Ram Mohan Roy

Raja Ram Mohan Roy
Raja Ram Mohan Roy is regarded as the Father of the Indian Renaissance
Native name রাজা রামমোহন রায়
Born c. 1774
Radhanagar, Bengal Presidency, British India
Died (1833-09-27)27 September 1833
Stapleton, Bristol, England
Cause of death Meningitis
Nationality Indian
Other names Herald Of New Age
Known for Bengal Renaissance, Brahmo Sabha
(social, political reforms)

Raja Ram Mohan Roy (c. 1774– 27 September 1833) was a founder of the Brahma Sabha, the precursor of the Brahmo Samaj, a socio-religious reform movement in the Indian subcontinent. His influence was apparent in the fields of politics, public administration, educat, and religion. He was known for his efforts to abolish the practices of suttee and child marriage.[1] Raja Ram Mohan Roy is considered by many historians as the "father of the Indian Renaissance."[2][3]

In 2004, Ram Mohan Roy was ranked number 10 in BBC's poll of the greatest Bengali of all time.[4][5][6]

Early life and education (till 1796)

Ram Mohan Roy was born in Radhanagar, Hooghly District, Bengal Presidency. His father Ramkanta was a Vaishnavite, while his mother, Tarini Devi, was from a Shivaite family.

Thus one parent prepared him for the occupation of a scholar, the sastri, the other secured for him all the worldly advantages needed to launch a career in the laukik or worldly sphere of public administration. Torn between these two parental ideals from early childhood, Ram Mohan vacillated the rest of his life, moving from one to the other and back.[7]

Ram Mohan Roy was married three times. His first wife died early. He had two sons, Radhaprasad in 1800 and of Ramaprasad in 1812 with his second wife, who died in 1824. Roy's third wife outlived him.[8]

Ram Mohan Roy's early education is an disputed. One view is that "Ram Mohan started his formal education in the village pathshala where he learned Bengali and some Sanskrit and Persian. Later he is said to have studied Persian and Arabic in a madrasa in Patna and after that he was sent to Benares (Kashi) to learn the intricacies of Sanskrit and Hindu scripture, including the Vedas and Upanishads. The dates of his time in both these places are uncertain. However, it is believed that he was sent to Patna when he was nine years old and two years later to Benares."[7]

The Persian and Arabic studies influenced his thinking about One God more than studies of European deism, which he didn't know at least while writing his first scriptures as at that stage he didn't speak or understand English.

Ram Mohan Roy's impact on modern Indian history was his revival of the pure and ethical principles of the Vedanta school of philosophy as found in the Upnishads. He preached the unity of God, made early translations of Vedic scriptures into English, co-founded the Calcutta Unitarian Society and founded the Brahma Samaj. The Brahma Samaj played a major role in reforming and modernising the Indian society. He successfully campaigned against sati, the practice of burning widows. He sought to integrate Western culture with the best features of his own country's traditions. He established a number of schools to popularise a modern system (effectively replacing Sanskrit based education with English based education) of education in India. He promoted a rational, ethical, non-authoritarian, this-worldly, and social-reform Hinduism. His writings also sparked interest among British and American Unitarians.[9]

Christianity and the early rule of the East India Company (1795–1828)

During these overlapping periods, Ram Mohan Roy acted as a political agitator whilst employed by the East India Company.[10]

In 1792, the British Baptist shoemaker William Carey published his influential missionary tract, An Enquiry of the obligations of Christians to use means for the conversion of heathens.[11]

In 1793, William Carey landed in India to settle. His objective was to translate, publish and distribute the Bible in Indian languages and propagate Christianity to the Indian peoples.[12] He realised the "mobile" (i.e. service classes) Brahmins and Pundits were most able to help him in this endeavour, and he began gathering them. He learnt the Buddhist and Jain religious works to better argue the case for Christianity in the cultural context.[13]

In 1795, Carey made contact with a Sanskrit scholar, the Tantric saihardana Vidyabagish,[14] who later introduced him to Ram Mohan Roy, who wished to learn English.

Between 1796 and 1797, the trio of Carey, Vidyavagish, and Roy created a religious work known as the "Maha Nirvana Tantra" (or "Book of the Great Liberation")[15] and positioned it as a religious text to "the One True God". Carey's involvement is not recorded in his very detailed records and he reports only learning to read Sanskrit in 1796 and only completed a grammar in 1797, the same year he translated part of The Bible from Joshua to Job, a massive task.[16] For the next two decades this document was regularly augmented.[17] Its judicial sections were used in the law courts of the English Settlement in Bengal as Hindu Law for adjudicating upon property disputes of the zamindari. However, a few British magistrates and collectors began to suspect and its usage (as well as the reliance on pundits as sources of Hindu Law) was quickly deprecated. Vidyavagish had a brief falling out with Carey and separated from the group, but maintained ties to Ram Mohan Roy.[18]

In 1797, Raja Ram Mohan reached Calcutta and became a "bania" (moneylender), mainly to lend to the Englishmen of the Company living beyond their means. Ram Mohan also continued his vocation as pundit in the English courts and started to make a living for himself. He began learning Greek and Latin.[19]

In 1799, Carey was joined by missionary Joshua Marshman and the printer William Ward at the Danish settlement of Serampore.[20]

From 1803 till 1815, Ram Mohan served the East India Company's "Writing Service", commencing as private clerk "munshi" to Thomas Woodroffe, Registrar of the Appellate Court at Murshidabad[21] (whose distant nephew, John Woodroffe — also a Magistrate — and later lived off the Maha Nirvana Tantra under the pseudonym Arthur Avalon).[22] Roy resigned from Woodroffe's service and later secured employment with John Digby, a Company collector, and Ram Mohan spent many years at Rangpur and elsewhere with Digby, where he renewed his contacts with Hariharananda. William Carey had by this time settled at Serampore and the old trio renewed their profitable association. William Carey was also aligned now with the English Company, then head-quartered at Fort William, and his religious and political ambitions were increasingly intertwined.[23] In 1815, he started Atmiya Sabha, a philosophical discussion circle in Kolkata (then Calcutta).

The East India Company was draining money from India at a rate of three million pounds a year in 1838. Ram Mohan Roy was one of the first to try to estimate how much money was being driven out of India and to where it was disappearing. He estimated that around one-half of all total revenue collected in India was sent out to England, leaving India, with a considerably larger population, to use the remaining money to maintain social well-being.[24] Ram Mohan Roy saw this and believed that the unrestricted settlement of Europeans in India governing under free trade would help ease the economic drain crisis.[25]

During the next two decades, Ram Mohan launched his attack at the behest of the church against the bastions of Hinduism of Bengal, namely his own Kulin Brahmin priestly clan (then in control of the many temples of Bengal) and their priestly excesses.[17] The Kulin excesses targeted include sati (the co-cremation of widows), polygamy, child marriage and dowry.

From 1819, Rammohun's battery increasingly turned against William Carey, a Baptist Missionary settled in Serampore, and the Serampore missionaries. With Dwarkanath's munificence he launched a series of attacks against Baptist "Trinitarian" Christianity and was now considerably assisted in his theological debates by the Unitarian faction of Christianity."[26]

Middle "Brahmo" period (1820–1830)

This was Ram Mohan's most controversial period. Commenting on his published works Sivanath Sastri writes:[27]

"The period between 1820 and 1830 was also eventful from a literary point of view, as will be manifest from the following list of his publications during that period:

  • Second Appeal to the Christian Public, Brahmanical Magazine - Parts I, II and III, with Bengali translation and a new Bengali newspaper called Sambad Kaumudi in 1821;
  • A Persian paper called Mirat-ul-Akhbar contained a tract entitled Brief Remarks on Ancient Female Rights and a book in Bengali called Answers to Four Questions in 1822;
  • Third and final appeal to the Christian public, a memorial to the King of England on the subject of the liberty of the press, Ramdoss papers relating to Christian controversy, Brahmanical Magazine, No. IV, letter to Lord Arnherst on the subject of English education, a tract called "Humble Suggestions" and a book in Bengali called "Pathyapradan or Medicine for the Sick," all in 1823;
  • A letter to Rev. H. Ware on the " Prospects of Christianity in India" and an "Appeal for famine-smitten natives in Southern India" in 1824;
  • A tract on the different modes of worship, in 1825;
  • A Bengali tract on the qualifications of a God-loving householder, a tract in Bengali on a controversy with a Kayastha, and a Grammar of the Bengali language in English, in 1826;
  • A Sanskrit tract on "Divine worship by Gayatri" with an English translation of the same, the edition of a Sanskrit treatise against caste, and the previously noticed tract called "Answer of a Hindu to the question &c.," in 1827;
  • A form of Divine worship and a collection of hymns composed by him and his friends, in 1828;
  • "Religious Instructions founded on Sacred Authorities" in English and Sanskrit, a Bengali tract called "Anusthan," and a petition against Suttee, in 1829;

He publicly declared that he would emigrate from the British Empire if Parliament failed to pass the Reform Bill.

In 1830, Ram Mohan Roy travelled to the United Kingdom as an ambassador of the Mughal Empire to ensure that Lord William Bentinck's Bengal Sati Regulation, 1829 banning the practice of Sati was not overturned. In addition, Roy petitioned the King to increase the Mughal Emperor's allowance and perquisites. He was successful in persuading the British government to increase the stipend of the Mughal Emperor by £30,000. He also visited France. While in England, he embarked on a sort of cultural exchange, meeting with members of Parliament and publishing books on Indian economics and law. Sophia Dobson Collet was his biographer at the time.

He died at Stapleton, then a village to the north east of Bristol (now a suburb), on 27 September 1833 of meningitis and was buried in Arnos Vale Cemetery in southern Bristol.

Religious reforms

The religious reforms of Roy contained in some beliefs of the Brahmo Samaj expounded by Rajnarayan Basu[28] are:-

  • Brahmo Samaj believe that the most fundamental doctrines of Brahmoism are at the basis of every religion followed by man.
  • Brahmo Samaj believe in the existence of One Supreme God — "a God, endowed with a distinct personality & moral attributes equal to His nature, and intelligence befitting the Author and Preserver of the Universe," and worship Him alone.
  • Brahmo Samaj believe that worship of Him needs no fixed place or time. "We can adore Him at any time and at any place, provided that time and that place are calculated to compose and direct the mind towards Him."

Social reforms

  • Crusaded against Hindu customs as sati, polygamy, child marriage and caste system.
  • Demanded property inheritance rights for women.
  • In 1828, he set up the Brahmo Sabha a movement of reformist Bengali Brahmins to fight against social evils.

Roy’s political background and Christian influence influenced his social and religious views regarding reforms of Hinduism. He writes,

"The present system of Hindus is not well calculated to promote their political interests…. It is necessary that some change should take place in their religion, at least for the sake of their political advantage and social comfort."[29]

Ram Mohan Roy’s experience working with the British government taught him that Hindu traditions were often not credible or respected by western standards and this no doubt affected his religious reforms. He wanted to legitimise Hindu traditions to his European acquaintances by proving that "superstitious practices which deform the Hindu religion have nothing to do with the pure spirit of its dictates!"[30] The "superstitious practices", to which Ram Mohan Roy objected, included sati, caste rigidity, polygamy and child marriages.[31] These practices were often the reasons British officials claimed moral superiority over the Indian nation. Ram Mohan Roy’s ideas of religion actively sought to create a fair and just society by implementing humanitarian practices similar to the Christian ideals professed by the british and thus seeking to legitimise Hinduism in the eyes of the christian world.


  • Roy believed education to be an implement for social reform.
  • In 1817, in collaboration with David Hare, he set up the Hindu College at Calcutta.
  • In 1822, Roy found the Anglo-Hindu school, followed four years later (1826) by the Vedanta College; where he insisted that his teachings of monotheistic doctrines be incorporated with "modern, western curriculum.".[32]
  • In 1830, he helped Rev. Alexander Duff in establishing the General Assembly's Institution (now known as Scottish Church College), by providing him the venue vacated by Brahma Sabha and getting the first batch of students.
  • He supported induction of western learning into Indian education.
  • He also set up the Vedanta College, offering courses as a synthesis of Western and Indian learning.
  • His most popular journal was the Sambad Kaumudi. It covered topics like freedom of press, induction of Indians into high ranks of service, and separation of the executive and judiciary.
  • When the English Company muzzled the press, Ram Mohan composed two memorials and against this in 1829 and 1830 respectively.

Mausoleum at Arnos Vale

Ram Mohan Roy was originally buried on 18 October 1833, in the grounds of Stapleton Grove where he had died of meningitis on 27 September 1833. Nine and a half years later he was reburied on 29 May 1843 in a grave at the new Arnos Vale Cemetery, in Brislington, East Bristol. A large plot on The Ceremonial Way there, had been bought by William Carr and William Prinsep, and the body in its lac and lead coffin was placed later in a deep brick-built vault, over seven feet underground. Two years after this, Dwarkanath Tagore helped pay for the chattri raised above this vault, although there is no record of his ever visiting Bristol. The chattri was designed by the artist William Prinsep, who had known Ram Mohan in Calcutta.

Bristol Arnos Vale cemetery have been holding remembrance services of Raja Ram Mohan Roy every year on a Sunday close to his death anniversary date of 27th September [33]. The Indian High Commission at London often come to Raja's annual commemoration. Bristol's Lord Mayor shall also be in attendance. The commemoration is a joint Brahmo-Unitarian service, in which, prayers and hymns are sung, flowers laid at the tomb, and the life of the Raja is celebrated via talks and visual presentations.[34] In 2013, a recently discovered ivory bust of Ram Mohan was displayed. [35] [36] In 2014, his original death mask at Edinburgh was filmed and its history was discussed [37]. In 2017, Raja's commemoration was held on 24th of September [38] and in 2018, it will be held on the 30th of September.

Bristol honours Ram Mohan Roy

In 1983, a full scale Exhibition on Ram Mohan Roy was held in Bristol's Museum and Art Gallery. His enormous 1831 portrait by Henry Perronet Briggs still hangs there, and was the subject of a talk by Sir Max Muller in 1873. At Bristol's centre, on College Green, is a full-size bronze statue of the Raja by the modern Kolkata sculptor Niranjan Pradhan. Another bust by Pradhan, gifted to Bristol by Jyoti Basu, sits inside the main foyer of Bristol's City Hall.

A pedestrian path at Stapleton has been named "Rajah Rammohun Walk". There is a 1933 Brahmo plaque on the outside west wall of Stapleton Grove, and his first burial place in the garden is marked by railings and a granite memorial stone. His tomb and chattri at Arnos Vale are listed Grade II* by English Heritage, and attract many admiring visitors today.

See also


  1. Soman, Priya. "Raja Ram Mohan and the Abolition of Sati System in Indai" (PDF). International Journal of Humanities, Art and Social Studies (IJHAS). 1 (2): 75–82.
  2. "Raja Ram Mohan Roy: Google doodle remembers the father of 'Indian Renaissance'". Indian Express. Retrieved 2018-06-24.
  3. "Raja Ram Mohan Roy: 'The father of Indian Renaissance'". Deccan Herald. Retrieved 2018-06-24.
  4. "Listeners name 'greatest Bengali'". 2004-04-14. Retrieved 2018-04-21.
  5. "The Hindu : International : Mujib, Tagore, Bose among `greatest Bengalis of all time'". www.thehindu.com. Retrieved 2018-04-21.
  6. "BBC Listeners' Poll Bangabandhu judged greatest Bengali of all time'". archive.thedailystar.ne. Retrieved 2018-05-22.
  7. 1 2 page 8, Raja Ram Mohan Roy — The Renaissance Man, H.D.Sharma, 2002
  8. "Raja Ram Mohan Roy". Cultural India. Retrieved 25 August 2018.
  9. Hodder, Alan D. (1988). "Emerson, Rammohan Roy, and the Unitarians". Studies in the American Renaissance: 133–148.
  10. Singh, Kulbir. "Ram Mohan Roy: The Father of the Indian Renaissance". Young Bites. Retrieved 25 August 2018.
  11. "An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens". www.wmcarey.edu. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  12. "Home - William Carey University". www.wmcarey.edu. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  13. Reed, Ian Brooks. "Rammohan Roy and the Unitarians". Florida State University Libraries. Retrieved 25 August 2018.
  14. Kaumudi Patrika 12 December 1912
  15. "Essays in Classical and Modern Hindu Law" John Duncan Derrett
  16. "The Life of William Carey (1761-1834) by George Smith (1885) Ch4, p71". Retrieved 2008-12-08.
  17. 1 2 Syed, M. H. "Raja Rammohan Roy" (PDF). Himalaya Publishing House. Retrieved 29 November 2015.
  18. Preface to "Fallacy of the New Dispensation" by Sivanath Sastri, 1895
  19. Patel, Tanvi. "Google Honours 'Maker Of Modern India': Remembering Raja Ram Mohan Roy". The Better India. Retrieved 25 August 2018.
  20. "Joshua Marshman, D.D." William Carey University. Retrieved 25 August 2018.
  21. S.D.Collett
  22. Avalon, Arthur (1 June 2004). "Mahanirvana Tantra Of The Great Liberation". Kessinger Publishing. Retrieved 2 October 2017 via Google Books.
  23. Smith, George. "Life of William Carey". Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Retrieved 29 November 2015.
  24. Roy, Rama Dev. Some Aspects of the Economic Drain from India during the British RuleSocial Scientist, Vol. 15, No. 3. March 1987.
  25. Bhattacharya, Subbhas. Indigo Planters, Ram Mohan Roy and the 1833 Charter Act Social Scientist, Vol.4, No.3. October 1975.
  26. Das, Pijush Kanti. "Rammohun Roy and Brahmoism" (PDF). Religious movement in mediaeval and modern India a critical study in Sikhism Brahmoism and the cult of Ramakrishna. University of Calcutta. pp. 200–208.
  27. Sivanath Sastri, History of the Brahmo Samaj, 1911, 1st ed. pg. 44-46
  28. "{title}". Archived from the original on 29 December 2010. Retrieved 21 January 2010.
  29. Gauri Shankar 'Bhatt, "Brahmo Samaj, Arya Samaj, and the Church-Sect Typology" Review of Religions Research. 10. (1968): 24
  30. Ram Mohan Roy, Translation of Several Principal Book, Passages, and Text of the Vedas and of Some Controversial works on Brahmunical Theology. (London: Parbury, Allen & Company, 1823) 4.
  31. Brahendra N. Bandyopadyay, Rommohan Roy, (London: University Press, 1933) 351.
  32. "Ram Mohan Roy." Main. britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/511196/Ram-Mohan-Roy?view=print. 2009.
  33. "The Brahmo Samaj". www.thebrahmosamaj.net. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  34. "Celebration at Arnos Vale". Archived from the original on 6 February 2015. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  35. "The Brahmo Samaj". www.thebrahmosamaj.net. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  36. "The Brahmo Samaj". www.thebrahmosamaj.net. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  37. Suman Ghosh (27 September 2013). "Bristol Remembers Rammohun Roy". Retrieved 2 October 2017 via YouTube.
  38. "Tributes paid to the great Indian social reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy in Bristol". Retrieved 27 September 2017.
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