Hinduism is the major religion of India with 80.5% identifying themselves as Hindu. Although it enjoys huge popularity, Hinduism’s history has some disturbing practices like the caste system and sati practice. Raja Ram Mohan Roy was one of the first and few people to begin question the orthodox and regressive practices of Hinduism. Roy was a religious, social and educational reformer who established the idea of a modern Indian society under British rule.
Roy was born to Ramakanto Roy and Tarinidevi, in a Brahmin family. His family showed uncommon religious diversity as both his parents belonged to different sects and it was not the norm for inter sect marriage. In 1830, he became the first educated Indian to sail to England. Roy and other reformists of his time together founded the Brahmo Sabha which created Brahmo Samaj, an influential socio religious reform movement during the Bengal Renaissance.
Roy’s Brahmo Samaj followed the religious ideology that there is one Supreme God and he is to be worshipped solely. The Brahmos believe that there is no fixed time or place to worship God. He also fought against sati, the rigid caste system, polygamy and child marriages. The practice of sati was very inhuman in nature, where widows were forced to sit on their husband’s pyre and burn themselves to death along with their husband. He vehemently condemned it and fought firmly, finally succeeding in abolishing this evil.
Along with being a social reformist, he was an educationist too and believed that social change can take place only when there is proper education. Following that belief, he co-founded the Hindu College in Calcutta in 1817. Later, he founded the Anglo-Hindu school which was followed by the Vedanta College in 1826. Vedanta College was unique as it offered courses that were a synthesis of the Indian and Western learning. He wanted to propagate an education that combined the best of both the cultures to propel the development of society and remove superstition that was widespread during that time. He had a very progressive thinking and promoted learning of English, Western medicine, technology and science. If it were not for him, questions on social evils would not have been raised till much later.
Roy breathed his last in Bristol, where he succumbed to meningitis in the year 1833. A museum dedicated to the life and times of this great reformer is situated in Kolkata in a mansion built by Roy.