(Last Updated on : 19/05/2009)
The Paramahansa Mandali was a highly influential and significant Hindu socio religious organization that made a huge impact in the socio-religious scenario of Maharashtra during the nineteenth century. The organisation was founded by Dadoba Panderung and propelled one of the most powerful socio-religious movements in Western India. The ideology of the Mandali was closely linked with that of Manav Dharma Sabha, as many of its leaders were connected with Manav Dharma Sabha in their early life. Dadoba Panderung himself was one of the prominent leaders of Manav Dharma Sabha and he and his followers brought with them the ideas of the Sabha to the Paramahansa Mandali.
The founder of Paramahansa Mandali, Dadoba Panderung was born into a merchant family in 1814 and he received his final training from the Bombay Native School. He became the headmaster of the Bombay Normal School in 1846, by replacing Bal Shastri Jambhekar. Dadoba outlined his doctrines in a volume named Dharma Vivechan (A Discussion of the Unity of Man), which was written in 1843 and published in 1848. He listed seven principles in the volume and these principles eventually became the base of ideology propagated by the Paramahansa Mandali.
Dadoba Panderung and some his friends established the Paramahansa Mandali in 1849 and it initially worked as a secret socio-radical society. The basic philosophies of the society were that God alone should be worshipped; that real religion is based on love and moral conduct; that spiritual religion is one; that every individual should have freedom of thought; the daily words should be consistent with reason; mankind is one caste; and that the right kind of knowledge should be given to all. The Mandali also denied the polytheism of popular Hinduism, the caste system and the Brahmanical monopoly of knowledge. The Mandali promised for freedom of thought and insisted on reason as a base for moral conduct. The members of the Mandali might do so without adherence to a single doctrine.
The Paramahansa Mandali urged all its members to abandon the caste restrictions and also asked them to take food and drink prepared by a member of the lower castes. The Mandali used to meet at set times in the homes of various members and sympathisers; however, they met in the home of Ram Bal Krishna Jayakar, most of the time. Jayakar was a Prabhu, who became president of the Mandali. The members used to recite and sing Bhakti hymns from the Marathi collection, the Ratnamala, both at the opening and closing of these meetings. The members also used to recite prayers written by Dadoba as part of the worship service. The members of the Paramahansa Mandali also used to read papers and discuss a variety of social and religious topics related to the contemporary society.
The Paramahansa Mandali operated one the basis of two major principles. The first principle was that, the members of the Mandali would not attack any religion. The second principle was that, they would reject any religion which claimed that it had 'the infallible record of God's revelation to man'. Most members of the Paramahansa Mandali were young, educated Brahmans, who either lived in Bombay or came there in search of an advanced English education. They carried the ideas and philosophy of the Paramahansa Mandali with them, when they left for employment elsewhere, after completing their studies. The network of the Mandali soon started to be expanded and branches of this organisation were established in the places like Poona, Ahmadnagar and Ratnagiri. The Poona Mandali was quite active and made significant efforts to open the Dakshina system to the non-Brahmans. Many members of the Poona Paramahansa Mandali signed a petition to that effect and then fought against the orthodox attempts to exclude those whose names appeared on the memorial.
Following the path of the Manav Dharma Sabha, the acculturative Paramahansa Mandali made some significant attempts to reject the caste system, idols, orthodox rituals and Brahmanical authority. The Mandali also insisted on remaining a secret organisation and this insistence demonstrated a reluctance of the society to openly challenge the Hindu orthodoxy. This nature of the society hampered its success to some extent and the Mandali and its sympathisers were also isolated from the society. As a result, the Paramahansa Mandali collapsed instantly once the identity of the members was made public. However, the Mandali did become successful to make an impact on the contemporary society and its ideas motivated others to establish new organization to propel the socio-religious movements in the western parts of India.