The word Brahmo is an adjective form of the word Brahman, the God of the Upanisads and the Vedanta philosophy. Samaj is a noun meaning ‘society’. Therefore Brahmo Samaj means ‘Society of God/Brahman’.
Brahmo Samaj was founded in Calcutta by Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833) who used to help Serampore missionaries in translation of the Bible (NT) in Bengali. But their collaboration ceased very soon.
For a period of time Roy & Rev.W.Adams, one of Serampore missionaries, formed Unitarian Mission and opened a mission in Calcutta under a Committee of Europeans and Indians. After little success was attained the mission was given up. (Its reason was Roy & Adam could not work well).
After Unitarian Mission failed Roy started to conduct worshisp service in Bengali. The first meeting held on 20th Aug.1828. The first name of the group was Brahmo Sabha means ‘Brahman Association’ or ‘Association of Brahman’. It soon changed into Brahmo Samaj which means ‘Brahman Society’ or ‘Society of Brahman’.
Motives, Social & Religious Reforms of Brahmo Somaj
A) Social motives with Regular meeting/worship & routine
(1) B.S. met every Saturday evening fr.7-9 P.M. (In Hinduism there is no regular worship services or meetings as it had been done in Xnity).
- Chanting of selections from Upanisads in Sanskrit. (No such regular practice had done in popular Hdsm).
- Translation of Upanisadic passages into Bengali.(Not emphasized).
- A sermon in Bengali. (No contextualisation in Hdsm).
- Singing of theistic songs composed by Roy in Sanskrit and Bengali.(New practice to learn new songs in Hindu worship).
Although Roy adopted Christian practice of regular service, according to him, India would inevitably remain Indian. But Roy didn’t believe in transmigration of souls.(perhaps due to influence of Christianity & Islam).
B) Doctrinal motives:
- Avoidance of idolatry, polytheism and sacrifices.
- Emphasis on monotheism.
- Emphasis on authority of Upanisads and the Vedanta sutra.
Doctrinal motives of Brahmo Samaj had shown by the remarkable document of the B.S. called Trust Deed containing the followings:
- Brahmo Samaj building should be used as a place of public meeting for all people.
- Worship should be in an orderly devote manner.
- God should be worshipped as Eternal Unsearchable and Immutable, and not under or by any other title.(no naming of God).
- The god or any other objects of worship by any religious group would not reviled.
- No sacrifice allowed.
- No image or idol portrait would be allowed.
- Sermons, prayers, hymns, etc. should promote contemplation of God, charity, moral piety, benevolence, virtue; and they should strengthen the bonds of union among the people of different faiths.
- Roy laid down that no graven image, statue or sculpture, curving, painting, picture, portrait or the likeness of anything should be admitted within the said buildings.
Contribution of Brahmo Samaj :
- Monotheisic belief in God-oneness of God.
- Respect to all religions and their scriptures.
- Establishment and strengthening of the bonds of union among people of all faiths.
- Attempt to established universal religion & deistic theology & worship. Deism is the belief in the existence of god without accepting revelation, natural religion. (Note :Aleyamma Zachariah wrote, “During Roy’s time there was no prayer in the worship service of the Brahmo Samaj).
- Ethical and moral principles of Brahmo Samaj stirred and influenced by that of Xnty.
6. Brahmo Samaj did a great contribution for security of women –
(i) Its founder’s agitation against Sati from 1818 onwards promoted security for women. This is religio-social contribution for the survival and security of women-particularly widows. Roy’s reading/study of Smriti texts from Manu, and other law-givers led him affirm that even for those who favoured Sati
(ii) Roy pointed out that Hindu law-givers taught that polygamy was contrary to Hindu law and it permitted only in the case of sickness.-
(iii) Roy wrote two pamphlets on property rights and supported women’s right to inherit the property of their fathers and husbands. He did this from humanitarian grounds but he based his point on his quotations of Smriti literature.Roy supported the study of English language and western science to let Indian education prosper. In 1833 the Govt.passed a resolution favouring Eng.edu.
7. Roy founded and edited a Bengali journal called Sermvad Kaumudi for the emancipation of the Press in 183-?
8. Roy, through his founding of Brahmo Samaj, “inaugurated the modern age in India”. He has known as ‘the father of Indian Renaissance’.
9. He removed a lot of social and religious evils in India. Ramsay Mac Donald said, “The Brahmo Samaj was unwilling to desert Hdsm, but was willing to become liberal and respond to the impact of Western faiths.”
Possible Reaction/Critique of the People to Brahmo Samaj.
Negative & Positive Points:
- Orthodox Hindus strongly hated Roy and his attempt to abolish the practice of Sati.
- Roy disliked by the Hindus due to his attack on several Hindu practices like polygamy, sacrifice, etc.
- Doctrinally Roy severely opposed by Hindu friends due to his rejection to Transmigration of souls. His adoption of Christian pattern of worship, religiosity, spirituality & leadership, too, was not acceptable to Hindu friends.
- No acceptance to sacrificial worship and priesthood of Brahmins only. (Roy strictly accepted caste system but loosen the practice of sacrifice by Brahmins). But he was not willing to desert Hinduism.
- Roy had a tendency of becoming liberal in his social and political views due to his positive response to the impact of Western faiths. He was a free thinker in religious matters.
- Roy led Brahmo Samaj with his constant interest and advocacy of social reforms and establishment of Western scientific education.
- Roy also was advocate of religious reform based on what he considered the Upanisadic doctrine of monotheism or Unitarianism. This was the basis of his foundation of Brahmo Samaj for teaching and practicing the worship of the one, supreme, undivided eternal god.
- There is also a point of criticism to accuse the Brahmo Samaj as moving away from the early doctrine of Vedic infallibility to a principle of natural and universal theism.
- As the time went on and the division of Brahmo Samaj into two/three Samajes there began a tendency for leaning upon the religious teachings of the Christians. Its great leader Kesub Chandra Sen, who formed the Brahmo Samaj of India; considered himself a disciple of Jesus while he deeply drawn to the Goddess Kali, divine mother of Bengali religion. Later he formed Church of New Dispensation, a synthesis of Hinduism, Islam and Christianity.