- Brahmo Samaj
- (est. 1828)The Brahmo Samaj (The Society of Worshippers of One God) was founded in Calcutta (Kolkata) A Brahmin priest wearing sacred thread at a village tem-ple near Benares (Varanasi), India (Constance A. Jones)India, in 1828 by Raja Rammohun ROY (1772–1833), a Bengali Brahmin. Roy was a central fig-ure in the “Indian Renaissance” and the “Bengali Renaissance,” which introduced an emphasis on rationality, women’s rights, and the uplift of lower castes.The society aimed to reform Hinduism by banishing caste, idolatry, and other features it con-sidered debased in favor of reinstituting what it considered were the traditional elements of truth, spirituality, and the unity of religion. Influenced by Christian missionaries and Western ideas that entered India during British colonialism, the soci-ety was firmly theistic, appealing to the worship of one God, omniscient and omnipotent. Distinctly Hindu, the society believes that all truth is from God and that the prophets of all religions are to be respected. Raja Rammohun Roy, Devendranath Tagore (1817–1905), and Keshub Chunder Sen (1838–84) were influential in creating the creed and practice of the society.After Roy’s death the society declined, but it was revived by Devendranath Tagore, father of the famous Indian poet Rabindranath TAGORE. Tagore was opposed to Christian missions, but he did not accept the infallibility of the Hindu scriptures. Under Tagore, the society became an active Hindu missionary organization, attracting educated Hindus in a number of cosmopolitan centers in Bengal and other states. Under Sen, the society became more universal in outlook by drawing on world scrip-tures. While Sen was leader a number of schisms emerged; as a result, the Brahmo Samaj movement began to include several different organizations.Today the movement continues to uphold the Brahmo teachings of faith in a personal God, congregational worship, and condemnation of idol worship and widow burning. The society operates the Brahmo Balika Shikshalaya, a school for girls in Calcutta (Kolkata), which has stressed the emancipation of women since its founding in 1890. The school began a Montessori Section in 1930, the first Montessori school in India. The society sponsors the Raja Rammohun Roy Memo-rial Museum in Calcutta. Although very small today, the society provided a rational critique of traditional ritualistic observances that became part of the secularized democratic culture in Indian society. The society retains its affiliation with Unitarianism in Western countries.Further reading: Piyus Kanti Das, Raja Rammohun Roy and Brahmoism (Calcutta: Author, 1970); David Kopf, The Brahmo Samaj and the Shaping of the Modern Indian Mind (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1979); Spencer Lavan, Unitarians and India: A Study in Encounter and Response (Chicago, Ill.: Exploration Press, 1991); Sivanath Sastri, History of the Brahmo Samaj, 2d ed. (Calcutta: Sadharan Brahmo Samaj, 1993); Keshub Chunder Sen, The New Samhita: The Brahmo Samaj (Bombay: Navabidhan Chittabinodini Trust, 1980).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.