Short notes on the social religious reform in North India and South India


The social and religious reform in North India was spearheaded by Swamy Dayanand Saraswati who founded the Arya Samaj in 1875. Swamy attacked idolatry, polytheism, Brahmin-sponsored religious rites and superstitious practices.

He stood for adult and inter-caste marriages and female education. His bent towards the Vedas which he regarded as infallible gave his teachings an orthodox hue.

The Arya Samajists played a progressive role in furthering the cause of social reform in North India. They worked for the improvement in the condition of women, advocated social equality and denounced untouchability and caste- agilities. Although the Vedas were venerated as infallible, the reforms ad vacated were the product of modern rational thinking.


The movement for reform arose relatively later among the Indian Muslims -. only after the 1860’s. Sayyid Ahmed Khan urged the Muslims to reject the decadent medieval thought and to imbibe modern scientific knowledge and put look. He condemned the custom of polygamy and advocated removal of purdah and spread of education among women.

He taught tolerance and urged the people to develop rational outlook and freedom of thought. He was greatly concerned with the promotion of modern education for which he worked throughout his life.

In 1875 he founded the Muhammadan Anglo- Oriental College in Aligarh for the spread of Western education. Later this developed into the Aligarh Muslim University.

He viewed the Quran as the most authoritative and rational religious text for the Muslims. He respected all religions and spoke against religious fanaticism and bigotry. Some of his followers desisted from joining the emerging national movement and believed that the two communities might develop along separate Paths.


In the South of India a leading light of the social reform movement in the early stages was Kandukari Veerasalingam. Unlike many of his contemporaries in the social reform movement in Calcutta or Bombay, Veerasalingam was born ln a poor family.

By profession he was a school teacher for the major part of his life. Prolific in writing, he produced a large number of tracts and pamphlets on social reform in the Telugu language.

Hence, he is claimed to be the father of modern Telugu prose literature. His missionary zeal on issues like re-marriage of widows, female education and generally on the uppliftment of women and removal of social vices made him the father-figure of the later generation of Andhra social reformers.

In what was then called the Madras Presidency the response to the all-India wave of social reform was given a distinctive hue by the presence of caste associations and caste mobility movements of various kinds. By the turn of the century a number of caste associations began to play a significant role in ‘reform movements’ which were often not unconnected with the social elevation of the caste concerned.


This was to be observed in the case of, for example, the Kongu Vellala Sangam of the Gounder Caste in Tamil Nadu, the Vokkaliga and Lingayat Associations in Mysore, the S.N.D.P. Yogam of the Iravas of Kerala, etc.

The caste leaders of the caste movements formed an elite, often in non-traditional careers, who stressed a common heritage of caste members and pushed forward changes in social and ritual practices. A notable feature was that caste associations, originally concerned with internal reforms, slowly graduated into the form of strong political forces.

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