Brahmo Samaj

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Brahmoism
Scripture Brahmo Dharma
Theology Monotheism
Pradhanacharya-1 Ram Mohan Roy
Pradhanacharya-2 Dwarkanath Tagore
Pradhanacharya-3 Debendranath Tagore
Founder Debendranath Tagore
Origin 1828
Kolkata
Separated from Hinduism
Other name(s) Adi Dharm
Official website http://true.brahmosamaj.in

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 movements[1] responsible for the making of modern India.[2] 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.[3] From the Brahmo Samaj springs Brahmoism, the most recent of legally recognised religions in India and Bangladesh, reflecting its foundation on reformed spiritual Hinduism with vital elements of Judeo-Islamic faith and practice.[4][5]

Meaning of name The Brahmo Samaj literally denotes community (Sanskrit: samaj) of men who worship Brahman the highest reality.[6] 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."[7]

History and timeline[edit]

Raja Ram Mohan Roy

Brahmo Sabha[edit]

On 20 August 1828 the first assembly of the Brahmo Sabha ( progenitor of the Brahmo Samaj) was held at the North Calcutta house of Feringhee Kamal Bose. This day was celebrated by Brahmos as Bhadrotsab (ভাদ্রোৎসব Bhadrotshôb "Bhadro celebration"). These meetings were open to all Brahmins and there was no formal organisation or theology as such.[8][9]

On 8 January 1830 influential progressive members of the closely related Kulin Brahmin clan[10] (scurrilously[11] described as Pirali Brahmin ie. ostracised for service in the Mughal Nizaamat of Bengal) of Tagore (Thakur) and Roy (Vandopādhyāya) zumeendar family mutually executed the Trust deed of Brahmo Sabha for the first Adi Brahmo Samaj (place of worship) on Chitpore Road (now Rabindra Sarani), Kolkata, India with Ram Chandra Vidyabagish as first resident superintendent.[12]

On 23 January 1830 or 11th Magh, the Adi Brahmo premises were publicly inaugurated (with about 500 Brahmins and 1 Englishman present). This day is celebrated by Brahmos as Maghotsab (মাঘোৎসব Maghotshôb "Magh celebration").

In November 1830 Rammohun Roy left for England.[13]

Brief Eclipse of Brahmo Sabha[edit]

With Rammohun's departure for England in 1830, the affairs of Brahmo Sabha were effectively managed by Trustees Dwarkanath Tagore and Pandit Ram Chandra Vidyabagish, with Dwarkanath instructing his diwan to manage affairs. Weekly service were held consonant with the Trust directive, consisting of three successive parts: recitation of the Vedas by Telugu Brahmins in the closed apartment exclusively before the Brahmin members of the congregation, reading and exposition of the Upanishads for the general audience, and singing of hymns. The reading of the Vedas was done exclusively before the Brahmin participants as the orthodox Telugu Brahmin community and its members could not be persuaded to recite the Vedas before Brahmins and non-Brahmins alike.

By the time of Rammohun's death in 1833 near Bristol (UK), attendance at the Sabha dwindled and the Telugu Brahmins revived idolatry. The zameendars, being preoccupied in business, had little time for affairs of Sabha, and flame of Sabha was almost extinguished.[14]

Tattwabodhini period[edit]

On 6 October 1839 Debendranath Tagore, son of (Prince) Dwarkanath Tagore, established Tattvaranjini Sabha which was shortly thereafter renamed the Tattwabodhini (Truth-seekers) Sabha. Initially confined to immediate members of the Tagore family, in 2 years it mustered over 500 members. In 1840 Debendranath published a Bangla translation of Katha Upanishad. A modern researcher describes the Sabha's philosophy as modern middle-class (bourgeois) Vedanta.[15] Among its first members were the "two giants of Hindu reformation and Bengal Renaissance, Akshay Kumar Datta "who in 1839 emerged from the life of an anonymous squalor-beset individual" and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar the "indigenous modernizer".[16]

First Covenant and merger with the Tattwabodhini Sabha[edit]

On 7th Pous 1765 Shaka (1843) Debendranath Tagore and twenty other Tattwabodhini stalwarts were formally invited by Pt. Vidyabagish into the Trust of Brahmo Sabha. The Pous Mela at Santiniketan starts on this day.[17] From this day forth, the Tattwabodhini Sabha dedicated itself to promoting Ram Mohan Roy's creed.[18] The other Brahmins who swore the First Covenant of Brahmoism are:-

  • Shridhar Bhattacharya
  • Shyamacharan Bhattacharya
  • Brajendranath Tagore
  • Girindranath Tagore, brother of Debendranath Tagore & father of Ganendranath Tagore
  • Anandachandra Bhattacharya
  • Taraknath Bhattacharya
  • Haradev Chattopadhyaya, the future father-in-law to MahaAcharya Hemendranath Tagore[19]
  • Shyamacharan Mukhopadhyaya
  • Ramnarayan Chattopadhyaya
  • Sashibhushan Mukhopadhyaya

Disagreement with the Tattwabodhini[edit]

In Nov 1855 the Rev. Charles Dall (a Unitarian minister of Boston) arrived in Calcutta to start his mission and immediately established contact with Debendranath and other Brahmos. Debendranath's suspicion of foreigners alienated Dall and in 1857, Debendranath Tagore barred the entry of the Reverend from the Sabha premises for preaching the name of Christ who some people worship as God within.[20][21] Debendranath then proceeded on spiritual retreat to Simla. Dall, immediately formed a counter group "The friends of Rammmohun Roy Society" and then got admitted a protégé to Sabha. The presence of Dall's protégé Keshub Chandra Sen (a non-Brahmin) into the Calcutta Brahmo Sabha in 1857 while Debendranath was away in Simla caused considerable stress in the movement, with many long time Tattvabodhini Brahmin members publicly leaving the Brahmo Sabha and institutions due to his high-handed ways. In September 1858, Debendranath returned to Calcutta to resolve the simmering disputes. but his conservative mien did not allow him to take decisive steps. He proceeded on a sea voyage to Ceylon accompanied by Sen and his 2nd son Satyendranath (a firm admirer of Mr Sen) but no concord was achieved. In 1859, the venerable and beloved Secretary of the Tattwabodhini Sabha Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar resigned from the Brahmo Sabha in the face of Debendranath's vacillation. A meeting of the Tatwabodhini was promptly summoned with Debendranath resigning from the group he had founded. His third son Hemendranath Tagore then a boy barely 15 years in age, and the favorite pupil of Vidyasgar, was commonly acclaimed as Debendranath's successor to head the Tattwabodhini. In the course of time he would become known as the MahaAcharya (or Great Teacher).

Expansion of the Tattwabodhini Sabha[edit]

Disgusted by politics within the Tagore family and the support to K.C.Sen's faction by his own brother Satyendranath Tagore, Hemendranath took the bold decisions to expand his Sabha out from Calcutta. His close associate Pandit Nobin Chandra Roy who had joined the new institution of "Railways" in 1860 as its "Paymaster" for Upper India was tasked to spread Brahmoism there. With a predominantly monotheistic populace following Islam and Sikhism it was perceived as fertile soil for Rammohun's message. The Tattwabodhini decreed that the uncorrupted faith of the original 1830 Trust Deed would be known there as the Adi Dharm to distinguish it from the distorted versions of the squabbling factions of Calcutta. The steps taken by Hemendranath Tagore, with the blessing of his father, was to institute in 1860 a suit before the Supreme Court to restore the title "Brahmo Samaj" to his faction. After losing in this suit in 1861, Keshub Sen's faction altered the name of their Samaj from "The Brahmo Samaj of India" to "Navabidhan (or the New Dispensation)". With victory in this suit and the promulgation of his Brahmo Anusthan (Code of Brahmaic doctrine and practice) in 1861, Hemendranath's Samaj-ists are henceforth known as the "Anusthanic" Brahmos (or Brahmos who follow the Code). The other factions were designated as "Ananusthanic" Brahmos (or those who do not follow the Code) (this distinction was again to be legally examined before the Privy Council of Great Britain in 1901 and in 1902 the Privy Council upheld the 1897 finding of the Chief Court of the Punjab that the Adi Dharm (anusthanic Brahmos) were definitely not Hindus whereas the Ananusthanics Brahmos of Calcutta fall within Hinduism).

Foundation of the Brahmo Samaj[edit]

In 1861 the Brahmo Somaj (as it was spelled then) was founded at Lahore by Nobin Roy.[22] It included many Bengalis from the Lahore Bar Association. Many branches were opened in the Punjab, at Quetta, Rawalpindi, Amritsar etc.

Controversies [23] over foundation of Brahmo Samaj[edit]

Who founded the Brahmo Samaj ?[edit]

The Brahmo Samaj was founded at Lahore in 1861 by Pandit Navin Chandra Roy to propagate the Brahmo religion. Nobin Chunder Roy had been deputed by MahaAcharya Hemendranath Tagore to spread the new Adi Dharma message of casteless Vedic Aryanism in Upper India and rescue Christian converts to the fold of the national religion.

Who founded the Brahmo religion ?[edit]

The Brahmo religion was founded in 1849 at Calcutta by Debendranath Tagore with the publication of “Brahmo Dharma“. This work established Brahmoism as a separate religion apart from all others.

Is not Raja Ram Mohan Roy the Brahmo Samaj founder ?[edit]

Ram Mohan Roy started the Brahma Sabha (Association of Brahmins) along with Dwarkanath Tagore in 1828. The objectives of this association were to publicize the true Vedanta which had been corrupted by Buddhist and Brahmanical influences. The Sabha met every Wednesday at Kamal Basu’s house in Chitpur and later moved to their own premises at Chitpur Road in 1830 (purchased by the munificence of Dwarkanath Tagore) . After the death of Ram Mohan Roy in 1833, the Sabha became moribund.

Are these Chitpur premises of 1830 not the Adi Brahmo Samaj ?[edit]

It is correct that the present Adi Brahmo Samaj premises are situated at the same location as 1830. However, the Adi Brahmo Samaj is only the name given by the common people to the Calcutta Bramho Samaj when Keshub Chunder Sen and a few of his sympathisers were expelled from it by MahaAcharya.

If the Calcutta Brahmo Samaj is the same as Adi Brahmo Samaj, when was it founded ?[edit]

The Calcutta Brahmo Samaj was so named in 1863, when after a cyclone the Chitpur Road premises were affected and Brahma Sabha (previously amalgamated with Tattwabodhini Sabha) was shifted to the Jorasako Thakur bari.

First Secession[edit]

Disagreement with the Tattvabodhini came to a head publicly between the period of 1 August 1865 till November 1866 with many tiny splinter groups styling themselves as Brahmo. The most notable of these groups styled itself "Brahmo Samaj of India". This period is also referred to in the histories of the secessionists as the "First Schism".[24]

Current status and number of adherents[edit]

While the various Calcutta sponsored movements declined after 1920 and faded into obscurity after the Partition of India, the Adi Dharm creed has expanded and is now the 9th largest of India's enumerated religions with 7.83 million adherents, heavily concentrated between the states of Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. In the Indian census of 2001 only 177 persons declared themselves a "Brahmo", but the number of subscriber members to Brahmo Samaj is somewhat larger at around 20,000 members.[25][26]

Social and religious reform[edit]

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.[27] 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 remarriage.

Doctrine[edit]

The following doctrines, as noted in Renaissance of Hinduism, are common to all varieties and offshoots of the Brahmo Samaj:[28]

  • 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.

Anusthanic versus Ananusthanic Brahmos[edit]

To understand the differences between the 2 streams of Brahmo Samaj it is essential to understand that these implicit distinctions are based on caste. The Anusthanic Brahmos are exclusively either Brahmins or casteless, and exclusively adhere to Brahmoism and have no other faith. The Ananusthanic Brahmo Samajists, however, are from the remaining main caste divisions of Hinduism like Kayastha, Baidya etc. and hence within the Karmic / Rebirth wheel to eternally progress (i.e. Sanatan Dharm) to God by moving up caste hierarchies, unlike anusthanic Brahmos for whom the next step after death is reintegration and renewal with 'God'.[29]

Principles of Brahmo Samaj[edit]

The following prime principles are accepted by the vast majority of Brahmos today.[30]

  • 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.

Legal Status of the Brahmo Religion[edit]

In a landmark case of 1901 (Bhagwan Koer & Ors v J.C.Bose & Ors, 31 Cal 11, 30 ELR IA 249) Britain's highest judicial authority, the Privy Council, upheld the finding of the High Court of the undivided Punjab that the vast majority of Brahmo religionists are not Hindus and have their own religion. The Council upheld the finding of the High Court that Debendranath Tagore was the founder of the Brahmo religion. The High Court in 1897 had distinguished anusthanic Brahmo "religionists" ("outside the pale of Hinduism") from ananusthanic "followers" of the Brahmo Samaj who continue to retain their Hinduism or other existing religion.

In 1949 the Government of India passed the "Hindu Marriages Validity Act". Despite discussion in Parliament Brahmos are not brought within the scope of this Law. In 1955 the Government of India passes the "Hindu Code" (a comprehensive set of laws for Hindus). Again despite discussion in Parliament, Brahmo religionists are not brought within the scope of these laws which, however, now become applicable to Hindus who are also followers of the Brahmo Samaj.

In 2002, Bangladesh (whose Law Commission relied on the binding decision of the High Court of undivided Punjab) enacted a law recognising Brahmo religionists and Brahmo marriages under traditional rites to Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists as legally valid.

On 05.May.2004 the Supreme Court of India by order of the Chief Justice dismissed the Government of West Bengal's 30 year litigation to get Brahmos classified as Hindus. The matter had previously been heard by an 11 Judge Constitution Bench of the Court (the second largest bench in the Court's history).[31]

Divisions of Brahmo Samaj[edit]

See also[edit]

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ J. N. Farquhar, Modern Religious Movements of India (1915), p. 29
  2. ^ "Brahmo Samaj and the making of modern India, David Kopf, publ. 1979 Princeton University Press (USA)."
  3. ^ "Modern Religious movements in India, J.N.Farquhar (1915)" page 29 etc.
  4. ^ "Official Brahmo website". Brahmosamaj.in. Retrieved 2012-10-15. 
  5. ^ "Bangladesh Law Commission" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-10-15. 
  6. ^ 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".
  7. ^ Trust deed of Brahmo Sabha 1830
  8. ^ "Socio-Religious Reform Movements in British India" By Kenneth W. Jones page 33-34, publ. 1989 Cambridge Univ. Press. ISBN 0-521-24986-4 This Sabha was convened at Calcutta by religious reformer Raja Rammohun Roy for his family and friends settled there. The Sabha regularly gathered on Saturday between seven o'clock to nine o'clock. These were informal meetings of Bengali Brahmins (the "twice born"), accompanied by Upanishadic recitations in Sanskrit followed by Bengali translations of the Sanskrit recitation and singing of Brahmo hymns composed by Rammohun.
  9. ^ "Modern Religious movements in India, J.N.Farquhar (1915)"
  10. ^ "A History of Brahmin Clans" (Brāhmaṇa Vaṃshõ kā Itihāsa) in Hindi, by Dorilāl Śarmā,published by Rāśtriya Brāhamana Mahāsabhā, Vimal Building, Jamirābād, Mitranagar, Masūdābād,Aligarh-1, 2nd edn. 1998. and also footnotes to Bengali Brahmin
  11. ^ "BANGLAPEDIA: Tagore, (Prince) Dwarkanath". Banglapedia.net. 2009-04-22. Archived from the original on 2009-04-22. Retrieved 2012-10-15. 
  12. ^ "Online copy of 1830 Trust Deed". brahmosamaj.in. Retrieved 2012-10-15. 
  13. ^ Socio-Religious Reform Movements in British India By Kenneth W. Jones page 34, publ. 1989 Cambridge Univ. Press. ISBN 0-521-24986-4
  14. ^ H.C.Sarkar-History of the Brahmo Religion (1906)
  15. ^ <2007: Brian Hatcher "Journal of American Academy of Religion"
  16. ^ "Brahmo Samaj and the making of modern India, David Kopf, Princeton University press", pp 43–57
  17. ^ "Rabindra Bharati Museum Kolkata, The Tagores & Society". Rabindrabharatiuniversity.net. Retrieved 2012-10-15. 
  18. ^ "Bourgeois Hinduism", Brian Allison Hatcher. pg 57–58.
  19. ^ "History of the Brahmo Samaj", S. Sastri. 2nd ed. p.81
  20. ^ "The Brahmo Samaj and making of Modern India", David Kopf, publ. Princeton Univ.
  21. ^ "Brahmoism, or a history of reformed Hinduism" (1884), R.C.Dutt
  22. ^ page.4 "Pakistan journal of history and culture, Volume 11", by National Institute of Historical and Cultural Research (Pakistan)
  23. ^ "Brahmo Samaj founder". Brahmo.org. 2011-07-25. Archived from the original on 2011-07-25. Retrieved 2012-10-15. 
  24. ^ Pt.Shivnath Shastri: Brahmo History- 1911.Page 106-107, 2nd edn.
  25. ^ "Brahmo Samaj FAQ Frequently asked Questions". Brahmo.org. 2011-07-25. Archived from the original on 2011-07-25. Retrieved 2012-10-15. 
  26. ^ Statewise census computation by the Brahmo Conference Organisation
  27. ^ "Brahma Sabha". Banglapedia.search.com.bd. Retrieved 2012-10-15. 
  28. ^ 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.
  29. ^ "Anusthanic Brahmos, Ananusthnic Brahmo Samaj". World Brahmo Council. 
  30. ^ "Brahmo Samaj". Brahmosamaj.org. Retrieved 2012-10-15. 
  31. ^ http://delhicourts.nic.in/Nov06/Jesus%20and%20Mary%20College%20Vs.%20University%20of%20Delhi.pdf

External links[edit]