian which was his first published work (1803-4).
The modern Indian Luther, as Rammohan Roy is sometimes called, began re-interpreting the vedantic literature and doctrines of Hinduism. But clearly Rammohan Roy did not wish to preach a new religion; his aim was to simply present a reformed Hinduism. Translation of an Abridgement of the Vedant and Bengali, English and Hindi translations of the Upanishads were published between 1815 and 1823. Supporting the concept of a single, unitarian God, he evolved three fundamental religious tenets based On belief in (i) one universal supreme being, (ii) the soul's existence, and (iii) life after death.
Viewing reformist religious associations as the means to transform the then existing social and political state of affairs, in 1815 he founded the Atmiya Sabha and in 1828, the Brahmo Sabha (renamed, Brahmo Samaj). The Brahmo Samaj, opposed to idolatry and priesthood, had its goal as "the worship and adoration of the Eternal, Unsearchable, Immutable Being who is the Author and Preserver of the Universe.
The form of worship it supported consisted of prayer and meditation and reading from the Upanishads. The Brahmo Samaj believed in fostering qualities like piety, charity, benevolence, morality and virtue in order to unite men irrespective of their religious persuasions.
Rammohan Roy was saddened at the plight of Indian society which had become a victim to self-inflicted ills. On deep concern to him was the position of women in society. The lot of women was plagued by illiteracy, their downright subjugation by males in society and specific ills such as the corrupt practice of sati or widow-burning.
To rescue the Indian society from its superstitions and injustices and improve the plight of women, he favoured modern Western education for its scientific and inquiring spirit and broad ideas. But his approach to Western education greatly varied from that of other contemporary intellectuals of Bengal. One notable feature is that Rammohan Roy, unlike them, encouraged the British involvement in the religious and social transformation of India.
Of Rammohan Roy's ideas for economic reform, noteworthy are his views on reforming the permanent settlemer so that it could render equal benefits to the British as well as the Indians. He called for reducing the revenue-demand on zamindars, and the security of the tenants. His proposals to emancipate the peasants from the miseries they were subjected to under the permanent settlement were, however, put down by the rulers.
Rammohan Roy staunchly supported the granting of civil liberties to the Indian people. And so he wanted the British Parliament to govern by means of fair laws, which could be brought about by setting up commissions of inquiry, establishing a free press and consulting the views and opinions of gentlemen of intelligence and respectability.
Rammohan Roy's contribution to the Indian press lies in his founding of the journals, The Brahmanical Magazine and the Samvad Kaumudi, a weekly in Bengali, both in 1821 and the Mirat-ul- Akbar in Persian the following year. If he did not out rightly demand political liberty, it was because he did not forget the limitations of the Indian people at the time.
Moreover, it is to be remembered that the struggle for an independent India, which carried with it a deep hatred for the British rule, was yet to take a concrete and definite form at that time. Rammohan Roy wished the British Parliament and not an Indian Legislative Council to frame just political laws only because he was fully aware that any such council would end up under the control of the British Governor-General.