Roy, Raja Rammohun

   founder of Brahmo Samaj
   Rammohun Roy was a central figure in the Bengal Renaissance of the late 19th century and the founder of the reform movement BRAHMO SAMAJ.
   He was born in Radhanagar, Bengal, on May 22, 1772, to a Bengali BRAHMIN, but religiously diverse family. His father worshipped VISHNU, while his mother was a devotee of the GODDESS. He was raised in Patna, a center of Muslim learn-ing, and was influenced by Islamic teachings against images. Later, in Calcutta (Kolkata), he was exposed to Christianity. A scholar, he knew Bengali, SANSKRIT, and other Indian languages, as well as Arabic, Persian, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. With his liberal education, he was inclined to reject the traditional orthodoxy of Hinduism and to accept the common aspects of different faiths, including Buddhism, JAINISM, Hinduism, and Christianity.
   Although he read many of the world’s scrip-tures in their original languages, he sought a way to free his own tradition, Hinduism, from superstition and prejudice. He claimed that the unifying doctrines he sought were contained in the UPANISHADS. With this renewed appreciation of the teachings of the Upanishads, he advocated that Indians learn their own tradition as well as science, philosophy, and modern perspectives. He adamantly rejected image worship, burning of widows (SATI), and the power that the Brahminic priesthood had over the populace. These practices he considered superstitious, prejudiced, and con-trary to rationality. Once he became acquainted with Unitarianism through missionaries in India, he allied his movement with the principles of Uni-tarian philosophy.
   Known for his work toward the abolition of sati, the immolation of widows on their husbands’s funeral pyre; the disadvantages of polygamy; and challenges to the authority of the Hindu priest-hood, Roy became a voice of tolerance and a con-tinuing influence on traditional Indian practices. The first president of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, called Roy a “pioneer of modern India,” and Swami VIVEKANANDA extolled Roy’s love, which extended to Muslims as well as Hindus.
   In 1831, he traveled to the United Kingdom and visited France. He died on September 27, 1833.
   See also United Kingdom; United States.
   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: Exploration Press, 1991); J. Tuckerman, “Is Rammohun Roy a Christian?” The Christian Examiner 3, no. 5 (September–October 1826): 361–369.

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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