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Maharishi Debendranath Tagore

Neo-Vedantic Romantic who made pure heart alone and scientific religion reachable for everyman

Debendranath Tagore

Debendranath Tagore

Debendranath Tagore (1817-1905), during his lifetime was called Maharishi (“Great Sage”), was born in Calcutta in West Bengal, British India, to a wealthy land-owner family, and died 1905 in Calcutta. He was a leader of the Brahmo Samaj (“Society of Brahma”, also translated “Society of God”). Tagore championed European Enlightenment idealism with Hinduism, which undermined the authority of the Hindu Vedas as an infallible source of revelation. He claimed that a “pure heart, filled with light of intuitive knowledge” was the path to Brahma. He strove to define a “universal science of religion” that was based on natural laws. His son, Rabindranath, later was awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913.


“The pure, unsophisticated heart was the seat of Brahmoism…Those sayings [from the Upanishads] that disagreed with the heart [we] could not accept”.

“The soul is infinitely progressive–overcoming sin and sorrow this progressive soul must and will progress onwards and upwards–it will not decline again upon earth…After death it will assume appropriate forms and pass from sphere to sphere in order to work out the fruits of its merit and demerit.”

“Human society is like a machine and its pluralistic subunits or subcultures are the wheels [rolling onward, evolving spiritually]”.


1843 reorganized the Brahmo Samaj, 10 years after the death of Brahmo founder Rammohan Roy; established Brahmo “vow of initiation” for members

1845 published Vedantic Doctrines Vindicated

1854 published Brahmo-Dharma (“The Religion of God”), a commentary in Bengali on the Sanskrit scriptures

1863 founded Śantiniketan (“Abode of Peace”) retreat in rural Bengal later made famous by his poet son Rabindranath Tagore; visited by Ramakrishna (guru of Swami Vivekananda)

1866 broke with Brahmo Samaj, split into a conservative Hindu society renamed Adi Samaj (“Old Society”), and purged society of Christian teaching espoused by younger Brahmo Samaj leader Keshub Chandra Sen


Debendranath Tagore reinterpreted classical Hinduism using Western influences, helped found Brahmo Samaj, Neo-Vedanta, and Modern Yoga. He created an ethos that “spiritual realization” was accessible, without renunciation (sannyas) of worldly life, an everyman type of “spiritualism” and practical religion available without scriptural authority [prior to this movement adherence to “classical” Hinduism and Vedanta required complete renunciation (monasticism) to attain brahman or spiritual liberation (jivanmukta) while living].

sources: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Wikipedia, A History of Modern Yoga: De Michelis, Oxford Reference

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