The Biography of Famous Personalities of India will tell you about the controversies, the dark sides of a person that you may have never heard of.
Raja Ram Mohan Roy is A Great Reformer
A Great Reformer
Fondly called the ‘Maker of Modern India’, Religious, Social and Educational reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy was a visionary who lived during one of India’s darkest social phases but strived hard to make India a better place for the future generations to come.
Religious reforms introduced by him have helped India to attain freedom of expression in many ways. In the initial days, his differences with his father regarding the concept of idol- worship took a serious turn. He was a man who thought-free. In the Upanishads and Vedas, there are writings on freedom of thought. Ram Mohan admired this spirit of freedom. He proclaimed that simple living and high thinking should be a man’s motto in life. And he lived accordingly. Ram Mohan always believed that God does not reside in any idol and vehemently opposed idol worship.
After finishing his studies Ram Mohan Roy worked for British East India Company at many places in Bengal, before finally settling in Calcutta in 1815. He had already published several books by then. First among his books were written in Persian language with the preface written in Arabic. It was a direct attack on idol worship.
After he moved to Calcutta, Ram Mohan Roy became very much involved in social and literary works. He, even translated the Upanishads written in Sanskrit language into Bengali language. He also published several works in English condemning the Sati, and also indulged in debates with traditional scholars on the rights of Hindu women.
He also contested the assertions of Christian missionaries that their religion was better to all others. He, in the year 1815, founded the Atmiya Sabha or Friendship Association, as it is also known as, among other things, he went in search for elements common to various religious traditions.
By this time, Ram Mohan Roy himself came to believe in the concept of omnipresence of God, who is the only proper object of religious veneration, is one and undivided in person. He also stated that this was the very message of Vedic literature and of the Bible and Holy Quran as well. He started to promote messages about inter-religious understandings and in the process wrote a book on precepts of Jesus Christ and began to work on life of Prophet Muhammad.
While he was involved in the process of revolution, he was soundly abused by traditional Hindus, who derided them as sinful atheists and moderns blinded by passions. He was not supported by the British as well. They criticized that he resisted conversion and that his high regard for Jesus did not expand to acknowledging his religion.
Roy in the year 1816 opened a school for boys, whose medium of instruction was English. In 1821 he started a weekly newspaper in Bengali language (first of its kind in any Indian language). Thereafter he started a paper in Persian as well (of which, as with its Bengali predecessor, he wrote all the contents). He founded the Brahmo Samaj (the Society of God), 1828 which sermonized the love and worship of the One God on the basis of what its creator claimed were the innovative wisdom of Vedas.
There were, however, some Christian priests who were happy at Roy’s enthusiasm and interest for doctrines of Christianity. They even suggested that he should convert to Christianity. These priests could not understand the mind of Ram Mohan Roy who was staunch believer of Hinduism. He had immense admiration and respect for Vedas and Upanishads in Hinduism religion, which he had studied deeply.
Some men spoke lightly of the Vedas and the Upanishads. Ram Mohan Roy gave them a very clear answer:
“There is only one God in the universe. He has no form and qualities which men can describe. He is full of joy. Every living being has an element of God. These noble ideas sparkle in the Upanishads. Moreover, these books support people to reflect for themselves, they strike out original paths. They do not chain man’s intelligence.”
Just as he damned the dreadful customs of the Hindus he condemned the superstitions of the followers of other religions also.
Ram Mohan Roy’s career as an active religious reformer began only after he had settled permanently in Calcutta in his mid-thirties, though the ‘Tuhfat-ul-Muwahhiddin’ was written in 1804. The year 1815 is the most remarkable period in his life. His many sided attack against prevailing practices was launched at this period as by this time, he had studied the ancient classical literature of Sanskrit and Arabic and became acquainted with new forces that were emerging in the West.
Roy established the ‘Atmiya Sabha’ in which verses from the Upanishads were discussed and hymns composed by him and his friends were sung. They held debate on subjects like Sati, idol worship and polygamy related to kulinism. He had to use his powerful pen to make the people realise about the faults and weak points of old customs and prevailing practices. He wanted to take the knowledge of scriptures to the masses so that they could come to know that the teachings of the sacred books were very different from what were practiced by the people.
Between 1815 and 1819, Roy translated the original works of the Vedanta and the Upanishads in Bengali. A Bengali translation of the Vedantasutra of Badarayana according to Sankara’s commentary was published in 1815. The Vedantasara in Bengali, the abridgment of Vedanta in English and Bengali and the English translation of Kena Upanishad were published in 1817. He wrote against idolatry and priesthood and in favour of monotheism. At that same time, he started publishing a Bengali weekly ‘Sambad Kaumudi’ which was followed in 1822 by a Persian weekly—the ’Mirat-ul-Akbar’.
In Sambad Kaumudi Ram Mohan Roy wrote tracts in Bengali and also translated them in English in order to make the people understand that the practice of ‘Sati’ was not sanctioned by the Shastras. Lord William Bentinck, with the help of Ram Mohan Roy declared the rite of Sati as ‘illegal and punishable by the Criminal Courts’ in India by Regulation XVII on 4th December, 1829.
Further to religion and Sati practice, Ram Mohan Roy’s attention was caught by education. He laid stress on education as instrument for the liberation of man from all kinds of evils and degenerating influence in life. He was a pioneer of modern education in India. Himself a great scholar of Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian and English, he advocated the learnings of Western knowledge and science. He founded the first English School ‘Anglo-Indian (Hindu) School’ in Calcutta in 1822. He was also behind the setting up of Hindu College in the same year. He established the Vedanta college for inculcating the principle of monotheism of Vedanta along with Western science and philosophy.
Educational reforms of Ram Mohan Roy improved the learning system in the country. The socio-economic and the political condition of the 19th century India made the learning and education necessary in India. The learning of English and Western education became indispensable. However, the historians have opined that primarily the economic factor was responsible for the introduction of the English language and the western literature. In British India, a system of education was necessary which could help to earn livelihood. Due to these circumstances, the aspects of education became wider in India.
The Western education in India spread mainly due to the efforts of the progressive Indian elements that promoted the social reforms. Social reforms of Ram Mohan Roy not only liberated India from the shackles of superstitions but also introduced a new system of education in India. Ram Mohan Roy believed education to be an implement for social reform. He protested against the government’s policy to strengthen the Sanskrit Colleges in the Presidency Towns of Kolkata, Varanasi and Chennai and urged for the establishment of more oriental colleges.
He wrote to Lord Amherst that education of Sanskrit language and Sanskrit literature would do nothing and had no practical use. Rather he requested him to promote the Western education in India. He felt that the youths could not adapt themselves according to the changing societies if they cling to the age-old Vedantic philosophy or doctrines. Ram Mohan Roy was the chief advocate of the modern process of education and the scientific learning. The improvement of native people was the chief motive of Ram Mohan Roy.
Therefore, he helped the British government to promote a more liberal and enlightened system in learning. In the new system of education he introduced the subjects of practical use like Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, Chemistry, and Anatomy with other useful sciences. The protests of Ram Mohan Roy found expression when the Government was agreed to encourage the study of English as well as the other oriental languages.
A grant was sanctioned for the Calcutta Hindu College, which was set up in the year 1817 by the enlightened Bengalis. The Hindu College was set up with the intention of imparting education in English. The system of education of the Hindu College also emphasized the study of Western Humanities and the Sciences.
Ram Mohan Roy formed an association of English and Hindu scholars. He started a college also and arranged for the teaching of modern subjects like English, Science, Mathematics, and Political Science. Not only had the introduction of Western education, Ram Mohan Roy also promoted the growth and prosperity of the women education. He strongly believed that unless the womenfolk were educated, the society would not be liberated from the evils. Thus Raja Ram Mohan Roy promoted the Western education, and India during that time witnessed a great progress in the field of education.
Social Reforms by Raja Ram Mohan Roy have helped India to come out of the jinx of social taboo and malpractices. He was brought up in a wealthy family, and was witness to all the aspects of Brahmin culture that was prevalent in Bengal during that time. Moderately prosperous landowners, Ram Mohan’s ancestors had served for several generations as revenue officials under the Mughals. Ram Mohan Roy was married twice before he entered his teens, this being customary among high-caste families, among whom child marriage and polygamy were both very common.
When the practice of sati was legally abolished in 1829, the credit for its abolition was given to the Governor General, Lord William Bentinck. However, as a contemporary English observer, herself a woman, pointed out—the legislation could not have been brought about but for the powerful though unacknowledged aid of the great Hindu philosopher Ram Mohan Roy. Roy’s great contribution towards this reform was to demonstrate that sati was not a religious duty sanctioned or upheld by Hindu scriptural tradition.
Through the 1820s, Roy’s ideas were being propagated through his Bengali newspaper, which was called the Sambad Kaumudi, or the ’Moon of Intelligence’.
In December 1921, the Calcutta Journal, a periodical of (and for) the English in India, wrote of Roy’s newspaper that ’she will be the means of the moral and intellectual renovation of India’. Nine years later, a London magazine described the Sambad Kaumudi as ‘the Morning Chronicle of India, advocating freedom, civil and religious, opposed to corruption and tyranny, and labouring, we are happy to say effectively and extensively, to eradicate the idolatrous rites of the Brahmins, and awaken the Hindus to a sense of the degradation and misery into which they have been plunged’.
In 1830 Ram Mohan Roy was sent by the then much- weakened Mughal emperor to England, to petition the King to increase his allowance and perquisites. Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s visit to England made a lot of difference in the social structure of India. There he met with officials of the East India Company, lobbied with members of Parliament, was granted an audience with the King and wrote and published books on Indian economics and law.
He exchanged views with British Utilitarians and English Socialists and also travelled to Paris. His biographer Sophia Dobson Collet remarks that ‘as he had interpreted England to India, so now he interpreted India to England’. In London, he watched with interest from the sidelines as Parliament passed the Reform Bill of 1831, which extended the franchise to a greater number of British men.