By Sanjoy Chanda
Marriage of Brahmo youth and its legality was a matter of great concern. To overcome this problem, Keshub approached the government with the proposal to enact “Brahmo Marriage Bill”. After long deliberations his efforts were successful. “Civil Marriage Act III of 1872” legalized marriages performed without following traditional religious rituals.
In 1870 Keshub travelled to England. He was then only 32 years old, but his reputation had preceded him, and he was received by the intellectuals and the famous of the English society with respect. The Prime Minister Mr. Gladstone felicitated him at a tea party in his home. Queen Victoria also received and held discussions with him.
During his six months of stay in England, Keshub delivered around a hundred lectures. The most significant out of these was the one titled “England’s Duties to India” in which there were several statements which were critical of British rule in India and he also listed out what India expected from the government. He said “You hold India on trust and you have no right to say that you will use its property, its riches or its resources or any of the privileges which God has given you, simply for the purpose of your own selfish aggrandizement and enjoyment”. It required a lot of courage to say these words, especially so soon after the Sepoy Mutiny.
Among the famous people he met and earned respect and friendship from, to name just a few, were John Stuart Mill, Gladstone, Miss Mary Carpenter, Miss Sophia Dobson Collet and Max Muller. His presence in England caused quite a stir and the Punch magazine which acted as a barometer of British public opinion, came out with the following notice in the form of a doggerel:
“Who on earth of living men
Is Baboo Keshub Chunder Sen?
Have you heard, if so, where and when
Of Baboo Keshub Chunder Sen?
And ended with:
“Let’s beard this “Lion” in his den –
This Baboo Keshub Chunder Sen.
So come to tea and muffins then,
With Baboo Keshub Chunder Sen.”
True to his concept of the universalism of Brahmo Dharma, Keshub was keen to compile the messages of the great religions of the world. Four of his close associates were given the responsibility for this. Gaurgovinda Roy took on the task of a thorough study of the Hindu Shastras and their publicity. Sadhu Aghornath studied Buddhism and authored “Shakyamuni Charit”, an authoritative study on Buddhist philosophy. Pratap Chandra Majumdar was renowned for his erudition in Christianity. He authored his well-known book “Oriental Christ”. Girish Chandra Sen went to Lucknow and learnt Arabic. He did an in-depth study of Koran Sharif. His translation of the Koran is its first authentic Bengali translation directly from the original Arabic text.
Keshub Chunder had cordial relationship with the two great spiritual personalities of his time. Keshub met Ramakrishna Paramahansa for the first time in 1875 when Ramakrishna came to meet him at the Belgharia Tapoban. The two men appeared to be like polar opposites. Yet there were spiritual affinities that drew them together. A true and deep attachment sprang up between the two bhaktas.
The founder and leader of the Arya Samaj, Swami Dayanand Saraswati came to Calcutta in 1873-74. Keshub went to meet him along with his associates to have spiritual interchange with him. Though they differed on certain points of doctrine, that did not come in the way of a spiritual relationship with a man of faith, so true and devoted. Keshub accorded him a warm reception at his Kolutola residence where the Swami gave an address in Sanskrit. He delivered two other lectures arranged through Keshub’s initiative, also in Sanskrit. Keshub suggested to him that for the convenience of ordinary people he may consider delivering his talks in Hindi which the Swamiji accepted. The two spiritual leaders had profitable exchange of ideas, and established a friendship which lasted life-long.
Difference of opinion among different sections of samaj members started cropping up. There were a number of issues involved. One section wanted constitutional methods in the management of the church. There were disagreements on doctrinal issues also. The controversy surrounding the marriage of Keshub’s eldest daughter to the Maharaja of Cooch Behar proved to be the last straw. In 1878 a large section broke away to form Sadharan Brahmo Samaj”.
During the Maghotsav of the year 1880 Keshub made announcement of the Nababidhan or the New Dispensation. The basis of this belief is that there is one God, one scripture, one culture. It also believes in the validity of all great men, all dispensations, all scriptures. Over the ages there have been succession of religious teachers. The succession of scriptures forms one divine gospel. The succession of faith and cultures is one and continuous. In his own words: “It recognizes in all prophets and saints a harmony, in all scriptures a unity and through all dispensations continuity…..”.The revelation of this harmony is the Nababidhan.
The Nababidhan was the result of lifelong introspection and Keshub Chunder’s last major contribution.
He died on the 8th of January, 1884 at the age of 45 years. But his achievements within that short span of life were outstanding.