31 March 1867
The Prarthana Samaj was established
The Prarthana Samaj, a leading society for socio-religious reform was established on 31 March 1867 in Bombay by Atmaram Panduranga.
- India in the 19th century was witness to the emergence of several socio-religious reform movements. This was chiefly due to the exposure to the liberal western ideologies of democracy and individualism. Western educated Indians were also keen to reform society from within and were visionary enough to perceive that Indian society had deteriorated from the extolled purity and piety that was integral to the original Vedic religion.
- One such movement was the Prarthana Samaj which emerged in Bombay and went on to wield a good deal of influence in western India and to a lesser extent in southern India.
- Founded by Atmaram Panduranga, the movement gained momentum and popularity after scholar and reformer Mahadev Govind Ranade joined it.
- The Samaj was different from the Brahmo Samaj of Bengal in that it was not as radical and took a cautious approach to the reformist programmes. For this reason, it was better received by the public as well.
- The members were all Hindus and remained so throughout. They wanted to reform the religion from within. They were only against the social evils prevalent then like child marriage, widow suppression, dowry, sati, untouchability, etc. and not against the religion per se.
- They also propagated monotheism and denounced idol worship.
- They also accepted all religious teaching including Christian and Buddhist ideas. They were staunchly against the division of society into castes. Members of the Samaj had communal meals prepared by a cook from a ‘low caste’. They also ate bread that was baked by a Christian and drank water brought by a Muslim.
- The Samaj did not question the existence of god but fostered a firm belief in one god. They sang hymns during the society’s meetings. The Samaj also encouraged a firm love and reverence for god.
- It was also against certain tenets of Hinduism like god’s incarnations. Through the society was against idol worship, its members could continue to practice Hindu ceremonies at home. It was often said that the Prarthana Samaj paid homage to Hinduism but with a protest.
- The society had many programmes to propagate women’s education. It also opened homes for orphans and widows. It also supported widow remarriage. It established several schools as well that imparted western education.
- The society’s meetings were done in secret for fear of a backlash from the orthodoxy. In fact, the Prarthana Samaj never directly attacked the orthodox sections of society or Brahminical power.
- The Samaj was greatly influenced by the Brahmo Samaj and the Arya Samaj of Dayananda Saraswati, but it continued as an independent movement.
- Apart from Ranade, other important members of the Samaj included Sanskrit scholar Sir Ramakrishna Gopal Bhandarkar and political leader Sir Narayan Chandavarkar.
Also on this day
1865: Birth of India’s first lady physician Anandi Gopal Joshi. 1871: Birth of the “Lion of Karnataka” Gangadharrao Deshpande. 1934: Birth of prolific writer Kamala Das, also known by her pen-name Madhavikutty.
See previous ‘This Day in History’ here.