Mehtaji Durgaram Manchharam became the headmaster of the Government School in Surat in 1830 and he took the position of headmaster in the Surat English School, when it was opened four years later. Durgaram became a leading figure among the small group of educated Gujaratis with the help of his impressive personality and the group started criticising the contemporary society in Gujarat. Durgaram had the companions like Dadoba Panderung Tarkhad, Dinmani Shankar, Dalpatram Bhagubai, Damodar Das, etc. in the group. Durgaram and his friends 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'. They disseminated their ideas and knowledge through the Pustak Prasarak Mandali (Book Propagation Society).
The foundation of the Manav Dharma Sabha was a result of the conversion of a Parsi student named Nasarwanji Manakji. There was a huge uproar in the Parsi and Hindu communities about the conversion and Manakji was recanted and readmitted to the Parsi community, after twenty days of pressure and debate. However, Durgaram, Dadoba and a few of their friends were deeply concerned with the event and they founded the Manav Dharma Sabha on 22nd June, 1844. The Sabha used to hold meetings on every Sunday and everyone was invited to join the Sabha. The Manav Dharma Sabha challenged the magicians and the reciters of incantations to demonstrate their skills. The Sabha also announced prize money for anybody who could do it successfully. However, though they criticised the caste system, they did not take any direct action against this institution.
The career span of the Manav Dharma Sabha was not too long. The Sabha started to break in 1846. Dadoba Panderung returned to Bombay in that year and the functions of the Manav Dharma Sabha were entirely ceased in the year 1852, when Durgaram Manchharam left for Rajkot. However, the Sabha had a limited operating period; it encouraged the formation of many similar movements in Maharashtra and Gujarat. The members of Manav Dharma Sabha carried with them the ideals of the movement and founded their own organisations to further serve the purpose of purifying the society.
The small and educated elite of Surat were mainly attracted to the concepts and ideology of the Manav Dharma Sabha and the movement started as a reaction of Christian conversions. The society in Gujarat appeared to be the foundation of an acculturative socio-religious movement propelled by the Manav Dharma Sabha and the Sabha mainly spoke for the need of significant social change. However, the ideas and methods of operation of the Sabha were not sufficient to encourage its supporters to strongly commit to the movement. The members of the Sabha also lacked the commitment of sufficient strength to directly challenge the leadership and domination of an established religion. The ideas of the Manav Dharma Sabha were passed on to the later influential organisations like the Paramahansa Mandali in Maharashtra.
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