Raja Ram Mohan Roy (also Rammohan Roy) was a great social and religious reformers. At a time when the West knew very little about India, Ram Mohan Roy worked as a link between the East and the West.
Raja Ram Mohan Roy stands among the Indian reformers as a towering personality. With him we usher in a new era filled with the zeal of reforms and modern activities in all the fields, especially those of social, educational and political reforms. In the true sense of the term, he was the maker of modern India with his enlightened ideas.
The task of Raja Ram Monan Roy as a religious and social reformer was not an easy one. His friends were very few, and the value of his work was not acknowledged for a long time. But he was a man of self-confidence and firm determination. He was confident that a day would arrive when his endeavors would ultimately be recognized with gratitude. Though Ram Mohan Roy remained constantly steadfast in his conviction, and it went against his grain to compromise on fundamentals, he was completely free from personal bitterness in controversies, resulting from social and religious reforms which he sought to bring about in the country.
There had been many social reformers before him, who tried to reform the religious and social life of India to grow further. But none of them had such clear vision for the future of India. The contribution of Raja Ram Mohan Roy can never be denied.
His Life, Works and social Reforms
Raja Ram Mohan Roy was born on 22nd May, 1772. His father, Ramakanta Roy, was an orthodox Hindu Brahmin strictly following the Sastras, and his mother, Phulthakurani, was a woman of intelligence and considerable firmness of character. Both father and mother played a dominant role in molding the character of Ram Mohan Roy.
Raja Ram Mohan Roy visited many places. At the end of some years’ wandering, Ram Mohan Roy went to Varanasi where he studied Sanskrit. Within a few years, he had all the scriptures at his finger-tips, particularly the Upanishads and the Gita.
His knowledge of ancient religious, secular and philosophical literature was so comprehensive that he could easily enter into polemical discussions with the pundits. He attempted to show the general unity of thought among mankind regarding the existence of One Being. The differences among them appear only when they start giving peculiar attributes to that Being.
He tried to bring out the fact that faith in the unity of Reality and recognition of human values are the cardinal principles of all religions. Subsequently, the acceptance of the fundamental unity of all religions becomes a leading feature of the Indian thought. This is evident in the writings of Vivekananda, Tagore and Radhakrishnan.
The most important event which brought fame to Ram Mohan Roy was the establishment of Brahmo Samaj in 1828. After the failure of the Unitarian association, the followers of Ram Mohan felt the urgent necessity of establishing an institution solely devoted to Unitarian and monotheistic worship. As a result, the Brahma Sabha, later knows as the Brahmo Samaj, came into being on August 20, 1828. It is clear from the text of the Trust deed of the Sabha that Ram Mohan did not contemplate the Brahma Sabha as an institution of a new religious sect. he wanted the monotheists of all religions to use the premises of the Sabha as their own. He also wished this institution to be a meeting ground of the people of all religious denominations who believed in one God, who is formless, eternal, unsearchable and immutable.
Ram Mohan Roy called himself a follower of the Universal Religion. He told one of his friends that after his death the Hindus would claim him as their own, the Muslims would do the same, and as also the Christians, but he belonged to no sect as he was the devotee of Universal religion.
The ideas of the Brahmo Samaj gradually spread far beyond Bengal and created an atmosphere of liberalism, rationalism and modernity which greatly influenced Indian thought. But, the fact is, the emergence of a ‘new religion’ in India – was impossible of realization.
However, the philosophy of Brahmo Samaj left its decisive influence on the Indian thought. Today its followers are few in number, but that is because the needs that necessitated its origin and growth have been fulfilled. Since its mission has been accomplished during the course of time through the efforts of many distinguished persons and devout social reformers, it has now lost its importance. But about a century back it did a commendable service to the Hindu society and to the country at large.
Contribution of Raja Ram Mohan Roy
The contributions of Raja Ram Mohan Roy are as follows:
Raja Ram Mohan Roy as a religious reformer:
Raja Ram Mohan’s knowledge of various scriptures led him to believe that India’s regeneration was possible by a synthesis of what was good of Indian culture with what was best in Western culture. This belief inspired him to reform Hindu religion. In 1815, he founded ‘Atmiya Sabha’ for propagating the monotheistic ideas of Hindu scriptures. In 1828, he founded the ‘Brahmo Sabha’ to preach monotheism. His purpose was to preach monotheism based on the Vedanta, not to establish a new sect.
Modernizer as an educational reformer
Ram Mohan Roy looked upon western education as a major instrument of modernization of India. He felt that the Indians would fail to build a progressive modern society if they neglected the cultivation of western education. In his letter to Lord Amherst in 1823, he pleaded for English as the medium of instruction. He maintained an English school in Calcutta.
As a social reformer
Humanism and rationalism inspired Ram Mohan Roy to reform the society. He worked for many years for the abolition of Sati. He roused public opinion on the question and submitted petitions to the government. He held, ‘The first – object of my heart is the benefit of the Hindus’. So, he issued legislation in 1829 prohibiting the burning Hindu widows.
Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s political ideas
Ram Mohan was the first political thinker of modern India. He preferred constitutional monarchy. He fought for freedom of press. He believed in both nationalism and internationalism.
As a Progressive and Liberal Thinker
The term ‘modernization’ indicates the introduction of progressive and dynamic ideas in the society. During the 18th and 19th centuries, new morals and manners emerged from intellectual revolution. The Bengal was pioneer in welcoming them and Raja Ram Mohan Roy was the man who inaugurated the Modern Age in India.
Ram Mohan Roy thus dealt with various problems of his day and led the country to progress and modernity. He was only the pioneer of all the progressive movements in India, but was also responsible for the constitutional agitation in the country. He has been called the father of modern India, the first earnest-minded investigator of the science of comparative religion, one of the greatest reformers of his time and the harbinger of the idea of universal humanism.
If we follow the right line of his development we shall find that he led the way from the Orientalism of the past towards a civilization which is neither western nor eastern, but something vastly larger and nobler than both.
Raja Ram Mohan Roy died at Stapleton Hill near Bristol (England) on the 27th September, 1833.