Keshub Chandra Sen: Prophet of Harmony

From Eastern outreaches to Western spiritualism, the forerunner of Modern Yoga

Keshub Chundra SenKeshub Chandra Sen (1838-1884)

Born 1838 into an affluent Hindu family from Gariffa village on the bank of the river Hooghly in Calcutta, West Bengal British India. His grandfather, Ram Camul Sen, was a member of the earliest (1770) “modernized” Bengali intelligentsia who launched the Bengal Renaissance. At age 10, Keshub’s father died leaving behind 10 children. Sen was then raised by his uncle. At age 19, while a student, his family arranged a marriage between himself and a girl 9 years old. Keshub became morose, sad, and stern. He immersed himself in the study of philosophy, psychology, and Unitarianism. During this period, he left home to live in the Tagore household and was excommunicated by his maternal family. Keshub Chandra Sen was a controversial and influential figure for his self-styled doctrines and prophesies that a “New Dispensation” (New Hinduism) would spread throughout the world. After a brief illness, he died in 1884 in Calcutta.

Quotes

“Human nature is the same everywhere–in all latitudes and climes, but circumstances modify it, and religion and usages mould it in different forms. Educate the native [Hindu-Indian] mind, and you will find it susceptible of as much improvement and elevation as that of the European.”

“The British public ought to know how the most advanced type of Hinduism in India is trying to absorb and assimilate the Christianity of Christ, and how it is establishing and spreading, under the name of the New Dispensation, a new Hinduism, which combines Yoga and Bhakti, and also a new Christianity, which blends together Apostolical faith and modern civilisation and science.”

“Our position is not that truths are to be found in all religions; but that all the established religions of the world are true. There is a great deal of difference between the two assertions. The glorious mission of the New Dispensation is to harmonise religions and revelations, to establish the truth of every particular dispensation, and upon the basis of these particulars to establish the largest and broadest induction of a general and glorious proposition.”

Achievements

1848 sent to Hindu (Presidency) College in Bengal, founded by Raja Rammohan Roy in 1817

1855 became Secretary to the Goodwill Fraternity, a Masonic lodge associated with Unitarian Christian missionaries who also helped Sen establish a “British Indian Association” the same year

1857 met Debendranath Tagore (20 years Sen’s senior/a father figure), joined the Brahmo Samaj

1858 left home, wife, and family to live in Tagore household

1863 wrote The Brahma Samaj Vindicated

1865 broke from Brahmo Samaj and formed Bharatvarshiya Brahmo Samaj (“Society of Brahmā of India”). The original society, under Tagore, renamed Adi Samaj (“Old Society”), was purged of Sen’s Christian doctrines

1866 delivered lectures on Jesus Christ in Europe and Asia

1870 lectured in England 6 months; met Queen Victoria (Empress of India)

1872 championed laws against practice of child marriage in India

1876 established order of devotees, divided into three main classes: Shabaks [Muslim villagers], Bhaktas, and Yogis

1876 visited by bhakti-mystic Ramakrishna Paramhansa (guru of Swami Vivekananda) for first time

1878 abandoned by his followers for his hypocricy of the underage child marriage of his daughter

1878 established his “New Dispensation” (Nava Vidhan)–inspired by Ramakrishna “Worship of God as Mother”–a blend of Christianity, Vaishnav bhakti, and Hindu-yogic practices

1881 formally announced in the Sunday Mirror [UK newspaper] of 23 October: “The glorious mission of the New Dispensation is to harmonise religions and revelations…”

1883-84 wrote, during his final illness, The New Samhita, or the Sacred Laws of the Aryans of the New Dispensation (published posthumously in 1889)

Conclusions

Keshub Chandra Sen’s death January 8, 1884 received wide European press coverage, perhaps the most coverage of any Indian during the 19th century. Keshub’s reputation is confusing and controversial, especially among his countryman. David Kopf, historian of South Asia, wrote that Sen’s antagonists have labelled him a ‘Jesus-lover’, Ramakrishna revivalist, tool of British imperialists, false prophet, self-seeking evangelist, and opportunist. Sen’s sympathizers, including Rabindranath Tagore, Nobel Prize laureate of Literature, proclaimed that Keshub was a profound scholar and sincere believer in universal harmony.

Sources

Keshab Chandra Sen: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Wikipedia, Oxford Reference

A History of Modern Yoga: Patanjali and Western Esotericism by Elizabeth De Michelis

Keshab Chandra Sen and the Brahma Samaj: Being a Brief Review… by Thomas Ebenezer Slater

The Brahmo Samaj and the Shaping of the Modern Indian Mind by David Kopf

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