Brahmo Samaj (Bengali ব্রাহ্ম সমাজ Bramho Shômaj) is the societal component of Brahmoism. "It is without doubt the most influential socio-religious movement in the evolution of Modern (Greater) India. It was conceived as reformation of the prevailing Bengal of the time and began the Bengal Renaissance of the 19th century pioneering all religious, social and educational advance of the Hindu community in the 19th century. From the Brahmo Samaj springs Brahmoism, the most recent of legally recognised religions in India and Bangladesh, reflecting its non-syncretic "foundation of Rammohun Roy's reformed spiritual Hinduism (contained in the 1830 Banian deed) and scientifically invigorated by inclusion of root Hebraic - Islamic creed and practice.
Meaning of names
For Modern usage reflecting subsequent Legislation, Constitution and Legal rulings see Brahmo.
The Brahmo Samaj is a community of people assembled for orderly public meeting, discussion or worship of the Eternal, Immutable Supreme Being, Author and Preserver of the Universe, "but not under or by any other name designation or title peculiarly used for and applied, to any particular being or beings by any man or set of men whatsoever".
"The Brahmo Samaj, represents a body of men who are struggling, in India, to establish the worship of the Supreme Being in spirit as opposed to the prevailing idolatry of the land.
Brahmo (ব্রাহ্ম bramho) literally means "one who worships Brahman", and Samaj (সমাজ shômaj) mean "community of men".
History and timeline
On 20 August 1828
the first assembly of the Brahmo Sabha
(progenitor of the Brahmo Samaj) was held at the North Calcutta house of Feringhee
Kamal Bose. This day is celebrated by Brahmos
celebration"). This Sabha
was convened at Calcutta by religious reformer Raja Rammohun Roy
for his family and friends settled there. The Sabha
regularly gathered on Saturday between seven o'clock to nine o'clock. These were essentially informal meetings of Bengali Brahmins
(the "twice born"), accompanied by Upanishadic recitations in Sanskrit
followed by Bengali
translations of the Sanskrit recitation and singing of Brahmo hymns composed by Rammohun. These meetings were open to all Brahmins and there was no formal organisation or theology as such.
On 8 January 1830 influential progressive members of the closely related Kulin Brahmin clan (scurrilously described as Pirali Brahmin ie. ostracised for service in the Mughal Nizaamat of Bengal) of Tagore (Thakur) and Roy (Vandopādhyāya) zumeendar family mutually executed the Trust deed of Brahmo Sabha for the first Adi Brahmo Samaj (place of worship) on Chitpore Road (now Rabindra Sarani), Kolkata, India with Ram Chandra Vidyabagish as first resident superintendent.
On 23 January 1830 or 11th Magh, the Adi Brahmo premises were publicly inaugurated (with about 500 Brahmins and 1 Englishman present). This day is celebrated by Brahmos as Maghotsab (মাঘোৎসব Maghotshôb "Magh celebration").
In November 1830 Rammohun Roy left for England.
Decline of Brahmo Sabha
With Rammohun's departure for England in 1830, the affairs of Sabha were effectively managed by Trustees Dwarkanath Tagore and Pandit Ram Chandra Vidyabagish, with Dwarkanath instructing his diwan
to manage affairs. Weekly service were held consonant with the Trust directive, consisting of three successive parts: recitation of the Vedas by Telegu Brahmins in the closed apartment exclusively before the Brahmin members of the congregation, reading and exposition of the Upanishads for the general audience, and singing of religious hymns. The reading of the Vedas was done exclusively before the Brahmin participants as the orthodox Telegu Brahmin community and its members could not be persuaded to recite the Vedas before Brahmins and non-Brahmins alike.
By the time of Rammohun's death in 1833 near Bristol (UK), attendance at the Sabha dwindled and the Telugu Brahmins surreptitiously revived idolatry. The zumeendars, being preoccupied in business, had little time for affairs of Sabha, and flame of Sabha was almost extinguished.
On 6 October 1839 Debendranath Tagore
, son of (Prince) Dwarkanath Tagore
, established Tattvaranjini Sabha
which was shortly thereafter renamed the Tattwabodhini (Truth-seekers
) Sabha. Initially confined to immediate members of the Tagore family, in 2 years it mustered over 500 members. In 1840 Debendranath published a Bangla translation of Katha Upanishad
. Contemporary researchers describe the Sabha's philosophy as modern middle-class (bourgeois) Vedanta
Foundation of Samaj
On 7th Pous 1765 Shaka (1843) Debendranath Tagore and twenty other Tattwabodhini stalwarts were formally invited by Pt. Vidyabagish into the Trust of Brahmo Sabha. The Pous Mela at Santiniketan starts on this day which is considered as foundation of the 'Adi' (First) Brahmo Samaj
which was named the Calcutta Brahmo Samaj
. The other Brahmins who took the First Covenant are:-
The admittance of Keshub Chandra Sen
(a non-Brahmin) into the Calcutta Brahmo Samaj in 1857 while Debendranath was away in Simla caused considerable stress in the movement, with many old Tattvabodhini Brahmin members leaving the Samaj and institutions due to his high-handed ways. These events took place intermittently from 1859, coming to a head publicly between the period of 1 August 1865
till November 1866 with many tiny splinter groups styling themselves as Brahmo
. The most notable of these groups styled itself "Brahmo Samaj of India". This period is referred to in the histories of these secessionists as the "First Schism".
Spread of Influence
Although the Brahmo Samaj
movement was born in Kolkata, the idea soon spread to the rest of India. That happened to be the period when the railways were expanding and communication was becoming easier. Outside Bengal presidency some of the prominent centres of Brahmo activity were: Punjab, Sind, and Bombay and Madras presidencies. Even to this day, there are several active branches outside West Bengal. Bangladesh Brahmo Samaj at Dhaka keeps the lamp burning.
Social & Religious reform
In all fields of social reform, including abolition of the caste system
and of the dowry system
, emancipation of women
, and improving the educational system, the Brahmo Samaj
reflected the ideologies of the Bengal Renaissance
. Brahmoism, as a means of discussing the dowry system, was a central theme of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay
's noted 1914 Bengali language novella
After controversies, including the controversy over Keshub Chunder Sen's daughter's child marriage rituals wherein the validity of Brahmo marriages were questioned and split the Brahmo Samaj of India, the Brahmo Samaj Marriage Bill of 1871 was enacted as the Special Marriages Act of 1872 and set the age at which girls could be married at 14. All Brahmo marriages were thereafter solemnised under this law which required the affirmation "I am not Hindu, nor a Mussalman, nor a Christian". The Special Marriages Act 1872 was repealed by the new Special Marriages Act in 1954 which became the secular Marriage law for India. The old Special Marriages Act of 1872 was allowed to live on as the Hindu Marriage Act 1955 for Hindus - Brahmo Religionists are excluded from this Act; which is applicable, however, to Hindus who follow the Brahmo Samaj. On May 5 2004 the Supreme Court of India, by order of the Chief Justice, dismissed the Government of West Bengal's 30 year litigation to get Brahmos classified as Hindus. The matter had previously been heard by an 11 Judge Constitution Bench of the Court (the second largest bench in the Court's history). As of 2007 the statutory minimum age for Brahmos to marry is 25(M)/21(F) versus 21(M)/18(or 15F) for Hindus.
It also supported social reform movements of people not directly attached to the Samaj, such as Pandit Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar’s movement which promoted widow re-marriage.
The following doctrines, as noted in Renaissance of Hinduism, are common to all varieties and offshoots of the Brahmo Samaj
- Brahmo Samajists have no faith in any scripture as an authority.
- Brahmo Samajists have no faith in Avatars.
- Brahmo Samajists denounce polytheism and idol-worship.
- Brahmo Samajists are against caste restrictions.
- Brahmo Samajists make faith in the doctrines of Karma and Rebirth optional.
References and notes