Rammohun Roy was born in West Bengal 246 years ago. We have read in our school history books that Rammohun he was the harbinger of Modern India and was instrumental in abolishing the Suttee system. Also it was he who uplifted the Hindu religion from its rituals and dogmas.
But then why is Rammohun relevant today? Rammohun was the first Indian who was a liberal at heart. Rammohun founded the Brahma Sabha a place for the worship of the One Adorable Immutable Being who is Omnipotent and All Pervasive. The Trust Deed of the Brahmo Samaj which was executed on 8th January 1830 states that people should congregate here in an “orderly, sober, religious and devout manner for the worship and adoration of the Eternal Unsearchable and Immutab1e Being who is the Author and Preserver of the Universe.” Thus this is a confluence – place where there is no distinction in the name of caste, creed, race, sex or religion. It is hard to find any parallel on Rammohun’s universal approach in the world at that time. Even the educated gentry in the Western world could not conceive such ideals of equality. Rammohun bought a piece of land where he started his Brahmo Samaj on 23rd January 1830. In this Samaj true to his liberal and Universalist views – songs were sung by Hindu, Muslim and Anglo Indian children, Muslim percussionist played the pakhawaj. This scenario of Hindus, Muslims and Christians singing to the Glory of the One True God and was never repeated anywhere in India and we still have not heard of it in Modern India.
Rammohun wrote the book Tuhfat-Ul-Muwahhiddin or “The Gift to the Deists” when he was 16 or 17 years old. It was written in Persian. It was translated in English in 1883 by Obaidullah El Obaide. Rammohun published this treatise in Persian from Murshidabad where he went as a private munshi to Thomas Woodforde, Registrar of the Appellate Court of Murshidabad. The fundamental principle of Tuhfat is based on rational thinking – it strongly criticizes the doctrine so the prophets and revealations, miracles and supernatural elements in all established religions and stressing on the importance of “one’s own intellectual power with the help of acquired knowledge to discern good from bad”. Rammohun in this treatise has not directly criticizing any religion – but has strived to show the basic common truths among them while pointing out the differences in their practices. He has implored to his fellow countrymen to worship the all powerful, all pervading One God and spread his word. He writes that I have studied the religious texts of Hindus, Islam and Christianity, and have come to a conclusion – there is no doubt among the religious sects that One True God is the one to be worshipped, the main discontent lies in the ceremonies and creeds that have been adopted by our forefathers without any enquiry into the truth and falsehood of them. Even after 220 odd years these words are relevant even today.
In our country nowadays religion is being treated as a commodity. Hatred between communities are being incited in the name of religion. Religious bigotry and communalism are rampant – and political leaders are helping the matter by fanning this passion of hate and polarization. Rammohun predicted this in Tuhfat-Ul-Muwahhiddin. Here he has divided people in four different classes. He writes – “In short individuals of mankind with reference to who are deceivers and those who are deceived and those who are not either, amount to four classes. Firstly – A class of deceivers who in order to attract people to themselves willfully invent doctrines of creeds and faith and put the people into troubles and cause disunion among them. Secondly – a class of deceived people, who without inquiring into the fact, adhere to others. Thirdly – A class of people who are deceivers and also deceived, they are those who having themselves faith in the sayings of another induce others to adhere to his doctrines. Fourthly – Those who by the help of Almighty God are neither deceivers nor deceived.”
He also goes on to write “Nevertheless most of the leaders of different religions for the sake of perpetuating their names and gaining honor, having invented several dogmas of faith have declared them in the form of truth by pretending some supernatural acts or by the force of their tongue or some other measure suitable to the circumstances of their contemporaries and thereby made a multitude of people adhere to them so that these poor people having lost sight of their conscience bind themselves to submit to their leaders and think it to be a sin to make distinction between a real virtue and an actual sin in carrying out the injunctions of their religious leaders.”
In today’s India we see the position of women has degraded – they do not get the respect that is due to them. Every day we hear of atrocities carried out against women. Be it the villages or be it the urban areas – the situation is the same. Even the children today are not spared – they are also living in an insecure and unsafe society. Rammohun died in 1833, and even after almost 200 hundred years we do not seemed to have progressed very much. It’s time to introspect where we are standing. Rammohun was very concerned with the status of women and tirelessly crusaded against the dogmas and rituals that prevented them from coming to the forefront of the society. He turned his activities against the dowry system. We all know that he never stopped till the evil practice of Suttee was abolished, but that was not all. He also appealed to the rich people to donate to a fund that would be used for the upkeep of the widows. Much later in the 20th century would we hear the name of the term “pension fund”. Under the influence of Rammohun’s teachings the Tattwabodhini Sabha was set up. This Sabha worked very much towards creating public awareness against child marriage, polygamy among others and strived to remove the obstacles which prevented the independence of women. The Brahmo social reformers who came to work for the Samaj and the upliftment of the society never deviated from the course of women education and women’s independence and their position in the society. They set up schools and education institutions especially catering to the women population. The prominent reformers among them are Pandit Sivnath Sastri, Dwarkanath Ganguly, Upendrakishore Roy Chowdhury, Durgamohan Das, Ananda Mohan Bose etc. One of the premier education institution that had been set up a century ago and still performing the good work is the Brahmo Balika Shikshalaya.
Rammohun had a very modern outlook towards education. When the Governor General of India Lord Amherst proposed to open a college for teaching the Sanskrit language. Rammohun protested strongly against this and wrote to the Governor General, “…the Sanskrit system of education would be the best calculated to keep this country in darkness, if such had been the policy of the British legislature. But as the improvement of the native population is the object of the Government, it will consequently promote a more liberal and enlightened system of instruction embracing Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, Chemistry, Anatomy with other useful sciences which may be accomplished with the sums proposed by employing a few gentlemen of talent and learning, educated in Europe and providing a college furnished with necessary books, implements and other apparatus.” He understood that the scientific way of education was necessary if India were to march to a country. But strangely we see that nowadays there are some politicians want to discard this scientific education and go back to the Vedic form of education.
Rabindranath while talking on Rammohun said “Rammohun was the only person in his time, in the whole world of man, to realize completely the significance of the Modern Age. He knew that the ideal of human civilization does not lie in the isolation of independence, but in the brotherhood of interdependence of individuals as well as of nations in all spheres of thought and activity. He applied this principle of humanity with his extraordinary depth of scholarship and natural gift of intuition, to social, literacy and religious affairs, never acknowledging limitations of circumstances, never deviating from his purpose lured by distractions of temporal excitement. His attempt was to establish our peoples on the full consciousness of their own cultural personality, to make them comprehend the reality of all that was unique and indestructible in their civilization and simultaneously, to make them approach other civilizations in the spirit of sympathetic cooperation.”
In his speech at the Preliminary Meeting of the Rammohun Roy Centenary held at the Senate House, Calcutta, on 18 February 1933 – Rabindranath said “Let me hope that we shall take upon ourselves the task of revealing to our own and contemporaneous civilizations the multi-sided and perfectly balanced personality of this great man. We in this country, however, owe a special responsibility, not only of bringing to light his varied contributions to the Modern Age, but of proving our right of kinship with him by justifying his life, by maintaining in every realm of our national existence the high standard of truth which he set before us. “
So on this special day we pray that we can walk on the path showed to us by Rammohun. Let us strive to remove all superstition and dogmas from our path – let there be unity amongst us and we can call on Rammohun’s call of Fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man. Let us rise above caste, creed and religion and say “Ekamevaditiyam” – God is only One.
— By Amit Das
This was part of prayer delivered by the author Sri Amit Das during 246th birth anniversary celebration of Raja Rammohun Roy organized by Sadharan Brahmo Samaj in association of Govt. of West Bengal and Calcutta Municipal Corporation at Kolkata Maidan on May 22, 2018.