Raja Ram Mohan Roy was the ray of light which could dispel the thick layer of darkness from the lives of millions of Hindu people. When India was passing through a critical period of social and religious decadence he attacked some Hindu traditions like Caste system, Child marriages, Sati system and idolatry etc. and claimed that unscrupulous and self-centered people had mutilated the very figure of religious beliefs and the popular Hindu traditions were different from the real Hindu beliefs.
Raja Ram Mohan Roy was born in Radhanagar village in Hooghly district in Bengal on 22nd May, 1772 to a conservative Bengali Brahnin parents. Ramakanta Roy and Tarini Mukherjee were devout Hindus. The religious atmosphere and orthodoxy of the family put a great impact on him at an early age. Religion was deep in his mind are he wanted to be a “Sanyasi” but his mother persuaded him otherwise. He acquainted himself with western philosophy and literature then. He learnt Bengali, Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic to dive deep into the other religions. He could not digest things told by others, so left no stone unturned to get the first hand knowledge of Hinduism, Islam, Sufism and Buddhism. He entered deep at almost all Hindu scriptures and tried his utmost to comprehend the real spirit of religion. Prevalent rituals and rites generated a kind of repulsion in his heart for their hollowness. So he wrote a pamphlet in Bengali and denounced the idol worship merely at the age of fifteen. His write-up was a great shock to his family and he was forced to live in exile. To earn his livelihood he secured a job with the east India Company in 1803 and later settled in Calcutta.
The inhuman practices prevalent in the name of religion made Roy’s heart weep and he wanted confluence of all religions for tranquility, peace, harmony and happiness of all the people of the world. Monotheism and anti-idolatry of Islam, Deism of Sufism, the ethical teachings of Christianity and liberal and rational, reasonable and logical doctrines of the West left deep impact on his personality. He aspired to amalgamate the highest principles of different religions and give them a super coating of modern rationalism.
Roy resigned from the East India Company a few years later and devoted himself to the movement of renaissance in social, religious literary and economic fields of life. He wanted the superstitions and outdated, useless customs and traditions to be ended and the people to breathe in the open inhaling the aroma of true religion and true social practices. He founded the Brahma Samaj at Calcutta in 1928 which was initially known as the “Brahmo Sabha”. Raja Ram Mohan Roy and his organization tried to change the social order in India. He established newspapers and schools all over India and convinced the British to outlaw Sati in 1829. The main contribution of the Brahma Samaj to the Indian society was it evoked issues that were common to all people of the sub-continent.
Roy’s efforts to abolish the practice of sati were largely driven by his concern for the moral dimensions of religion. In 1811the widow of his brother was forcibly burnt alive. The incident shook his mind and he decided to do away with this inhuman act. His relentless efforts in the form of writings, petitions and organization of vigilance committees paid off when William Bentinck passed a law in 1829 banning the practice of Sati. He justified widow remarriage also to restore the prestige of womanhood. Besides these he all succeeded in starting a revolution for woman’s education and woman’s right to property. By delving in to Hindu scriptures he showed that in ancient India woman enjoyed equal freedom with men.
Among other efforts of Raja Ram Mohan Roy newspaper publication was one. The Atmiya Sabha brought out a weekly called the “Bengal Gazette”, a news paper in Persian called “Miratul-Akhbar” and a Bengali weekly called “Sambad Kaumudi” roy gave much importance to the development of his mother tongue. His “Gaudiya Vyakaran” is rated highly in Bengali.
Roy was although, not a political activist, yet when an opportunity came he did not lag behind to plead for freedom of press. He even presented a memorandum to King in London in this regard. He failed in his attempt but fought for civil rights at the same time and protested against a move which denied to Hindus and Muslims in 1827, any seat in a jury even during a trial of Hindus and Muslims.
He was quite awake politically and wanted no curtailment of liberty by the state. He advocated various measures with political ramifications. He stood for English as the official Language in courts of law, trial by jury, employment of Indians in the civil service on a larger scale and knowing public opinion before passing any law.
Roy felt strongly for the downtrodden and his belief in the universal brotherhood of men led him to support many causes and reform movements. Much before the establishment of the League of Nations, Roy expressed the need for a similar institution. He said that just as two individuals restored to a court of law to settle major disputes, there should be an organization that could help to settle differences between two countries.
Raja was a true patriot. It pinched him very much when he saw Indian wealth being carried to England. He wanted British to stay back in India, with all their wealth and work for the betterment of the Indian public. He always favored a permanent talk between India and England as he convinced that Europe could teach India in many ways.
Raja Ram Mohan Roy fell ill and died on 27th September, 1833 in Bristol and was initially buried in the ground of Beech House but ten years later his friend Dwarakanaath Tagore had him reinterred at Arno’s Vale. A Chattri was designed by Willam Prinsep and built with the sponsorship from Dwarakanath. A statue of Roy was also built at Bristol in 1997.