Brahmo Samaj

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ScriptureBrahmo Dharma
Pradhanacharya-1Ram Mohan Roy
Pradhanacharya-2Dwarkanath Tagore
Pradhanacharya-3Debendranath Tagore
FounderRam Mohan Roy
Origin28 August 1828
Kolkata, West Bengal, India
Separated fromSanātanī Hinduism
Other name(s)Adi Dharm
Official website

Brahmo Samaj (Bengali: ব্রাহ্ম সমাজ Bramho Shômaj) is the societal component of Brahmoism, which began as a monotheistic reformist movement of the Hindu religion that appeared during the Bengal Renaissance. 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 1839. 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 in India[1] and made a significant contribution to 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]

Raja Rammohan Roy founded Brahmo Samaj in 1828 in the name of Brahmo Sabha.

Meaning of the name[edit]

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]


The following doctrines, as noted in Renaissance of Hinduism, are common to all varieties and offshoots of the Brahmo Samaj:[8]

  • 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.

Divisions of Brahmo Samaj[edit]

Anusthanic versus Ananusthanic Brahmos[edit]

To understand the differences between the two 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. Shanatana Dharma) to God by moving up caste hierarchies, unlike anusthanic Brahmos for whom the next step after death is reintegration and renewal with 'God'.[9]

History and timeline[edit]

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.[10][11]

On 8 January 1830 influential progressive members of the closely related Kulin Brahmin clan[12] scurrilously[13] 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.[14]

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. Akbar II had conferred the title of 'Raja' to Rammohun Roy.[15]

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.

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.[16]

Tattwabodhini period[edit]

On 6 October 1839, Debendranath Tagore, son of 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 two 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.[17]. 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".[18]

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.[19] From this day forth, the Tattwabodhini Sabha dedicated itself to promoting Ram Mohan Roy's creed.[20] 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[21]
  • 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.[22][23] Debendranath then proceeded on spiritual retreat to Simla. Dall, immediately formed a counter group "The friends of Rammohun 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.[24] It included many Bengalis from the Lahore Bar Association. Many branches were opened in the Punjab, at Quetta, Rawalpindi, Amritsar etc.

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".[25]

Brahmo Samaj and Swami Narendranath Vivekananda[edit]

Swami Vivekananda was influenced by the Brahmo Samaj of India, and visited the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj in his youth.[26]

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.[27][28]

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 Chandra 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 Suniti with the prince of Kochbehar. 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.[29] 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 not the 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 of 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.

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". Retrieved 15 October 2012.
  5. ^ "Bangladesh Law Commission" (PDF). Retrieved 15 October 2012.
  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. ^ 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.
  9. ^ "Anusthanic Brahmos, Ananusthnic Brahmo Samaj". World Brahmo Council.
  10. ^ "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.
  11. ^ "Modern Religious movements in India, J.N.Farquhar (1915)"
  12. ^ "A History of Brahmin Clans" (Brāhmaṇa Vaṃshõ kā Itihāsa) in Hindi, by Dorilāl Śarmā, published by Rāśtriya Brāmhamana Mahāsabhā, Vimal Building, Jamirābād, Mitranagar, Masūdābād, Aligarh-1, 2nd edn. 1998. and also footnotes to Bengali Brahmin
  13. ^ "Tagore, (Prince) Dwarkanath". Banglapedia. 22 April 2009. Archived from the original on 3 July 2015. Retrieved 23 July 2015.
  14. ^ "Online copy of 1830 Trust Deed". Retrieved 15 October 2012.
  15. ^ Socio-Religious Reform Movements in British India By Kenneth W. Jones page 34, publ. 1989 Cambridge Univ. Press. ISBN 0-521-24986-4
  16. ^ H.C.Sarkar-History of the Brahmo Religion (1906)
  17. ^ <2007: Brian Hatcher "Journal of American Academy of Religion"
  18. ^ "Brahmo Samaj and the making of modern India, David Kopf, Princeton University press", pp 43–57
  19. ^ "Rabindra Bharati Museum Kolkata, The Tagores & Society". Archived from the original on 7 March 2005. Retrieved 15 October 2012.
  20. ^ "Bourgeois Hinduism", Brian Allison Hatcher. pg 57–58.
  21. ^ "History of the Brahmo Samaj", S. Sastri. 2nd ed. p.81
  22. ^ "The Brahmo Samaj and making of Modern India", David Kopf, publ. Princeton Univ.
  23. ^ "Brahmoism, or a history of reformed Hinduism" (1884), R.C.Dutt
  24. ^ page.4 "Pakistan journal of history and culture, Volume 11", by National Institute of Historical and Cultural Research (Pakistan)
  25. ^ Pt.Shivnath Shastri: Brahmo History- 1911.Page 106-107, 2nd edn.
  26. ^ Chattopadhyaya, Rajagopal (31 December 1999). "Book: "Swami Vivekananda in India: A Corrective Biography"". Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited. Retrieved 23 March 2017.
  27. ^ "Brahmo Samaj FAQ Frequently asked Questions". 25 July 2011. Archived from the original on 25 July 2011. Retrieved 15 October 2012.
  28. ^ Statewise census computation by the Brahmo Conference Organisation
  29. ^ "Brahma Sabha". Banglapedia. Retrieved 23 July 2015.

External links[edit]