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Religious Reformers

Religious Reformers

  • Following are the significant religious reformers of modern India:
  • Ramakrishana and Vivekananda
  • Ramakrishna Parmhansa (1834-1886) was a saintly person who sought religious salvation in the traditional ways of renunciation, meditation, and devotion (bhakti).
  • Parmhansa, again and again, emphasized that there were many roads to God and salvation and that service of man was service of God, for man was the embodiment of God.
  • Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), a disciple of Ramakrishan Parmhansa popularized his religious message and tried to put it in a form that would suit the needs of contemporary Indian society.

  • Swami Vivekananda said, “Knowledge unaccompanied by action in the actual world in which we lived was useless.”
  • In 1898, Swami Vivekananda wrote – “For our own motherland a junction of the two great systems, Hinduism and Islam … is the only hope.”
  • Vivekananda condemned the caste system and the current Hindu emphasis on rituals, ceremonies, and superstitions, and urged the people to imbibe the spirit of liberty, equality, and free thinking.
  • To the educated Indians, Swami Vivekananda said, “So long as the millions live in hunger and ignorance, I hold everyman a traitor who having been educated at their expense, pays not the least heed to them.”
  • In 1896, Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Mission to carry on humanitarian relief and social work.
  • The Mission had many branches in different parts of the country and carried on social service by opening schools, hospitals, and dispensaries, orphanages, libraries, etc.
  • Swami Dayanand (Arya Samaj)
  • Arya Samaj was founded in 1875 by Swami Dayanand Saraswati (1824-1883).
  • Swami Dayanand believed that selfish and ignorant priests had perverted Hindu religion with the aid of the Puranas, which he said were full of false teachings.
  • Swami Dayanand rejected all later religious thought if it conflicted with the Vedas.
  • His total dependence on the Vedas and their infallibility gave his teachings an orthodox coloring.
  • Swami Dayanand was opposed to idolatry, ritual, and priesthood and particularly to the prevalent caste practices and popular Hinduism as preached by brahmins.
  • Some of Swami Dayanand’s followers later started a network of schools and colleges in the country to impart education on western lines; Lala Hansraj played a leading part in this effort.
  • On the other hand, in 1902, Swami Shradhananda started the Gurukul near Hardwar to propagate the most traditional ideals of education.
  • Sayyid Ahmad Khan (Aligarh School)
  • The Mohammedan Literary Society was founded at Calcutta in 1863.
  • This Society promoted discussion of religious, social, and political questions in the light of modern ideas and encouraged upper and middle class Muslims to take to western education.
  • The most important reformer among the Muslims was Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-1898).
  • He was tremendously impressed by modern scientific thought and worked all his life to reconcile it with Islam.
  • Sayyid Ahmad Khan, first of all, declared that the Quran alone was the authoritative work for Islam and all other Islamic writings were secondary.
  • Sayyid Ahmad Khan urged the people to develop a critical approach and freedom of thought.

  • He said, “so long as freedom of thought is not developed, there can be no civilized life.”
  • He also warned against fanaticism, narrow-mindedness, and exclusiveness, and urged students and others to be broadminded and tolerant.
  • A closed mind, he said, was the hallmark of social and intellectual backwardness.
  • Therefore promotion of modern education remained his first task throughout his life.
  • As an official, he founded schools in many towns and had many western books translated into Urdu.
  • In 1875, Sayyid Ahmad Khan founded the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College at Aligarh as a center for spreading western sciences and culture.
  • Later, this College grew into the Aligarh Muslim University.
  • Sayyd Ahmad Khan was a great believer in religious toleration.
  • He believed that all religions had a certain underlying unity, which could be called practical morality.
  • Believing that a person’s religion was his or her private affair, he roundly condemned any sign of religious bigotry in personal relations.
  • He was also opposed to communal friction.
  • He appealed to Hindus and Muslims to unite.
  • Sayyid Ahmad Khan wrote in favor of raising the women’s status in society and advocated removal of purdah and spread of education among women.
  • He also condemned the customs of polygamy and easy divorce.
  • Sayyid Ahmad Khan was helped by a band of loyal followers who are collectively described as the Aligarh School.
  • Muhammad Iqbal
  • One of the greatest poets of modern India, Muhammad Iqbal (1876- 1938) also profoundly influenced by his poetry, the philosophical and religious outlook of the younger generation of Muslims as well as of Hindus.
  • Iqbal was basically a humanist.
  • In fact, he raised human action to the status of a prime virtue.

Religious Reformers – Religious Reformers – Religious Reformers


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