Hindu reform movements

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Several contemporary groups, collectively termed Hindu reform movements or Hindu revivalism, strive to introduce regeneration and reform to Hinduism. Most modern Hindu reform movements advocate a return to ancient, egalitarian forms of Hinduism. Discrimination and the caste system are regarded as being corrupt results from colonialism and foreign influence. The Vedic traditions are being reinterpreted in a modern way, to support this egalitarianism.[1]


Main article: History of Hinduism
See also: Neo-Vedanta

From the 18th century onward India was being colonialised by the British. In contrast to the Muslim domination, this colonialisation had a huge impact on Indian society, where social and religious leaders tried to assimilate western culture and modernise Hindu culture.[2] During the 19th century, Hinduism developed a large number of new religious movements, partly inspired by the European Romanticism, nationalism, and esotericism (Theosophy) popular at the time. Conversely and contemporaneously, India had a similar effect on European culture with Orientalism, "Hindu style" architecture, reception of Buddhism in the West and similar.

Social reform movements[edit]

In social work, Mahatma Gandhi, Vinoba Bhave, Baba Amte and Shrii Shrii Anandamurti have been most important. Sunderlal Bahuguna created the chipko movement for the preservation of forestlands according to the Hindu ecological ideas.

One of the foremost movements in breaking the caste system and educating the downtrodden was the Lingayat movement spearheaded by Basavanna in the 12th century in Anubhava Mantapa in Kalyani of Karnataka. The less accessible Vedas were rejected and parallel Vachanas were compiled.

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh[edit]

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS was founded by Keshav Baliram Hegdewar in 1925. The goal was to unite Hindus, make them rise over their caste differences and work to achieve a Hindu Rashtra; the ideology of the Sangh, closely associated with political Hinduism, came to be known as Hindutva.RSS is one of the largest Hindu paramilitary,cultural organisation with more than 6 million volunteers.[3][4] It advocates casteless Hindu society & its egalitarian philosophy for Hindu society has impressed leading personalities like Dr. BR Ambedkar, Veer Savarkar etc. RSS runs large numbers of 1 Teacher schools called " Ekal Vidyalayas " to cater education to poor & downtrodden Hindus living in remote villages of India.

Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)[edit]

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad or VHP was founded in 1964 by second sarsanghachalak (chief) of RSS, Shri Madhav Golwalkar (Guruji) with core objective of consolidating and strengthening the Hindu Society and also to eradicate the caste system among the Hindus which had crept in during medieval times and unite all Hindus. The VHP has openly advocated appointing Dalit (lowest strata in Hindu society) as Priests in temples and also runs several medical camps, hospitals, schools and hostels in remote regions of India primarily inhabited by Dalits and tribals. In recent years the VHP has emerged as one of the most active Hindu missionary organisations and has organised several mass conversion programs of Christians and Muslims to Hinduism.

Religious movements[edit]

The new movements look up to Swami Vivekananda; Rabindranath Tagore; Shirdi Sai Baba; Ramana Maharshi; Shri Aurobindo (for his Integral Yoga); Maharishi Dayananda Saraswati, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (founder of the modern Hare Krishna movement); Swami Sivananda, Swami Rama Tirtha; Sri Narayana Guru, Paramhansa Yogananda; Shrii Shrii Anandamurti.

More recently, the work of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Sathya Sai Baba, Swami Muktananda, Swami Chinmayananda Saraswati, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Shriram Sharma Acharya, Pramukh Swami Maharaj, Swami Sathyananda Saraswathi, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, and Mata Amritanandamayi has inspired millions to create new centers of spiritual development.

In the intellectual field, the writings of Ananda Coomaraswamy, Ram Swarup, Sita Ram Goel, Subhash Kak, and David Frawley have been influential.

Brahmo Samaj[edit]

The Brahmo Samaj is a social and religious movement founded in Kolkata in 1828 by Raja Ram Mohan Roy. He was one of the first Indians to visit Europe and was influenced by western thought. He died in Bristol, England. The Brahmo Samaj movement thereafter resulted in the Brahmo religion in 1850 founded by Debendranath Tagore — better known as the father of Rabindranath Tagore.In 1878 it divided into two branch.


Swaminarayan Hinduism, also known as the Swaminarayan faith or the Swaminarayan sect, is a modern tradition in the state of Gujarat, founded by Swaminarayan.

Arya Samaj[edit]

Arya Samaj ("Society of Nobles") is a Hindu reform movement in India that was founded by Swami Dayananda in 1875 at Bombay. He was a sannyasin (renouncer) who believed in the infallible authority of the Vedas. Dayananda advocated the doctrine of karma and reincarnation, and emphasised the ideals of brahmacharya (chastity) and sanyasa (renunciation). Dayananda claimed to be rejecting all non-Vedic beliefs altogether.

Hence the Arya Samaj unequivocally condemned the related on going practices of all religions that they found to be incorrect, the practices included idol worship, animal sacrifice, pilgrimages, priest craft, offerings made in temples, the caste system, child marriages, on the grounds that all these lacked original Hinduism.

It aimed to be a universal structure based on the authority of the Vedas. Dayananda stated that he wanted 'to make the whole world Aryan', i.e. he wanted to develop missionary Hinduism based on the universality of the Vedas. To this end, the Arya Samaj started Shuddhi movement in early 20th century to bring back to Hinduism people converted to Islam and Christianity, set up schools and missionary organisations, and extended its activities outside India. It now has branches around the world and has a disproportional number of adherents among people of Indian ancestry in Suriname and the Netherlands, in comparison with India.[citation needed]


Main articles: Neo-Vedanta and Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda was a central personality in the development of neo-Hinduism (also called Neo-Vedanta) in late 19th century and the early 20th century. His ideals and sayings have inspired numerous Indians as well as non-Indians, Hindus as well as non-Hindus. Among the prominent figures whose ideals were very much influenced by them were Rabindranath Tagore, Gandhi, Subhas Bose, Satyendranath Bose, Megh Nad Saha, and Sister Nivedita.[citation needed]

Outside India[edit]

In Indonesia several movements favour a return to Hinduism in Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan, and Sulawesi. Balinese Hinduism, known as Agama Hindu Dharma, has witnessed great resurgence in recent years. Shrii Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar (founder of Ananda Marga) initiated a new renaissance in the Indian world of samgeet.

Influence on the West[edit]

The Hindu traditions also influenced western religiosity. Early in the 19th century the first translations of Hindu texts appeared in the west, and inspired western philosophers such as Arthur Schopenhauer.[5] Helena Blavatsky moved to India in 1879, and her Theosophical Society, founded in New York in 1875, evolved into a peculiar mixture of Western occultism and Hindu mysticism over the last years of her life.

In the 19th century Vivekananda played a major role in the revival of Hinduism,[6] and the spread of Advaita Vedanta to the west via the Ramakrishna Mission. His interpretation of Advaita Vedanta has been called "Neo-Vedanta".[7] In a talk on "The absolute and manifestation" given in at London in 1896 Swami Vivekananda said:-

I may make bold to say that the only religion which agrees with, and even goes a little further than modern researchers, both on physical and moral lines is the Advaita, and that is why it appeals to modern scientists so much. They find that the old dualistic theories are not enough for them, do not satisfy their necessities. A man must have not only faith, but intellectual faith too".[8]

See also[edit]



  • Dense, Christian D. Von (1999), Philosophers and Religious Leaders, Greenwood Publishing Group 
  • John Nicol Farquhar, Modern Religious Movements in India, Kessinger Publishing (2003), ISBN 0-7661-4213-2.
  • Kenneth W. Jones, Socio-Religious Reform Movements in British India, The New Cambridge History of India, Cambridge University Press (1990), ISBN 0-521-24986-4.
  • Michaels, Axel (2004), Hinduism. Past and present, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press 
  • Mukerji, Mādhava Bithika (1983), Neo-Vedanta and Modernity, Ashutosh Prakashan Sansthan 
  • Renard, Philip (2010), Non-Dualisme. De directe bevrijdingsweg, Cothen: Uitgeverij Juwelenschip 
  • J. Zavos, Defending Hindu Tradition: Sanatana Dharma as a Symbol of Orthodoxy in Colonial India, Religion (Academic Press), Volume 31, Number 2, April 2001, pp. 109–123.
  • Ghanshyam Shah, Social Movements in India: A Review of the Literature, New Delhi, Sage India, 2nd ed. (2004) ISBN 0-7619-9833-0

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