Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s Family, Early Life and Brahmo Samaj

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Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s Family, Early Life and Brahmo Samaj

Family and Early Life

Raja Ram Mohan Roy was born on May 22, 1772 into a traditional Brahmin family at Radhanagar, a village in the Hooghly district in Bengal. He was the son of Ramakanto Roy and Tarini Devi who were devoted Hindus of the Vaishnava Sect and socially conservative in outlook.

His parents were highly devotional towards God. They had immense faith in God and religion in general, and performed all the duties set down by their religion.

Right from his young age, Ram Mohan Roy was devoted to Lord Vishnu. He would not put down the ‘Bhagavantha’ without completing the reading of Valmiki Ramayana but when he came to know that his mother also was fasting, he had his food for her sake. In his 14th year he was about to become a monk. But his mother came in his way.

Under his father’s roof he received the elements of native education, and also learnt the Persian language.

During the Muslim rule in India the language used was Persian. Proper knowledge of Persian and Arabic was also very essential to get employment or to correspond with the government.

He was afterwards sent to Patna to learn Arabic and lastly to Banaras to obtain a knowledge of Sanskrit, the sacred language of the Hindus.

His teacher at Patna set him to study Arabic translations of some of the writings of Aristotle and Euclid, it is probable that the training thus given strengthened his mind in acuteness and close reasoning, while the knowledge which he acquired of the Islam religion from Muslims whom he esteemed, contributed to cause that searching examination of the faith in which he was educated which led him eventually to the important efforts he made to restore it to its early simplicity.

His comparative study of the various Scriptures led him to discover the fundamental unity of all religions in their doctrines and principles, mainly the belief in monotheistic religion and universal brotherhood of man.

Believers of God that lived in India during that period worshipped idols and pictures of the same, and Ram Mohan wondered over the existence of God in any such form. He did not believe in idol worship, he opposed them, and also religious festivals at home. On the other hand, his father— who was a very firm believer in idol-worship, felt Ram Mohan was doing wrong. He often advised him but the son did not change his mind. Owing to differences with his father, Ram Mohan left the house.

Ram Mohan was at the age of fifteen when he left his parental home and wandered for two or three years in Tibet and Himalyas. There he studied Buddhist and Tantrik traditions.

Later on he received his education in Sanskrit language and Sanskrit literature as well. After his marriage, he went to Varanasi and studied the Vedas, the Upanishads and Hindu philosophy deeply. When his father died in 1803 Ram Mohan returned home.

After returning from there, again, he turned his attention in studying the ancient books of Hindus in Sanskrit and other languages. At this time, he published his first writing ‘Tuhfat- ul-Muwahhiddin’ as a small pamphlet on monotheism and a protest against the idolatry of all religions. It showed that from a very early age, his rational mind did not permit him to accept the prevailing beliefs and arguments in favour of the religious customs.

In 1803, he began to work for the East India Company in the Revenue Department. He learned English under the guidance of Mr Digby and read the works of contemporary European writers on politics, history, law and economics. In 1809, he was transferred to Rangpur as Dewan to the Collector of the district. Thereafter, he took retirement from the service in 1815 and settled down in Calcutta.

Ram Mohan Roy lived in a period when child marriage and sati was highly practised among the people in society. Wives were burnt along with the dead husband whether she was willing or not. Girls were married off when they were five or six years old. Ram Mohan was sick and tired of these practices. Though he had high regard for Hindu religion but he felt that Hindus had yet to know about the religion correctly. He preached for equality among men and women, and said people should also give up superstitious beliefs.

Roy tried to bring about a change in society and as a result gathered few like-minded people for the process. An association of such close friends was formed. It was called ‘Atmiya Sabha’. Religious discussions took place there. The members had to give up idol-worship. They had to spread the Society’s views on religion among the people.

When Roy was in Calcutta, he made immense contributions for the betterment of the poor people. He visited the houses of poor and needy people, in slums and talked to them and helped them out with food and money.

Ram Mohan Roy had three wives before the age of ten which was also a result of the old customs and practices. His first wife died in childhood. He had two sons, Radhaprasad, born 1800, and Ramaprasad, born 1812, with his second wife, who died in 1824. He was survived by his third wife.

Brahmo Samaj

Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Brahmo Samaj, which literally denotes communities of men who worship Brahman, are interlinked. Ram Mohan Roy has played a crucial role towards the foundation of Brahmo Samaj. The Brahmo Samaj was set up on 20th August 1828, and formed a strong platform for Ram Mohan’s expression of universal worship.

At the beginning weekly services were organized, every Saturday. Later of course, it was transferred to Wednesday, a practice which has been retained to this day at the Brahma mandir of Rabindranath Tagore’s Shantiniketan in the Birbhum district of West Bengal.

Earlier Ram Mohan Roy and his admirers and followers used to attend prayers in the church of Christian sect. Disciple of Ram Mohan Roy wondered why they should not have a prayer Hall of their own. Ram Mohan approved this idea. As a result they hired a building opened a Prayer Hall called “Brahmo Samaj”.

The members of the organization, used to meet every Saturday. Vedic hymns and music of Upanishads were chanted by scholars. Religious discourses were held where Ram Mohan Roy recited religious poems composed by him. Muslim and Christian boys sang songs in Persian and English. Many Hindus and people from foreign lands also attended these meetings.

There is only one God. None equals Him. He has no end. He is present in all living beings’—this was the faith of the Brahma’s. This was the message of Ram Mohan Roy. The Brahmo Samaj did not recognize differences of caste, creed, race or nationality. It emphasized the idea of universal brotherhood.

Raja Ram Mohan Roy through Brahmo Samaj highly emphasized that all men are equal and had full faith in the brotherhood of man. The Brahmo Samaj opposed many evils, which were prevalent in the Indian society such as Casteism, Polygamy, Child marriage, Sati system and Untouchability.

Roy was famous for his long and successful campaign for the abolition of ‘Sati’, self immolation of widows on the funeral pyre of their husbands. He wrote articles to show that the sacred books of Hindus did not sanction Sati and appealed to the reason, humanity and compassion of the people. The rite of Sati was the most furious social evil in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The Sati practice was prevalent in the Hindu society from a long time past. From ancient time it is known to have been in vogue.

After visiting Vijayanagar an Italian traveler in 1420-21, wrote that at the same time a large number of women had to die on the funeral pyre of their husbands. “Akbar tried to suppress this practice among the Hindus and it is also said that earlier Jahangir too made a law of death penalty for this offence but could not carry it out in action”.

Some rulers of ancient time tried to abolish this evil practice. The Peshwa Baji Rao abolished it in his dominions. In the tenure of Lord Corn Wallis, some officers were permitted to remove this evil practice by force but they did not stop it earnestly.

Raja Ram Mohan Roy opposed this heinous practice: A case had occurred in his own family when the widow of his elder brother Jagmohan Roy committed Sati in 1811.

Raja Ram Mohan Roy published many books in Bengali and also reinsulated into English for defence of practice of Sati. In 1818 his first tract was published and in 1819 the second one in Bengali and also translated it in 1820. Raja Ram Mohan Roy said in his works that of Hindu authorities of religion, Manu was the greatest, the most famous and trustworthy law giver might alone would be equal to any doze others put together.

He cited:
“Let her emaciate her body by living voluntarily on pure flowers, roots and fruits, but let her not, when her Lord is deceased, even pronounce the name of another man, let her continue till death forgiving all injuries, performing harsh duties, avoiding every seasonal pleasure and cheerful practicing them in comparable rules of virtue which have been followed by such woman as were devoted to only one husband”.

He quoted the views contained in Kathopanishad, Bhagvad Geeta and Mandakpanishad had in favour of his arguments and ideas. He emphasized that the science by which a knowledge of God is attained is superior to all other knowledge.

Raja Ram Mohan Roy published his second tract in 1819 and also pronounced Sati as against the shastra. He said, “The practice, therefore, of forcibly tying down women to the pyre and burning them to death is inconsistent with the shastras, and highly sinful. It is of no consequence to affirm that this is customary in any particular country if it were universally practiced the murders would still be criminal. The pretence, that may be followed in matters where no particular rules are prescribed in the shastra, is not to be justified by the practice of few.”