Ram Mohan Roy :The Father of the Indian Renaissance

MAJOR KULBIR SINGH. Dated: 7/17/2017 10:47:12 AM


‘It was he who first introduced the word “Hinduism” into the English language in 1816. For his diverse activities and contributions to society, Raja Ram Mohan Roy is regarded as one of the most important and contentious figures in the Bengali renaissance. His efforts to protect Hinduism and Indian rights and his closeness with the British government earned him the title “The Father of the Indian Renaissance”. Ram Mohan Roy was born in Radhanagar, Arambagh subdivision, Hooghly District, Bengal Presidency, in 1772, into the Rarhi Brahmin caste. His father Ramkanta was a Vaishnavite, while his mother Tarinidevi was from a Shivaite family.’


Major Kulbir Singh

Raja Ram Mohan Roy (22 May 1772 – 27 September 1833) was the founder of the Brahmo Sabha movement in 1828, which engendered the Brahmo Samaj, an influential socio-religious reform movement. His influence was apparent in the fields of politics, public administration and education as well as religion. He was known for his efforts to establish the abolishment of the practice of sati, the Hindu funeral practice in which the widow was compelled to sacrifice herself in her husband’s funeral pyre in some parts of Bengal. It was he who first introduced the word “Hinduism” into the English language in 1816. For his diverse activities and contributions to society, Raja Ram Mohan Roy is regarded as one of the most important and contentious figures in the Bengali renaissance. His efforts to protect Hinduism and Indian rights and his closeness with the British government earned him the title “The Father of the Indian Renaissance”. Ram Mohan Roy was born in Radhanagar, Arambagh subdivision, Hooghly District, Bengal Presidency, in 1772, into the Rarhi Brahmin caste. His father Ramkanta was a Vaishnavite, while his mother Tarinidevi was from a Shivaite family. This was unusual - Vaishnavite did not marry commonly Shivaite at the times. Thus one parent prepared him for the occupation of a scholar, the sastrin, the other secured for him all the worldly advantage needed to launch a career in the laukik or worldly sphere of public administration. Torn between these two parental ideals from early childhood, Ram Mohan vacillated the rest of his life, moving from one to the other and back. Ram Mohan Roy was married three times. His first wife died early in his childhood. He conceived two sons, Radhaprasad in 1800 and Ramaprasad in 1812 with his second wife, who died in 1824. Roy’s third wife outlived him.
Ram Mohan Roy’s early education was controversial. The common version is “Ram Mohan started his formal education in the village pathshala where he learned Bengali and some Sanskrit and Persian. Later he is said to have studied Persian and Arabic in a madrasa in Patna and after that he was sent to Benares (Kashi) for learning the intricacies of Sanskrit and Hindu scripture, including the Vedas and Upanishads. The dates of his sojourn in both these places is uncertain. However, the commonly held belief is that he was sent to Patna when he was nine years old and two years later to Benares.” Ram Mohan Roy’s impact on modern Indian history was a revival of the pure and ethical principles of the Vedanta school of philosophy as found in the Upnishads. He preached the unity of God, made early translations of Vedic scriptures into English, co-founded the Calcutta Unitarian Society and founded the Brahma Samaj. The Brahma Samaj played a major role in reforming and modernising the Indian society. He successfully campaigned against sati, the practice of burning widows. He sought to integrate Western culture with the best features of his own country’s traditions. He established a number of schools to popularize a modern system (effectively replacing Sanskrit based education with English based education) of education in India. He promoted a rational, ethical, non-authoritarian, this-worldly, and social-reform Hinduism. His writings also sparked interest among British and American Unitarians. During these overlapping periods, Ram Mohan Roy acted as a political agitator and agent, representing Christian missionarieswhilst employed by the East India Company and simultaneously pursuing his vocation as a Pandit. To understand fully this complex period in his life leading up to his eventual Brahmoism needs reference to his peers.
In 1792, the British Baptist shoemaker William Carey published his influential missionary tract, An Enquiry of the obligations of Christians to use means for the conversion of heathens. In 1793, William Carey landed in India to settle. His objective was to translate, publish and distribute the Bible in Indian languages and propagate Christianity to the Indian peoples. He realized the “mobile” (i.e. service classes) Brahmins and Pundits were most able to help him in this endeavor, and he began gathering them.
He learnt the Buddhist and Jain religious works to better argue the case for Christianity in the cultural context. In 1795, Carey made contact with a Sanskrit scholar, the Tantric Hariharananda Vidyabagish, who later introduced him to Ram Mohan Roy, who wished to learn English. Between 1796 and 1797, the trio of Carey, Vidyavagish and Roy created a religious work known as the “Maha Nirvana Tantra” (or “Book of the Great Liberation”)and positioned it as a religious text to “the One True God”. Carey’s involvement is not recorded in his very detailed records and he reports only learning to read Sanskrit in 1796 and only completed a grammar in 1797, the same year he translated part of The Bible from Joshua to Job, a massive task. For the next two decades this document was regularly augmented. Its judicial sections were used in the law courts of the English Settlement in Bengal as Hindu Law for adjudicating upon property disputes of the zamindari. However, a few British magistrates and collectors began to suspect and its usage (as well as the reliance on pundits as sources of Hindu Law) was quickly deprecated. Vidyavagish had a brief falling out with Carey and separated from the group, but maintained ties to Ram Mohan Roy. In 1797, Ram Mohan reached Calcutta and became a “banian” (moneylender), mainly to impoverished Englishmen of the Company living beyond their means. Ram Mohan also continued his vocation as pundit in the English courts and started to make a living for himself. He began learning Greek and Latin. In 1799, Carey was joined by missionary Joshua Marshman and the printer William Ward at the Danish settlement of Serampore. From 1803 till 1815, Ram Mohan served the East India Company’s “Writing Service”, commencing as private clerk “munshi” to Thomas Woodroffe, Registrar of the Appellate Court at Murshidabad (whose distant nephew, John Woodroffe — also a Magistrate — and later lived off the Maha Nirvana Tantra under the pseudonym Arthur Avalon). Roy resigned from Woodroffe’s service and later secured employment with John Digby, a Company collector, and Ram Mohan spent many years at Rangpur and elsewhere with Digby, where he renewed his contacts with Hariharananda. William Carey had by this time settled at Serampore and the old trio renewed their profitable association.
William Carey was also aligned now with the English Company, then headquartered at Fort William, and his religious and political ambitions were increasingly intertwined.

 

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