Hindu Reform Movements

Raja Rammohan Roy and Brahmo Samaj

  • He is considered as the first ‘modern man’ as he was the pioneer of socio-religious and political reform movements in modern India.
  • He studied numerous languages – Persian, Arabic, Sanskrit, English, French, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, etc. in order to study the various religious scriptures in their original.


  • He wished to purify Hinduism by removing all kinds of evils that had crept into it over centuries.
  • He believed in monotheism i.e, doctrine of the unity of God-head and opposed idol-worship .
  • In 1803, he published a Persian treatise named ‘Tuhfat-ul Muwahhidin’ or ‘ A Gift to Monotheists’ wherein he explains his concept of monotheism (firm belief in the concept of one God). He found Upanishads as the basis of true Hinduism .
  • He started touching upon many burning social issues of the time including the widely-prevalent practice of becoming sati. He rallied support to the efforts of William Bentinck (Governor General) for abolition of this custom and wrote extensively for the cause.
  • In 1829, the custom of sati was formally abolished. He also condemned polygamy and many other forms of subjugation of women.
  • Roy was also an advocate of modern education . He opened an English school as well as a Vedanta college (1825).


  • He was among the first to bring political questions in the ambit of public debate .
  • His Atmiya Sabha, founded in 1814 , discussed important social and political questions of the time. In 1828, its enlarged edition was called the Brahmo Sabha which was renamed Brahmo Samaj later on.
  • After Roy’s death in 1833, the Brahmo Samaj started getting disorganized

Debendranath Tagore

  • He joined Brahmo Samaj in 1842 & he gave a definite shape and popularized it beyond the city of Calcutta
  • In 1843, he wrote Brahmo Covenant . This Covenant was a statement of the creed of the Samaj and made a list of the duties and obligations of its members .

Keshab Chandra Sen (1838-84)

  • He joined the Samaj in 1858 took the activities of the Samaj beyond Bengal and into UP, Punjab, Madras and Bombay.
  • Keshab Chandra Sen radicalized the Samaj by attacking the caste system, underlining women’s rights, promoting widow remarriage and raising the issue of caste status of Brahmo preachers which was earlier reserved for Brahmans.
  • He laid stress on universalism in religion .
  • His radicalism brought him into opposition with Debendranath .
  • In 1866, the Samaj was formally divided into Adi Brahmo Samaj (headed by Debendranath and the Brahmo Samaj of India (headed by Keshab Chandra).


  • Founded by Henry Vivian Derozio , teacher at the Hindu college between 1826 and 1831.
  • His followers were known as the Derozians and their movement as the Young Bengal


  • The movement attacked old traditions and decadent customs, advocating women’s rights and education and educating the public on the current socio-economic and political questions through press and public associations.
  • They carried on public agitation on public questions like freedom of the press, trial by jury and protection of peasants , etc.

Arya Samaj

  • It was founded by Dayanand Saraswati (1824-83) & it was a revivalist movement in the late 19th century India.
  • It started in the western India and Punjab, and gradually spread to a large part of the Hindi heartland.
  • In 1875, he wrote Satyarth Prakash (or the light of truth) and in the same year founded the Bombay Arya Samaj.
  • The Lahore Arya Samaj was founded in 1877. Subsequently, Lahore became the epicentre of the Arya movement.
  • Dayanand opposed a ritual-ridden Hindu religion and called for basing it on the preaching of the Vedas . Only Vedas, along with their correct analytical tools, were true.
  • He attacked puranas, polytheism, idolatry and domination of the priestly class .
  • He adopted Hindi for reaching out to the masses .
  • He also opposed child marriage.
  • He was fiercely opposed to multiplicity of castes which he thought was primarily esponsible for encouraging conversion of lower castes into Christianity and Islam .
  • After Dayanand’s death in 1883, the Samaj lay scattered.

ARYA SAMAJ after Dayanand’s death

  • Most important attempt to unite the Samaj and its activities was the founding of the

Dayanand Anglo Vedic Trust and Management Society in Lahore in 1886 .

  • In 1886, this society opened a school with Lala Hansraj as its principal. However, some leaders of the Samaj like Munshi Ram (Swami Shraddhanand), Gurudatt, Lekh Ram and others were opposed to Anglo Vedic education.
  • They argued that the Arya Samaj’s educational initiative must focus on Sanskrit, Aryan ideology and Vedic scriptures and should have little space for English learning.
  • This militant wing thought that Dayanand’s words were sacrosanct and his message in Satyarth Prakash could not be questioned .
  • While the moderate wing led by Lala Hansraj and Lajpat Rai pointed out that Dayanand was a reformer and not a rishi or sadhu .
  • Conflicts also arose over the control of the DAV Management Society.
  • These differences finally led to a formal division of the Arya Samaj in 1893 when Munshiram broke away along with his supporters to initiate a gurukul-based education. Therefore, after 1893 the two wings of the Arya Samaj were – DAV group and Gurukul group .
  • Munshi Ram and Lekh Ram devoted themselves to popularizing of the teachings of the Vedas and began an Arya Kanya Pathshala at Jalandhar to safeguard education from missionary influence.
  • In 1902, Munshi Ram founded a Gurukul at Kangri in Haridwar. This institute became the centre of the gurukul education wing of the Arya Samaj in India. It was here that Munshi Ram adopted sanyas and became Swami Shraddhanand .
  • The two wings of the Arya Samaj, i.e. DAV wing and the Gurukul wing had differences on the question of education but were united on important political and social issues of the time.
  • The Arya Samaj as a whole opposed conversion of Hindus to Islam and Christianity and therefore advocated re-conversion of recent converts to Hinduism. This process was called Shuddhi .
  • They also advocated greater usage of Hindi in Devanagari script .
  • In the 1890s, the Arya Samaj also raised the issue of cow slaughter and formed gaurakshini sabhas (or the cow protection societies) for protection of cows .
  • The Arya Samaj led a prolonged movement against untouchability and advocated dilution of caste distinctions .


It means the reconversion of those Hindus who had once been willingly or forcibly converted into other religions, but were now willing to come back into the fold of Hinduism also it prevented further conversion. It was considered by the Arya Samajists as a potent instrument for effecting socio-religious and political unity of India.

Swami Vivekananda

  • He spread the message of spiritual Hinduism in America and Europe during his tour of 1893-97.
  • He established Ramakrishna Mission in 1897 and set up a Math at Belur.
  • Vivekananda was opposed to degeneration in religion, manifold divisions, caste rigidities, practice of untouchability, superstitions etc.
  • He pointed out that the present condition of Hindus was due to their ignorance which was helped by their being a subject race.
  • He attempted to establish Hindu spiritual supremacy vis-à-vis the selfish civilization of the West.
  • He believed that India had to learn work ethics, forms of organization and technological advances from the West .


  • 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 Justice M.G. Ranade and R.G. Bhandarkar joined it in 1870 and infused new strength to it.
  • Mahadev Govind Ranade, also ran the Deccan Education Society.
  • Several members of the Prarthana Samaj had earlier been active in the Paramhansa Mandali.
  • This Samaj denounced idolatry, priestly domination, caste rigidities and preferred monotheism .
  • It also concentrated on social reforms like inter-dining, inter-marriage, widow remarriage and uplift of women and depressed classes .
  • Apart from Hindu sects, it also drew upon Christianity and Buddhism & It sought truth in all religions .
  • Drew inspiration from the Maratha Bhakti saints of the medieval period, Ranade sought to establish the concept of one compassionate God .


  • Many important reform movements arose during the 19th century western India.
  • Reformers like KT Telang, VN Mandalik and RG Bhandarkar glorified India’s past.
  • There were some who led a direct attack on social evils like caste system and encouraged widow remarriage, e.g., Karsondas Mulji and Dadoba Pandurang. They formed Manav Dharma Sabha in 1844 and Paramhansa Mandali in 1849.
  • The Mandali carried its activities secretly.
  • Its members took a pledge that they would abandon all caste distinctions.
  • The Mandali declined after 1860 as its membership and activities lost secrecy .

Ramakrishna Mission

  • Another notable reform movement in Bengal, which soon spread to other parts of the country, during the late 19th century, was the Ramakrishna Mission. The movement began under an ascetic and priest Gadadhar Chatterjee or Swami Ramakrishna Paramhansa (1836-86).
  • He preached universality of all religions and favoured preserving beliefs and rituals of Hinduism .
  • Among his important disciples was Narendra Nath or Swami Vivekananda who accepted Ramakrishna as his guru in 1885.
  • He spread the message of spiritual Hinduism in America and Europe during his tour of1893-97.
  • He established Ramakrishna Mission in 1897 and set up a Math at Belur.
  • Vivekananda was opposed to degeneration in religion, manifold divisions, caste rigidities, practice of untouchability, superstitions etc.
  • He pointed out that the present condition of Hindus was due to their ignorance which was helped by their being a subject race.
  • He attempted to establish Hindu spiritual supremacy vis-à-vis the selfish civilization of the West.
  • He believed that India had to learn work ethics, forms of organization and technological advances from the West .


  • Madam H.P. Blavatsky laid the foundation of the movement in the United States in 1875 and

later Colonel M.S. Olcott joined her.

  • In 1882, they shifted their headquarters to India at Adyar with three main objectives:
  • To form a universal brotherhood of man
  • To promote the study of ancient religions and philosophies
  • To make a systematic investigation into the mystic potencies of life and matter, this is called occultism.
  • The members of this society believe that a special relationship can be established between a person’s soul and God by contemplation, prayer, revolution .
  • The theosophical movement came to be allied with Hindu renaissance .
  • The society believes in reincarnation, Karma and draws from the philosophy of the upanishads and Samkhya, yoga and vedanta schools of thought .
  • After the death of Olcott in 1907, Annie Besant was elected as its President.
  • The society under Besant concentrated on the revival of Hinduism and its ancient ideas and in order to provide Hindu religious instruction .
  • She founded the Central Hindu University at Varanasi in 1898, which was later developed into the Benaras Hindu University by Madan Mohan Malaviya.

Satya Shodhak Samaj & movement

  • It was launched by Jyotiba Phule in Maharashtra, in 1873, to save the lower castes from the Brahmins . He wrote ‘Gulamgiri’ and ‘Sarvajanik Satyadharma Pustak’ .
  • His theory of exploitation of lower castes was focused on cultural and ethnic factors rather than on political and economic one.

D.K. Karve

He took up the cause of widow remarriage and in Madras Veerasalingam Pantulu made Herculean efforts in the same direction.

  • Prof. Karve opened a widow’s home in Poona in 1899. He set up the Indian Womens

University at Bombay in 1916.

B.M. Malbari

He started a crusade against child marriage and his efforts were crowned by the enactment of the age of consent Act, 1891.

Justice movement

It was started in 1915-16 by C.N. Mudaliar, T.M. Nair and P. Tyagaraja Chetti in Madras. It was against the predominance of the Brahmins in education, government services and politics .

Ezhava movement

It was launched by Sri Narayan Guru . He started the movement of untouchable Ezhava against the Brahmin dominance in Kerala. He rejected the caste system and developed the concept of

one caste, one religion and one God for mankind .

His disciple Ayappan made it into no religion, no caste and no God for mankind.

Self-Respect Movement (1925)

Led by EV Ramaswamy Naicker (Periyar) opposed Brahmanical religion & started it in the mid-1920s. The movement aimed at nothing short of a rejection of brahminical religion and culture which Naicker felt was the prime instrument of exploitation of the lower castes .

He took an active part in the anti-liquor movement and Vaikom Satyagraha, in 1924.

Self-respect movement had two aims:

  • Demanding the sanction of more concessions and privileges (which would cause

discrimination against the Brahmins) to surpass Brahmins in education and social status.

  • Achieving ‘Swayam Maryada’ or self-respect.
  • The main objectives of this movement were inculcation and dissemination of knowledge of political education; Right to lead life with dignity and self-respect and do away with the exploitative system based on superstitions and beliefs.
  • Abolition of the evil social practices and protection of women rights . Establishment and maintenance of homes for orphans and widow and opening of educational institutions for them.
  • This movement gained popularity in no time and became a political platform.
  • 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 .
  • In 1938, the Tamil Nadu Women’s Conference appreciated the noble service rendered by E.V.R. and he was given the title “Periyar” .
  • On 27th June 1970, the UNESCO organisation praised and adorned him with the title “Socrates of South Asia”