Rammohun Roy

Rammohun Roy a celebrated Hindu convert to Western civilization and a liberal Christianity, is noted especially as the founder of a theistic school of thought among the Hindus, and in a certain sense may be pronounced the forerunner of Sen. Rammohun Roy was born about 1774 at Bordnan, in the province of Bengal, of Brahminic parentage of high caste. Reared like other youths of India, he enjoyed his elementary training at home, and was then placed under the care of the great masters of the Vedas and the Shastras, and, both at Patna and afterwards at Benares, acquired great proficiency in the sacred writings of Hinduism. His familiarity with the Arabic, Persian, and Sanscrit languages led him to an examination of the religious doctrines of the various sects of India, and finally to those of the West. He had evinced a sceptical turn of mind while yet a youth; and, once led away into these inquiries, he was soon forced to abandon the ground of his ancestry. But instead of accepting the inspired religion of the Christians, he sought the engrafting of its ethics upon the old faith of India, and the restoration of Hinduism in its ancient purity, as the first step to this accomplishment. His parents unyieldingly opposed his purpose. His father sent him away and disinherited him. His mother conceded the superstitious basis of her faith, but pleaded for its observance on the ground of duty towards her people and race. "You are right," she said to him, when she was about to set out on a pilgrimage to Juggernaut; "but I am a woman, and cannot give up observances which are a comfort to me." A wanderer from home, he spent two or three years in Thibet, where he excited general anger by denying that the Lama (q.v.) was the creator and preserver of the world. He was finally recalled by his father and restored to paternal favor. But in a short time, as he tells us himself, "my continued controversies with the Brahmins on the subject of their idolatry and superstition, and my interference with their custom of burning widows, and other pernicious practices, revived and increased their animosity against me; and, through their influence with my family, my father was again obliged to withdraw his countenance openly, though his limited pecuniary support was still continued to me." His father died in 1803, and he then published various books and pamphlets against the errors of the Brahmins, in the native and foreign languages. He says: "The ground which I took in all my controversies was, not that of opposition to Brahminism, but to a perversion of it; and I endeavored to show that the idolatry of the Brahmins was contrary to the practice of their ancestors and to the principles of the ancient books and authorities which they professed to revere annd obey." In order to deprive him of caste, the Brahmins commenced a suit against him, which, after many years of litigation, was decided in his favor. Of the body of Hindu theology comprised in the Vedas there is an ancient extract called the Vedant, or the Resolution of all the Veds, written in Sanscrit. Rammohun Roy translated it into Bengalee and Hindostanee, and afterwards published an abridgment of it for gratuitous circulation; of this abridgment he published an English translation in 1816. He afterwards published some of the principal chapters of the Vedas in Bengalee and English. He was at different times the proprietor or publisher of newspapers in the native languages, in which he expressed his opinion freely against abuses, political as well as religious, especially the burning of widows. He was also, in conjunction with other liberal Hindius, proprietor of the Bengal Herald, an English newspaper. His intimate association with the English, and the constant interchange with European thought and familiarity with the West generally, led him at last to abandon the old ground entirely, and he brought before his countrymen the excellence of the moral theories of Christianity in 1820 in a work which he entitled The Precepts of Jesus, the Guide to Peace and Happiness. It was written in English, Sanscrit, and Bengalee, and consists, besides selections from the New Test., of such commentaries as a Hindu apostate who abandoned heathenism for bald theism would be likely to produce. The divinity of Christ is ignored, the miracles are rejected, and many other portions of the Gospel held to be fundamental in orthodox Christianity; and the simple morality of Jesus is held up as "a guide to happiness and peace." The position taken in this work not only encountered the opposition of his abandoned friends; his new associates also felt grieved and disappointed, and, in the first hour of disappointment, severely rebuked his false theology. He was replied to, and a controversy opened on the great question of the Trinity. His Appeal, published not under his own name, but as coming from a "friend of truth," and, later, his treatise on the unity of God, entitled One Supreme Being, greatly modified his first position, and showed that he took, at least, the advanced ground of a Unitarian of the Old School, and recognised in Jesus Christ the "Son of God, by whom God made the world and all things." In April, 1831, Rammohun Roy visited England, and he associated generally with the Unitarians, whose chapels he visited as a worshipper. He also took great interest in the political questions of the day. The great question of parliamentary reform was then agitating the country. Of the Reform Bill he wrote that it "would, in its consequences, promote the welfare of England and her dependencies — nay, of the whole world." His society was universally courted in England. He was oppressed with invitations to attend social parties and political and ecclesiastical meetings. His anxiety to see everything and to please all led him to overtask himself to such an extent that his health, long failing, at last broke down. He died at Bristol, Sept. 27, 1833. The adverse circumstances of his birth were such as might easily have enslaved even his powerful understanding, or, still more easily, might have perverted it to selfish ends; but he won his high position by an inflexible honesty of purpose and energy of will, and had he lived he might have become an important factor in the propagation of Christianity in the East. See sketch of his life, written by himself, in the Athenaeum, No. 310, Oct. 5, 1833; Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, Aug. 2, 1834; Carpenter, Review of Labors, Opinions, and Character of Rajah Ranmmohun Roy; Pauthier, in the Revue Encyclopedique, 1833; Asiatic Journal, vol. xii; Theol. Eclectic, June, 1869; English Cyclop. s.v.

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