Raja Rammohan Roy: Herald of New Age

Raja_Ram_Mohan_RoyRammohan Roy (1772-1833), a Hindu monotheist, who published early translations of Vedic scriptures into English, co-founded the Calcutta Unitarian Society, and later founded the Brahmo Samaj: a society that promoted rational, non-authoritarian, humanism, and social-reform by “Westernizing”  Hinduism and Vedanta. He campaigned to abolish sati, the practice of burning widows alive. Some have called Raja [Royal] Roy the “Father of Modern India”. His legacy was the dream of a universal religion based on the belief of Divine Unity linking the whole of mankind.1

Rammohan Roy preached the unity underlying Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and all religions, and sought to integrate Western culture with the best of India’s Hindu traditions. Roy’s writings and lectures sparked controversy among conservative Hindus but inspired enthusiasm among British and American Unitarians, encouraged Christian missionary work in India, and later influenced the Transcendentalists, Ralph Waldo Emerson (c 1845) and Henry David Thoreau (c 1849)1.

Roy was fluent in Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic, and English, as well as his native Bengali and Hindi. Later he learned Hebrew and Greek to interpret the Old and New Testaments for his Hindu countrymen.

Quotes

“Innumerable revolutions have taken place in all parts of the globe where no freedom of the press existed.”

“It is unjust in the Christian to quarrel with Hindus because (he says) they cannot comprehend the sublime mystery of his religion [the Doctrine of the Trinity]; since he is equally unable to comprehend the sublime mysteries of ours, and since both these mysteries equally transcend the human understanding, one cannot be preferred to the other”.

Sati, Hindu ritual of burning widow alive in funeral pyre of husband
Sati, Hindu ritual of burning widow alive in husband’s funeral pyre

“As we [Indians] can no longer be guilty of female murder,” referring to his fight against ‘sati’, the Hindu ritual sacrifice of burning widows alive, Roy said “we now deserve every improvement temporal and spiritual.”1

Achievements

1772 born in British-ruled Bengal, Calcutta India to upper-class (Brahmin) family

1815 published Vedantasara, early English translations of Hindu Veda scriptures

1820 published Precepts of Jesus: the Guide to Peace and Happiness, Roy extracted the miracles from the New Testament and developed his Christian-Hindu apologetics

1822 founded Anglo-Hindu School, four years later the Vedanta College, to teach his Hindu monotheistic doctrines

1828 formed Brahmo Samaj (Society of Brahma), a Hindu reformist sect that utilized Unitarian and other liberal Christian elements to “modernize” Indian and Hindu beliefs

1829 journeyed to England to lobby British Government on behalf of the King of Delhi (India); Lord William Bentinck, Governor-General of India, after consulting with Roy, declared sati illegal

1833 died of meningitis with Unitarian friends in Bristol, England

Conclusions: Neo-Vedanta emerged as a movement under the intellectual leadership of Rammohan Roy2. “It is within Neo-Vedanta that Modern Yoga emerged”3, argued De Michelis in her book A History of Modern Yoga. Roy related the contents and study of the Upanishads and the Vedanta to practical and earthly matters, such as social goals, and not just the goal of moksha [spiritual liberation]. “Again and again,” wrote German-born Indologist Wilhelm Halbfass, “Rammohan emphasize[d] that being a householder, living a practical life, having worldly, temporal goals is not incompatible with knowing the supreme brahman [the Absolute]”4. Raja Rammohan Roy has been called the Father of the Bengal Renaissance and the Herald of New Age5.

Notes

Dictionary of Unitarian & Universalist Biography, Rammohun Roy. http://uudb.org/articles/rajarammohunroy.html. 21 Dec 2014

2 A History of Modern Yoga: Patanjali and Western Esotericism, Elizabeth De Michelis, Continuum, 2005, Print. p 39

3 ibid, p 40

4 ibid, p 19, quoting Halbfass, W. India and Europe: An Essay in Understanding, 1988

5 Ram Mohan Roy, Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ram_Mohan_Roy. 24 Dec 2014

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