Religious Reform Movements in Modern India


  • arose among all communities of the Indian people. They attacked bigotry, superstition and the hold of the priestly class
  • worked for abolition of castes and untouchability, purdahsystem, sati, child marriage, social inequalities and illiteracy
  • supported directly or indirectly by the British officials and some of the reformers also supported reformative steps and regulations framed by the British Government


  • 1828 of the Brahmo Samaj
  • forbade idol-worship and discarded meaningless rites and rituals
  • forbade its members from attacking any religion.
  • It believed 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
  • greatest achievement was the abolition of Sati in 1929
  • deeply opposed to the caste system
  • 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.
  • only one God for all religions and for all humanity
  • wrote in Bengali and English
  • promoter of English education
  • versed in the Persian language
  • advocated the abolition of polygamy (a practice of man having more than one wife) and child marriage
  • condemned the subjugation of women and opposed the prevailing ideas that women were inferior to men in intellect or in a moral sense
  • advocated the rights of widows to remarry
  • Brahmo Samaj was open to all persons regardless of
    their colour, convictions, caste, nationality, and religion
  • emphasised human dignity, opposed idol worship and condemned social evils like sati pratha.
  • No images were allowed and no sacrifices and offerings permitted
  • Debendra Nath Tagore (l817-1905) son of Dwarkanath Tagore. Founder member of Brahmo Samaj. Succeeded Raja Rammohan Roy
  • Keshub Chandra Sen (l838-1884) took over the leadership of the Samaj from Tagore
  • First organised vehicle for the expression of national awakening and inaugurated a new era for the people of India.


  • established in Bombay by Dr. Atma Ram Pandurang (1825-1898) in 1876
  • rational worship and social reform
  • Shri R.C. Bhandarkar and Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade
  • inter-caste dining, intercaste marriage, widow remarriage and improvement of the lot of women and depressed classes
  • Mahavdev Govind Ranade
    • founder of the Widow Remarriage Association (1861) and the Deccan Education Society
    • established the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha
    • religious reform was inseparable from social reform
    • believed that if religious ideas were rigid there would be no success in social, economic and political spheres
    • leader of social reformation and cultural renaissance in Western India
  • did not insist upon a rigid exclusion of idol worship and a definite break from the caste system
  • did not regard the Vedas as the last word, nor did it believe in the doctrine of transmigration of the human soul and incarnation of God.
  • Its central idea was one positive belief in the unity of God.


  • Henry Lui Vivian Derozio promoted radical ideas through his teaching and by organizing an association for debate and discussions on literature, philosophy, history and science
  • followers, known as the Derzians and Young Bengal

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar

  • reformer in Bengal
  • due to his sincere efforts that obstacles to the marriage of widows were removed through a law in 1856
  • education of girls
  • did not concern himself much with religious questions
  • against all those who opposed reforms in the name of religion


  • Bal Shastri Jambekar was one of the first reformers in Bombay
  • In 1849, the Parmahansa Mandali was founded in Poona, Satara and other towns of Maharashtra. Its followers had faith in one God and they opposed caste system.
  • Mahadev Ranade believed that without social reforms it was not possible to achieve any progress in the political and economic fields.
  • Western India Reformers: Gopal Hari Deshmukh Lokahitwari and Jotirao Govindrao Phule popularly known as Jotiba
  • Jotiba Phule was also a pioneer of the widow remarriage movement in Maharashtra
    • Given the tile of ‘Mahatma’ for his work for the cause of the oppressed. In 1873, he founded the Satya-Shodhak
  • Southern Part
    • Kandukuri Veeresalingam (1848-1919) pioneered the movement in support of widow remarriage and girl’s education in Andhra.
    • Veda Samaj founded in Madras in 1864 advocated discarding of caste distinctions and promotion of widow remarriage and women’s education
    • Chembeti Sridharalu Naidu was the most popular leader of the Veda Samaj. He translated books of the Veda Samaj in Tamil and Telugu.
    • Shree Narayana Guru (1854-1928) of Kerala founded the Shree narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP) in 1903. He called ‘One Caste, one Religion and on God’ for all


  • Dayanand Saraswati- Arya Samaj in 1875
  • opposed to idolatry, ritual and priesthood, particularly to the prevalent caste practices and popular Hinduism
  • favoured the study of western science
  • Important Work- Satyarth Prakash
  • opposed child marriages and encouraged remarriage of widows
  • Dayanand Anglo-Vedic School
  • In 1902, Swami Shradhananda started the Gurukul near Hardwar
    to propagate the more traditional ideas of education.
  • prescribed a purificatory ceremony calld suddhi for those Hindus who had been converted to other religions like Islam and Christianity.


  • Gadadhar Chattopadhyaya (l836-86) known as Ramakrishna Paramahansa
  • there were many roads to God and the service of man was the
    service of God, because man was the embodiment of God.
  • Narendra Nath Datta (l863-1902) later known as Swami Vivekananda was the most devoted pupil
    • Condemned the caste system, rigid rituals, century old superstitions and advocated liberty, free thinking and equality
    • promoted the Vedanta philosophy which he considered the most rational system
    • insistence on the upliftment of the masses
    • service to the poor and downtrodden was the highest religion
    • founded the Ramakrishna Mission in 1897
    • In 1893 he participated in the All-World Religious Conference (Parliament of Religions) at Chicago in the United States of America


  • founded in the USA in 1875 by a Russian spiritualist Madame H.P. Blavatsky and an American Col. H.S. Olcott
  • promote studies in ancient religions, philosophies and science, develop the divine powers latent in man and form a universal brotherhood of man
  • introduced to India in 1879 and its headquarters were set up at Adyar near Madras in 1886.
  • Spread under Annie Beasant in 1893
    • recognized the doctrine of the transmigration of the soul
    • founded the Central Hindu College at Banaras which she later handed over to Madan Mohan Malaviya.
    • established a Home Rule League in 1916
  • fought against untouchability and advocated upliftment of women
  • Branches were opened all over India


  • Muhammedan Literary Society founded in Calcutta in 1863 founded by Nawab Abdul Latif 1828-1893
  • Shah Waliullah in Delhi, who opposed the unorthodox religious practices and revived the Shia sect and strict monotheism
  • Firangi Mahal in Lucknow was incorporated into the new educational syllabus
  • Sharitulla of Bengal was the leader of the Faraizi movement Bengal
  • most notable of the Muslim reformers was Sayyid Ahmed Khan of Rai Bareilly, in Uttar Pradesh.
    • Got many Western books translated into Urdu.
    • Muhammedan Anglo-Oriental College in 1875 at Aligarh
    • Aligarh Muslim University
    • Aligarh Movement
    • wanted women to be educated and advocated the removal of the purdah. He was also against polygamy
  • Mirza Ghulam Ahmad had founded the Ahmediya Movement in 1899
  • Muhammad Iqbal, (1876-1938)


  • In 1851, the Rehnumai Maz’dayasan Sabha or Religious Reform Association was founded by Nauroji Furdonji, Dadabhai Naoroji, S.S. Bengalee and others.


  • Khalsa College started at Amritsar
  • Khalsa College was founded at Amritsar in 1892
  • After 1920 the Sikh momentum gained momentum when the Akali Movement rose in Punjab
  • In 1925, a law was passed which gave the right of managing Gurudwaras to the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee


  • British wanted to appease the orthodox upper section of society
  • Sati was declared illegal (1829)
  • Widow remarriage was permitted by a law passed in 1856
  • Marriageable age of girls was raised to ten by a law passed in 1860.
  • law passed in 1872, sanctioned inter-caste and inter-communal marriages
  • Sharda Act was passed in 1929

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