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Brahmo Samaj (Bengali ব্রাহ্ম সমাজ Bramho Shômaj) is the societal component of Brahmoism, a monotheistic reformist and renaissance movement of Hindu religion. It is practised today mainly as the Adi Dharm after its eclipse in Bengal consequent to the exit of the Tattwabodini Sabha from its ranks in 1859. After the publication of Hemendranath Tagore's Brahmo Anusthan (code of practice) in 1860 which formally divorced Brahmoism from Hinduism, the first Brahmo Samaj was founded in 1861 at Lahore by Pandit Nobin Chandra Roy.
It was one of the most influential religious reformist movements responsible for the making of modern India. It was started at Calcutta on 20 August 1828 by Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Debendranath Tagore as reformation of the prevailing Brahmanism of the time (specifically Kulin practices) and began the Bengal Renaissance of the 19th century pioneering all religious, social and educational advance of the Hindu community in the 19th century. Its Trust Deed was made in 1830 formalising its inception and it was duly and publicly inaugurated in January 1830 by the consecration of the first house of prayer, now known as the Adi Brahmo Samaj. From the Brahmo Samaj springs Brahmoism, one of the recent sects or faiths of Hinduism. It is not recognised in India as a separate religion distinct from Hinduism despite its non-syncretic "foundation of Rammohun Roy's reformed spiritual Hinduism (contained in the 1830 Banian deed) and inclusion of root Hebraic – Islamic creed and practice"  though the position is different in Bangladesh.
Meaning of name The Brahmo Samaj literally denotes community (Sanskrit: samaj) of men who worship Brahma the Creator. In reality Brahmo Samaj does not discriminate between caste, creed or religion and is an assembly of all sorts and descriptions of people without distinction, meeting publicly for the sober, orderly, religious and devout adoration of "the (nameless) unsearchable Eternal, Immutable Being who is the Author and Preserver of the Universe."
Social and religious reform
In all fields of social reform, including abolition of the caste system and of the dowry system, emancipation of women, and improving the educational system, the Brahmo Samaj reflected the ideologies of the Bengal Renaissance. Brahmoism, as a means of discussing the dowry system, was a central theme of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay's noted 1914 Bengali language novella, Parineeta.
In 1866, Keshub Chunder Sen organised the more radical "Brahmo Samaj of India" with overtones of Christianity. He campaigned for the education of women and against child marriages. But he nonetheless arranged a marriage for his own underage daughter. The Brahmo Samaj of India split after this act of underage marriage generated a controversy and his pro-British utterances and leaning towards Christian rites generated more controversies. A third group, "Sadharan (ordinary) Brahmo Samaj", was formed in 1878. It gradually reverted to the teaching of the Upanishads but continued the work of social reform. The movement, always an elite group without significant popular following, lost force in the 20th century.
After the controversy of underage marriage of Keshub Chunder Sen's daughter, the Special Marriages Act of 1872 was enacted to set the minimum age of 14 years for marriage of girls. All Brahmo marriages were thereafter solemnised under this law. Many Indians resented the requirement of the affirmation "I am not Hindu, nor a Mussalman, nor a Christian" for solemnising a marriage under this Act. The requirement of this declaration was imposed by Henry James Sumner Maine, legal member of Governor General's Council appointed by Britain. The 1872 Act was repealed by the Special Marriage Act, 1954 under which any person of any religion could marry. The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 applies to all Hindus including followers of the Brahmo Samaj. In India the statutory minimum age of marriage for followers of Brahmo Samaj is the same as for all Indians, viz., 21 years for males and 18 years for females. It is also the age marriage in Bangladesh.
It also supported social reform movements of people not directly attached to the Samaj, such as Pandit Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar’s movement which promoted widow re-marriage.
The following doctrines, as noted in Renaissance of Hinduism, are common to all varieties and offshoots of the Brahmo Samaj:
- Brahmo Samajists have no faith in any scripture as an authority.
- Brahmo Samajists have no faith in Avatars.
- Brahmo Samajists denounce polytheism and idol-worship.
- Brahmo Samajists are against caste restrictions.
- Brahmo Samajists make faith in the doctrines of Karma and Rebirth optional.
Principles of Brahmo Samaj
The following prime principles are accepted by the vast majority of Brahmos today.
- On God: There is always Infinite Singularity – immanent and transcendent Singular Author and Preserver of Existence – He who is manifest everywhere and in everything, in the fire and in the water, in the smallest plant to the mightiest oak.
- On Being: Being is created from Singularity. Being is renewed to Singularity. Being exists to be one (again) with Loving Singularity.
- On Intelligent Existence: Righteous actions alone rule Existence against Chaos. Knowledge of pure Conscience (light within) is the One (Supreme) ruler of Existence with no symbol or intermediary.
- On Love love and love: Respect all creations and beings but never venerate (worship) them for only Singularity can be adored.
Supreme Court decision
In a lawsuit dealing with the rights of aided educational institutions run by Brahmo Samaj, the Supreme Court of India decided on 5 May 2004 that the University Services Commission cannot completely control the selection of teachers leaving no role in it at all for the aided educational institutions. The court did not consider it necessary to decide whether the institution was in fact a minority institution. It has been wrongly claimed by some that the court's decision meant that the followers of Brahmo Samaj are not Hindus. The court dealt with only rights of aided educational institutions to appoint teachers of their choice and did not comment whether Brahmo Samaj educational institutions were minority institutions. It did not declare Brahmo Samaj as a separate religion.
In Brahmo Samaj Education Society vs. State of West Bengal (2004) 6 SCC 224, the Supreme Court of India held that notwithstanding an institution was receiving aid, its right to choose teachers, subject to fulfilling the requisite qualification, could not be taken away by a State University Service Commission. The distinguishing features of Brahmo Samaj decision are:
(a) The Supreme Court did not consider it necessary to answer the issue whether the institution was in fact a minority institution.
(b) The University Services Commission wanted to completely control the selection of teachers leaving no role in it at all for the institution. It was in those circumstances that it was observed that such a condition was not consistent with the rights of an aided institution.
(c) The Supreme Court did not interpret the scope and ambit of the right under Article 30(1) of the Constitution.
(d) The Supreme Court ultimately did not decide the validity of the impugned provision as is apparent from para 11 of the decision. It issued a direction that the State Government should take note of the judgment in TMA Pai and make suitable amendments to the laws.
Divisions of Brahmo Samaj
- Adi Brahmo Samaj
- Adi Dharm
- Arya Samaj
- History of Bengal
- Prarthana Samaj
- Sadharan Brahmo Samaj
- Tattwabodhini Patrika
References and notes
- J. N. Farquhar, Modern Religious Movements of India (1915), p. 29
- "Brahmo Samaj and the making of modern India, David Kopf, publ. 1979 Princeton University Press (USA)."
- "Modern Religious movements in India, J.N.Farquhar (1915)" page 29 etc.
- "Official Brahmo website". Brahmosamaj.org. Retrieved 2012-10-15.
- "Bangladesh Law Commission" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-10-15.
- page 1 Chapter 1 Volume 1 History of the Brahmo Samaj by Sivanath Sastri, 1911, 1st edn. publisher R.Chatterji, Cornwallis St. Calcutta. Brahmo (ব্রাহ্ম bramho) literally means "one who worships Brahman", and Samaj (সমাজ shômaj) mean "community of men".
- Trust deed of Brahmo Sabha 1830
- "Brahma Sabha". Banglapedia.search.com.bd. Retrieved 2012-10-15.
- Source: The Gazetteer of India, Volume 1: Country and people. Delhi, Publications Division, Government of India, 1965. CHAPTER VIII – Religion. HINDUISM by Dr. C.P.Ramaswami Aiyar, Dr. Nalinaksha Dutt, Prof. A.R.Wadia, Prof. M.Mujeeb,Dr.Dharm Pal and Fr. Jerome D'Souza, S.J.
- "Account Suspended". Brahmosamaj.org. Retrieved 2012-10-15.
- Sadharan Brahmo Samaj
- World Brahmo Council
- Beliefs of Brahmo Samaj
- Brahmo Samaj in the Encyclopædia Britannica
- "The Tagores & Society" from the Rabindra Bharati Museum at Rabindra Bharati University
- The Brahmo Samaj