19th Century Social and Religious Reform Movements

Basically, there were two kinds of reform movements in the 19th century in India:

  1. Reformist

These movements responded with the time and scientific temper of the modern era.

  1. Revivalist

These movements started reviving ancient Indian traditions and thoughts and believed that the western thinking ruined Indian culture and ethos.

BRAHMO SAMAJ (Reformist)

Brahamo Samaj

Founded in 1828 in Calcutta by pioneer social reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772 – 1833), the movement fought against idol worship, polytheism, caste oppression, unnecessary rituals and other social evils like Sati, polygamy, purdah system, child marriage, etc. The society also strove for women’s rights like widow remarriage and education of women. It also fought attacked prevailing superstitions among Hindus.

ARYA SAMAJ (Revivalist)

Arya Samaj

Founded in 1875 in Bombay by Swami Dayanand Saraswati, this society strove against idolatry, polytheism, rituals, priesthood, animal sacrifice, child marriage and the caste system. It also encourages the dissemination of western scientific knowledge.



Though Annie Besant’s name is most associated with this society, it was actually founded by Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott in New York (later shifted to Madras) in 1875. It promoted the study of ancient Hindu, Buddhist and Zoroastrian philosophies. It promoted the concept of universal brotherhood as expounded in the Upanishads and Vedas. It laid stress on occultism.



This mission was founded by Swami Vivekananda in 1892 in Belur near Calcutta to promote the teachings of Vivekananda’s Guru Ramakrishna Paramahansa. It opposed the caste system and untouchability. It focused on the universality of all religions and propagated Vedanta.



This society was founded by Jyotirao Govindrao Phule on 24 September 1873 in present-day Maharashtra. It campaigned against idolatry and the caste system. It advocated rational thinking and rejected priesthood. Jyotirao Phule is said to have used the term ‘Dalit’ for the oppressed castes.


This movement was started by Henry Louis Vivian Derozio in Calcutta in the 1820s. Derozio was an Anglo-Indian college teacher in Calcutta and he encouraged radical thinking among his students. He criticised the prevailing religious practices of orthodox Hinduism. He also inspired free-thinking and propagated the spirit of liberty, equality and freedom.



This movement was started by Sir Sayyid Ahmed Khan in the 1860’s in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh. It focused on spreading western scientific education among the Muslim masses in India.


This was founded by Vishnu Shastri Pandit and Mahadev Govind Ranade in Bombay in 1861. It promoted widow remarriage and campaigned against child marriages, the heavy cost of marriages and custom-like the shaving of widow’s head, etc.


This was started in 1867 in Deoband in UP by theologians, Muhammad Qasim Nanawatawi and Rashid Ahmad Gangohi. It was an anti-British movement that aimed at the uplifting the Muslims through educational efforts.

Check out other socio-religious movements in the ready-reckoner chart from the link below:

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