Indian society in the nineteenth century was caught in a vicious web created by religious superstitions and social obscurantism. Hinduism had become a compound of magic, animism and superstition. The priests exercised an overwhelming and, indeed, unhealthy influence on the minds of the people. Idolatry and polytheism helped to reinforce their position.

  •  Unlike the previous intruders who came to India, settled here, became a part of its people and were absorbed by its superior culture the British came at a time when Indian society and decadent. 
  • Position of women was the most distressing feature of the social life. From the birth of a girl child to widowhood, women of all sections suffered grave disabilities and discrimination. Caste system had become restrictive. 
  •  Untouchables and Scheduled castes suffered social stigma which led to social injustice the impact of modern Western culture and consciousness of defeat by a foreign power gave birth to a new awakening. 
  • There was awareness that a vast country like India had been colonized by a handful of foreigners because of internal weaknesses within the Indian social structure and culture. For some time it seemed that India had lagged behind in the race of civilization. This process of reawakening is sometimes called as renaissance although there are academicians who disagree with the term in Indian context. 
  •  Social reformers like Raja Rammohan Roy, Swami Dayanand Sarawathi and Swami Vivekananda were responsible for the social and cultural awakening in India. The spread of liberal ideas of the west provided further stimulus for the emergence of reform movements. These movements introduced important changes in social and religious life of the people of India. 
There was also an ideological shift in the enlightened section of Indian society. These people were focused on Rationalism, Universalism and Humanistic thought. Raja Rammohan Roy upheld the principle of causality linking the whole phenomenal universe and demonstrability as the sole criterion of truth.
  •  Rationalism: All the tradition and beliefs were sought to be evaluated on the basis of rationality and social utility. There was a move to reconcile religious tenets with the needs of modern age. 
  •  Universalism: There was a comparison between different religions and basic commonality of universalism was promoted. All religions were found to have some basic universal principles.
  • Humanism: Those values which favour the human progress are the ones which should be promoted. Morality was linked to those values which remove disabilities in all round human welfare. Religious scriptures were reinterpreted in the new spirit of human welfare. 
  • Akshay Kumar Dutt held that all natural and social phenomena could be analysed and understood by purely mechanical processes. This perspective enabled them to adopt a rational approach to tradition and evaluate the contemporary socio-religious practices. For instance, in the Brahmo Samaj the repudiation of the infallibility of the Vedas was the result, while the Aligarh movement emphasised reconciliation of Islamic teachings with the needs of the modern age.
Religious reforms
Religion was the primary source of India socio-cultural value system. It was inextricably linked with the way of life. Priests exercised unhealthy influence over the minds of people. On this backdrop rose religious movements.
These can be classified into two types.

  • They are Reformist movements and 
  •  Revivalist movements. 
Both the reformist and revivalist movements depended, with varying degrees, on an appeal to the lost, purity of the religion they sought to reform. The only difference between one reform movement and the other lay in the degree to which it relied on tradition or on reason and conscience.


He is considered as the first ‘modern man of India’ and ‘Father of Indian Renaissance’. He was a pioneer of socio-religious reform movements in modern India. He visited England as an envoy of the Mughal Emperor Akbar Shah II who gave him the title ‘Raja’. In 1815, he established the Atmiya Sabha. Later, it was developed into the Brahmo Sabha in August 1828. Through this organisation, he preached that there is only one God. He combined the teachings of the Upanishads, the Bible and the Koran in developing unity among the people of different religions. The work of the Atmiya Sabha was carried on by Maharishi Debendranath Tagore (father of Rabindranath Tagore), who renamed it as Brahmo Samaj.

  •   He believed in rationalistic and modern approach to religion and therefore declared that Vedanta is based on reason and even if situation demands a departure from scripture it would be justified to do so. 
  •  He put his faith in monotheism. 
  •  He wrote Gift to Monotheists (Tuhfat-Ul-Muwahhidin) in1 809 and translated into Bengali the Vedas and the five Upanishads to prove his conviction that ancient Hindu texts support monotheism. 
  • In Precepts of Jesus (1820), he tried to separate the moral and philosophical message of the New Testament, which he praised, from its miracle stories. He earned the wrath of missionaries over his advocacy to incorporate the message of Christ in Hinduism. 
  •  Raja Rammohan Roy, William Carey and one more friend HariharanandaVidyabagish, who was a tantric, published a work on Trantrism known as “Maha Nirvana Tantra” in 1897. This work tried to portray the One God of ancient religious texts and endeavored to link the Brahma with Jesus, but the work could not impress the British, who termed it a forgery.
Indian History SOCIO-RELIGIOUS REFORM MOVEMENTS Indian History SOCIO-RELIGIOUS REFORM MOVEMENTS Reviewed by The Hindu Current Affairs on October 09, 2018 Rating: 5

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