Just two centuries back in India, there was a very common ritual in the Hindu society, especially in Bengal. Women, whose husbands die, would be forced to sit on the funeral pyre with their husband’s body, and burned alive!
An Indian who went to England as Indian ambassador, and ensured that Lord William Bentinck’s regulation to ban Sati, becomes a Law. Since then the lives of millions of Indian widows have been saved.
Raja Ram Mohan Roy was the person to whom goes the credit. He is rightly remembered as the Father of the Indian Renaissance. He also fought against polygamy, child marriage, untouchability, dowry etc. He established a number of schools to popularize a modern system of education with emphasis on English in India.
A great scholar of ancient Hindu scriptures, he was proficient in several languages including Persian, Arabic, English, Bengali and Sanskrit. In 1828, he founded the Brahmo Samaj, which turned out to be a very influential reforms movement.
Early Life and Education (1772–1796)
Ram Mohan Roy was born on 22 May 1772 in Radhanagar of Hooghly District in what was then Bengal Presidency. His father Ramkanto believed in Vaishnavism while his mother, Tarinidevi, was a Shivaite.
Ram Mohan Roy had a good education. He was given the best of the both worlds. On one hand he was given education that would bring him success in real world; he was also given education that was spiritual in nature.
Ram Mohan started his formal education in the village pathshala where he learned Bengali, Sanskrit and Persian. Later he went to Patna and studied Persian and Arabic in a madrasa. After that he went to Benares to learn the intricacies of Sanskrit and Hindu scriptures.
His Life During the Early Rule of the East India Company (1795–1828)
During these periods, Ram Mohan Roy acted as a political agitator while employed by the East India Company.
In 1793, British Baptist shoemaker William Carey landed in India to propagate Christianity in India. He realized that Brahmins and Pundits were most able to help him in this.
In 1797, Ram Mohan arrived in Kolkata and became a bania or moneylender to Englishmen of the Company while continuing his profession of pundit. He also began learning Greek and Latin.
The trio of Carey, Vidyavagish, a tantric, and Roy created a religious work known as the Maha Nirvana Tantra or Book of the Great Liberation.
From 1803 to 1815, Ram Mohan worked in the East India Company’s Writing Service. He joined initially as private clerk or munshi to Thomas Woodroffe, who was Registrar at the Murshidabad Court.
Roy resigned from Woodroffe’s service and got employment with John Digby, a Company collector, and spent many years at Rangpur.
Ram Mohan Roy was one of the first to try attempt how much money was being taken out of India and to where.
During the next two decades, Ram Mohan attacked the evils of Hinduism especially those of his own Kulin Brahmin priestly clan. One of these social evils was Sati, where widows were cremated alive along with their husbands. The other evils were polygamy, untouchability, idolatry, child marriages and dowry.
His Contributions through the Brahmo Samaj (1820–1830)
During this period he had lot of published work like his articles in Brahmanical magazine, an article titled Brief Remarks on Ancient Female Rights in Persian paper Mirat-ul-Akhbar etc. Here is a brief list of his literary achievements:
- In 1821, brought out a Bengali newspaper called Sambad Kaumudi.
- In 1822, published a book in Bengali called Answers To Four Questions.
- In 1823, published a book in Bengali called “Pathyapradan or Medicine For The Sick”.
- In 1826, he published a Grammar of the Bengali language in English.
- He continued writing and publishing many more articles over the years.
Journey to England (1831–1833)
In 1830, Ram Mohan Roy went to Britain as an ambassador of the Mughal Empire. He had to ensure that Lord William Bentinck’s Bengal Sati Regulation, 1829 banning the practice of Sati was not overturned.
In addition, he persuaded the King to increase the Mughal Emperor’s allowances. He also visited France. During his stay in England, he met British MPs, published books on Indian economics and law.
Death and Burial
He died at Stapleton, near Bristol on 27 September 1833 of meningitis and was buried in Arnos Vale Cemetery in southern Bristol. Ram Mohan Roy was originally buried on 18 October 1833, in the grounds of Stapleton Grove. More than nine years later, he was reburied on 29 May 1843 in a grave at the new Arnos Vale Cemetery, in Brislington, East Bristol.
Ram Mohan Roy tied the knots three times in his life. His first wife died soon after the marriage. With his second wife who died in 1824, he had two sons, Radhaprasad and Ramaprasad. His third wife outlived him.
His Other Contributions
Ram Mohan Roy’s major contribution 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. He co-founded the Calcutta Unitarian Society.
In 1828, he set up the Brahmo Sabha which became Brahmo Samaj, a movement of reformist Bengali Brahmins to fight against social evils. It played a major role in reforming and modernizing the Indian society.
Roy believed education to be an implement for social reforms. In 1817, in collaboration with David Hare, he set up the Hindu College at Calcutta.
In 1822, Roy founded the Anglo-Hindu school, and in 1826 founded the Vedanta College; with emphasis on modern, western curriculum.
In 1830, he helped Rev. Alexander Duff in establishing the General Assembly’s Institution which is now known as Scottish Church College.
Roy published journals in English, Hindi, Persian and Bengali. His most popular journal was the Sambad Kaumudi. It covered issues like freedom of press, separation of the executive and judiciary etc. When the English Company muzzled the press, Ram Mohan composed two memorials against this in 1829 and 1830 respectively.
A personality like Raja Ram Mohan Roy was a rare bundle of humanitarian sensibilities and ethos, erudite scholarship and an indefatigable champion of social reforms. He remains the greatest social reformer, scholar and educationist, India has ever seen.
Quotes by Raja Ram Mohan Roy
“The superstitious practices which deform the Hindu religion have nothing to do with the pure spirit of its dictates.”
“Just consider how terrible the day of your death will be. Others will go on speaking and you will not be able to argue back.”