(Last Updated on : 18/05/2009)
Hindu reform movements in India materialized in different periods to purify the religion and also to eliminate the evil rituals practised by the Hindus. Some movements even aimed at erasing the caste discriminations in Hindu society. The most influential and prominent Hindu reform movements in India included the formation of the organization like the the Brahmo Samaj, Arya Samaj, Manav Dharma Sabha, Paramahansa Mandali, Prarthana Samaj, etc. Most of these organizations were started during the British period and made huge impacts on the then Indian society.
The Brahmo Samaj was probably the most influential and significant organization which propelled the Hindu reform movements in India to a great extent. Brahmo Samaj was started and led by Raja Ram Mohan Roy in the year 1828. The Brahmo Samaj propagated the concept of worshipping one God; ideas like omnipresence of the omnipotent found a divine dimension amidst the teaching of the Brahmo Samaj. Brahmo Samaj also raised their voice against the evil rituals like Sati, child marriage, etc. and supported the movement for widow remarriage.
The Arya Samaj was another remarkable organization which further supported the Hindu reform movement to gain its desired contour. Dayananda Saraswati started and led the Arya Samaj. The Shuddhi movement was one of the most important features of Arya Samaj. The Aryas developed this ritual to readmit the lower caste Hindus, who were converted into Islam or Christianity. The Arya Samaj also actively opposed all the evil rituals practised in Hinduism and supported the cause of women education. The Samaj established educational institutions for providing education to the women at various levels as well.
The Manav Dharma Sabha was an influential organization in the Hindu reform movement that started in Surat on 22nd June, 1844. Mehtaji Durgaram Manchharam was one of the prominent figures of this organization. During the 1830s, he became a prominent leader among the educated Gujaratis and formed a group that included the personalities like Dadoba Panderung Tarkhad, Dinmani Shankar, Dalpatram Bhagubai and Damodar Das. The main reason behind the foundation of Manav Dharma Sabha was the conversion of a Parsi student, Nasarwanji Manakji to Hinduism. After a huge debate and controversy that continued for twenty days, Manakji was recanted and readmitted to the Parsi community. However, the event encouraged Durgaram, Dadoba and a few of their friends to establish the Manav Dharma Sabha. The Manav Dharma Sabha rejected 'the existence of ghosts, their exorcism by means of incantations, the evils of early marriage and the bar against remarriage of high caste Hindu widows'. The Sabha also challenged magicians and the reciters of incantations to demonstrate their skills. Though they criticised the caste system, they did not take any direct action against this institution. However, the Manav Dharma Sabha began to shatter in 1846 and its functions were ceased in 1852.
However, one of the prominent organizations in shaping the Hindu reform movements in India was the Paramahansa Mandali. The foundation of this organization was closely linked to the acculturative Manav Dharma Sabha and Dadoba Panderung was the leader of the Paramahansa Mandali. While living in Surat, he got influenced by the ideals of Manav Dharma Sabha and was also actively involved activities of the Sabha. He carried with him the ideals of Manav Dharma Sabha to Bombay and he outlined his own doctrines in Dharma Vivechan (A Discussion of the Unity of Man), which was written in 1843. Dadoba and a few of his friends founded the radical socio-religious society, named Paramahansa Mandali in 1849. The Mandali spoke against the caste system and followed two major principles. The principles were that, the Mandali would not attack any religion and would reject any religion which claimed that it had 'the infallible record of God's revelation to man'. The Mandali also rejected the caste system, idols, orthodox rituals and Brahmanical authority.
Established with an objective to change the religious and social life of Maharashtra, the Prarthana Samaj is considered as one of the major institutions in delineating the progress of Hindu reform movements in India. The Samaj drew its inspiration from the Paramahansa Mandali and was also influenced by Keshab Chandra Sen. Sen's visit to Bombay in 1867 generated considerable enthusiasm among the English-educated elite of Maharashtra. Being influenced by the ideals of Keshab Chandra Sen, Dr Atmaram Panderung and a few others established a new organisation named Prarthana Samaj (Prayer Society) in 1867. Many members of the Samaj were directly involved with the Paramahansa Mandali and they carried the ideology of the society with them. The Prarthana Samaj showed a syncretistic acceptance of all religions. It was committed to worship the one God and to seek the truth in all religions and the Samaj also wished to avoid sectarian conflict in their pursuit of morality and truth. The Samaj believed that no created being or object that has been worshipped by any sect should be ridiculed or condemned. The Prarthana Samaj also attempted to provide education to all classes of the society and wished to end the ban on widow remarriage. They claimed to abandon all caste restrictions, to abolish child marriage and also to encourage the education of women.
The Veda Samaj in South India was another striking formation which further propelled the Hindu reform movement in India. Founded in 1864 by Sridharalu Naidu and Keshab Chandra Sen in Madras, the Veda Samaj accepted the theistic ideals of the Brahmo Samaj. The Samaj considered marriage and the funeral rituals as 'matters of routine, destitute of all religious significance'. They also strongly spoke for 'discarding all sectarian views, of gradually abandoning caste distinctions, of tolerating the view of strangers and never offending anyone's feelings'. Opposing polygamy and child marriage and campaigning for widow remarriage were some of the most important features of Veda Samaj movement.
The Hindu reform movement in India was started mainly due to the conflict between the Brahmins and non-Brahmins in Indian society. The Brahmins always enjoyed a higher status than the other castes in the society and the movements were mainly formed to end this dominance. Eliminating the evil practices like Sati, child marriage, dowry, polygamy, etc. were also some of the other prominent objectives of the Hindu reform movements in India.