Immense intellectual and cultural stirrings characterized the 19lh century India. The impact of the western empire and consciousness of defeat by a foreign power gave birth to a new awakening.
There was awareness that a vast country like India had been colonized by foreigners because of internal weakness of Indian social structure and culture. Thoughtful Indians began to look for the strengths and the weaknesses of their society and means of removing the weaknesses.
This national democratic awakening of the 19th century could not be confined to political sphere and found manifestation in religious realm also. There were efforts to reform and revitalize the Indian religious system. Several efforts were made for religious reform. Raja Rammohan Ray started efforts to aid the popular religion of superstitions, which was exploited by ignorant and corrupt priests. He carried on persistent struggle against the polytheism, worship of idols, and the prevalence of meaningless religious rituals. He condemned the priestly class for encouraging there practices.
He held that all the principal ancient texts of the Hindus preached monotheism or worship of one god. He published Bengali translation of Vedas and fire of Upanishads to prove his point.
Swami Dayanand Saraswati believed that selfish and ignorant priests had perverted Hindu religion with the aid of the Puranas which he said were full of lies. For his own inspiration, Swami Dayanand turned to the Vedas which he regarded as infallible being the inspired word of God, and as the fountain-head of all knowledge.
His approach to the Vedas however had a nationalist aspect because the Vedas, though revealed had to be rationally interpreted by himself and others, who were human beings. Thus, individual reason was the deciding factor. Similarly, among the Muslims, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan carried the banner of religions reform. He was tremendously impressed by modern scientific thought and worked all his life to reconcile it with Islam.
He declared Quran above to be the authority’s work of Islam and held all other Islamic writings to be secondary. Even the Quran he interpreted was in the light of contemporary rationalism and science. He held any interpretation of Quran as conflicting with human reason to be a misinterpretation.
The awakening found expansion also in Gurudwara reform movement among Sikhs and in the Temple Entry movement in the twenties.