Ram Mohan Roy

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Ram Mohan Roy
Raja Ram Mohan Roy.jpg
Raja Ram Mohan Roy is regarded as the Father of the Indian Renaissance"
Born

(1772

-05-22)22 May 1772
Radhanagore (Burdwan district), Bengal, British India
Died27 September 1833(1833-09-27) (aged 59)
Stapleton, Bristol
Cause of death
Meningitis
Resting place
Kolkata, India
NationalityIndian
Other namesHerald Of New Age
Known forBengal Renaissance, Brahmo Samaj{socio, political reforms}
TitleRaja
SuccessorDwarkanath Tagore
ReligionBrahmo
ParentsRamakanta Roy
 
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Ram Mohan Roy
Raja Ram Mohan Roy.jpg
Raja Ram Mohan Roy is regarded as the Father of the Indian Renaissance"
Born

(1772

-05-22)22 May 1772
Radhanagore (Burdwan district), Bengal, British India
Died27 September 1833(1833-09-27) (aged 59)
Stapleton, Bristol
Cause of death
Meningitis
Resting place
Kolkata, India
NationalityIndian
Other namesHerald Of New Age
Known forBengal Renaissance, Brahmo Samaj{socio, political reforms}
TitleRaja
SuccessorDwarkanath Tagore
ReligionBrahmo
ParentsRamakanta Roy

Raja Ram Mohan Roy (22 May 1772 – 27 September 1833) was a founder (with Dwarkanath Tagore and other Bengali Brahmins) of the Brahmo Samaj movement in 1828 which engendered the Brahmo Samaj, an influential Indian socio-religious reform movement. His influence was apparent in the fields of politics, public administration and education as well as religion. He is best known for his efforts to abolish the practice of sati, the Hindu funeral practice in which the widow was compelled to sacrifice herself on her husband’s funeral pyre. It was he who first introduced the word "Hinduism" into the English language in 1816. For his diverse contributions to society, Raja Ram Mohan Roy is regarded as one of the most important figures in the Bengal Renaissance. His efforts to protect Hinduism and Indian rights by participating in British government earned him the title "The Father of the Bengal Renaissance"

Early life and education (1772 - 1796)[edit]

Roy was born in Radhanagar, Bengal, in 1772, into the Rarhi Brahmin caste.[1] His family background displayed religious diversity -his father Ramkanta was a Vaishnavite, while his mother Tarinidevi was from a Shivaite family. This was unusual for Vaishanavites did not commonly marry Shaivites at the time.

"Thus one parent prepared him for the occupation of a scholar, the sastrin, the other secured for him all the worldly advantage needed to launch a career in the laukik or worldly sphere of public administration. Torn between these two parental ideals from early childhood, Rammohun vacillated the rest of his life, moving from one to the other and back.[2]

Ram Mohan Roy was married three times by the time he was ten years old, which fell in the strict framework of his polygamous and caste customs. His first wife died early in his childhood. He conceived two sons, Radhaprasad in 1800 and Ramaprasad in 1812 with his second wife, who died in 1824. Roy's third wife outlived him.

Roy's early education was controversial. The common version is

Rammohan started his formal education in the village pathshala where he learned Bengali and some Sankrit and Persian. Later he is said to have studied Persian and Arabic in a madrasa in Patna and after that he was sent to Benares (Kashi) for learning the intricacies of Sanskrit and Hindu scripture, including the Vedas and Upanishads. The dates of his sojourn in both these places is uncertain. However, we will go by the commonly held belief that he was sent to Patna when he was nine years old and two years later to Benares."[3]

His faithful contemporary biographer writes,

"Rammohun with his new found madrasa knowledge of Arabic also tasted the fruit forbidden to Brahmins of Quran and was converted to its strict monotheism. Rammohan's mother Tarini Devi was scandalised and packed her son off to Benares (to study Sanskrit and Vedas) before he could take the irrevocable step. In Benares, Rammohun's rebellion continued and he persisted in interpreting the Upanishads through the Holy Quran's monotheist strictures especially against idolatry. Benares, the spiritual seat of traditional Hinduism, was awash with temples to the billion gods of Hindu pantheon, and Rammohun would not complete his formal Vedantic education there. He instead travelled widely (not much is known of where he went, but he is said to have extensively studied Buddhism at this time) to eventually return to his family around 1794 when a search party sent by his father tracked him down to Benares in the company of some Buddhists with similar notions. Between 1794 and 1795 Rammohun stayed with his family attending the family zamindari holdings. There was considerable friction in the family between Rammohun and his father, who died in about 1796 leaving some property to be divided amongst his sons.

Impact[edit]

Ram Mohan Roy's impact on modern Indian history was a revival of the pure and ethical principles of the Vedanta school of philosophy as found in the Upanishads. He preached the unity of God, made early translations of Vedic scriptures into English, co-founded the Calcutta Unitarian Society and founded the Brahma Samaj. The Brahma Samaj played a major role in reforming and modernising the Indian society. He successfully campaigned against sati, the practice of burning widows. He sought to integrate Western culture with the best features of his own country's traditions. He established a number of schools to popularize a modern system of education in India. He promoted a rational, ethical, non-authoritarian, this-worldly, and social-reform Hinduism. His writings also sparked interest among British and American Unitarians.

Christianity and the early rule of the East India Company (1795 - 1828)[edit]

During these overlapping periods, Ram Mohan Roy acted as a political agitator and agent, representing Christian missionaries[4] whilst employed by the East India Company and simultaneously pursuing his vocation as a Pandit. To understand fully this complex period in his life leading up to his eventual Brahmoism needs reference to his peers.

In 1792 the British Baptist shoemaker William Carey published his influential missionary tract "An Enquiry of the obligations of Christians to use means for the conversion of heathens.[5]

In 1793 William Carey landed in India to settle. His objective was to translate, publish and distribute the Bible in Indian languages and propagate Christianity to the Indian peoples.[6] He realized the "mobile" (i.e. service classes) Brahmins and Pundits were most able to help him in this endeavor, and he began gathering them. He learnt the Buddhist and Jain religious works to better argue the case for Christianity in the cultural context.

In 1795 Carey made contact with a Sanskrit scholar - the Tantric Hariharananda Vidyabagish [7]- who later introduced him to Ram Mohan Roy who wished to learn English.

Between 1796 and 1797 the trio of Carey, Vidyavagish and Roy fabricated a spurious religious work known as the "Maha Nirvana Tantra" (or "Book of the Great Liberation")[8] and pass it off as an ancient religious text to "the One True God" actually the Holy Spirit of Christianity masquerading as Brahma. Carey's involvement is not recorded in his very detailed records and he reports only learning to read Sanscrit in 1796 and only completed a grammar in 1797, the same year he translated from Joshua to Job, itself a massive task.[9] (The explanation later given by Ram Mohan Roy to his family concerning his whereabouts during this period is that he went to "Tibet" –then as far away as "Timbuktoo"). For the next two decades this document was regularly added to.[citation needed] Its judicial sections are used in the law courts of the English Settlement in Bengal as Hindu Law for adjudicating upon property disputes of the zamindari. However a few British magistrates and collectors begin to suspect it as a forgery and its usage (as well as the reliance on pundits as sources of Hindu Law) was quickly deprecated. Vidyavagish has a brief falling out with Carey and separated from the group but maintained ties to Ram Mohan Roy.[10] (The Maha Nirvana Tantra's significance for Brahmoism lay in the wealth that accumulated to Rammohun Roy and Dwarkanath Tagore by its judicial use, and not due to any religious wisdom within,–although it does contain an entire chapter devoted to "the One True God" and his worship).

In 1797, Rammohun reached Calcutta and became a "banian" (i.e. moneylender) mainly to impoverished Englishmen of the Company living beyond their means. Rammohun also continued his vocation as pundit in the English courts and started to make a living for himself. He began learning Greek and Latin.

In 1799, Carey was joined by missionary Joshua Marshman and the printer William Ward at the Danish settlement of Serampore.

From 1803 till 1815, Rammohun served the East India Company's "Writing Service" commencing as private clerk "munshi" to Thomas Woodforde, Registrar of the Appellate Court at Murshidabad[11] (whose distant nephew - also a Magistrate - later made a rich living off the spurious Maha Nirvana Tantra under the pseudonym Arthur Avalon).[12] Roy resigned from Woodforde's service due to allegations of corruption. Later he secured employment with John Digby a company collector and Rammohun spent many years at Rangpur and elsewhere with Digby, where he renewed his contacts with Hariharananda. William Carey had by this time settled at Serampore and the old trio renewed their profitable association. William Carey was also aligned now with the English Company, then headquartered at Fort William, and his religious and political ambitions were increasingly intertwined[citation needed].

The East India Company was draining money from India at a rate of three million pounds a year in 1838. Ram Mohan Roy was one of the first to try to estimate how much money was being driven out of India and where it was disappearing. He estimated that around one-half of all total revenue collected in India was sent out to England, leaving India, with a considerably larger population, to use the remaining money to maintain social wellbeing.[13] Ram Mohan Roy saw this and believed that the unrestricted settlement of Europeans in India governing under free trade would help ease the economic drain crisis.[14]

At the turn of the 19th century the Muslims, although considerably vanquished after the battles of Plassey and Buxar, still posed a formidable political threat to the Company. Rammohun was now chosen by Carey to be the agitator among them.[15]

Under Carey's secret tutelage[citation needed] in the next two decades, Rammohun launched his attack against the bastions of Hinduism of Bengal, namely his own Kulin Brahmin priestly clan (then in control of the many temples of Bengal) and their priestly excesses. The social and theological issues Carey chose for Rammohun were calculated to weaken the hold of the dominant Kulin class (especially their younger disinherited sons forced into service who constituted the mobile gentry or "bhadralok" of Bengal) from the Mughal zamindari system and align them to their new overlords of Company. The Kulin excesses targeted include - sati (the concremation of widows), polygamy, idolatory, child marriage, dowry. All causes equally dear to Carey's ideals.

Roy's contemporary biographer records:

"In 1805 Rammohun published Tuhfat-ul-Muwahhidin (A Gift to Monotheists) - an essay written in Persian with an introduction in Arabic in which he rationalised the unity of God. Being published in Persian, it antagonised sections of the Muslim community and for the next decade Rammohun travelled to serve with John Digby of the East India Company as munshi and then as Diwan. His English and knowledge of England's Baptist Christianity increased tremendously. He also cultivated friendship in a Jain community to better understand their approach to Hinduism - rejecting priesthood (which for long in Bengal demanded bloody ritual sacrifices) and God itself,
In 1815 after amassing large wealth, enough to leave the Company, Rammohun resettled in Calcutta and started an Atmiya Sabha - as a philosophical discussion circle to debate monotheistic Hindu Vedantism and like subjects. Rammohun's mother, however, had not forgiven him and ironically from 1817 a series of lawsuits were filed accusing Rammohun of apostasy with the object of severing him from the family zamindari. Rammohun countered denouncing his family's practice of sati where widows were burned on their husband's pyres so that they laid no claim to property via the British courts. 1817 was also the year when Rammohun was alienated from Hindu zamindars in an incident concerning the Hindu (later Presidency) College involving David Hare. Hindu public outrage in 1819 also followed Rammohun's triumph in a public debate over idolatry with Subramanya Shastri, a Tamil Brahmin. The victory, however, also exposed chinks in Rammohun's command over Brahmanical scripture and Vedanta whose study he had somewhat neglected. The trusted younger brother of Hariharanda, a Brahmin of great intellect Ram Chunder Vidyabagish was brought in to repair the breech and would be increasingly identified as Rammohun's alter-ego in matters theological for the rest of Rammohun's life especially in matters of Bengali concern and language. By now it was suspected (but never established) that Carey and Marshman were behind Rammohun's English works, a charge repeatedly made by the Hindu zamindars. From time to time Dwarkanath Tagore a young Hindu Zamindar had been attending Sabha meetings and he privately persuaded Rammohun (financially reduced by lawsuits and in constant danger from Hindu assassins) to disband the Atmiya Sabha in 1819 and instead be political agent for him."
From 1819, Rammohun's battery now increasingly turns against Carey and the Serampore missionaries. With Dwarkanath's munificence he launches a series of attacks against Baptist "Trinitarian" Christianity and is now considerably assisted in his theological debates by the Unitarian faction of Christianity." [16]

Middle "Brahmo" period (1820 - 1830)[edit]

This was Rammohun's most controversial period. Commenting on his published works Sivanath Sastri writes:-[17]

"The period between 1820 and 1830 was also eventful from a literary point of view, as will be manifest from the following list of his publications during that period

  • Second Appeal to the Christian Public, Brahmanical Magazine^ Parts I, II and III, with Bengali translation and a new Bengali newspaper called Sambad Kaumudi in 1821;
  • A Persian paper called Mirat-ul-Akbar contained a tract entitled Brief Remarks on Ancient Female Rights and a book in Bengali called Answers to Four Questions in 1822;
  • Third and final appeal to the Christian public, a memorial to the King of England on the subject of the liberty of the press, Ramdoss papers relating to Christian controversy, Brahmanical Magazine, No. IV, letter to Lord Arnherst on the subject of English education, a tract called "Humble Suggestions" and a book in Bengali called "Pathyapradan or Medicine for the Sick," all in 1823 ;
  • A letter to Rev. H. Ware on the " Prospects of Christianity in India" and an "Appeal for famine-smitten natives in Southern India " in 1824 ;
  • A tract on the different modes of worship, in 1825 ;
  • A Bengali tract on the qualifications of a God loving householder, a tract in Bengali on a controversy with a Kayastha, and a Grammar of the Bengali language in English, in 1826;
  • A Sanskrit tract on " Divine worship by Gayatri " with an English translation of the same, the edition of a Sanskrit treatise against caste, and the previously noticed tract called " Answer of a Hindu to the question &c.," in 1827 ;
  • A form of Divine worship and a collection of hymns composed by him and his friends, in 1828 ;
  • "Religious Instructions founded on Sacred Authorities" in English and Sanskrit, a Bengali tract called "Anusthan," and a petition against Suttee, in 1829 ;
  • A Bengali tract, a grammar of the Bengali language in Bengali, the Trust Deed of the Brahmo Samaj, an address to Lord William Bentinck, congratulating him for the abolition of Suttee, an abstract 'in English of the arguments regarding the burning of widows, and a tract in English on the disposal of ancestral property by Hindus, in 1830."

Life in England (1831- 1833)[edit]

In 1830 Ram Mohan Roy travelled to the United Kingdom as an ambassador of the Mughal Empire to ensure that the Lord Bentick's regulation banning the practice of Sati was not overturned. He also visited France.

He died at Stapleton then a village to the north east of Bristol (now a suburb) on the 27th September 1833 of meningitis and was buried in Arnos Vale Cemetery in southern Bristol.

Religious reforms[edit]

The religious reforms of Roy contained in some beliefs of the Brahmo Samaj expounded by Rajnarayan Basu[18] are:-

Social Reforms of Rammohan[edit]

Roy’s political background fit influenced his social and religious to reforms of Hinduism. He writes,

"The present system of Hindus is not well calculated to promote their political interests…. It is necessary that some change should take place in their religion, at least for the sake of their political advantage and social comfort."[19]

Rammohan Roy’s experience working with the British government taught him that Hindu traditions were often not credible or respected by western standards and this no doubt affected his religious reforms. He wanted to legitimize Hindu traditions to his European acquaintances by proving that "superstitious practices which deform the Hindu religion have nothing to do with the pure spirit of its dictates!"[20] The "superstitious practices" Rammohan Roy objected included sati, caste rigidity, polygamy and child marriages.[21] These practices were often the reasons British officials claimed moral superiority over the Indian nation. Rammohan Roy’s ideas of religion actively sought to create a fair and just society by implementing humanitarian practices similar to Christian ideals and thus legitimize Hinduism in the modern world.

Educationist[edit]

Journalist[edit]

Cenotaph[edit]

Epitaph for Ram Mohun Roy on his cenotaph
Cenotaph of Ram Mohun Roy in Arno's Vale Cemetery, Bristol, England

The tomb was built by Dwarkanath Tagore in 1843, 10 years after Rammohun Roy's death (due to meningitis) in Bristol on 27 Sep 1833 and is located in the Arnos Vale Cemetery on the outskirts of Bristol. In 1845, Dwarkanath Tagore arranged for Rammohun's mortal remains to be removed and returned to India through Roy's nephew who had accompanied Dwarkanath for this purpose to Britain. Rammohun's relics were cremated near Kolkatta on 28 Feb 1846 by his family.[23]

Rammohun Roy's memorial contains the following epitaph penned by Dwarkanath:

"To great natural talents, he united through mastery of many languages and distinguished himself as one of the greatest scholars of his day. His unwearied labour to promote the social, moral and physical condition of the people of India, his earnest endeavours to suppress idolatry and the rite of sati and his constant zealous advocacy of whatever tended to advance the glory of God and the welfare of man live in the grateful remembrance of his countrymen."

In September 2006 representatives from the Indian High Commission came to Bristol to mark the anniversary of Ram Mohan Roy's death. During the ceremony Hindu, Muslim and Sikh women sang Sanskrit prayers of thanks.[24]

Following on from this visit the Mayor of Kolkata, Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya (who was amongst the representatives from the India High Commission) decided to raise funds to restore the cenotaph.

In June 2007 businessman Aditya Poddar donated £50,000 towards the restoration of Rammohun's memorial after being approached by the Mayor of Calcutta for funding.[25]

In June 2008 the Arnos Vale restorers conceded that they could not locate Roy's remains at the site "To everyone`s surprise the coffin was not to be seen under the chattri"".[26]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Matthew, H. C. G.; Harrison, B. (2004). "The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography". doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/47673.  edit
  2. ^ page 8, Raja Rammohun Roy - The Renaissance Man, H.D.Sharma, 2002
  3. ^ ibid:2002, H.D.Sharma
  4. ^ Biography published in the Atheneum 1834
  5. ^ An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens
  6. ^ William Carey University
  7. ^ Kaumudi Patrika 12 December 1912
  8. ^ "Essays in Classical and Modern Hindu Law" John Duncan Derrett
  9. ^ "The Life of William Carey (1761-1834) by George Smith (1885) Ch4, p71". Retrieved 2008-12-08. 
  10. ^ Preface to "Fallacy of the New Dispensation" by Sivanath Sastri, 1895
  11. ^ S.D.Collett
  12. ^ Mahanirvana Tantra Of The Great ... - Google Books
  13. ^ Roy, Rama Dev. Some Aspects of the Economic Drain from India during the British RuleSocial Scientist, Vol. 15, No. 3. March 1987.
  14. ^ Bhattacharya, Subbhas. Indigo Planters, Ram Mohan Roy and the 1833 Charter Act Social Scientist, Vol.4, No.3. October 1975.
  15. ^ memorial biography in the Atheneum 1834
  16. ^ Nabble - Origins of Brahmoism - Part 2
  17. ^ Sivanath Sastri, History of the Brahmo Samaj, 1911, 1st ed. pg. 44-46
  18. ^ http://brahmo.org/brahmo-samaj.html
  19. ^ Gauri Shankar Bhatt, "Brahmo Samaj, Arya Samaj, and the Church-Sect Typology" Review of Religions Research. 10. (1968): 24
  20. ^ Rammohan Roy, Translation of Several Principal Book, Passages, and Text of the Vedas and of Some Controversial works on Brahmunical Theology. (London: Parbury, Allen & Company, 1823) 4.
  21. ^ Brahendra N. Bandyopadyay, Rommohan Roy, (London: University Press, 1933) 351.
  22. ^ "Ram Mohun Roy." Main. britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/511196/Ram-Mohun-Roy?view=print. 2009.
  23. ^ page 129-131.Vol.2 :History of the Adi Brahmo Samaj,1898 (1st edn.) publ. by Adi Brahmo Samaj Press, Calcutta
  24. ^ BBC News - City service honours humanitarian
  25. ^ BBC News - £50k restoration for Indian tomb
  26. ^ http://www.thebrahmosamaj.net/articles/restorationJune2008.html

External links[edit]