The Modern Hindu Renaissance (1800 AD - Present) witnessed the emergence of many social and religious vices in the Hindu society in India. Many leaders, saints, scholars, social and religious reformers came up 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, now known as the Benaras Hindu University. Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886 AD), a famous sage of modern times, infused the true spirit of Hindu Dharma into his followers. Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) elucidated 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 the 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, statesman, and the second President of India, interpreted the classical Hindu philosophy in the context of the modern world through his numerous scholarly works, such as Hindu View of Life.
The Brahma Samaj was a theistic organisation founded by Raja Ram Mohan Roy, an educated Bengali, at Calcutta in 1828. It was initially known as the "Brahmo Sabha". Two factors contributed to the formation of the Brahmo Samaj during the 19th century. Firstly the Hindu social system had begun to stagnate and placed too much emphasis on traditional rituals. Secondly, an English educated class of Indians began to emerge to fulfill the administrative and economic needs of British rule.
The fundamental principles of the Brahmo Samaj are:(1) There is only one God, who is the Creator and the Saviour of this world. He is spirit, infinite in power, wisdom, love, justice and holiness, omnipresent, eternal and blissful. (2) The human soul is immortal and capable of infinite progress, and is responsible to God for its doings. (3) Man's happiness in this and the next world consists in worshipping God in spirit and in truth. (4) Loving God, holding communion with Him and carrying out His will in all the concerns of life, constitute true worship. (5) No created object is to be worshipped as God, and God alone is to be considered as infallible.
To this, Raja Ram Mohan Roy added:
"the true way of serving God is to do good to man." Since no one person is considered to be infallible, the Brahmos hold all the great religious leaders of the world in respect, and believe that truth is to be gleaned from all the scriptures of the world. To that extent, the Brahmo religion is truly eclectic. Universalist in nature, it is "dogmatically un-dogmatic". The Brahmo Samaj rejected idol worship and the worship of multiple gods and goddesses of the traditional Hindu beliefs. It sought to purge Hinduism of its social evils by advocating the teachings of Vedas and Upanishads. The Brahmo Samaj has played a significant role in the renaissance of India, and the roots of much of the modern thinking in India can be traced back to the Brahmo movement. After initially evolving in India, the Brahmo religion is now practised in many parts of the world.
Divisions in the Brahmo Samaj:
Raja Ram Mohan Roy was much influenced by the Western thought, especially Christianity. He was one of the first Hindus to visit Europe, where he was much admired by the intellectuals. After the death of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Brahmo Samaj got divided into many sects. Debendranath Tagore (Father of Rabindranath Tagore) took an active interest in the Brahmo Samaj and began to transform the Brahmo Samaj into a spiritual fraternity. He established the Adi Brahmo Samaj and formulated the "Brahmo-upasana" which was a set of readings from the Upanishads. Debendranath Tagore's successor was Keshab Chandra Sen. He sought to incorporate Christian ideals into the Brahmo Samaj movement. He began the compilation of a scripture including passages from the Holy Books of many religions - Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and Muslim. He founded the Bharitiya Brahmo Samaj or the Naba Bidhan Samaj. Another split took place in the Brahmo Samaj in May 1878 when the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj was founded by Pandit Shivanath Shastri, owing to differences with Keshab Chandra Sen. Eventually these three were united to form the "Brahmo Sammilan Samaj" and a "mandir" was built in Bhowanipur, Calcutta, which celebrated its centenary in 1997.
Prominent Brahmo Samajis:
Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Keshad Chandra Sen, Jagdish Chandra Bose, Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis, Satyajit Ray, Rabindranath Tagore, Debendranath Tagore and Amartya Sen.
Prarthana Samaj, founded by R.G.Bhandarkar and M.G.Ranade in Bombay in 1867, was an offshoot of the Brahmo Samaj. Like Brahmo Samaj, it also preached worship of one god and tried to free religion from various evils like caste system and dominance of priests. The other persons who worked for promoting the principles of the Prarthana Samaj include Gopal Ganesh Agarkar and Kandukuri Veerasalingam.
Arya Samaj was founded in 1875 at Bombay by Swami Dayanand Saraswati to move the Hindu Dharma away from all the factitious beliefs and to go back to the teachings of Vedas. The goal of the Arya Samaj is Krinvanto Vishvam Aryam i.e. to Make This World Noble. Arya Samaj started the Suddhi Movement to reconvert the Christians and others into Hinduism.
Fundamental Principles of Arya Samaj:
There are ten fundamental principles of Arya Samaj which include (1) Believe in one Supreme God. (2) God is personification of Existence, Intelligence and Bliss. He is Formless, Almighty; Just, Benevolent, Unborn, Endless and Infinite (3) The Vedas are the scriptures of true knowledge and are the words of God. (4) Embrace truth and forsake untruth (5) Righteousness, (6) Benevolence (7) Love and Justice (8) To dispel avidya (nescience) and promote vidya (science), both spiritual and physical. (9) Promoting good of all and (10) Subordination and Liberty.
The Arya Samaj organization is live and sound in all parts of the world. Arya Samaj has branches in countries around the world including United States, Canada, Guyana, Surinam, Trinidad, Mexico, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Malawi, Mauritius, Pakistan, Burma, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Australia.
Prominent Arya Samajis:
Swami Dayanand Saraswati, Swami Shradhanand, Acharya Ram Dev, Pandit Guru Dutt Vidyarthi and Lala Lajpat Rai.
The Ramkrishna Mission was inaugurated by Swami Vivekananda(1863-1902) in 1897 to spread the message and teachings of his spiritual guru, the famous Bhakti saint Ramkrishna Paramhansa. One of the major aims for establishing the Ramkrishna Mission was the spread of the universal message of the Vedanta and the revival of Hinduism. In 1894 Swami Vivekananda attended the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago and became famous by his eloquent defence of Hinduism. In 1897 he established Mats or monasteries named after Ramakrishna for religious meditation. Vivekanda was very modern in his outlook and denounced untouchability, poverty and suppression of women. He condemned the caste system and undue emphasis on rituals and ceremonies. He welcomed the knowledge of science and said that it does not contradict religion. His teachings inspired courage, confidence and 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, an American military officer. They came to India and were inspired by the Hindu philosophy and Hindu scriptures. They formed the headquarters of Theosophical Society in India in 1886 at Adyar in Madras. The Theosophical Society became very popular in India under Mrs Annie Besant, an Irish lady, who came to India in 1893. She established the central Hindu College at Benaras, which later developed into the Hindu University.
This movement was started in the early 20th century by the untouchable castes of Kerala called Ezhavas, under the leadership of Narayan Guru, to fight against the caste system.
It was an intermediate caste movement launched in Madras around 1915-16 by C.N.Mudaliar, T.M.Nair and P.Thyagaraja on behalf of Intermediate castes like Mudaliars, Chettairs, Reddys, Kammas and Nairs to counter the Brahimin predominance in different fields.
This movement was started by Dr B.R.Ambedkar in late 1920s for the upliftment of the untouchable Mahar castes of Maharashtra.
This movement was started by Jyotiba Phule in Maharashtra in 1873 to "save the lower castes from the hypocritical Brahmins and their opportunistic scriptures".
This radical movement was started by E.V.Ramaswamy ('Periyar') in 1925 in Madras against the Brahmin domination.