Brahma is adjective of Brahman (god) and Samj (noun) -society.
It is theistic and opposed to idolatry. Its main policy was ‘reform’.
Main purpose was to found a spiritual religion on the basis of Hinduism taking sources from Christianity.
Raja Ram Mohna Ray (1772-1833)
He was a pioneer of all living advancements – religious, social and educational in the Hindu community.
Born in Kulin Brahmin family. The family had long been connected with the Muhammadan government of Bengal.
Family –followers of Chaitanya – Bengali Vaishnavite leader.Parents were deeply religious.
He was married when quite a boy. His girl wife soon died. Father married him to two other little girls.
At the age of twelve hw was sent to study at Patna- Famous seat of Muhammadan learning which was passport to government service.
Ray came under the influence of Sufi school.
He also had the influence of the rationalistic school of Muslim thought i.e. Mutazilites.
Returned from Patna at 15. Developed difference with his father on idolatry. Led wandering life. It is said during wandering Ray went to Tibet and studied Buddhism and had discussion with the Lama.
Finally Ray’s father recalled him. He settled in Benares, studied Sanskrit and some Hindu books
In 1796 he began the study of English.
After the death of his father in 1803 he re-moved to Murshidabad, where in 1804 he published a pamphlet in Persian: Tuh fatul Muwahhiddin which means ‘A gift to Deists’.
Shortly after Ray entered the service of EIC under Mr. John Digby who encouraged Ray to study English literature
Ray served as a revenue officer for almost 10 years and amassed a fortune.
Ray also spent much time on religious discussions with friends (Hindu and Jain).
Ray was heterodox. His mother opposed. His wives refused to live with him.
Originally he hated English, later changed his attitude.
In 1814 after retiring from job, settled in Calcutta, to propagate his religious convictions.
In 1815, he established a society called Atmiya Sabha or friendly Association. Weekly meeting was held. Hindu scriptures were recited. Hymns were sung. The society ceased to meet in 1819.
Ray studied with full attention the Upanishads and Vedantra Sutra of Badarayana.
Between 1816 and 19 he published in Bengali and English abstracts of Vedanta Sutra and part translation of the Upansishads.
Roy believed that Upanishads teach pure theism. Uncontaminated by idolatry. He called his fellow countrymen to the pure religion of their forefathers.
Ray made acquaintance of the Serampore Missionaries. To study Christianity he began to study Hebrew and Greek.
About Christ he said: “I have found the doctrines of Christ more conducive to moral principles and better adopted for the use of rational beings, than any other which have come to my knowledge.”
So in 1820 Ray published a remarkable volume “The Principles of Jesus to Peace and Happiness.” It is a kind of extract from the gospels.
His friends in Serampore felt that the gospels were mangled and used on an utterly unhistorical way, in order to bar the progress of Christianity in India.
This led to controversy with Christians.
Roy maintained that Christ was a theist like him. His disciples misunderstood him. The whole edifice of Christology is a huge mistake.
Roy was keen on education and reform of the Hindu family.
His contribution for English education was remarkable. He was one among those responsible for founding Hindu college in 1819. When Duff arrived, Ray arranged suitable place and brought number of pupils for his school.
Ray knew that caste was indefensible, yet he defended his own caste. Retained sacred thread and defended caste.
Ray denounced widow burning and polygamy and asked for more rights for women.
His agitation against burning of widows, along with many others rewarded in Lord Bentinck’s order 4th December 1829, forbidding the cruel practice.
Ray helped Serampore missionaries in Bible (NT-Bengali) translation.
Soon their collaboration ceased due to discussions
Rev. Andrew (one of the missionaries) sided with Roy and started Unitarian Mission in 1821, September. Held Unitarian service in English. A printing press and education were also used as auxiliaries. As both could not pull together the mission was given up.
When English service failed Roy’s friends suggested for a directly Indian service in the vernacular.
The first meeting was held on 20th August 1828. The meeting chosen for this meeting was Brahma Sabha i.e. Brahman association. Soon the name was changed as Brahma Samaj.
The most notable supporter of this movement was Prince Dwarka Nath Tagore. A group of Brahmins also supported.
The society met every Saturday between 7 and 9 for service. The service had four parts:
1 chanting of selections from the Upanishads in Sanskrit (only Brahmian)
2 Translation of these passages into Bengali
3 A sermon in Bengali
4 Sung theistic hymns in Sanskrit and Bengali composed by Ray and his friends.
Still there was no organization, membership and creed.
Ray believed that he was restoring Hindu worship to its pristine purity.
Got new building in 1830 January. According to the trust deed of the building-
The building was to be used for public meetings –seeking god. No graven images. Instead of sermon, preaching, prayer, hymns contemplation on the author and finisher was emphasized. There was reference to promotion of charity, morality, piety, benevolence, virtue and union between religions.
In 1830 November Ray sailed to England wishing to study life and religion in England.
And if any service to nation since the charter of the EIC fell to be reviewed in 1833.
The Mughal dynasty entrusted him with a personal petition and conferred the title Raja.
He took two servants to keep the caste on the sea and in England.
He was received well but died in 1833 in Bristol.
Ray realized the good outcome of connection with Britain and Christianity.
He was not for mere adoption of everything western but to naturalize.
He picked up theistic faith which is common to Christianity, Upanishad and Islam.
This was, for him, universal religion-all could follow.
In reality Ray offered a deistic theology and worship.
He did not believe in transmigration.
The death of the founder was a big blow for the samaj.
Debendra Nath Tagore
Debendra Nath Tagore son of Dwarka Nath Tagore passed through a divided spiritual change in 1838. He and his friends in 1839 started Tattvabodhini Sabha or truth teaching association. They met weekly for religious discussion and once a month for worship.
1n 1842, 9 years after the death of Ray, Debendra Nath Tagore and his friends joined the Brahma Samj. Though for some time both the samajs worked side by side for common objectives, soon Debendra was recognized as a leader.
He became the Acharya or Minister of the Samaj.
During his time a monthly Tattvabodhini patrik – Truth teaching journal- appeared
A Vedic school- Tattvabodhini pathasala was started to
1. To train Brahma missionaries and
2. To check the progress of Christianity in Calcutta under Duff.
Debendra accepted Ray’s theism but no reverence for Christ.
He believed India had no need of Christianity.
Debendra saw the need for an organization for samaj and in 1843 he drew up Brahma Covenant.
It consisted of the list of solemn vows to the followers
It also promised abstention from idolatry and worship God by loving him.
Debendra also introduced Brahmopasana a brief form of prayer and adoration.
He was far from a deist.
His main teaching was the direct communion of the soul with the supreme spirit.
Vedas were recognized as the sole standard of the faith of the Samaj.
Some advanced members of the Samj objected to it. Hence four students were sent to Benares. They returned in 1850 to Calcutta. After that the inerrancy of the Vedas was given up.
Debendra compiled Brahma Dharma (Brahma Religion), for public worship and private devotion, mainly from Hindu literatures, and mostly from Upanishads.
Keshub Chandra Sen
Sen joined the Samaj in 1857. Young Sen had good modern education.
He became a great worker for the Samaj from 1859.
Sen worked in Bank of Bengal. He and his friends left job to become missionaries of the Samaj.
In 1860 Sen started Sangat Sabha (Believers Association) for religious devotion, religious discussions and discussions on social questions.
Hindu Samskaras was discussed and suggested that Brahmas cold not conscientiously take part in them.
Debendra prepared a new Brahma Rites. Durga worship in his residence was given up.
The Sabha discussed caste and given up.
Debendra gave up his sacred thread.
At the advice of Sen the Samaj followed the example of Christian philanthropy.
Collected money and food for famine sticken.
Sen came closely under Christian influence.
He believed social service and social reform were the bounden duty of every serious theist.
Sen also became Acharya of the Samaj. New activities under him are:
Brahma Vidyalaya – a sort of informal theological school.
The Indian Mirror –fortnightly English journal.
In 1864 Sen travelled extensively including to Bombay and Madras and preached with great power and success.
As a result a new Veda samaj was founded in Madras(1864) and from it the present Brahma Samaj of Madras grew.
After three years influenced people started Prarthana Samaj in Bombay.
The older members including Debendra thought that in Sen ‘spiritual religion would be sacrificed to the social reforms’.
Thus two groups developed within the Samj- Debendra and Sen.
During cyclone in 1864 the Brahma building was damaged and the service was shifted to the house of Debendra. Debendra used this opportunity and allowed ministers to officiate with sacred thread.
Sen’s part objected to it.
Thus in 1865 Sen’s party withdrew leaving all the property to Debendra. This time, already there were 50 Samajas in Bengal, three in north India and one in Madras. Sen was only 24 years of age.
Sen read many Christian literatures. Came more and more under Christian influence.
In 1866 Sen delivered a lecture “Jesus Christ : Europe and Asia”. He maintained that Christ was an Asiatic. Appreciated the greatness and supernatural moral heroism of Christ.
Many of Sen’s followers began to read Bible and desired pure and holy life.
The difficulty for Sen was that he has no organization, no rule, no arrangement. This led to frequent quarrel among his members.
In the end of 1866, Sen formed a new Samaj called “Brahma Samaj of India”.
Thus the original Samaj was called Adi Brahma Samaj.
Many from all over the country followed Sen. As there was no constitution everything was in the hands of Sen.
Sen published Sloksangraha (collection of texts) –from Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Christian, Muslim and Chinese scriptures.
A weekly service was conducted in Sen’s house on Sunday.
Sen introduced from Christianity and Chaitanya – Bhakti and Sankirtana(enthusiastic singing in chorus), Nagarkirtana (town praise), new liturgy and festivals.
1869 Sen got new building for the samaj.
He visited England- well received, preached. He returned to India with priceless value of the Christian home and filled with fresh schemes for social reform.
Younger members were enthusiastic about education for girls and emancipation of women.
Woman wore new dress suited for outdoor wear unlike stay-at-home Bengali wife
Took their wives and visited Christian homes.
New marriage ritual where both man and woman took vow.
Struggled against child marriage
Several widowa were remarried
Few intercaste marriages held
Sen started a new school for girls, an industrial school for boys, the Victoria Institution for women and Bharat Asram – for cultivation of better home life, education of woman and children.
Indian Mirror became a daily.
Started Sulabh Samachar (the cheap news) -a Bengali weekly.
Samaj grew with missionaries
Opposition to Sen
Sen wanted simple education for woman. Sen was progressive but afraid of university education and denounced much freedom to women.
Whereas some wanted good education for their daughters.
Another reason is Sen’s supremacy in the Samj. While some respected him as guru others opposed guruism.
Sen considered himself high above others.
He used the doctrine of adesh- direct command from god.
His acquaintanance with Rama Krishna Paramkamsa was another reason.
To avoid opposition Sen began to be more Hindu in nature.
Another reason was Sen’s daughter’s marriage. She was to be married to prince of Kuch Bihar(in North Bengal) before his England tour.
Both were under age. The prince’s family was Hindu. But Sen used the doctrine of Adesh. The marriage was conducted using Hindu practices and idolatry.
[Dissidents from Sen started, because of the schism, a ne samaj called Sadharan Brahma Samaj. It means general. The new movement continued Sen’s theistic teaching, social service and philanthropy. The movement wanted to move forward with female education. It got a new building in 188.]
In spite of the division Sen’s contributions are fruitful.
The Church of the New Dispensation: Sen always thought that he had a divine commission and divinely appointed leader of the new dispensation. In the new dispensation all religions are harmonized – new and universal church.
Like Ramakrishna Sen thought all religions are same.
He believed the supremacy of Christ as the God-man.
On the anniversary of Sen’s Samaj in 1881 he was on the platform with twelve missionaries around him. There was a new banner Naba Bidhan (nava Vidhana) – new dispensation.
There was also a extraordinary symbol made up of a Hindu trident, the Christian cross and the crescent.
Hindu, Christian, Buddhist and Islam scriptures were placed on a table
Four apostles were to read these scriptures.
From now on Sen’s body was known as The Church of the New Dispensation.
In the new dispensation baptism and lord’s supper were introduced.
Recognized the glory of the character of Christ.
There was the sense of sin and all it leads to.
From 1879 Sen accepted the divinity of Christ .
Many changes may be because Sen was inconsistent.
Sen died in 1884.