The Modern Hindu Renaissance (1800 A.D. onwards) came in response to the emergence of many social and religious vices in the Hindu society in India. Many leaders, saints, scholars, social and religious reformers came on to the scene and tried to bring the society back into the tradition of Hindu Dharma. This was the period when social reform movements like Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s ‘Brahmo Samaj’, ‘Prarthana Samaj’, Swami Dayanand Saraswati’s ‘Arya Samaj’ and other such movements became very strong. Mrs. Annie Besant (1847-1933), an Englishwoman, translated and popularized the Bhagwad Gita, and established the Hindu College in Benaras. Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886 A.D.), a famous sage of modern times, infused the true spirit of the Hindu Dharma into his followers. Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) elucidated the Hindu Dharma within and outside India and introduced the Vedanta philosophy to the West. Sri Aurobindo Ghose (1872-1950) eloquently interpreted the basic concepts of the Hindu Dharma and expounded the yoga philosophy for transformation of human consciousness. Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), one of the greatest mystical poets of the world, expounded the Upanishadic philosophy through his songs in ‘Gitanjali’ and in many of his other works. Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) extended non-violence, a Hindu cardinal virtue, to social, national and international affairs. Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888-1975), a philosopher and statesman, interpreted the classical Hindu philosophy in the context of modern world through his scholarly works, such as the ‘Hindu View of Life’.
Originally known as the “Brahmo Sabha”, the Brahmo Samaj was a theistic organisation founded by Raja Ram Mohan Roy, an educated Bengali, at Kolkata in 1828. Two significant factors contributed to the formation of the Brahmo Samaj during the 19th century. Firstly, stagnation in the Hindu social system had set in with too much emphasis being placed on traditional rituals. Secondly, an English educated class of Indians began to emerge to fulfil the administrative and economic needs of the British rule.
Fundamental Principles: The fundamental principles of the Brahmo Samaj are: (1) Existence of only one God, who is infallible and the creator and the saviour of this world (2) Immortality of the human soul, which is capable of infinite progress; (3) Man’s happiness lies in worshipping God in spirit and truth; (4) No object that is created need be worshipped. Further to this, Raja Ram Mohan Roy added: “the true way of serving God is to do good to man.” The Brahmos hold all the great religious leaders of the world in high esteem, and consider all major scriptures as the source of truth. To this extent, the Brahmo religion is truly eclectic, universal and “dogmatically un-dogmatic”.
The Brahmo Samaj opposed idol worship and the adoration of multiple deities of the traditional Hindu faith and sought to rid Hinduism of its perceived social evils by advocating reverting to the teachings of Vedas and Upanishads.
Divisions in the Brahmo Samaj: After the death of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, the Brahmo Samaj got divided into many sects. Debendranath Tagore (Father of Rabindranath Tagore) established the ‘Adi Brahmo Samaj’ and formulated the “Brahmo-upasana” which was a set of readings from the Upanishads. Keshab Chandra Sen, who was founder of the ‘Bharitiya Brahmo Samaj’ or the ‘Naba Bidhan Samaj’, sought to incorporate Christian ideals into the Brahmo Samaj movement. In May 1878, the Brahmo Samaj split yet again when Pandit Shivanath Shastri founded the ‘Sadharan Brahmo Samaj’ owing to differences with Keshab Chandra Sen. In due course these three sects were united to form the “Brahmo Sammilan Samaj” and a temple was built in Bhowanipur in Kolkata, which will celebrate its 125 years in 2012.
Prominent Brahmo Samajis: Raja Ram Mohun Roy, Keshab Chandra Sen, Jagdish Chandra Bose, Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis, Satyajit Ray, Rabindranath Tagore, Debendranath Tagore and Amartya Sen.
Arya Samaj was founded by Swami Dayanand Saraswati at Mumbai 1875 to encourage people to go back to the teachings of Vedas and to dissuade people from the factitious beliefs that had crept into the Hindu Dharma. The goal of the Arya Samaj is ‘Krinvanto Vishvam Aryam’ or to “Make This World Noble”. Arya Samaj started the ‘Shuddhi Movement’ to reconvert the Christians and others into Hinduism.
Fundamental Principles: There are ten fundamental principles of Arya Samaj which include (1) Belief in one Supreme God, who is formless, just and endless, and personifies existence, intelligence and bliss; (2) Vedas are the scriptures of true knowledge and are the words of God. (3) Embrace truth and forsake untruth (4) Righteousness, (5) Benevolence (6) Love and Justice (7) Dispelling ‘avidya’ (nescience) and promoting ‘vidya’ (science), both spiritual and physical and (9) Promoting liberty and the general good of all.
Prominent Arya Samajis: Swami Dayanand Saraswati, Swami Shradhanand, Acharya Ram Dev, Pandit Guru Dutt Vidyarthi and Lala Lajpat Rai.
Prarthana Samaj, founded by R.G. Bhandarkar and M.G. Ranade in Mumbai in 1867, was an offshoot of the Brahmo Samaj. It preached worship of one god like the Brahmo Samaj and tried to free religion from evils like caste system and dominance of priests. Important persons who have worked for promoting the Prarthana Samaj include Kandukuri Veerasalingam and Gopal Ganesh Agarkar.
Dev Samaj was founded by Satyanand Agnihotri at Lahore in 1887. It was atheistic in belief and served the people by establishing several educational institutions.
The Ramakrishna Mission was inaugurated by Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) in 1897. Following his successful defence of Hinduism in 1894 while attending the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago, he established monasteries (‘Mats’) named ‘Ramakrishna’ for religious meditation to spread the message and teachings of his spiritual guru, Ramakrishna Paramhansa. One of its major aims was spreading the universal message of the Vedanta and revival of Hinduism. Swami Vivekanda viewed religion from a modern perspective and strongly condemned evil social practises like untouchability, suppression of women and caste system. He discouraged undue emphasis on rituals and ceremonies and welcomed scientific knowledge. His teachings inspired confidence among the people and generated national pride among the Hindus.
Theosophical Society of India :
The Theosophical Society was first formed in the United States by Madame H.P. Blavatsky, a Russian lady, and Colonel H.S. Olcott, a U.S. military officer. They came to India and were inspired by the Hindu philosophy and scriptures. They formed the Theosophical Society in India in 1886 at Adyar in Madras, which became very popular in India through the efforts of Mrs Annie Besant, an Irish lady, who came to India in 1893. She established the Hindu College at Benaras, which later developed into the Hindu University.