Many Indians realized that the reform of social institutions and religious outlook of people was a necessary pre-condition for the growth of national unity. Through successive movements they carried forward the pioneering work started by few enlightened Indians. This was a difficult task as orthodox elements formed large and strong groups in the country. During the second half of 19th century only two important laws were passed by the British government. One of these passed in 1872 sanctioned inter-caste and inter-communal marriages. The other passed in 1891 aimed to discourage child marriage.
Ram Mohan Roy regarded as modern India’s first reformer and central figure in the cultural awakening. He sought inspiration from the modern sciences of the west as well as from the ancient knowledge of India. In 1809 he wrote in Persian his famous work Gift to Monotheism based on the principle of one supreme God. He was convinced that to cure Hindu religion of its evils it was necessary to bring to the public knowledge the truth stated in the original Shastras.For this purpose he published the Bengali translation of the Vedas and the Upanishads and demonstrated to the people that these texts preached only one God and idol worship had no place there. In 1828 a new society called Brahmo Samaj was started which discarded idol worship, caste divisions and other many meaningless rites and rituals.Rammohan Roy fought against all kinds of social evils. He also demanded that women be given the right of inheritance and property. He also advocated English language. Later on Samaj expanded throughout the country.
Young Bengal Movement
A radical trend arose among the Bengal intellectuals during 1802-30. The leader and inspirer was the young Anglo Indian Henry Vivian Derozio who taught at Hindu College from 1826-1831. Derozio promoted radical ideas through his class lectures and by organizing student societies for debates and discussions on various subjects. His students collectively called the Young Bengal ridiculed all kinds of old traditions defied social and religious conventions and demanded freedom of thought and expression and education for women.
The Brahmo ideas spread in Maharashtra where the Paramhansa Sabha was founded in 1849.In 1867 the Prathana Samaj was established by Keshab Chandra Sen in Bombay. Its followers never looked upon themselves as adherents of a new religion or of a new sect outside and alongside of the general Hindu body but simply as a movement within it. They emphasized on the worship of one God, social reform and upon works rather than faith. Their approach was not confrontation with Hindu orthodoxy but they relied on education and persuasion. The prominent leaders of the Samaj were Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade, R.G Bhandarkar and N.G Chandavarkar.
In the field of social reform the focus was on four objects
Disapproval of caste system
Raising the age of Marriage for both men and women
Caste system was under attack. It was seen as a divisive factor weakening the bonds of humanity and deterring the growth of caste consciousness in India. It was viewed as a contributory factor in causing social stagnation and retardation of progress. Denouncing the Brahmin dominance Chandavarkar advocated the upliftment of the lower castes and depressed castes. Religious reform was taken to be the precondition of progress and enduring social change. Chandavarkar held that the material life and religious life were the two interrelated aspects of the same existence and a healthy social growth was not possible if it was not counter balanced by an enlightened religion. These reformers believed in an organic connection between religion and social life and advocated the renovation in the entire society
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar
Ishwar Chandra Vidya Sagar made important contribution towards making of modern India. He was a great educationist and a social reformer. He became the principal of Sanskrit College in 1851. He promoted vernacular languages and advocated the education of girls. He set up 35 schools in different parts of India. He opposed child marriage and polygamy and laid great stress on women education and upliftment.
He worked hard to improve the social status of the widow and advocated widow remarriage. In 1855 he even published an article describing their social condition. The success of his countrywide movement for widow remarriage was seen in the enactment of law in 1856 that legalized remarriage of the widows. The first widow remarriage under this law was organized under his supervision. Nearly 25 widow remarriages were performed between 1856 and 1860.He also established Bethune School in 1849 in Calcutta for women.
Veda Samaj And Prarthana Samaj
Formed along the lines of the Brahmo Samaj, the Veda Samaj of Madras and the Prathana Samaj of Bombay were founded in 1864 and 1866 respectively. An educated middle class had arisen there too and it sought the reform of society and religion. The real force behind the Veda Samaj was K Sridharalu Naidu and behind Prathana Samaj, M.G Ranade and R Bhandarkar.The Prathana Samaj emphasized more on social reforms.
Ramakrishna And Vivekananda
Ramakrishna Paramhansa, a priest at a temple in Dakshineshwar near Calcutta emphasized that there are many roads to God and salvation and that service of man was service of God, for man was the embodiment of God. His great disciple, Swami Vivekananda popularized his religious message. However he also called for social action to remove poverty. In 1896 Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Mission to carry on humanitarian relief and social work. The mission had many branches in different parts of the country. Vivekananda condemned the caste system and the current Hindu emphasis on rituals, ceremonies and superstitions and urged the people to imbibe the spirit of liberty, equality and free thinking.
The Arya Samaj founded in 1875 by Swami Dayanand Saraswati undertook the task of reforming Hindu religion in north India. Swami Dayanand believed that there was only one God who was to be worshipped not in the form of images but as a spirit. He held the Vedas to be infallible and the fountain of all knowledge. Dayanand preached and wrote in Hindi. The Sayarth Prakash was his most important book. The Arya Samaj made rapid progress in Central India, Rajasthan, and Gujarat and particularly in Punjab where it became a very important social and political force. The members of Arya Samaj were guided by ten principles of which the first one was studying the Vedas. The rest were tenets of virtue and morality. Dayanand framed for his disciples a code of social conduct in which there was no room for caste distinctions and social inequality. The Arya Samajis opposed child marriage and encouraged remarriage of widows. A network of schools and colleges was established throughout northern India to promote the objects of Arya Samaj.The Dayanand Anglo-Vedic School of Lahore which soon developed into a premier college of Punjab set the pattern for such institutions. Dayanand’s emphasis on the super natural and infallible character of the Vedas seems to have risen from his ardent desire to give Hinduism a definite creed and equip it with a militant character. Similar in nature was his mover for the reconversion of those Hindus who had been converted. For this purpose a purificatory ceremony called Shuddhi was prescribed.
The society was founded in United States by Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott who later came to India and founded the headquarters at Adyar in Madras in 1886.The Theosophical movement grew in India as a result of the leadership given to it by Mrs Annie Besant who had come to India in 1893.As religious revivalists the theosophists were not very successful. But as a movement led by westerners who glorified Indian religion and philosophical tradition, it helped Indians recover their self –confidence. One of Mrs Besant’s many achievements in India was the establishment of the Central Hindu School at Benaras which was later developed by Madan Mohan Malaviya into Benaras Hindu University.
Sayyid Ahmad Khan and the Aligarh Movement
Movements for religious reform were late in emerging among Muslims. The Muslim upper classes had tended to avoid contact with western education and culture and it was mainly after 1857 that modern ideas of religious reform began to appear. A beginning in this direction was made when the Muhammaden Literary Society was founded at Calcutta in 1863 by Nawab Abdul Latif.It also encouraged upper and middle class Muslims to take western education. The most important reformer among the Muslims was Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan .he appealed to his people to return to the original Islamic principle of purity and simplicity. He declared that the Quran alone was the authoritative work for Islam and all other Islamic writing was secondary. He advocated English education for the regeneration of Muslims in India. He started building new schools and founded an association called the Scientific Society in 1864.The society published urdu translations of English books on scientific and other subjects and an English-Urdu journal for spreading liberal ideas on social reforms. His greatest achievement was the foundation of the Mohammadan Anglo-Oriental College at Aligarh in 1875.It mainly provided for education in the humanities and sciences through English medium. He was opposed to the participation of Muslims of Muslims in the activities of Indian National Congress. He wanted more time for the Muslims to organize and consolidate their position through good relations with British rulers. Besides introducing modern education among the Muslims Sayyid Ahmad Khan advocated the removal of many social prejudices that kept the community backward.
The new awareness was reflected in the literature both in the content and style. An easy prose style developed and became the medium of expression for various literary forms. Scholars like William Carey, Gilchrist and Caldwell contributed a great deal in the preparation of grammar and compilation of dictionaries in modern Indian languages. The theme of the new literature was predominantly humanistic. It stressed the freedom of man and equality of all. The distinctive work of poet Rabindranath Tagore won him the noble prize. The works of other literary figures like Bhartendu Harish Chandra, Prem Chand and Mohammad Iqbal were also highly acclaimed.