Whenever we talk of the month of November – we invariably think of the nineteenth day of the month which is the birthdate of the greatest and most powerful social reformer of the nineteenth century. John Stevens in his latest book writes “his visit to England made him a celebrity. Many Britons regarded him as a prophet of world-historical significance.” It is Kehsub Chandra Sen – a deeply devout person, a brilliant orator, a saint and a social reformer.
Keshub was born here in Kolkata at Coolutola in 1838. At the age of 17 he started Coolutola Evening School for the young people of the neighbourhood, at the age of 19 he started a society called “Goodwill Fraternity” to give discourse on religious matters. Hundreds began to flock into the services of the Samaj to hear him speak and listen to the songs composed by Satyendranath Tagore, the second son of Maharshi Debendranath.
It was here during one of the discourses he found Debendranath in his audience. Though there would be ups and downs the bond between them never waivered. At the age of 21 Keshub along with his friends staged a play on widow remarriage. Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar was present in the audience and could not hold back his tears. In 1859 he set up the Brahmo School and in 1860 he began publishing tracts which was the call of the new Brahmoism and the first chapter was called, “Young Bengal, this is for you”. Debendranath recognized the zeal in Keshub and awarded him the title of Brahmananda on 13th April 1862.
Keshub Chandra Sen was a great reformer. Not satisfied with the moderate stance of Debendranath in regard to social reforms, a formal schism took place in 1866 and the Brahmo Samaj of India was formed. The tenets of the Brahmo Samaj of India at this time were the following: (1) The wide universe is the temple of God. (2) Wisdom is the pure land of pilgrimage. (3) Truth is the everlasting scripture. (4) Faith is the root of all religions. (5) Love is the true spiritual culture. (6) The destruction of selfishness is the true asceticism
On 24th January 1868, Keshub laid the foundation stone of his new church and the newly constructed chapel was consecrated on 22nd August 1869. In the Navavidhan Symbol he declared, “we believe in the Church Universal, which recognise in all prophets and saints a harmony, in all scriptures a unity and though all dispensations a continuity, which abjures all that separates and divides and always magnifies unity and peace, which harmonises reason, faith and Bhakti, asceticism and social duty in their highest forms and which shall make of all nations and sects one kingdom and one family in the fullness of time.” This is essentially the message of India – which was a synthesis among religions.
Universalism was further strengthened by publishing of four books – Gour Govinda Roys’ work on the Gita, P C Mozoomdar’s book The Oriental Christ, Aghor Nath Gupta’s study on Buddha and Girish Chandra Sen’s Tapasmala – life of Muslim saints and his Bengali translation of Koran and Hadis. There was also a Pilgrimage to the Saints – special service held in the memory of great men like Moses, Socrates, Sakya, The Rishis, Christ, Muhammad, Chaitanya, Scientific men.
After his return from England we find Keshub working for the labourers and workers. The Indian Reform Association was set up in 1870. A night school for the education of the working classes was opened. Cheap literature- Sulabh Samachar and a journal were started to print out the evil effects of drink. To educate girls and women, he opened the Normal School for girls and the Victoria Institution for women in 1871. Bharatashram was set up in 1871 where members of the Samaj will live in a commune.
With Keshub Chandra Sen, new principles of thought and actions were brought into the Samaj. He remodelled all the rites and ceremonies of Hindus according to Brahmo doctrines and took only reason and conscience as his guide. It was Keshub who brought the mystic sage of Dakhineswar – Ramakrishna Paramhansa into social limelight.
Keshab Chandra Sen believed that a new church would arise which would be destructive of rituals, ceremonies, idolatry and sectarianism. Unimportant differences would be erased, and a community of feelings and interests would be developed. This was echoing Rammohun’s thoughts of Service to God is Service to Man.
As observed by Max Muller, Keshub Chandra Sen came to believe that ‘Jesus and Moses, Chaitanya and Buddha, Mohammed and Nanak should all become one before God. His New Dispensation was to embrace and unify all religions, all scriptures, and all-prophets in God, and India was to be the birthplace of that all-embracing religion. Keshub succeeded in making the Brahmo movement a dynamic force throughout the country and winning over thousands of young men to the Brahmo faith. He was a sincere believer in universal harmony and a profound scholar of world religions. He was an universalist, a liberal social reformer and an educationalist, he made Brahmo, Samaj a real force all over Bengal and was the first to start an All-India movement by religious and social reforms.
Another great Brahmo whose birth and death anniversary falls in November is the famous scientist Indian polymath, physicist, biologist, biophysicist, botanist and archaeologist – Jagadish Chandra Bose. He was a plant physiologist and physicist whose invention of highly sensitive instruments for the detection of minute responses by living organisms to external stimuli enabled him to anticipate the parallelism between animal and plant tissues noted by later biophysicists. Bose’s father sent him to study in a vernacular school. Bose writes “In the vernacular school, to which I was sent, the son of the Muslim attendant of my father sat on my right side, and the son of a fisherman sat on my left. They were my playmates. I listened spellbound to their stories of birds, animals and aquatic creatures. Perhaps these stories created in my mind a keen interest in investigating the workings of Nature. When I returned home from school accompanied by my school fellows, my mother welcomed and fed all of us without discrimination.” This was the spirit of universalism and secularism the Brahmo Samaj always stood for. We also have accounts of Bose recording Brahmasangeet in his laboratory in Presidency college using the phonograph machine which was his invention.
In November we also the death anniversary of the Indian historian, author and parliamentarian – Kalidas Nag. A close associate of Sukumar Ray, Kalidas Nag was also a member of the Monday Club –where the members were free to express their opinions about the world at large. As a parliamentarian he served a term in the Rajya Sabha between 1951 to 1954. Kalidas Nag was a great author. His biggest contribution is the English Works of Rammohun where he was the editor along with Debajyoti Barman. He also wrote books like History of a Greater India, Art & Archaeology Abroad, Greater India etc. We look at the lives of these great men and strive to imbibe their ideals – it will the best homage offered to them f we can even take a part of their teachings in our day to day lives.