Socio-religious reform movements in the 19th century: Brahmo Samaj, Arya Samaj, Theosophical Society

Socio-religious reform movements in the 19th century: Brahmo Samaj, Arya Samaj, Theosophical Society

India has a long history of socio-religious reform movements. However, the present work focuses on the social reform movements of Nineteenth century only. The reforms by definition entail change or replacement of the institutions, which have become functionally irrelevant(totally or partly) to the contemporary social order and are responsible for low quality of life, deprivations, unrest an misery to the sizeable sections of the society. Etymologically, ‘reform’ means ‘forming again’, ‘reconstruct’, which can be done only when a system is first demolished; but social reform envisages ‘amendment’, ‘improvement’ etc.; thus entailing peaceful crusading, use of non-violent means for change and change in slow speed.

A reform movement is a kind of social movement that aims at making gradual change, or changes in certain aspects of society, rather than rapid or fundamental changes. A reform movement is distinguished from more radical social movements such as revolutionary movements. In India, social reform did not ordinarily mean a reorganisation of the structuring of society at large, as it did in the West, for the benefit of underprivileged social and economic classes. Instead, it meant the infusion into the existing social structure of the new ways of life and thought; the society would be preserved, while its members would be transformed.

Nineteenth century is the period of turmoil in Indian society. The age old traditions and practices were degraded and these were replaced by many social evils like female infanticide, sati, child-marriage, caste system, purdah; ban on female education, and widow re-marriage etc. The beginning of the social reform movements in India in the nineteenth century were clearly the outcome of coming in contact of two different societies- totally different from each other. On the one hand, there is the traditional orthodox Society and on the other hand is the English educated young generation. It is regarded as the product of the English education which brought the young India into contact with the Age of illumination in Europe.

It is the age which proclaimed the supremacy of reason over faith, of individual conscience over outside authority and brought in its train new conceptions of human rights and social justice. The introduction of English education helps a lot in bringing about a great transformation in Indian society. A group of young people of India who came in contact with the new system of education became familiar with the liberal and rational thinking of Europe and they revolted against the tyranny of dogma and traditional authorities, beliefs, customs and age-old practices. The impact of English education in India is both positive as well as negative. However, the first and foremost positive effect is that it instilled into the minds of Indians a spirit of rational enquiry into the basis of their religion and society. There was the replacement of blind faith in current traditions, beliefs, and conventions characteristics of Medieval Age- by a spirit of rationalism, which is the distinctive feature of the Modern Age. In short, there is a transition from the Medieval Age to the Modern Age.


From the late 19th century a number of European and Indian scholars started the study of ancient India’s history, philosophy, science, religions and literature. This growing knowledge of India’s past glory provided to the Indian people a sense of pride in their civilization. It also helped the reformers in their work of religious and social reform for their struggle against all type of inhuman practices, superstitions etc. Since they had become associated with religious beliefs, therefore most of the movements of social reform were of a religious character. These social and religious reform movements arose among all communities of the Indian people. They attacked bigotry, superstition and the hold of the priestly class. They worked for abolition of castes and untouchability, purdah system, sati, child marriage, social inequalities and illiteracy. Some of these reformers were supported directly or indirectly by the British officials and some of the reformers also supported reformative steps and regulations framed by the British Government.


Men and women enjoy certain rights and freedom today. But do you know that they were given to us by the untiring efforts made by certain reformers. Among the great reformers of this period, Raja Rammohan Roy deserves special mention. He presented a fine combination of East and the West. A man of great literary talent and well versed in Indian culture, he also made special effort to study Christianity and Islam so that he could deal with them with understanding. He felt great revulsion for many practices prevailing in India that enjoyed religious approval.

His main pre-occupation was how to rid the Hindu religion of both image worship, sacrificial rites and other meaningless rituals. He condemned the priestly class for encouraging these practices. He opined that all the principal ancient texts of the Hindus preached monotheism or worship of one God. His greatest achievement in the field of relisious reform was an setting up in 1828 of the Brahmo Samaj. The Brahmo Samaj was an important organization of religious reforms. It forbade idol-worship and discarded meaningless rites and rituals. The Samaj also forbade its members from attacking any religion. It beliefed in the basic unity of all the religions. Raja Rammohan Roy believed that man should adopt truth and goodness and should give up things based on falsehood and superstition.

Raja Rammohan Roy was not merely a religious reformer but a social reformer also. His greatest achievement was the abolition of Sati in 1929. Raja Rammohan Roy realized that the practice of Sati was due to the extremely low position of Hindu women. Therefore he started working as a stout champion of women’s rights. He worked very hard for years to stop this practice of ‘Sati’. In the early 1818 he set out to rouse public opinion on the question of Sati. On the one hand he showed by citing the authority of the oldest sacred books that the Hindu religion at its best was opposed to the practice and on the other, he appealed to reason and humanity and compassion of the people. He visited the burining ghats of Calcutta to try and persuade the relatives of widows to give up their plan of selfimmolation. His campaign against Sati aroused the opposition of the orthodox Hindus who bitterly attacked him.

Raja Rammohan Roy was also deeply opposed to the caste system that prevailed in Indian society. A humanist and democrat to the core, he wrote and talked against the caste system. Another important area that concerned him was Hindu theology. Study of the Vedas and Upanishads gave him ground to show that monotheism was the original Hindu belief and hence he denounced polytheism and idolatry. In fact the philosopher did not insist on the creation of a new religion but merely endeavoured to ‘purify’ the Vedic religion from the crude and most ignorant superstitions. He proclaimed that there is only one God for all religions and for all humanity. He wrote in Bengali and English. He was an ardent promoter of English education. He was also well versed in the Persian language and some of his most liberal and rational ideas were expressed in his early writings in that language.

He advocated the abolition of polygamy (a practice of man having more than one wife) and child marriage. He wanted women to be educated and given the right to inherit property. He condemned the subjugation of women and opposed the prevailing ideas that women were inferior to men in intellect or in a moral sense. He advocated the rights of widows to remarry.

To bring his ideas into practice, Raja Rammohan Roy founded the Brahmo Sabha in 1828 which later came to be known as Brahmo Samaj. It was open to all persons regardless of their colour, convictions, caste, nationality, and religion. It emphasised human dignity, opposed idol worship and condemned social evils like sati pratha. It was not meant to bea separate religious sect but only a place where all those who believed in one true God could meet and pray. No images were allowed and no sacrifices and offerings permitted.

Debendra Nath Tagore (l817-1905), the son of Dwarkanath Tagore, founder member of Brahmo Samaj, succeeded Raja Rammohan Roy as the leader of the Brahmo Samaj. He put new life in the Samaj and propagated Raja Rammohan Roy’s ideas. Keshub Chandra Sen (1838-1884) took over the leadership of the Samaj from Tagore. The Brahmo Samaj stood for the principles of individual freedom, national unity, solidarity and collaboration and the democratisation of all social institutions and relations. It thus became the first organised vehicle for the expression of national awakening and inaugurated a new era for the people of India. However, the Brahmo Samaj was weakened by internal dissensions and its influence remained confined to urban educated groups. But it left its impact on the intellectual, social and political life of Bengal.

After the departure of Rammohun Roy for England (November 1830) and his death there (September 1833), the Brahmo Samaj as on organisation gradually reached a moribund condition though its name, theology and social ideals continued to live and prosper among certain groups in the near Calcutta. The munificence of Rammohun’s friend Dwarkanath Tagore and the single-minded devotion of Pandit Ram Chandra Vidyavagis enabled it however to tide over the period of crisis tm new life was infused into the Brahmo movement by Debendranath Tagore (1817-1905), Dwarkanath’s eldest son who is to be reckoned as the second great leader of the Samaj. Debendranath’s interest in Brahmonism found its earliest expression in his foundation of the Tattwabodhini Sabha in 1839. He joined the Samaj in 1842 and was formally initiated into Brahmoism by Ram Chandra Vidyavagis, along with twenty other young men on December 21, 1843 (7 Poush, 1765 Saka according to the Bengali calendar), a memorable day in the cultural history of Bengal, still celebrated annually at Shantiniketan.

The Tattawabodhini Sabha soon grew into a common platform for the intellectual and cultural elite of mid-nineteenth century Bengal. Its membership came to exceed eight hundred, aremarkable figure for those days. The core was no doubt formed by the group of devout Brahmos with the young Debendranath at their head and the declared objective of the body was “the propagation of the Brahmo Dharma in various ways”. But at the same time there had assembled under the banner of the Sabha refonners and educationists like Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, rationalists and free-thinkers like Akshay Kumar Datta, Rakhaldas Haldar, Anangamohan Mitra, Kanailal Pyne and Durgacharan Banerjee, poets and litterateurs like Iswar chandra Gupta, Pyarichand Mitra, Kaliprasanna Sinha and Madanmohan Tarkalankar, Hindu College radicals like Tarachand Chakravarti, Chandra Sekhar Deb, Sib Chandra Deb, Ramgopal Ghosh, Ramtanu Lahiri and Hara Chandra Ghosh, scholars like Rajendralal Mitra and others all with a common ideal and programme in harmony with the religious and social ideas of Rammohun Roy. The era of the Tattwabodhini Sabha (1839-1859) thus ushered in a significant and creative epoch in the history of the Brahmo Samaj which had for once come to receive the sincere co-operation of nearly all the progressive sections of the contemporary Hindu society. The unification of these diverse elements of national life on a common platform was certainly an organisational achievement which reflects credit on the tact, foresight and earnestness of the young Debendranath.

Rammohun Roy’s departure for England and his premature death had robbed him of the chance of providing the infant Brahmo Samaj with a solid organisational machinery. The task was now taken up with vigour and enthusiasm. Rituals and ceremonials of the new church were formulated, the most prominent among these being the system of initiation. It started with the initiation of Debendranath and his friends in 1843. The initiated Brahmo was a new phenomenon in the history of the faith. Along with initiation came the special status of membership system or compulsory subscription for the initiated was introduced. A notable doctrinal change that took place was the abandonment of the belief in the infallibility of the Vedas. Rationalists like Akshay Kumar Dutta within the fold of the Samaj, found themselves unable to believe in any apaurusheya sastra (infallible scripture). The Hindu College group of intellectuals associated with the Tattwabodhini Sabha were also sharp critics of the doctrine. Ultimately Debendranath was also convinced of the truth of the standpoint. It was decided and formally declared that the basis of Brahmoism would henceforth be no longer any infallible book, but “the human heart illumined by spiritual knowledge born of self-realisation”. Hindu scriptures however continued to be respected without being considered infallible and Debendranath compiled two volumes the Brahma Dharma, a selection of suitable passages from the Hindu sastras and wrote the Brahmo Dharma Vijam (the Essence of Brahmoism) consisting of four short aphorisms for the use and guidance of worshippers.

The Brahmo movement spread rapidly in the country now and by 1872 the church had succeeded in establishing altogether one hundred and one branches throughout India and Burma. In one respect however a notable change had taken place in the nature of Brahmoism from this epoch. The Samaj had now definitely taken the shape of a religious sect or community with its own creed, rituals and regulations. This began increasingly to mark it out as a separate religious unit, distinct from other existing sects. The position is radically different from that of the universal congregation as conceived by Rammohun Roy, It should also be remembered that Brahmo leaders of this epoch regarded the adoration of the formless Brahman cultivated by them as the best and noblest phase in the development of Hinduism. Without denying the universal outlook of Brahmoism they were always eager to emphasize its special relation with Hinduism. The abolition of idolatry and superstition according to them was a step towards the purification of the national faith.

The next phase of the Brahmo movement is dominated by the dynamic personality of Keshub Chandra Sen (1838-84) who joined the Samaj in 1857 and became for sometime the right-hand man of Debendranath Tagore in the field of mission work. Debendranath loved the young man like his own son and appointed him an acharya of the Samaj. Keshub was the first non-Brahmin to be elevated to that position. He at once imparted a new vigour to Samaj work and generated so much apostolic zeal that its message rapidly spread to the remotest corners of Bengal. In 1864 he undertook an extensive tour of the presidencies of Madras and Bombay and prepared the ground for the spread of t,he message of the Brahmo Samaj in Southern and WesternIndia. The Brahmo movement certainly gained momentum at this stage through the young Keshub’s endeavours and even Rev. Alexander Duff, one of its arch rivals had to admit that “the Brahmo Samaj is a power, and a power of no mean order”. But for sometime past serious differences regarding creed, rituals and the attitude of the Brahmos to the social problems of the day, had arisen between Debendranath and Keshub, men of radically different temperaments and the Samaj soon split up into two groups- the old conservatives rallying round the cautious Debendranath and the young reformists led by the dynamic Keshub. The division came to the surface towards the close of 1866 with the emergence of two rival bodies, the Calcutta or Adi Brahmo Samaj consisting of the old adherents of the faith and the new order (inspired and led by Keshub) known as the Brahmo Samaj of India. The new wing proceeded to carry out its spiritual and social reform and achieved striking success within a short period. A second Indian tour of Keshub Chandra Sen in 1868 like the previous-one four years ago, did much to foster the sense of spiritual and national unity in India and his visit to England in 1870 carried the message of the Brahmo Samaj to the West. The Samaj now adopted a much more radical and comprehensive scheme of socia1 reform placing much greater emphasis on female emancipation, female education and a total abolition all caste distinctions. Its activities 1ed to the formation of the Indian Reform Association in 1870 and the enactment of the Indian Marriage Act of 1872 validating inter-caste marriage. Doctrinally, the faith now became much more pronouncedly theistic with the sense of sin, spirit of repentance and efficacy of prayer as its prominent features, presumably due to the absorption of a great deal of Christian influence. In a sense it had also become much more universal than before since its special relation with Hinduism came to be denied and along with Hinduism other great world religions like Islam, Christianity and Buddhism were studied with greater respect. The infusion of effusive bhakti or intense devotional fervour into Brahmoism rendered it more soothing, emotional and attractive to the common people. The kirtan or devotional music after the manner of the Bengal vaishnavas was introduced in the Brahmo Samaj for the first time by Keshub who was largely helped in this matter by Vijaya Krishna Goswami, a descendant of the celebrated medieval Vaishnava saint Advaitacharya, who had joined the Brahmo Samaj. Finally, Keshub’s doctrine of “God in conscience” helped to build up the moral life of the community in harmony with the new spirituality removing an contradictions that existed previously between profession and practice. During the last phase of his life Keshub’s attitude of reverence towards an faiths ultimately led him to a rich and colourful synthesis of religions which he proclaimed under the title of “New Dispensation (Navavidhan) on January 25, 1880.

Inspite of the dynamic progress of the Brahmo movement under Keshub, the Samaj had to go through a second schism on May, 1878 when a band of Keshub Chandra Sen’s followers left him to start the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj mainly because their demand for the introduction of a democratic constitution in the church was not conceded; secondly because they could not see eye to eye with Keshub on the doctrine of adesha or Divine command; and thirdly on the ground of their objection to the marriage of Keshub’s daughter with the prince of Cooch Bihar allegedly in violation of the provision of the Indian Marriage Act of 1872. The body led by the veteran Derozian Shib Chandra Dev consisted of some of the most brilliant and talented young men of the time including Sivnath Shastri, Ananda Mohan Bose, Dwarkanath Ganguli, Nagendranath Chatterjee, Ram Kumar Vidyaratna, Vijay Krishna Goswami and others. They were all staunch democrats and promptly framed a full-fledged democratic constitution based on universal adult franchise, for the new organisation. This was mainly due to the earnest endeavours of the England-returned Cambridge wrangler and lawyer Ananda Mohan Bose who received the warm support of his colleagues. According to Bipin Chandra Pal, this democratic experiment had been intended by the founders to serve as a model for the independent Indian democracy of the future. Rammohun Roy had turned a republican during his mature years. He had to conceal his republican sympathies carefully in England knowing English public opinion to be allergic to republicanism. The Sadharan Brahmo Samaj now revised this tradition of Rammohun’s time. It was declared in the pages of the Bengali mouthpiece of the Samaj (Tattwakaumudi, 16 Phalgun, 1803 Saka) that the. Brahmo Samaj was about to establish a ‘World wide republic” by placing inequality by equality and the power of the king by the ‘power of the people” and that this all comprehensive outlook was the special attraction of the Samaj. The new body displayed, considerable vitality and dynamism in making inroads into fresh fields of philanthropy and politics. Quite a number of its leading figures took prominent part in the activities of the. Indian League (1878), the Indian Association (1878) and the nascent Indian National Congress. It has proved up till now a powerful and active branch of the Brahmo Samaj in the country. But this is not to belittle the importance and vitality of the Brahmo Samaj to India which was founded by Keshub Chandra Sen, and which still continues to serve the hopes and aspirations of the Brahmo community. Presently there is little clash of interest between these two wings of the Brahmo Samaj, i.e. the Brahmo Samaj of India and the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj, and both of them cater to the needs, spiritual and otherwise, of all members of the entire Brahmo community in India.


Swami Dayananda Saraswati, the founder of the Arya Samaj, was one of the makers of modern India. With an indigenous orientation, he wanted to bring a new social, religious, economic and political order in India.

Taking inspiration from Veda, he criticized evil practices like idolatry, caste system, untouchability etc. as prevailed in the then Indian society.

Early Life:

Swami Dayananda Saraswati, known as Mulshankar in the childhood, was born in 1824 in a small town of Tankara belonging to Kathiawar of Gujarat in a conservative Brahmin family.

Taking early education from his family, he subsequently emerged as a great Vedic scholar. He renunciated the worldly life and moved from one part of India to another in the pursuit of wisdom and truth.

Finally, he met Swami Vrajanand at Mathura and became his disciple. After completing his education, he went on with the mission of spreading true Hindu religion and culture all over India. With this purpose he established the Arya Samaj at Bombay on 10th April, 1875. A number of twenty eight rules were framed which were approved by the members present in the meeting. As a writer of eminence, Dayananda wrote books like ‘Satyarth Prakash’, Vedanga Prakash, ‘Ratnamala’ ‘Sankarvidhi’, ‘Bharatinivarna’ etc. He travelled throughout the country to propagate his views and established branches of Arya Samaj at different places.

Principles of Arya Samaj:

  1. Acceptance of the Vedas as the only source of truth.
  2. Opposition to idol worship.
  3. Opposition to the theory of God-incarnation and religious pilgrimages.
  4. Recitation of the mantras of the Vedas and performance of ‘Havan’ and ‘Yajna’.
  5. Faith in female education.
  6. Opposition to child-marriage and polygamy.
  7. Propagation of Hindi and Sanskrit languages.


Swami Dayanada, through the Arya Samaj, tried to reform the Hindu society and religion.

Religious Reforms:

On the basis of the above mentioned principles, the Arya Samaj emphasized on the liberation of the Hindu society. Dayananda claimed that only Vedas were the repositories of true knowledge and the only religion was the religion of the Vedas. The principles of economics, politics, social sciences, humanities can be found in the Vedas. His clarion call “Go Back to the Vedas” created consciousness among the people. He rejected other scriptures and ‘Puranas’. He strongly opposed idol worship, ritualism, practice of animal-sacrifice, the concept of polytheism, the idea of heaven and hell and fatalism.

The Arya Samaj simplified Hinduism and made Hindus conscious of their glorious heritage and superior value of Vedic knowledge. The Hindus should not look towards Christianity, Islam or western culture for guidance.

Emphasizing on the superiority of Hinduism, the Arya Samaj could challenge the Islamic and Christian propaganda against it. Dayananda started “Shuddhi Movement” as a process of converting the people of other religions to Hinduism and also to reconvert those who have changed from Hinduism to other religions. This movement prevented low caste Hindus from converting to Christianity or Islam. The Shuddhi Movement challenged the Christian missionaries who tried to convert the uneducated, poor and depressed classes of the Hindus.

Social Reforms:

With its opposition to various social evils, the Arya Samaj rendered valuable services to Hindu society. He opposed the caste system and the superiority of the Brahmins in the society. He also challenged the monopoly of the Brahmins to read the Vedas and supported the right of every individual irrespective of caste, creed and colour to study the Vedas. Dayananda also opposed the practice of untouchability.

He protested against injustice to women and worked for the education of the females. He vehemently opposed child-marriages, polygamy, “Purdah” and the practice of “Sati” etc. Citing the teachings of the Vedas, he proved that women should have equal rights with men. Inter-caste marriages and interdining were practised by the members of the Arya Samaj.

The Arya Samaj established a number of educational institutions like Gurukuls, Kanya Gurukuls, D.A.V. Schools and Colleges for the education of both males and females. These educational institutions protected the Hindu religion and society and also promoted the growth of knowledge and education in modern scientific line.

Though Arya Samaj had not actively participated in politics yet it indirectly helped in the promotion of national consciousness. Dayananda was the first to advocate “Swadeshi” to discard foreign goods. By recognising Hindi as the national language, he promoted the growth of an all-India national spirit.

He also used the term ‘Swaraj’ to be established on the Vedic principles before any Indian national leader thought of it. The Arya Samaj, thus became a fanatic supporter of Hinduism and became an organ of militant Hinduism. Because of such militancy, subsequently the growth of extremism within the fold of the All India National Congress became possible.

The Arya Samaj played a significant role in bringing the socio- religious changes in pre-independent India. Though Dayananda was criticized as a conservative and sectarian activist who claimed the superiority of Hinduism over and above of all other religions, yet he was one of the makers of modern India. Truly speaking, he was not opposed to Christianity or Islam, rather the evil practices of all religions and their religious imperialism.


Theosophical Society

The Theosophical Society was first founded by a Russian lady, Madam H.P. Blavatsky and a former English army officer, Colonel H .S. Olcott in the United States of America in 1875.

But they considered India as a suitable place for theosophical movements. Under their inspiration the Theosophical Society of India came into being at Adyar in Madras in 1886.

Mrs. Annie Besant made the movement very popular in India. It represented both Indian and international character.

The word theosophy came from two Greek words, theos and sophia which means God and wisdom. The main aim of that philosophy was to attain wisdom in order to realize the Godhood. It was a Western concept and a very ancient one. The Theosophists discovered that the Hindu Upanishads were the storehouse of wisdom for the realization of the absolute truth and divinity.

This idea appealed to the thinking mind. Mrs. Annie Besant put it “The needs of India are, among others, the development of a national spirit, an education founded on Indian ideals and enriched not dominated by the thought and culture of the West.”

The society conducted researches on Hindu religious thoughts, translated and published Hindu scriptures which helped the process of intellectual awakening of India. The Theosophical Society established the greatness of the Hindu metaphysical doctrines and created a national pride in the minds of educated Indian youths, which gave birth to the modern concept of nationalism.

Five years after Blavatsky’s death, Besant, who became President of the Society in 1907, thought the appearance of the World Teacher would happen sooner than the time-frame in Blavatsky’s writings, who had indicated that it would not take place until the last quarter of the 20th century.

After serious philosophical conflicts with Annie Besant and other members of the international leadership on the spiritual significance of Christ and on the status of the young boy Jiddu Krishnamurti, most of the German and Austrian members split off in 1913 and formed the Anthroposophical Society. The latter remains active today and has branches in several countries, including the US and Canada.
Presently there are number of theosophical society in the form of splinter groups.

After several iterations the Society’s objectives evolved to be:

  • To form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or colour.
  • To encourage the study of comparative religion, philosophy, and science.
  • To investigate the unexplained laws of nature and the powers latent in man.

Sympathy with the above objects was the sole condition of admission to the society. The Society was organized as a non-sectarian entity.

Ideological underpinnings

  • The complex doctrine of The Intelligent Evolution of All Existence, occurring on a cosmic scale, incorporating both the physical and non-physical aspects of the known and unknown Universe, and affecting all of its constituent parts regardless of apparent size or importance. The theory was originally promulgated in the Secret Doctrine, the 1888 magnum opus of Helena Blavatsky.
  • According to this view, humanity’s evolution on earth (and beyond) is part of the overall cosmic evolution. It is overseen by a hidden spiritual hierarchy, the so-called Masters of the Ancient Wisdom, whose upper echelons consist of advanced spiritual beings.
  • Theosophical texts posit that the purpose of Office is to facilitate the transfer of knowledge about the true constitution and workings of Existence to humankind. Humanity is thereby assisted on its presumed cyclical, but ever progressive, evolutionary path. Reputedly, one way the knowledge transfer is accomplished is by Maitreya occasionally manifesting or incarnating in the physical realm; the manifested entity then assumes the role of World Teacher of Humankind.

Jiddu Krishnamurti

One of the people who expected the imminent reappearance of the Maitreya as World Teacher was Charles Webster Leadbeater, then an influential Theosophist and occultist. In 1909 he “discovered” Jiddu Krishnamurti, an adolescent Indian boy, who he proclaimed as the most suitable candidate for the “vehicle” of the World Teacher. Krishnamurti’s family had relocated next to the Theosophical Society headquarters in Adyar, India, a few months earlier. Following his “discovery”, Krishnamurti was taken under the wing of the Society, and was extensively groomed in preparation for his expected mission.

However, by 1925 Krishnamurti had begun to move away from the course expected of him by the leaders of the Theosophical Society Adyar and by many Theosophists. In 1929 he publicly dissolved the Order of the Star, a worldwide organization created by the leadership of the Theosophical Society to prepare the world for the Coming of the Maitreya, and abandoned his assumed role as the “vehicle” for the World Teacher. He eventually left the Theosophical Society altogether, yet remained on friendly terms with individual members of the Society. He spent the rest of his life traveling the world as an independent speaker, becoming widely known as an original thinker on spiritual, philosophical, and psychological subjects.



Its salient features are:

  1. A special relationship could be established between a person’s soul and God by contemplation, prayer, revelation, etc.
  2. The society accepted the Hindu beliefs in re-incarnation, Karma and drew inspi­ration from the philosophy of the Upanishads and Samkhya, Yoga, and Vedanta school of thoughts.
  3. It called for universal brotherhood without distinction or race, creed, sex, caste, or color.
  4. The society sought to investigate the unexplained laws of nature and the powers latent in man.
  5. The movement aimed at the quest of the Hindu spiritual wisdom through Western enlightenment.
  6. The movement revived and strengthened faith in the ancient doctrines and philosophies of the Hindus.
  7. To study and preach Aryan philosophy and religion.
  8. The Upanishads revealed the truth of the absolute: the universe and life.
  9. It was cosmopolitan enough to appreciate all forms of religion and all modes of worship.
  10. Apart from philosophical and spiritual discourse, which the society carried on, its valuable contribution to the Hindu awakening came from its literary and research activities.
  11. Hindu scriptures were published and translated.
  12. The society encouraged reforms and framed educational schemes to work them out.

Ahmadiya Movement and the Aligarh Movement:

This new awakening generated by the Theosophical Society influenced the Indian Muslims to a great extent. In 1889 Mirza Gulam Ahmad united some likeminded Muslims under the banner of Ahmadiya Movement. This movement preached the gospel of universal religion for all men based on national principles. Mirza Gulam Ahmad strongly criticized the theory of holy war (jihad) against non-Muslims and advocated for universal brotherhood.

This movement further wanted to reform the attitude of the Muslims under the influence of Western liberal education by establishing schools and colleges for new learning. The followers of this movement became bold to criticize the orthodox conservatives. Another movement among the Muslims became famous as the Aligarh Movement. Sayyad Ahmad Khan of Bareli wanted to bring the Muslims to the grip of Western influence and Western education.

The Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College was established at Aligarh in 1875 to train the minds of the Muslim youths, so as to forget the ideology of conservatism. This movement got its name of that place. Later on, this Anglo-Oriental College became the nucleus Aligarh Muslim University in 1920.

Saiyad Ahmad Khan revolutionized the religious and the political outlook of the Muslims, affected boldly a change in the method and carried out social reforms in the Muslim community. He formed a turning point in the history of Indian Islam from the old to the new. Saiyad Saheb along with Maulvi Chirag Ali raised their voice against child marriage, polygamy, parda and other social abuses present in the Muslim Society. Many educated Muslim youths took this banner and tried their best to reform the Muslim orthodoxy and conservatism.

Khalsa Movement:

Under the influence of religious awakening Sikhs also tried to purify their sect and society. The revivalists established a Khalsa College at Amritsar in 1890. The Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee was founded by the progressive Sikhs to get rid of the corrupt Mahants and to reform the Gurudwaras.

The Chief Khalsa Diwan was created as a central association and the Singh Sabhas were established with an aim to purify the life of the Sikhs in order to strengthen the Sikh Committee. They also championed the cause of the promotion of Western education and social reforms. All these movements provided a new lease of life for Indians with an reformative background to generate the flow of national consciousness that resulted in the formation of Modern Indian Nationalism.

Different aspects of Theosophical Movement bear testimony to this fact. Its programme of action in social service activities is highly praiseworthy. Its serious efforts in the direction of promoting education among the most ignorant sections of society are an unfailing evidence to its magnanimous approach to a social issue. The establishment of exclusive schools for lower castes (Panchamas) is a unique feature of education under Theosophy. Such schools were founded in Madras, Madanapalle and Nellore. The educational institutions under the control of Christian missionary societies were bent upon converts to Christianity, and most often these institutions remained as centres of proselytisation. The Theosophical educational institutions worked for promoting the spread of knowledge among the most ignored sections in the Indian Society. Theosophical Society thus became a forerunner even to Gandhi, who in the Post-1920 period laid great emphasis on Harijan upliftment.

In the face of intense activities of Christian missionary societies, the wake of indigenous opposition to the same and the assertion of indigenous religious practices by Indians, the Theosophical movement had but little scope for social action. Without state’s support and political control, it was highly different for a new movement like Theosophy to strike roots in a foreign land. It was this historical necessity which made Theosophists project Indian cultural practices through Theosophy. Despite the fact that leaders like Henry Steel Olcott and Annie Besant were thoroughly influenced by Indian spiritual writings, such an attempt is to be looked at from this angle wherethe leaders of new movement were in a dire need of local support. Its attachment to Indian ideals, no doubt, was unconsciously responsible for the rise of cultural revivalist tendencies.

Theosophical movement tried to project its ideals in the fight for Home Rule. The efforts of Annie Besant in taking the movement to grass roots level are well known. However, her lack of total understanding of political atmosphere in India vis-a-vis colonial designs, was responsible for the partial success of the movement. Viewed from these three perspectives – social, cultural and political Theosophical movement stands distinct as a popular movement which tried to weave different aspects of contemporary society into its programme.

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