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  • 14 July, 2021

  • 15 Min Read

Socio-Cultural Reform Movements

Survey of Socio-Cultural Reform Movements

Reform Movements:

Among Hindus


Raja Rammohan Roy and Brahmo Samaj-

  • Raja Rammohan Roy Believed in the modern scientific approach and principles of human dignity and social equality and aimed at political uplift of the masses through social reform.
  • Literary Contribution: Gift to Monotheists (1809), Precepts of Jesus (1820), Translated into Bengali the Vedas and the five Upanishads to prove his conviction that ancient Hindu texts support monotheism.
  • Brahmo Samaj—to purify Hinduism and to preach monotheism—was based on the twin pillars of reason and the Vedas and Upanishads. Vedanta is based on reason and that, if reason demanded it, even a departure from the scriptures is justified.
  • In 1814, he set up the Atmiya Sabha (or Society of Friends) in Calcutta
  • He said the principles of rationalism applied to other sects also, particularly to the elements of blind faith in them.

The features of Brahmo Samaj may be summed as-

  • It denounced polytheism and idol worship;
  • Discarded incarnations/ faith in divine avataras;
  • Denied that any scripture could enjoy the status of ultimate authority transcending human reason and conscience;
  • Took no definite stand on the doctrine of karma and transmigration of soul and left it to individual Brahmos to believe either way;
  • Criticised the caste system.

Raja Rammohan Roy’s Efforts at Social Reform

  • Against sati­-
  1. He started his anti-sati struggle in 1818
  2. Cited sacred texts to prove that no religion sanctioned the burning alive of widows, besides appealing to humanity, reason and compassion.
  3. Bengal Regulation in 1829 , declared the practice of sati a crime.
  • Women’s Rights-
  1. Roy attacked the general subjugation of women, misconceptions which formed the basis of according an inferior social status to women.
  2. Roy attacked polygamy and the degraded state of widows and
  3. Demanded the right of inheritance and property for women.
  • Modern Education
  1. He supported David Hare’s efforts to found the Hindu College in 1817.
  2. Roy’s English school taught Mechanics and Voltaire’s philosophy.
  3. In 1825, he established Vedanta college where courses in both Indian learning and Western social and physical sciences were offered.
  4. He also helped enrich the Bengali language by compiling a Bengali grammar book .
  • Gifted Linguist- He knew more than a dozen languages including Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic, English, French, Latin, Greek and Hebrew. A knowledge of different languages helped him broadbase his range of study.
  • Supporter of Freedom of the Press- Roy brought out journals in Bengali, Hindi, English, Persian to educate and inform the public and represent their grievances before the government.
  • Political Activist-
  1. Roy condemned oppressive practices of Bengali zamindars and demanded fixation of maximum rents.
  2. He also demanded abolition of taxes on taxfree lands.
  3. He called for a reduction of export duties on Indian goods abroad and abolition of the East India Company’s trading rights.
  4. He demanded the Indianisation of superior services and separation of the executive from the judiciary.
  5. He demanded judicial equality between Indians and Europeans and that trial be held by jury.
  • World Outlook-
  1. He stood for cooperation of thought and activity and brotherhood among nations.
  2. His understanding of the universal character of the principles of liberty, equality and justice
  3. He supported the revolutions of Naples and Spanish America and condemned the oppression of Ireland by absentee English landlordism and threatened emigration from the empire if the reform bill was not passed.
  • Roy had David Hare, Alexander Duff, Debendranath Tagore, P.K. Tagore, Chandrashekhar Deb and Tarachand Chakraborty as his associates.

Debendranath Tagore and Tattvabodhini Sabha

  • Maharishi Debendranath Tagore (1817-1905), father of Rabindranath Tagore. Gave a new life to Brahmo Samaj and a definite form and shape to the theist movement, when he joined the Samaj in 1842.
  • Earlier, Tagore headed the Tattvabodhini Sabha (founded in 1839) which, along with its organ Tattvabodhini Patrika in Bengali, was devoted to the systematic study of India’s past with a rational outlook and to the propagation of Rammohan’s ideas.
  • Tagore worked on two fronts: within Hinduism, the Brahmo Samaj was a reformist movement; outside, it resolutely opposed the Christian missionaries for their criticism of Hinduism and their attempts at conversion.
  • Gradually, the Brahmo Samaj came to include, the Derozians and independent thinkers such as Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Ashwini Kumar Datta.
  • The revitalised Samaj supported widow remarriage, women’s education, abolition of polygamy, improvement in ryots’ conditions.

Keshub Chandra Sen and Brahmo Samaj of India

  • He was made acharya by Debendranath Tagore in1858.
  • Instrumental in popularising the movement, branches of the Samaj were opened outside Bengal—in the United Provinces, Punjab, Bombay, Madras and other towns.
  • His Views such as cosmopolitan-isation of the Samaj’s meetings by inclusion of teachings from all religions and his strong views against the caste system, even open support to inter-caste marriages led to his dismissal from the office of acharya in 1865.
  • Keshab and his followers founded the Brahmo Samaj of India in 1866, while Debendranath Tagore’s Samaj came to be known as the Adi Brahmo Samaj.

Sadharan Brahmo Samaj

  • Started by Ananda Mohan Bose, Shibchandra Deb and Umesh Chandra Datta.
  • It reiterated the Brahmo doctrines of faith in a Supreme being, one God, the belief that no scripture or man is infallible, belief in the dictates of reason, truth and morality.
  • In Punjab, the Dayal Singh Trust sought to implant Brahmo ideas by the opening of Dayal Singh College at Lahore in 1910.

Prarthana Samaj

  • In 1867, Keshab Chandra Sen helped Atmaram Pandurang found the Prarthana Samaj in Bombay.
  • Mahadeo Govind Ranade joined the samaj in 1870. His efforts made the samaj gain an all-India character. Other leaders of the samaj were R.G. Bhandarkar (1837- 1925) and N.G. Chandavarkar (1855-1923).
  • A precursor of the Prarthana Samaj was the Paramahansa Sabha.
  • To spread liberal ideas and encourage the breakdown of caste and communal barriers. Attached to the bhakti cult of Maharashtra.
  • The emphasis was on monotheism, but on the whole, the samaj was more concerned with social reforms than with religion.
  • The samaj relied on education and persuasion and not on confrontation with Hindu orthodoxy.
  • There was a four-point social agenda also: (i) disapproval of caste system, (ii) women’s education, (iii) widow remarriage, and (iv) raising the age of marriage for both males and females.

Ranade ,Dhondo Keshav Karve and Vishnu Shastri

  • Along with Karve and Vishnu Shastri, Ranade founded the Widow Remarriage Movement as well as Widows’ Home Association with the aim of providing education and training to widows so that they could support themselves.

Derozio and Young Bengal Movement

  • Radical, Intellectual trend among the youth in Bengal started, came to be known as the ‘Young Bengal Movement’, by Henry Vivian Derozio (1809-31) in late 1820s and early 1830s.
  • Drawing inspiration from French Revolution, Derozio inspired his pupils to think freely and rationally, question all authority, love liberty, equality and freedom, and oppose decadent customs and traditions.
  • The movement failed to have a long-term impact as, a) the social conditions at that time, which were not ripe for the adoption of radical ideas, b) no support from any other social group or class, c) lacked any real link with the masses; d) In fact, their radicalism was bookish in character, e) to take up the peasants’ cause.
  • Strived to achieve:
  1. Public education on social, economic and political question.
  2. induction of Indians in higher grades of services,
  3. protection of ryots from oppressive zamindars,
  4. better treatment to Indian labour abroad in British colonies,
  5. revision of the Company’s charter,
  6. freedom of press and
  7. trial by jury.

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar

  • Vidyasagar’s ideas were a happy blend of Indian and Western thought.
  • In 1850, he became the principal of Sanskrit College.
  • Strived to achieve:
  1. To break the priestly monopoly of scriptural knowledge,
  2. Opened the Sanskrit College to non-brahmins.
  3. introduced Western thought in Sanskrit College to break the self-imposed isolation of Sanskritic learning.
  4. widow remarriage, child marriage and polygamy, cause of women’s education
  • Vidyasagar started a movement in support of widow remarriage which resulted in legalisation of widow remarriage.
  • As secretary of Bethune School , he was one of the pioneers of higher education for women in India.

The Bethune School

  • Founded by J.E.D. Bethune at Calcutta (1849) was the result of movement for women’s education that arose in the 1840s and 1850s.
  • The young students were abused and even their parents subjected to social boycott.
  • Bethune was the president of the Council of Education. Mostly due to Bethune’s efforts, girls’ schools were set up on a sound footing.

Western India

Bal Shastri Jambekar

  • Pioneer of social reform through journalism in Bombay;
  • He started the newspaper Darpan in 1832. Known as the father of Marathi journalism.
  • In 1840, he started Digdarshan which published articles on scientific subjects as well as history.
  • Strived for:
  1. widow remarriage,
  2. Instil in the masses a scientific approach to life.
  3. He attacked brahminical orthodoxy and tried to reform popular Hinduism.
  • He was the first professor of Hindi at the Elphinston College, besides being a director of the Colaba Observatory.
  • Jambhekar founded the Bombay Native General Library and started the Native Improvement Society.

Students’ Literary and Scientific Societies

  • Jambhekar founded the Bombay Native General Library and started the Native Improvement Society (of which an offshoot was the Students Literary and Scientific Library. )

Paramhansa Mandalis

  • Founded in 1849 in Maharashtra, the founders of the Paramahansa Mandali—Dadoba Pandurang, Mehtaji Durgaram and others—began as a secret society that worked to reform Hindu religion and society.
  1. one god should be worshipped,
  2. real religion is based on love and moral conduct.
  3. breaking caste rules- food cooked by lower caste people was taken by the members
  4. advocated widow remarriage and women’s education
  • Freedom of thought was encouraged as was rationality.

Jyotiba Phule and Satyashodhak Samaj

  • Jyotiba Phule (1827-1890), born in Satara, Maharashtra, belonged to the mali (gardener) community and organised a powerful movement against upper caste domination and brahminical supremacy/ Sanskritic Hinduism.
  • Phule founded the Satyashodhak Samaj (Truth Seekers’ Society) in 1873, with the leadership of the samaj coming from the backward classes, malis, telis, kunbis, saris and dhangars.
  • The main aims of the movement were (i) social service, and (ii) spread of education among women and lower caste people.
  • Phule’s works, Sarvajanik Satyadharma and Gulamgiri, became sources of inspiration for the common masses.
  • Phule used the symbol of Rajah Bali as opposed to the brahmins’ symbol of Rama.
  • Phule, a firm believer in gender equality, he was a pioneer of
  1. women’s education; he with the help of his wife, Savitribai, opened a girls’ school at Poona
  2. widow remarriage movement in Maharashtra; opened a widow home in 1854.
  • Phule was awarded the title ‘Mahatma’ for his social reform work.

Gopalhari Deshmukh ‘Lokahitawadi’

  • He held the post of a judge under British raj, but wrote for a weekly Prabhakar under the pen name of Lokahitawadi on social reform issues.
  • He advocated a reorganisation of Indian society on rational principles and modern, humanistic, secular values.
  • He attacked Hindu orthodoxy and supported social and religious equality.
  • He wrote against the evils of the caste system.
  • He said, “If religion does not sanction social reform, then change religion.”
  • He started a weekly, Hitechhu, and also played a leading role in founding the periodicals, Gyan Prakash, Indu Prakash and Lokahitawadi.

Gopal Ganesh Agarkar

  • Educationist and social reformer from Maharashtra.
  • A strong advocate of the power of human reason, he criticised the blind dependence on tradition and false glorification of the past.
  • He was a cofounder of the New English School, the Deccan Education Society and Fergusson College.
  • He was a principal of Fergusson College.
  • He was also the first editor of Kesari, the journal started by Lokmanya Tilak.
  • Later, he started his own periodical, Sudharak, which spoke against untouchability and the caste system.

Servants of India Society

  • Gopal Krishna Gokhale (1866-1915), a liberal leader of the Indian National Congress, founded the Servants of India Society in 1905 with the help of M.G. Ranade.
  • Aim of the society was
  1. to train national missionaries for the service of India;
  2. to promote, by all constitutional means, the true interests of the Indian people;
  3. to prepare a cadre of selfless workers who were to devote their lives to the cause of the country in a religious spirit

Social Service League

  • A follower of Gokhale, Narayan Malhar Joshi founded the Social Service League in Bombay with an aim to secure for the masses better and reasonable conditions of life and work.
  • They organised many schools, libraries, reading rooms, day nurseries and cooperative societies.
  • Their activities also included police court agents’ work, legal aid and advice to the poor and illiterate, excursions for slum dwellers, facilities for gymnasia and theatrical performances, sanitary work, medical relief and boys’ clubs and scout corps.
  • Joshi also founded the All India Trade Union Congress (1920).

The Ramakrishna Movement and Swami Vivekananda

The didactic nationalism of the Brahmo Samaj appealed more to the intellectual elite in Bengal, while the average Bengali found more emotional satisfaction in the cult of bhakti and yoga.

  • Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836- 1886 was known as Gadadhar Chattopadhyay in childhood.
  • He did not write books, but his conversations with people formed the basis of what were considered his teachings.
  • Two objectives of the Ramakrishna movement were—

(i) to bring into existence a band of monks dedicated to a life of renunciation and practical spirituality, sent out to spread the universal message of Vedanta .

(ii) The second objective was taken up by Swami Vivekananda after Ramakrishna’s death when he founded the Ramakrishna Mission in 1897. The headquarters of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission are at Belur near Calcutta.

  • He recognised the fundamental oneness of all religions and emphasized that there are many ways to God and salvation: “As many faiths, so many paths.”
  • Paramahamsa’s spirituality and compassion for the suffering humanity inspired those who listened to him. He used to say, “Service of man is the service of God.”
  • Incidentally, Ramakrishna was married to Saradmani Mukherjee, considered her as the embodiment of the Divine Mother.

Swami Vivekananda

  • Narendranath Datta (1862-1902), who later came to be known as Swami Vivekananda spread Ramakrishna’s message .
  • He emerged as the preacher of neo-Hinduism. Certain spiritual experiences of Ramakrishna, the teachings of the Upanishads and the Gita and the examples of the Buddha and Jesus are the basis of Vivekananda’s message to the world about human values.
  • He subscribed to the Vedanta. His mission was to bridge the gulf between paramartha (service) and vyavahara (behaviour), and between spirituality and day-to-day life.
  • Emphasising social action, he declared that knowledge without action is useless.
  • He believed that it was an insult to God and humanity to teach religion to a starving man.
  • He called upon his countrymen to imbibe a spirit of liberty, equality and free thinking.
  • At the Parliament of Religions held at Chicago in 1893, the keynote of his opening address was the need for a healthy balance between spiritualism and materialism.
  • Envisaging a new culture for the whole world, he called for a blend of the materialism of the West and the spiritualism of the East.
  • The focus of which were to infuse into the new generation a sense of pride in India’s past, a new faith in India’s culture, and a rare sense of confidence in India’s future; to bring about a unification of Hinduism
  • In 1897 he founded the Ramakrishna Mission.
  • The Mission stands for religious and social reform.
  • Vivekananda advocated the doctrine of service—the service of all beings. The service of jiva (living objects) is the worship of Siva. Life itself is religion.
  • Vivekananda supported using technology and modern science in the service of mankind.
  • Mission runs a number of schools, hospitals, dispensaries. It offers help to the afflicted in times of natural calamities like earthquakes, famines, floods and epidemics.
  • The Mission has developed into a worldwide organisation. It is a deeply religious body, but it is not a proselytising body.
  • It does not consider itself to be a sect of Hinduism. In fact, this is a reason for the success of the Mission.
  • Unlike the Arya Samaj, the Mission recognises the utility and value of image worship in developing spiritual fervour and worship of the eternal omnipotent God, although it emphasises on the essential spirit and not the symbols or rituals.
  • It believes that the philosophy of Vedanta will make a Christian a better Christian, and a Hindu a better Hindu. In 1898 Belur Math started, open to all men without discrimination on the basis of caste or creed.

Dayananda Saraswati and Arya Samaj

  • The Arya Samaj Movement, revivalist in form though not in content, was the result of a reaction to Western influences.
  • Its founder, Dayananda Saraswati or Mulshankar (1824-1883) was born in the old Morvi state in Gujarat in a brahmin family. He wandered as an ascetic for fifteen years (1845-60) in search of truth.
  • It was first set up at Bombay in 1875 and later the headquarters of the Samaj were established at Lahore.
  • Dayananda’s views were published in his famous work, Satyarth Prakash (The True Exposition).
  • His vision of India included a classless and casteless society, a united India (religiously, socially and nationally), and an India free from foreign rule, with Aryan religion being the common religion of all.
  • Dayananda’s slogan of ‘Back to the Vedas’ was a call for a revival of Vedic learning and Vedic purity of religion and NOT a revival of Vedic times.
  • He accepted modernity and displayed a patriotic attitude to national problems.
  • Dayananda had received education on Vedanta from a blind teacher named Swami Virajananda in Mathura.
  • Along with his emphasis on Vedic authority, he stressed the significance of individual interpretation of the scriptures and said that every person has the right of access to God.
  • Dayananda strongly criticised –
  1. later Hindu scriptures such as the Puranas and
  2. ignorant priests for perverting Hinduism the
  3. the escapist Hindu belief in maya (illusion) as the running theme of all physical existence and
  4. the aim of human life as a struggle to attain moksha (salvation) through escape from this evil world to seek union with God.
  • Instead, he advocated that God, soul and matter (prakriti) were distinct and every individual had to work out his own salvation in the light of the eternal principles governing human conduct.
  • Thus he attacked the belief of niyati (destiny).
  • Dayananda believed in the theory of karma and reincarnation.
  • But he also said the good deeds should be primarily for the good of others and not for self. Dayananda launched a frontal attack on Hindu orthodoxy, caste rigidities, untouchability, idolatry, polytheism, belief in magic, charms and animal sacrifices, taboo on sea voyages, feeding the dead through shraddhas, etc.
  • Dayananda subscribed to the Vedic notion of chaturvarna system in which a person was identified as a brahmin, kshatriya, vaishya or shudra NOT by birth but according to the occupation and merit of the person.
  • The Arya Samaj fixed the minimum marriageable age at twenty-five years for boys and sixteen years for girls. Swami Dayananda once lamented the Hindu race as “the children of children”.
  • The Arya Samaj’s social ideals comprise,
    • the fatherhood of God and brotherhood of Man,
    • equality of the sexes,
    • absolute justice and
    • fair play between man and man and nation and nation.
  • Intercaste marriages and widow remarriages were also encouraged.
  • Dayananda also met other reformers of the time— Keshab Chandra Sen, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Ranade, Deshmukh, etc.
  • The Arya Samaj came to be known for the social service it rendered in times of calamities such as earthquake, famine and floods.
  • It also took initiative in promoting education. After the death of Dayananda in 1883, the Dayananda Anglo- Vedic (D.A.V.) College was established in 1886 at Lahore.
  • College Party versus Mahatma Party
    • A difference of opinion between two groups in the samaj arose over the curriculum of the D.A.V. College. One group was known as ‘Culture’ Party, among whose leaders were Lala Hansraj, Lala Lal Chand and Lala Lajpat Rai. The College Party favoured the government curriculum and English education to meet economic and professional needs and the other was the Mahatma (later Gurukul) Party led by Guru Datta Vidyarthi and Lala Munshi Ram (who later came to be known as Swami Shraddhanand). While, the Mahatma Party was interested in introducing the study of Sanskrit and Vedic philosophy in the tradition of ancient gurukuls.
  • Issue of vegetarianism also became a point of contention:
    • the College Party claimed that diet was a personal choice and it was not mentioned in the principles of the samaj;
    • the Mahatma Party favoured Aryas being strict vegetarians.
  • The Arya Samaj split in 1893 over these issues.
    • The College Party retained control over the D.A.V. School and College,
    • While the Mahatma Party took over Arya Partinidhi Sabha, Punjab and a majority of the local Arya Samaj branches .
  • The Gurukul
    • Swami Shraddhanand opened the Gurukul in 1900 at Gujaranwala (in West Punjab, now in Pakistan). In 1902, the Gurukul was moved to Kangri near Haridwar, hence the name, Gurukul Kangri.
    • The gurukul aimed at providing an indigenous alternative to Lord Macaulay’s education policy by offering education in the areas of vedic literature, Indian philosophy, Indian culture as well as modern sciences and research.
    • The Gurukul believed in radical social reform. It founded the Kanya Mahavidyalaya at Jalandhar in 1896, and sponsored education for widows.
  • The Arya Samaj was able to give self-respect and selfconfidence to the Hindus which helped to undermine the myth of superiority of whites and the Western culture.
  • In its zeal to protect the Hindu society from the onslaught of Christianity and Islam, the Samaj started the shuddhi (purification) movement to reconvert to the Hindu fold, the converts of Christianity and Islam.
  • An aggressive campaign of shuddhi led to increasing communalisation of social life during the 1920s and later snowballed into communal political consciousness.
  • The shuddhi movement also attempted to uplift those regarded as untouchables and outside the caste system of Hindus into pure caste Hindus.

The ten guiding principles of the Arya Samaj are—

(i) God is the primary source of all true knowledge;

(ii) God, as all-truth, all-knowledge, almighty, immortal, creator of Universe, is alone worthy of worship;

(iii) the Vedas are the books of true knowledge;

(iv) an Arya should always be ready to accept truth and abandon untruth;

(v) dharma, that is, due consideration of right and wrong, should be the guiding principle of all actions;

(vi) the principal aim of the Samaj is to promote world’s well-being in the material, spiritual and social sense;

(vii) everybody should be treated with love and justice;

(viii) ignorance is to be dispelled and knowledge increased;

(ix) one’s own progress should depend on uplift of all others;

(x) social well-being of mankind is to be placed above an individual’s well-being.

Seva Sadan

  • A Parsi social reformer, Behramji M. Malabari (1853- 1912), founded the Seva Sadan in 1908 along with, Diwan Dayaram Gidumal.
  • Malabari spoke vigorously against child marriage and for widow remarriage among Hindus.
  • It was his efforts that led to the Age of Consent Act regulating the age of consent for females, Seva Sadan specialised in taking care of those women who were exploited and then discarded by society.
  • It catered to all castes and provided the destitute women with education, and medical and welfare services.
  • Behramji Malabari acquired and edited the Indian Spectator.

Dev Samaj

  • Founded in 1887 at Lahore by Shiv Narayan Agnihotri (1850- 1927), earlier a Brahmo follower, Dev Sadan is a religious and social reform society.
  • The society emphasised on the
    • eternity of the soul,
    • the supremacy of the guru, and
    • the need for good action.
  • It called for an ideal social behaviour such as not accepting bribes, avoiding intoxicants and non-vegetarian food, and keeping away from violent actions.
  • Its teachings were compiled in a book, Deva Shastra.

Dharma Sabha

  • Radhakant Deb founded this sabha in 1830. An orthodox society, it stood for the preservation of the status quo in socio-religious matters, opposing even the abolition of sati.
  • However, it favoured the promotion of Western education, even for girls.

Bharat Dharma Mahamandala

  • An all-India organisation of the orthodox educated Hindus, it stood for a defence of orthodox Hinduism against the teachings of the Arya Samajists, the Theosophists, and the Ramakrishna Mission.
  • Other organisations created to defend orthodox Hinduism were the Sanatana Dharma Sabha (1895), the Dharma Maha Parishad in South India, and DharmaMahamandali in Bengal.
  • These organisations combined in 1902 to form the single organisation of Bharat Dharma Mahamandala, with headquarters at Varanasi.
  • This organization sought to introduce proper management of Hindu religious institutions, open Hindu educational institutions, etc. Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya was a prominent figure in this movement.

Radhaswami Movement

  • Tulsi Ram, a banker from Agra, also known as Shiv Dayal Saheb, founded this movement in 1861.
  • The Radhaswamis believe in
    • one supreme being,
    • supremacy of the guru,
    • a company of pious people (satsang), and
    • a simple social life.
    • they believe that Spiritual attainment does not call for renunciation of the worldly life.
  • They consider all religions to be true. While the sect has no belief in temples, shrines and sacred places, it considers as necessary duties, works of faith and charity, service and prayer.

Sree Narayana Guru Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Movement

  • The SNDP movement was an example of a regional movement born out of conflict between the depressed classes and upper castes.
  • It was started by Sree Narayana Guru Swamy (1856- 1928) among the Ezhavas of Kerala, who were a backward caste of toddy-tappers and were considered to be untouchables, denied education and entry into temples.
  • The Ezhavas were the single largest caste group in Kerala constituting 26 percent of the total population.
  • Narayana Guru, himself from the Ezhava caste, took a stone from the Neyyar River and installed it as a Sivalinga at Aruvippuram on Sivaratri in 1888. It was intended to show that consecration of an idol was not the monopoly of the higher castes. With this he began a revolution that soon led to the removal of much discrimination in Kerala’s society.
  • The movement (Aruvippuram movement) drew the famous poet Kumaran Asan as a disciple of Narayana Guru. In 1889, the Aruvippuram Kshetra Yogam was formed which was decided to expand into a big organisation to help the Ezhavas to progress materially as well as spiritually.
  • Thus the Aruvippuram Sree Narayana Guru Dharma Paripalana Yogam (in short SNDP) was registered in 1903 under the Indian Companies Act, with Narayana Guru as its permanent chairman, and Kumaran Asan as the general secretary. (In the formation of SNDP, the efforts of Dr Palpu must be acknowledged. He had started the fight for social justice through movements like Ezhava Memorial, Malayali Memorial, etc.)
  • Sree Narayana Guru held all religions to be the same and condemned animal sacrifice besides speaking against divisiveness on the basis of caste, race or creed.
  • On the wall of the Aruvippuram temple he got inscribed the words, “Devoid of dividing walls of caste or race, or hatred of rival faith, we all live here in brotherhood.” He urged the Ezhavas to leave the toddy tapping profession and even to stop drinking liquor.
  • The SNDP Yogam took up several issues for the Ezhavas, such as
    • right of admission to public schools,
    • recruitment to government services,
    • access to roads and entry to temples, and
    • political representation.
  • The movement as a whole brought transformative structural changes such as
    • upward social mobility,
    • shift in traditional distribution of power and
    • a federation of ‘backward castes’ into a large conglomeration.

Vokkaliga Sangha

  • The Vokkaliga Sangha in Mysore launched an anti-brahmin movement in 1905.

Justice Movement

  • This movement in Madras Presidency was started by C.N. Mudaliar, T.M. Nair and P. Tyagaraja to secure jobs and representation for the non-brahmins in the legislature.
  • In 1917, Madras Presidency Association was formed which demanded separate representation for the lower castes in the legislature.

Self-Respect Movement

  • This movement was started by E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker in the mid-1920s.
  • The movement aimed at nothing short of a rejection of the brahminical religion and culture which Naicker felt was the prime instrument of exploitation of the lower castes.
  • He sought to undermine the position of brahmin priests by formalising weddings without brahmin priests.

Temple Entry Movement

  • Significant work in this direction had already been done by reformers and intellectuals like Sree Narayana Guru and N. Kumaran Asan. T.K. Madhavan, (social reformer and editor of Deshabhimani), took up the issue of temple entry with the Travancore administration.
  • Vaikom, in the northern part of Travancore, became a centre of agitation for temple entry. In 1924, the Vaikom Satyagraha led by K.P. Kesava, was launched in Kerala demanding the throwing open of Hindu temples and roads to the untouchables.
  • The satyagraha was reinforced by jathas from Punjab and Madurai.
  • Gandhi undertook a tour of Kerala in support of the movement.
  • Again in 1931 when the Civil Disobedience Movement was suspended, temple entry movement was organised in Kerala.
  • Inspired by K. Kelappan, poet Subramaniyam Tirumambu and Leaders like P. Krishna Pillai and A.K. Gopalan were among the satyagrahis.
  • Finally, on November 12, 1936, the Maharaja of Travancore issued a proclamation throwing open all government-controlled temples to all Hindus.
  • A similar step was taken by the C. Rajagopalachari administration in Madras in 1938.

Indian Social Conference

  • Founded by M.G. Ranade and Raghunath Rao, the Indian Social Conference met annually from its first session in Madras in 1887 at the same time and venue as the Indian National Congress.
  • It focussed attention on the social issues of importance; it could be called the social reform cell of the Indian National Congress.
  • The conference advocated inter-caste marriages, opposed polygamy and kulinism. It launched the ‘Pledge Movement’ to inspire people to take a pledge against child marriage.

Wahabi/Walliullah Movement

  • The teachings of Abdul Wahab of Arabia and the preachings of Shah Walliullah (1702-1763) led to revivalist response to Western influences and the degeneration which had set in among Indian Muslims and called for a return to the true spirit of Islam.
  • He was the first Indian Muslim leader of the 18th century to organise Muslims around the two-fold ideals of this movement:

(i) desirability of harmony among the four schools of Muslim jurisprudence which had divided the Indian Muslims (he sought to integrate the best elements of the four schools);

(ii) recognition of the role of individual conscience in religion where conflicting interpretations were derived from the Quran and the Hadis.

  • The teachings of Walliullah were further popularized by Shah Abdul Aziz and Syed Ahmed Barelvi who also gave them a political perspective.
  • Syed Ahmed called for a return to the pure Islam and the kind of society that had existed in the Arabia of the Prophet’s time.
  • India was considered to be dar-ul-Harb (land of the kafirs) and it needed to be converted to dar-ul-Islam (land of Islam).
  • Initially, the movement was directed at the Sikhs in Punjab but after the British annexation of Punjab (1849), the movement was directed against the British. During the 1857 Revolt, the Wahabi’s played an important role in spreading anti-British feelings. The Wahabi Movement fizzled out in the face of British military might in the 1870s.

Titu Mir‘s Movement

  • Mir Nithar Ali, popularly known as Titu Mir, was a disciple of Sayyid Ahmed Barelvi, the founder of the Wahabi Movement. Titu Mir adopted Wahabism and advocated the Sharia.
  • He organised the Muslim peasants of Bengal against the landlords, who were mosly Hindu, and the British indigo planters.
  • The movement was not as militant as the British records made it out to be; only in the last year of Titu’s life was there a confrontation between him and the British police. He was killed in action in 1831.

Faraizi Movement

  • The movement, also called the Fara’idi Movement because of its emphasis on the Islamic pillars of faith, was founded by Haji Shariatullah in 1818.
  • It tarted in East Bengal, and aimed at the eradication of social innovations for un-Islamic practices current among the Muslims of the region and draw their attention to their duties as Muslims.
  • Under the leadership of Haji’s son, Dudu Mian, the movement became revolutionary from 1840 onwards. He gave the movement an organisational system from the village to the provincial level with a khalifa or authorised deputy at every level.
  • The Fara’idis organised a paramilitary force armed with clubs to fight the zamindars who were mostly Hindu, though there were some Muslim landlords too, besides the indigo planters.
  • Dudu Mian asked his followers not to pay rent.
  • The organisation even established its own Law courts.
  • The movement survived merely as a religious movement without political overtones after the death of Dudu Mian in 1862.

Ahmadiyya Movement

  • The Ahmadiyya forms a sect of Islam which originated from India.
  • It was founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in 1889.
  • It was based on liberal principles. It described itself as the standard-bearer of Mohammedan Renaissance, and based itself, like the Brahmo Samaj, on the principles of universal religion of all humanity, opposing jihad (sacred war against non-Muslims).
  • The movement spread Western liberal education among the Indian Muslims.
  • The Ahmadiyya community is the Only Islamic sect to believe that the Messiah had come in the person of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad to end religious wars and bloodshed and to reinstate morality, peace and justice.
  • They believed in separating the mosque from the State as well as in human rights and tolerance.
  • However, the Ahmadiyya Movement, like Baha’ism which flourished in the West Asian countries, suffered from mysticism.

Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and the Aligarh Movement

  • The British view on the revolt of 1857 held the Muslims to be the main conspirators. This view was further strengthened by the activities of the Wahabis.
  • But later, an opinion got currency among the rulers that the Muslims could be used as allies against a rising tide of nationalist political activity represented, among others, by the foundation of the Indian National Congress.
  • This was to be achieved through offers of thoughtful concessions to the Muslims.
  • A section of Muslims led by Syed Ahmed Khan (1817-1898) was ready to allow the official patronage to stimulate a process of growth among Indian Muslims through better education and employment opportunities.
  • Syed Ahmed Khan, was a loyalist member of the judicial service of the British government. After retirement in 1876, he became a member of the Imperial Legislative Council in 1878.
  • His loyalty earned him a knighthood in 1888. He wanted to reconcile Western scientific education with the teachings of the Quran which were to be interpreted in the light of contemporary rationalism and science even though he also held the Quran to be the ultimate authority.
  • He said that religion should be adaptable with time or else it would become fossilised, and that religious tenets were not immutable. He advocated a critical approach and freedom of thought and not complete dependence on tradition or custom.
  • He was also a zealous educationist
    • as an official, he opened schools in towns,
    • got books translated into Urdu and
    • started the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College (later, the Aligarh Muslim University) at Aligarh in 1875.
  • He also struggled to bring about an improvement in the position of women through better education and by opposing purdah and polygamy, advocating easy divorce, and condemning the system of piri and muridi.
  • He believed in the fundamental underlying unity of religions or ‘practical morality’.
  • He also preached the basic commonality of Hindu and Muslim interests.
  • Syed Ahmed Khan argued that Muslim should first concentrate on education and jobs and try to catch up with their Hindu counterparts who had gained the advantage of an early start. Active participation in politics at that point, he felt, would invite hostility of the government towards the Muslim masses.
  • Therefore, he opposed political activity by the Muslims.
  • Syed’s progressive social ideas were propagated through his magazine Tahdhib-ul-Akhlaq (Improvement of Manners and Morals).
  • The Aligarh Movement emerged as a liberal, modern trend among the Muslim intelligentsia based in Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College(later, the Aligarh Muslim University).
  • It aimed at spreading
    • modern education among Indian Muslims without weakening their allegiance to Islam;
    • social reforms among Muslims relating to purdah, polygamy, widow remarriage, women’s education, slavery, divorce, etc.
  • The ideology of the followers of the movement was based on a liberal interpretation of the Quran
  • Aligarh became the centre of religious and cultural revival of the Muslim community.

The Deoband School (Darul Uloom)

  • The Deoband Movement was organised by the orthodox section among the Muslim ulema as a revivalist movement .
  • Its based on twin objectives of
      • propagating pure teachings of the Quran and Hadis among Muslims and
      • keeping alive the spirit of jihad against the foreign rulers.
  • The Deoband Movement was begun at the Darul Uloom (or Islamic academic centre), Deoband, in Saharanpur district (United Provinces) in 1866 by Mohammad Qasim Nanotavi (1832-80) and Rashid Ahmed Gangohi (1828-1905) to train religious leaders for the Muslim community.
  • In contrast to the Aligarh Movement, which aimed at the welfare of Muslims through Western education and support of the British government, the aim of the Deoband Movement was moral and religious regeneration of the Muslim community.
  • On the political front,
      • the Deoband school welcomed the formation of the Indian National Congress and
      • In 1888 issued a fatwa (religious decree) against Syed Ahmed Khan’s organisations, the United Patriotic Association and the Mohammaden Anglo-Oriental Association.
  • Some critics attribute Deoband’s support to the nationalists more to its determined opposition to Syed Ahmed Khan than to any positive political philosophy.
  • Mahmud-ul-Hasan, the new Deoband leader,
      • gave a political and intellectual content to the religious ideas of the school.
      • He worked out a synthesis of Islamic principles and nationalist aspirations.
      • The Jamiat-ul-Ulema gave a concrete shape to Hasan’s ideas of protection of the religious and political rights of the Muslims in the overall context of Indian unity and national objectives.
  • Shibli Numani, a supporter of the Deoband school,
      • favoured the inclusion of English language and European sciences in the system of education. He founded the Nadwatal Ulama and Darul Uloom in Lucknow in 1894-96.
      • He believed in the idealism of the Congress and cooperation between the Muslims and the Hindus.

Parsi Reform Movements

Rahnumai Mazdayasnan Sabha

  • The Rahnumai Mazdayasnan Sabha (Religious Reform Association) was founded in 1851 by a group of English educated Parsis for the “regeneration of the social conditions of the Parsis and the restoration of the Zoroastrian religion to its pristine purity”.
  • The movement had Naoroji Furdonji, Dadabhai Naoroji, K.R. Cama and S.S. Bengalee as its leaders.
  • The message of reform was spread by the newspaper Rast Goftar (Truth-Teller).
  • Parsi religious rituals and practices were reformed and the Parsi creed redefined.
  • In the social sphere, attempts were made to uplift the status of Parsi women through removal of the purdah system, raising the age of marriage and education.
  • Gradually, the Parsis emerged as the most westernised section of the Indian society.

Sikh Reform Movements

  • The Sikh community could not remain untouched by the rising tide of rationalist and progressive ideas of the nineteenth century.

The Singh Sabha Movement

The Singh Sabha Movement was founded at Amritsar in 1873

  • Two-fold objective—
    1. To make available modern western education to the Sikhs, and
    2. To counter the proselytising activities of Christian missionaries as well as the Brahmo Samajists, Arya Samajists and Muslim maulvis.
      • For the first objective, a network of Khalsa schools was established by the Sabha throughout Punjab.
      • In the second direction, everything that went against the Gurus’ teachings was rejected, and rites and customs considered to be consistent with Sikh doctrine were sought to be established.

The Akali movement

The Akali movement (also known as Gurudwara Reform Movement) was an offshoot of the Singh Sabha Movement. It aimed at liberating the Sikh gurudwaras from the control of corrupt Udasi mahants (the post having become hereditary).

  • These mahants were a loyalist and reactionary lot, enjoying government patronage.
  • The government tried its repressive policies against the non-violent non-cooperation satyagraha launched by the Akalis in 1921, but had to bow before popular demands;
      • it passed the Sikh Gurudwaras Act in 1922 (amended in 1925)
      • It gave the control of gurudwaras to the Sikh masses to be administered through Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) as the apex body.
  • The Akali Movement was a regional movement but not a communal one. The Akali leaders played a notable role in the national liberation struggle.

The Theosophical Movement

  • A group of westerners led by Madame H.P. Blavatsky (1831-1891) and Colonel M.S. Olcott, who were inspired by Indian thought and culture, founded the Theosophical Society in New York City, United States in 1875.
  • In 1882, they shifted their headquarters to Adyar, on the outskirts of Madras (at that time) in India. The society believed that a special relationship could be established between a person’s soul and God by contemplation, prayer, revelation, etc.
  • It accepted the Hindu beliefs in Reincarnation and karma, and
  • Drew inspiration from the philosophy of the samkhya and Upanishads, Vedanta and yoga schools of thought. It aimed to work for universal brotherhood of humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or colour.
  • The society also sought to investigate the unexplained laws of nature and the powers latent in man.
  • The Theosophical Movement came to be allied with the Hindu renaissance. (At one time it allied with the Arya Samaj too.)
  • It opposed child marriage and advocated the abolition of caste discrimination, uplift of outcastes, improvement in the condition of widows.
  • In India, the movement became somewhat popular with the election of Annie Besant (1847-1933) as its president after the death of Olcott in 1907.

Annie Besant

  • Annie Besant had come to India in 1893. She laid the foundation of the Central Hindu College in Benaras in 1898 where both Hindu religion and Western scientific subjects were taught. The college became the nucleus for the formation of Benaras Hindu University in 1916.
  • Annie Besant also did much for the cause of the education of women. The Theosophical Society provided a common denominator for the various sects and fulfilled the urge of educated Hindus.
  • However, to an average Indian the Theosophist philosophy seemed to be vague and lacking a positive programme; to that extent its impact was limited to a small segment of the westernised class.
  • As religious revivalists, the Theosophists did not attain much success, but as a movement of westerners glorifying Indian religious and philosophical traditions, it gave much needed self-respect to the Indians fighting British colonial rule.

Viewed from another angle, the Theosophists also had the effect of giving a false sense of pride to the Indians in their outdated and sometimes backward looking traditions and philosophy.

Previous Years Questions:

    1. In what way did Ramakrishna infuse a new vigour and dynamism into Hinduism? 1999/10 marks
    2. Assess the contributions of Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar to the making of modern India? 1999/10 marks
    3. The name of Raja Ram Mohan Roy stands foremost in the field of religious and social reforms. Elucidate 1997/10 marks
    4. ‘Swami Vivekananda might well be called the father of Indian Nationalism.’ Elucidate. 1997/10
    5. Discuss the role of Theosophical Society in the history of religious movement in India. 1991/10 marks
    6. Give a critical account of the Ramakrishna Mission with special reference to the role played by Swami Vivekananda. 1990/10 marks
    7. Arya Samaj did not however, succeed in capturing the imagination of modern India as a whole Comment. 1998/ 20m
    8. Discuss the important social reform legislation passed in the 19th century and elucidate the reaction of Indian leaders to the measures adopted 2000/60m
    9. "The national democratic awakening of the Indian people found expression also in the religious sphere Comment 12005. 20m
    10. ”There is no other instance in the history of mankind of a poet and philosopher working such as a miracle in shaping the destiny of his people. Comment. 2007/20m.
    11. Of the evils which corroded Indian society in the nineteenth century were probably those which stunted its womanhood. Comment.2007/20m
    12. How did social legislation in the nineteenth century improve the condition of women'in India? 2009/30m
    13. "The Arya Samaj may quite logically be pronounced as the outcomes of conditions imported into India by the west Comment . 2009/ 20m
    14. Discuss the extent to which the Indian Renaissance movement contributed towards the rise of nationalist consciousness. 2010/30m
    15. "Young Bengal left little distinctive or permanent impression on the plane of religion and philosophy. Critically evaluate 2011/30m
    16. The contact of the new Indian middle class with the West proved to be a catalyst. The social and religious movements launched by Ram Mohan or Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar have to be understood in this context." - Elucidate. 2012, 10m
    17. Swami Vivekananda opined that we should give our ancient spirituality and culture and get in return western science, technology, methods of raising the standard I life. Business integrity and technique of collective effort 2013/10m
    18. The first point to note is the continuing importance of religion and philosophy as vital ingredients in the modern Indian renaissance Indeed, there is as much reason for regarding it as a reformation as there is for treating it as a renaissance: Critically examine. 2013/ 25m
    19. "Swami Dayanand's philosophy represents both elements of extremism and social radicalism. 2015/15m

Source: Spectrum

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