Part 11 – Socio-Religious Reform Movements


  • In the history of modern India, the socio-religious reforms occupy a significant place

  • The spread of liberal ideas of the west provided further stimulus for the emergence of reform movements.

Raja Rammohan Roy and the Brahmo Samaj

  • Raja Rammohan Roy established the Brahmo Samajat Calcutta in 1828 in order to purify Hinduism and to preach monotheism.

  • He is considered as the first ‘modern man of India’.

  • Born in 1772 in the Hooghly district of Bengal

  • He studied the Bible as well as Hindu and Muslim religious texts

  • He had excellent command over many languages including English, Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic, French, Latin, Greek and Hebrew.

  • In 1815, he established the Atmiya Sabha.

  • Later, it was developed into the Brahmo Sabha in August 1828.

  • He preached that there is only one God.

  • He combined the teachings of the Upanishads, the Bible and the Koran in developing unity among the people of different religions.

  • The work of the Atmiya Sabha was carried on by Maharishi Debendranath Tagore (father of Rabindranath Tagore),

  • Who renamed it as Brahmo Samaj

  • Raj Rammohan Roy is most remembered for helping Lord William Bentinck to declare the practice of Sati a punishable offence in 1829.

  • He also protested against the child marriage and female infanticide.

  • He felt that the caste system was the greatest hurdle to Indian unity.

  • He favoured inter-caste marriages.

  • He himself adopted a Muslim boy

  • In 1817, he founded the Hindu College (now Presidency College, Calcutta) along with David Hare, a missionary.

  • Rammohan Roy started the first Bengali weekly Samvad Kaumudi

  • Edited a Persian weekly Mirat-ul-akhbar.

  • He stood for the freedom of the press

  • Rammohan died in Bristol in England in 1833

Henry Vivian Derozio and the Young Bengal Movement

  • Henry Vivian Derozio was the founder of the Young Bengal Movement.

  • He was born in Calcutta in 1809 and taught in the Hindu College, Calcutta.

  • He died of cholera in 1833.

  • His followers were known as the Derozians and their movement the Young Bengal Movement.

  • They attacked old traditions and decadent customs.

  • They also advocated women’s rights and their education.

  • They founded associations and organized debates against idol worship, casteism and superstitions


Swami Dayanand Saraswathi and the Arya Samaj

  • The Arya Samaj was founded by Swami Dayanand Saraswathi at Bombay in 1875.

  • Born in Kathiawar in Gujarat, Swami Dayanand (1824-83) was a scholar, a patriot, a social reformer and a revivalist.

  • He believed the Vedas were the source of true knowledge.

  • His motto was “Back to the Vedas”.

  • He was against idol worship, Child marriage and caste system based on birth.

  • He encouraged intercaste marriages and widow remarriage

  • He started the Suddhi movement to bring back those Hindus who had converted to other religions to its fold.

  • He wrote the book Satyartha Prakash which contains his ideas.

  • The Arya Samaj, though founded in Bombay, became very powerful in Punjab and spread its influence to other parts of India.

  • The first Dayanand Anglo-Vedic (DAV) School was founded in 1886 at Lahore.

Prarthana Samaj

  • The Prarthana Samaj was founded in 1867 in Bombay by Dr. Atmaram Pandurang

  • It was an off-shoot of Brahmo Samaj

  • It was a reform movement within Hinduism and concentrated on social reforms like inter-dining, inter-marriage, widow remarriage and uplift of women and depressed classes.

  • Justice M.G. Ranade and R.G. Bhandarkar joined it in 1870 and infused new strength to it.

  • Justice Ranade promoted the Deccan Education Society.

Swami Vivekananda and Ramakrishna Mission

  • The original name of Swami Vivekanandawas Narendranath Dutta (1863-1902)

  • He became the most famous disciple of Shri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.

  • He was born in a prosperous Bengali family of Calcutta and educated in Scottish Church College.

  • In 1886 Narendranath took the vow of Sanyasa and was given the name, Vivekananda.

  • He preached Vedantic Philosophy

  • Swami Vivekananda participated at the Parliament of Religions held in Chicago (USA) in September 1893 and raised the prestige of India and Hinduism very high.

  • Vivekananda preached the message of strength and self-reliance.

  • He asked the people to improve the lives of the poor and depressed classes.

  • He founded the Ramakrishna Mission at Belur in Howrah in 1897.

  • It is a social service and charitable society.

  • The objectives of this Mission are providing humanitarian relief and social work through the establishment of schools, colleges, hospitals and orphanages.

Theosophical Society

  • The Theosophical Society was founded in New York (USA) in 1875 by Madam H.P. Blavatsky, a Russian lady, and Henry Steel Olcott, an American colonel

  • Their main objectives were to form a universal brotherhood of man without any distinction of race, colour or creed and to promote the study of ancient religions and philosophies.

  • They arrived in India and established their headquarters at Adyar in Madras in 1882.

  • Later in 1893, Mrs Annie Besant arrived in India and took over the leadership of the Society after the death of Olcott.

  • Mrs Annie Besant founded the Central Hindu School along with Madan Mohan Malaviya at Benaras which later developed into the Banaras Hindu University.


Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar

  • Pandit Ishwar Chandra was a great educator, humanist and social reformer

  • He was born in 1820 in a village in Midnapur, Bengal.

  • He rose to be the Head Pandit of the Bengali Department of Fort William College.

  • Vidyasagar founded many schools for girls

  • He helped J.D. Bethune to establish the Bethune School.

  • He founded the Metropolitan Institution in Calcutta

  • He protested against child marriage and favoured widow

  • Remarriage which was legalised by the Widow Remarriage Act (1856).

  • It was due to his great support for the spread of education that he was given the title of Vidyasagar.

Jyotiba Phule

  • Jyotiba Phule belonged to a low caste family in Maharashtra

  • He waged a life-long struggle against upper caste domination and Brahmanical supremacy.

  • In 1873 he founded the Satyashodak Samaj to fight against the caste system.

  • He pioneered the widow remarriage movement in Maharashtra and worked for the education for women.

  • Jyotiba Phule and his wife established the first girls’ school at Poona in 1851

Muslim Reform Movements

  • The Muslim reform movements started a little later because they had avoided western education in the beginning.

  • The first effort was in 1863 when the Muhammad Literary Society was set up in Calcutta

Aligarh Movement

  • The Aligarh Movement was started by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (1817-98) for the social and educational advancement of the Muslims in India

  • In 1866, he started the Mohammadan Educational Conference as a general forum for spreading liberal ideas among the Muslims.

  • In 1875, he founded a modern school at Aligarh to promote English education among the Muslims.

  • This had later grown into the Mohammadan Anglo Oriental College and then into the Aligarh Muslim University.

The Deoband School

  • The orthodox section among the Muslim ulema organised the Deoband Movement.

  • It was a revivalist movement whose twin objectives were

  • To propagate among the Muslims the pure teachings of the Koran and the Hadi

  • To keep alive the spirit of jihad against the foreign rulers.

  • The new Deoband leader Mahmud-ul-Hasan (1851-1920) sought to impart a political and intellectual content to the religious ideas of the school.

Sikh Reform Movement

  • Baba Dayal Das founded the Nirankari Movement

  • He insisted the worship of God as nirankar (formless).

  • The Namdhari Movement was founded by Baba Ram Singh.

  • His followers wore white clothes and gave up meat eating.

  • The Singh Sabhas started in Lahore and Amritsar in 1870 were aimed at reforming the Sikh society.

  • They helped to set up the Khalsa College at Amritsar in 1892.

  • They also encouraged Gurmukhi and Punjabi literature.

  • In 1920, the Akalis started a movement to remove the corrupt Mahants (priests) from the Sikh gurudwaras

  • Later, the Akalis organised themselves into a political party

Parsi Reform Movement

  • The Parsi Religious Reform Association was founded at Bombay by Furdunji Naoroji and S.S. Bengalee in 1851.

  • The Parsi Religious Reform Association was founded at Bombay by Furdunji Naoroji and S.S. Bengalee in 1851.

  • Naoroji published a monthly journal, Jagat Mithra

Saint Ramalinga

  • Saint Ramalinga was one of the foremost saints of Tamil Nadu in the nineteenth century.

  • His divine powers came to be recognised at the early age of eleven.

  • In 1865 he founded the Samarasa Suddha Sanmargha Sanghafor the promotion of his ideals of establishing a casteless society.

  • He composed Tiru Arutpa

  • In 1870 he moved to Mettukuppam, a place three miles away from Vadalur.

  • There he started constructing the Satya Gnana Sabaiin 1872.

  • He introduced the principle that God could be worshipped in the form of Light

Self-Respect Movement and Periyar E.V.R.

  • Periyar E.V. Ramaswamy was a great social reformer. In 1921, during the anti-liquor campaign he cut down 1000 coconut trees in his own farm.

  • In 1924, he took an active part in the Vaikam Satyagraha

  • The objective of the Satyagraha was to secure for untouchables the right to use a road near a temple at Vaikom in Kerala.

  • He started the “Self-Respect Movement”. The aims of the ‘Self -Respect Movement’ were to uplift the Dravidians and to expose the Brahminical tyrany and deceptive methods by which they controlled all spheres of Hindu life

  • He denounced the caste system, child marriage and enforced widowhood

  • He himself conducted many marriages without any rituals

  • Such a marriage was known as “SelfRespect Marriage.

  • He attacked the laws of Manu, which he called the basis of the entire Hindu social fabric of caste

  • He founded the Tamil journals Kudiarasu, Puratchi and Viduthalai to propagate his ideals

  • On 27th June 1970 by the UNESCO organisation praised and adorned with the title “Socrates of South Asia”

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