Social and cultural awakenings in India was a result of Indian renaissance that was inspired by the Western concept of reason, equality and liberty. Renaissance – meaning revival or rebirth – was the great transitional movement of Europe that swept away medieval unprogressive ideas and substituted it with individualism, material emancipation, scepticism, nationalism, a more sound economic system and self-expression.
The most important cause for the social and cultural awakening in India in the 19th century was the establishment of British rule and its deep influence on the political, economic, social and cultural life of the country which, in turn, made conditions favourable to intellectual growth.
The liberal ideas of the early socio-religious reform movements, being progressive in nature, passionately criticized and opposed all biassed social and religious privileges and tried to replace them by advocating the principles of equal rights, individual liberty and free competition. By doing this these movements tried to rationalize religion and social institutions as caste hierarchy, untouchability, sex inequality social taboos and exploitation and degradation and exploitation of women had religious sanctions.
Indian Renaissance and Civil Society
The intelligentsia played a decisive role in the history of modern Indian nationalism by integrating the Indian people into a modern nation and organising various progressive socio-religious reform movements,that created the first Indian Renaissance, in the country. They, in fact, assimilated modern Western liberal ideas with Indian’s cultural past and fully understood the problems of rudimentary India and were the makers of modern India.
Raja Ram Mohan Roy and his Brahmo Samaj
Raja Ram Mohan Roy is considered among earliest torch bearers of Indian Renaissance. He was the greatest exponent for the liberation of women, opposed polygamy, Sati, child marriage and supported the right of inheritance of property by daughters. Through his sustained efforts, he made Governor General, Lord William Bentick pass the famous regulation no. XVII in December 1829, that declared the practice of ‘Sati’ illegal.
In December 1821, he started the first Indian newspaper- Sabad Kaumudi, literally meaning the ‘moon of intelligence’- that was edited, published and managed by Indians.
To fight against evil customs he founded Amitya Sabha in 1815.
As Raja Ram Mohan Roy was deeply influenced by, monotheism and anti-idolatry of Islam, he invoked mystic ideas of Sufism and ethical teaching of Christianity. He always remained firm for uncompromising rationalism in his religious beliefs. It was so he, in 1828, founded the Brahmo Samaj at Calcutta to propagate the monotheistic doctrine of Hindu scriptures. The Brahmo Samaj did not propagate any definite rites and rituals. This organisation, as the first platform of New India, proved to be the precursor of the subsequent social reform movements started by M.G. Ranade and Others and the political movement launched by the Indian National Congress.
After Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s death-on September 27, 1833- Brahmo Samaj languished for some time for it lacked dynamic leadership. It became the responsibility of Devendra Nath Tagore to infuse new life and to give the theist movement a definite form and shape.
Adi Brahmo Samaj
In 1843, Devendra Nath Tagore founded the Adi Brahmo Samaj, also known as Tattvabodhini Samaj, to promote religious enquiry and dissiminate the knowledge of the Upanishads.
Manav Dharma Sabha
Durgaram Manchharam (1809-78) founded the Manav Dharma Sabha in 1844 at Surat. He was a vociferous critic of contemporary society. At the time of the foundation of this Sabha, Dadoba Panderung, Damini Shankar, Dalpatram Bhagubhai and Damodar Das were also with Durgaram Manchharam. They criticized caste without initiating any direct action against this institution. Though the Sabha ceased to function in 1852, it made a platform for later developments in Maharashtra and Gujarat.
In 1849, Dadoba Panderung-previously a member of Manav Dharm Sabha- organished the Paramhansa Mandali, a radical socio-religious society at Bombay, to propagate the principles which denied polytheism of popular Hinduism and the caste system. The society met in secret because it was not willing to openly change the Hindu orthodoxy.
Prarthana Samaj was founded by Dr. Atmaram Pandurang in 1867 in Bombay. As a reform movement within Hinduism, it advocated for inter-dining, inter-marriage, remarriage of windows and uplift of women and depressed classes.
Don’t Miss: Social Reformers (Maharashtra)
Swami Dayananda Saraswati, born in 1824 in a town named Tankara in Gujarat, founded Arya Samaj at Bombay in 1875. Arya Samaj Movement was an outcome of reaction to western influences. Although the founder of the Arya Samaj rejected Western ideas and sought to revive the ancient Vedic religion, his approach was based on rationalist aspect.
Swami Dayanand Saraswati was opposed to idolatry, ritual and priesthood. Arya Samaj, under his guidance, opposed child marriage, polygamy, purdah, casteism, the ‘Sati Pratha’. Some followers of Swami Dayanand later started a network of schools and colleges to impart education on western pattern.
Arya Samaj attacked religious superstitions, supremacy of Brahmins, polytheism and adopted the programme of mass education.
Arya Samaj also contributated to the Swaraj and Swadeshi movements by contributing leaders like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, Gopal Krishna Gokhle for they were deeply influenced by the principles and philosophy of Arya Samaj.
After Swami Dayanand’s death the Arya Samaj movement split in two. One section, that was led by Swami Shraddhanand, adopted the ancient system of Hindu education at Hardwar for boys. The other section, that supported the spread of English education, was led by Lala Lajpat Rai and Hans Raj. It established a number of Dayanand Anglo Vedic schools and colleges for boys and girls, at Lahore.
Also Read: Swami Dayanand Saraswathi and the Arya Samaj
Ram Krishna Mission
This mission was conceived and founded by Swami Vivekanand in 1897, eleven years after the death of Ram Krishna Paramhans.
Ram Krishna Paramhans (1834-86), a priest at Kali Temple in Dakhshineswar near calcutta, believed that there was only one god having different names. Swami Vivekanand took over himself to spread the teachings of Ram Krishna in a simple form.
Swami Vivekanand (1862-1902), well known and popular figure of Indian Renaissance in modern time, emerged as the preacher of neo- Hinduism. He condemned the social evil and proclaimed the essential oneness of all religions. He took part in the Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893 and made an impact by his learned interpretations.
Also Read: Dayananda Saraswati
Theosophical Society was founded by Madan H.P. Blavatsky, a Russian Lady, and H.S. Olcott, an American Colonel, in New York in 1875. They founded the headquarters of the society at Adyar near Madras in 1879. Mrs. Annie Besant joined the society in 1888 and helped popularize it further. The society did commendable work in the field of education as it opened the Central Hindu College at Varanasi in 1898.
Young Bengal Movement
Founded by Henry Vivian Derozio (1809-31), the movement attacked decadent customs and supported women’s rights and their education. However, the movement failed to have an impact due to its radical nature.