The central figure in the socio-cultural awakening of 19th century was Raja Rammohan Roy. He has been regarded as the morning star of renaissant India. He was the first great leader of modern India. According to Mis Colet. ” Rammohan stands in history as the living bridge over which India marches from her unmeasured past to her incalculable future.
He was the arch which shimmed the gulf between ancient caste and modern humanity, between superstition and science, between despotism and democracy, between immobile custom and conservative progress, between a bewildering polytheism and a pure, if vague, theism.” In the same way Nandalal Chaterjee describes Raja Rammohan Roy as “the human link between the unfading past and the dawning future, between vested conservatism and radical reform, between superstitious isolationism and progressive sysntehesis, in short, between reaction and progress.”
Raja Rammohan Roy was born on 22nd May, 1774 in an orthodox, well-to-do brahmin family of village Radhanagar in Burdhaman district of West Bengal. The name of h father was Ramakanta Roy and mother was Tarini Devi. His father was working as a Zamindar under Nawab of Murshidabad.
The childhood of Rammohan passed admist the environment of social orthodoxy and blind belief. At the tender age of nine, he had been forced to marry two times and was required to marry a third time after sometime. He had also the tragic horrifying experience in his childhood how the widow of his brother was burnt alive as a sati on the funeral pyre of her dead husband.
These experiences of childhood had a deep impact on him and made him a crusader against all socail vices. Exceptionally intelligent in the very childhood he had learnt Parsi, Arabic and Sanskrit. Raja Rammohan Roy says in his autobiographical sketch, “When about the age of sixteen, I composed a manuscript calling in question the validity of the idolatrous system of Hindus this together with my own sentiment on the subject, having produced a coolness between me a my immediate kindred, I proceeded on my travels and passed through different countries, chiefly within, but some beyond the bounds of Hindustan.”
The travel helped him to move to patna, Banaras and Tibet and enough knowledge on Tibettian, English, Italy and Greek language. It also provided him golden opportunity to study different religuous belief and philosophy. He also made an in-depth study of Veda, Upanishad, Bible, Koran, Zend Avesta and different Buddhist texts. Rammohan published a book called the “percepts of Jesus” where he rejected the divinity of Jesus but was impressed by his ethical teachings. On the death of his father in 1503, he moved to Murshidabad and wrote a treatise entitled “Tuhabat -ul- Muwahidin” or a gift to monotheist, a work protesting against idolatries and superstitions of all creeds. From 1805 to 1814 Rammohan served an English concern which managed Zamindari system on behalf of District collectors.
After the death of h father the nawab of Murshidabad in 1809 appointed him as Sheristadar and Rammohan discharged that responsibility till 1814. In 1814 Rammohan resigned from the service of the company, puchased a Zamindari from which he had annual income of Rs. 10,000 and settled permanently at Calcutta. The rest twenty years of his life were dedicated to the cause of socio-cultural awakening of India which provided him great fame in history of modern India. In 1815 he founded Atmiya Sabha and a college for the dissemination of Vedic knowledge. In 1819 he defeated a great scholar named Subramaniam Sastri on the question of idol worship.
In 1821 William Adam, a Christian missionary began to have faith in the doctorine od Advaita being influenced by Rammohan. As a result of this William Adam founded the Calcutta Unitarian Committiee that led to bitter relationship between Ramohan and Christian missionaries who earlier were encouraged by his attack against idolatry. In 1828 Rammohan Roy founded the Brahmo Samaj. In 1831 he went to England on a special mission to champion the cause of Mughal Emperor of delhi where he died on 27th Septmber, 1833. He was given the title of Raja by the Mughal emperor.
Philosophy and Reforms:
Raja Ramohan Roy was aware of country’s weakness and conscious of her strength. He had great admiration and respect for the traditional philosophic system of the East; but at the same time believed firmly that modern culture alone would help to regenerate Indian society. Rammohan Roy represented a synthesis of the thought of East and west.
According to Bipan Chandra, “……there was to be no blind reliance on India’ this own pats or blind aping of the west. On the other hand he put forward the idea that new India, guided by reason should acquire and treasure all that was best in the East and the West.
Thus he wanted India to learn from the West, but this learning was to be intellectual and creative process through which Indian culture and thought were to be renovated, it was not to be an imposition of western culture of India.
He therefore, stood for the reform of Hinduism and opposed its suppression by Christianity.” Rationalism, scientific temper, humanism and the basic principle of social democracy moulded the philosophical vision of Rammohan Roy. Rammohan Roy relied ultimately on the power of human reason which was in his view the final touchstone of the truth of any doctoring, eastern or western.
Raja Rammohan Roy was not a utopian dreamer. He believed in execution of his ideas. There was hardly any aspect of nation-building which he left untouched. As a social reformer he undertook relentless crusade against all social evils to purge traditional social order with a view to meet the challenge of the age.
His crusade against sati, child marriage, the prohibition of widow remarriage brought a new sensation. Ramohan Roy vehemently stood for liberation of women and their rightful place in the society. Rammohan Roy also propagated for the introduction for modern western education which in his opinion could be a major instrument for social transformation. He gave wholehearted cooperation to David Hare when the later founded the famous Hindu college at Calcutta. In the field of journalism Rammohan Roy was a pioneer. He was the editor of a Bengali journal “Sambad Kaumudi” and Urdu daily “Mirat-Ul-Akhbar”.
Rammohan Roy represented the first glimmering of the rise of national consciousness in india. He became the pioneer of public agitation on political question in the country. Rammohan Roy also enkindled the spirit of internationalism and free cooperation between nations. For all practical purposes Raja Rammohan Roy was the first great leader of modern India.
Rabindranath Tagore has rightly remarked, “Rammohan was the only person in his time, in the whole world of men, to realise completely the significance of the Modern Age. He knew that the ideal of human civilisation does not lie in the isolation of independence, but in the brotherhood of interdependence of individuals as well as nations in all spheres of thought and activity.” Rammohan Roy was also a prolific writer.
His famous works are texts on Vedenta, Vedentasar, Kathopanishad, Ishopanishad, the precepts of Jesus, the guide to peace and happiness.” Raja Rammohan Roy by his multi dimensional creativity inaugurated the modern age in India. He has also been regarded as the father of Indian Renaissance and the prophet of indian nationalism.
Raja Rammohan Roy felt the necessity of an institution to translate his dreams into practice. On 20th August 1828 he founded the Brahmo Sabha which became famous as Brahmo Samaj in 1830. It was the culmination of his earlier Atmiya Sabha of 1814.
The purpose of the establishment of Brahmo Samaj became evident in the Trust Deed of Samaj by Rammohan in 1830. He made it clear that he aspired only to establish a strict monolatrous worship of the Supreme Being, worship of the heart and not of the hand, a sacrifice of self and not of the possession of the self.
The Brahmo Samaj championed the worship of one God and the brotherhood of men. It advocated the respect for all religions and their scriptures. To love human beings and to have love towards them is the supreme religion. There is no place for idol worship, animal sacrifice offering Bhog and ritualism in the Brahmo Samaj.
The evils like sati system, child marriage, ingfanticide, Pardah System, caste system and untouchability were opposed by the Brahmo Samajists. Owing to the preachings of the founder of Brahmo Samaj Widow Remarriage and intercast marriage began to take place.
The reformative and rational approach of Brahmo Samaj created a great sensation. The conservation and orthodox elements in the society sharply reacted to the progressive views of Rammohan. The orthodox citizens of Calcutta started a rival organization named Dharma Sabha with its organ, the Samachar Chandrika which opposed Ramohan Roys’ Bengali Weekly “Samvada Kaumudi.” Undeterred by the critics Ramamohan spread his message and attracted many progressive Indians to the fold of Brahmo Samaj.
After his death Maharsi Dwarakanath Tagore, Devendranath Tagore and Keshab Chandra Sen became the real spirit behind the movement. Though towards the close of the 19th century, the Brahmo movement lost much of its newness, retained its social and educational mission.