Skip to main content

Full text of "The New Cambridge History of India"

See other formats


Socio-religious reform movements 
in British India 

Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


General editor GORDON JOHNSON 

President of Wolfson College, and Director, Centre of South Asian Studies, 
University of Cambridge 

Associate editors C. A. BAYLy 

Vere Harmsworth Professor of Imperial and Naval History, 
University of Cambridge, and Fellow of Sc Catharine's College 

and Joun F. RIcHarps 
Professor of History, Duke University 

Although the original Cambridge History of India, published between 1922 and 
1937, did much to formulate a chronology for Indian history and describe the 
administrative structures of government in India, it has inevitably been over- 
taken by the mass of new research published over the last fifty years. 

Designed to take full account of recent scholarship and changing conceptions 
of South Asia’s historical development, The New Cambridge History of India will 
be published as a series of short, self-contained volumes, each dealing with a sep- 
arate theme and written by a single person, within an overall four-part structure. 
Most volumes conclude with a substantial bibliographical essay designed to lead 
non-specialists further into the literature. 

The four parts are as follows: 

I The Mughals and their contemporaries 
II Indian states and the transition to colonialism 
III The Indian Empire and the beginnings of modern society 

IV The evolution of contemporary South Asia 

A list of individual titles already published and in preparation will be found at the end 
of the volume. 

Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 



III - 1 

Socio-religious reform movements 
in British India 




Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 

Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, Sao Paulo 

Cambridge University Press 
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 2RU, UK 

Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York 
Information on this title: 1249867 

© Cambridge University Press 1989 

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception 
and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, 
no reproduction of any part may take place without 
the written permission of Cambridge University Press. 

First published 1989 
Reprinted 1997, 2003 
This digitally printed first paperback version 2006 

A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library 

Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication data 
Jones, Kenneth W. 

Socio-religious reform movements in British India. 
(The New Cambridge history of India; III. 1). 

Includes index. 

1. India — Religion. 2. Religion and sociology — 
India. I. Title. II. Series. 
BL2007.5.J65 1989 306’.6'0954 88-30433 

ISBN-13 978-0-521-24986-7 hardback 
ISBN-10 0-521-24986-4 hardback 

ISBN-13 978-0-521-03105-9 paperback 
ISBN-10 0-521-03105-2 paperback 

Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 

who introduced me to 
the relations between society 

and religion 

Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 

Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


List of maps page viii 
Preface 1X 
Note on transliteration xl 
1 Concepts and context I 
2 Bengal and north-eastern India 15 
3 The Gangetic core: Uttar Pradesh and 

Bihar 48 
4 Punjab and the North-West 85 
5 The central belt and Maharashtra 122 
6 The Dravidian South 152 
7 The twentieth century: socio-religious 

movements in a politicized world 184 
8 Conclusion: religion in history 210 
Glossary of Indian terms 222 
Bibliographical essay 228 
Index 235 

Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


1 Bengal and north-eastern India page 16 
2 The Gangetic core: Uttar Pradesh and 

Bihar 49 
3 Punjab and north-western India 86 
4 The central belt and Maharashtra 123 
5 The Dravidian South 153 

Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


In keeping with the general intent of The New Cambridge History of 
India, this volume explores a single historical subject, that of social and 
cultural change in the British-Indian Empire as expressed in numerous 
religious movements. Because of the breadth of this study, which 
examines investigated religious developments among Christians, 
Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians, a diverse body of nine- 
teenth and twentieth-century literature in the social sciences and 
humanities was consulted as well as government reports and unpub- 
lished manuscripts. These included sources in English, Hindi, and 
Urdu. The volume that resulted begins with a chapter that presents a 
conceptual framework for socio-religious movements. It then exam- 
ines traditions of religious dissent within western, Perso-Arabic, and 
Hindu—Buddhist civilizations, traditions that interacted within the 
South Asian subcontinent and created the basic forms of socio-re- 
ligious movements in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Four 
regionally defined chapters follow that investigate these movements in 
the context of place, time, and culture. Next, a single chapter discusses 
five successful movements in the twentieth century and their role 
within the context of increasing politicization and competing national- 
isms. A final chapter analyses the interaction between the dynamic 
civilizations of South Asia and the imported British version of western 
civilization. This volume should provide a basic reference for those 
who seek to explore social and religious change in modern South Asia. 
It also contains a new vision of this change and a method of differ- 
entiating between what was new in the nineteenth century and what 
was a modification of long-standing cultural patterns. 

Such an approach entails certain sacrifices particularly given the 
necessity of covering a vast scope within the limits of a single volume. 
Consequently, this meant that not every socio-religious movement nor 
every historical event could be included. The decision on what to 
include or exclude rested on several factors: the existence of infor- 
mation, the relative importance of a given group, and the value in 
illustrating examples of different forms of dissent. Scholars have just 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


begun to explore the social and religious history of modern South Asia. 
Yet even today a complete and comprehensive picture would require 
several volumes rather than just one. This book has two levels of 
approach: first, it contains a wide-ranging examination of the period 
and of scholarship as it now exists; secondly, it presents one vision, one 
set of concepts that provide a manner of viewing socio-religious 
change. It is, consequently, a source from which students and scholars 
can initiate further reading or research. 

Several individuals and one institution aided in the preparation of 
this volume. I would like to give particularly warm thanks to Kansas 
State University, the sole provider of financial support for the research 
and writing. They made possible several trips to Chicago, a semester 
sabbatical leave, and yearly research expenses. I also received invaluable 
assistance from Maureen Patterson and her staff at the University of 
Chicago Library. She graciously made available to me the card files 
used in preparation for her monumental bibliography, thus saving me 
hours of tedious work. I would also like to thank Mark Juergensmeyer 
and Elleanor Zelliot, who sent me their unpublished manuscripts, and 
Sheikh Mubarak Ahmad of the American Faz] Mosque in Washington 
DC, who supplied me with crucial literature on the Ahmadiyah move- 
ment. I wish to express my appreciation to the editors of The New 
Cambridge History of India, whose comments and criticism proved 
extremely useful, and my wife, Marguerite, for a great deal of support, 
patience, and helpful criticisms. The final results are, of course, my own 
and so responsibility rests solely with me and not with those who 
kindly aided in the completion of this study. 

Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


The policy of transliteration in this volume is one of compromise since 
words rendered into the Roman alphabet are derived from one Semitic 
language, Arabic, a number of Indo-European languages of north and 
central South Asia, as well as from the Dravidian languages of the 
South. No standard transliteration system for such a diverse group of 
languages exists, nor in most cases is there agreement among linguists as 
to a single system for a given language. In addition, transliterations in 
the sources for this volume are often inconsistent and without relation 
to any linguistic principle. Consequently transliterations are founded 
on several basic principles. First, diacriticals have been kept to a mini- 
mum, with long vowels demarcated as much as possible according to 
the original language by tracing the word back to the script in which it 
was written. For languages using the Arabic script or a version of it, 
such as Persian and Urdu, the hamza is indicated with a’ and the letter 
‘ain with a ‘. Some variations in regional languages are not shown in 
favour of an overall standardization: for example, the common spelling 
of guru in Hindi versus the spelling of gur# in Punjabi. In the case of 
names, which are spelt differently depending on the regional sources, 
preference is given to the spellings that appear in their place of origin 
and/or in common use. The same policy is followed in nouns; for 
example, ryotwari rather than the more accurate ra’ yotwari. 

At times the transliteration of words into different languages pre- 
sents almost hopeless difficulties, since the present research is largely 
based on secondary sources. An excellent example of this problem can 
be seen in terms from Parsi, terms that originated in ancient Persian, 
then were written in Gujarati, and finally were put into the Roman 
script. It is hoped that the present transliterations will enable those who 
know various languages to recognize the words that appear here, and 
that those who do not know a South Asian language will be able to gain 
a more accurate idea of the spelling and pronunciation of these terms. 

Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 

Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 



Street preaching is very much in vogue here now-a-days. All 
along Anarkali, Hindu, Mohamedan, Christian, Arya and 
Brahmo preachers may be seen earnestly expatiating on the 
excellences of their respective creeds, surrounded by crowds 
of apparently attentive listeners. 

Lahore Tribune, 30 March 1889 


Professional missionaries, polemical tracts, and new rituals of con- 
version, were only three of the components of religious innovation in 
South Asia during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Aggressive 
proselytism became the norm among sects and religions with new and 
refurbished forms of action, ranging from public debates on the mean- 
ing of scriptural sources to the use of printing to produce books, 
journals, and a multitude of pamphlets. Religious conflict was implicit 
in the competition for converts, and explicit in assassinations and riots. 
Sustaining religious pursuits were new organizations fashioned from 
the traditions of the subcontinent and modified by British culture. 
South Asians constructed religious societies fully equipped with 
elected officials, weekly meetings, annual published reports, bank ac- 
counts, sophisticated systems of fundraising, annual meetings, execu- 
tive committees, subcommittees, bye-laws, and constitutions. 
Religious societies founded and successfully managed a number of 
organizations including hospitals, schools, orphanages, and relief pro- 
grammes. Conflict, competition, and institution-building emerged 
from, and rested on, adherents to diverse ideologies made explicit in 
speech and writing. For many, religion became a matter of creeds that 
were explained, defined, and elaborated. It was an age of definition and 
redefinition initiated by socio-religious movements that swept the 
subcontinent during the years of British colonial rule. 

Before turning to a discussion of the past, it is necessary to consider 
the concept of ‘socio-religious movements’ as used here, and its three 
crucial dimensions. The term ‘socio’ implies an attempt to reorder 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


society in the areas of social behaviour, custom, structure or control. A 
movement may have sought to reshape any one of these components or 
a combination of them. All socio-religious movements demanded 
changes, ranging from the relatively limited approach of defensive and 
self-consciously orthodox groups to radicals who articulated a sweep- 
ing condemnation of the status quo. The term ‘religious’ refers to the 
type of authority used to legitimize a given ideology and its ac- 
companying programme. This authority was based on scriptures that 
were no longer considered to be properly observed, on a reinterpreta- 
tion of doctrines, or on scriptural sources arising from the codification 
of a new religious leader’s message. At times different types of auth- 
ority were combined to legitimize a particular programme. The teach- 
ings of an individual, once adopted by his disciples, were standardized, 
codified and transformed into an ideology, that is, a structured expla- 
nation of the present in terms of past events. Such formulae also 
outlined a path towards the purified future, either for an individual or 
for society at large. The leader initially, and later the ideology, fur- 
nished the vehicle for an individual’s participation in a particular move- 
ment. Here the term ‘movement’ refers to an aggregate of individuals 
united by the message of a charismatic leader or the ideology derived 
from that message. Such a movement might be loosely organized, 
especially during the lifetime of its founder, but if it was to last beyond 
his death, his disciples needed to create and sustain a formal organiz- 
ational structure. In short, a socio-religious movement advocated 
modifications in social behaviour, justified such advocacy by one or 
another form of religious authority, and then built an organizational 
structure it maintained over time. 

This study will focus on socio-religious movements active during the 
period of British military and political domination. Beginning in 1757 
they gradually expanded their hold and by 1849, either directly or 
indirectly, ruled the entire subcontinent. The experience of those who 
were conquered and then administered by the English varied sharply, 
depending on the time and the circumstances that saw them incorpor- 
ated into the new colonial world. Their reactions were also shaped by 
the regional culture in which they lived, by their place in the social 
hierarchy, and by their membership in a particular religious com- 
munity. The British themselves changed in their attitudes and in their 
own culture as the eighteenth century gave way to the nineteenth, and 

Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


the nineteenth to the twentieth. This study will employ the term 
‘colonial milieu’ to indicate areas of time and place where the indigen- 
ous civilizations of South Asia came into active contact with British 
culture. A sphere of military and political control was established first, 
while the zone of cultural interaction evolved slowly from within the 
conquered territories. Conquest did not necessarily create the colonial 
milieu for all individuals or for a given region; that was determined by 
human interaction, by those who found it expedient or necessary to 
become part of the new colonial world and the culture which it 

The uneven development of a colonial milieu and the persistence of 
indigenous forms of socio-religious dissent produced two distinct 
types of movement within the period of British rule, the one ‘tran- 
sitional’ and the other ‘acculturative’. Transitional movements had 
their origins in the pre-colonial world and arose from indigenous forms 
of socio-religious dissent, with little or no influence from the colonial 
milieu, either because it was not yet established or because it had failed 
to affect the individuals involved in a particular movement. The clearest 
determinant of a transitional movement was an absence of anglicized 
individuals among its leaders and a lack of concern with adjusting its 
concepts and programmes to the colonial world. Transitional move- 
ments linked the pre-colonial period with the era of English political 
domination and, if successful, over time with the colonial milieu. Once 
in contact with it, transitional movements made limited adjustments to 
that environment. 

The second of the two types of socio-religious movement, termed 
‘acculturative’, originated within the colonial milieu and was led by 
individuals who were products of cultural interaction. The founder of 
such a movement may or may not have been drawn into the world of 
British culture, but his followers and those who moved into positions 
of leadership were largely English-educated South Asians influenced 
by the specific culture of England. Acculturative movements sought an 
accommodation to the fact of British supremacy, to the colonial milieu 
that such supremacy had created, and to the personal position of its 
members within the colonial world. The basis of such movements and 
many of their declared aims rested on the indigenous heritage of social 
and religious protest. In no way were acculturative movements totally 
new or without roots in the general high cultures of South Asia and the 

Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


specific subcultures of a given region. Thus the difference between the 
transitional and acculturative movements was primarily at their point 
of origin. 

Because of the importance of regional cultures on socio-religious 
movements as well as the differing role of the English within the 
geography of the subcontinent, this study will focus on five geographic 
areas. The socio-religious movements of a given area must be examined 
in relation to British influence and political dominance, in terms of the 
local and regional culture, and according to patterns of interaction 
between different religious communities. The historic role of socio- 
religious movements can only be understood within the context in 
which they originated and functioned. 

South Asia has been the scene of an extremely complex pattern of 
cultural interaction. The indigenous Hindu-Buddhist civilization 
evolved in semi-isolation. Different cultural groups entered the sub- 
continent from the North-West and were incorporated into the ex- 
panding civilization of South Asia. At the close of the twelfth century 
and the beginning of the thirteenth, Muslim conquerors swept across 
north India and by the mid-fourteenth century gained political control 
of nearly two-thirds of the subcontinent. They carried a new civiliz- 
ation, the Perso-Arabic, that retained its identity in spite of numerous 
cultural adjustments. Next the British introduced their own version of 
western civilization as they gained control of South Asia in the eight- 
eenth and nineteenth centuries. By the nineteenth century, three layers 
of civilization interacted and moulded the socio-religious movements 
of that century. Each civilization contained its own tradition of protest 
and dissent that provided the basic past framework for socio-religious 
movements of the British period. 


Within the Eurasian land mass and the islands associated with it, four 
civilizations evolved, three of which were directly relevant to South 
Asia.' As each civilization matured, patterns of dissent emerged as 

individuals and groups challenged the established order. Religion 
‘ The fourth civilization of the Eurasian land mass, the Sinitic civilization of East Asia, does 
not fail within the scope of this volume, since it did not have a direct impact on South Asia. It 

did, however, exhibit a similar pattern of protest, legitimized by religion throughout the 2,000 
years of Chinese dynastic history. 

Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


played a dual role within each of these three civilizations. In its ortho- 
dox forms, it supplied much of the legitimization for the status quo, but 
as heterodox sects, foreign religions or orthodox ideals were carried toa 
logical extreme, religion furnished sources of authority available to 
dissenters. Within the three civilizations were socio-religious move- 
ments of protest and dissent. Yet each had its own unique pattern of 
relationships between the spheres of religion, politics, society, and 
economics that shaped the nature of protest. 

Western civilization evolved from a rich heritage of diverse religions 
that lay within the Mediterranean and Near Eastern regions. From the 
Iranian plateau came Mazdaism with its dualistic struggle between 
good and evil; the heretical monotheism of Zurvan and the teachings of 
Mani (AD 216-76), whose ideas, in the form of Manichaeism, inflyenced 
both the Roman and post-Roman worlds. A variety of mystery cults 
that existed, at times openly and at other times as suppressed under- 
ground associations, supplied additional forms of religion. To this 
religious complexity Judaism contributed a line of prophets and an 
apocalyptic tradition with its millennial promises of a final stage of 
human existence when injustice and oppression would be replaced by 
an ideal world of peace and divine justice. As Christianity grew from its 
Judaic heritage, it elaborated its own messianic concepts and interacted 
with the religious heritage of the Mediterranean cultures. Initially, 
Christianity was a socio-religious movement of dissent, which at- 
tracted those who wished to challenge the norms of society. 

During the process of defining Christianity and codifying acceptable 
texts as well as doctrine, prophets arose repeatedly with their own 
visions of a new world, and were rejected as heretical, as were various 
‘false’ scriptures. As Christianity achieved dominance in the late 
Roman world and was brought under control of a single religious 
institution, the Roman Catholic Church, dissent continued. Jeffrey B. 
Russell noted that prior to AD 700 it remained largely theological and 
was led by members of the clergy. This pattern shifted afterwards to 
movements of reform and change led by laity and based on moral 
themes.? These movements were legitimized by one or another re- 
ligious authority. After the eleventh century, religious dissent and 
protest took a violent turn both by those who engaged in it and by the 

2 See Jeffrey B. Russell, Dissent and Reform in the Early Middle Ages (Berkeley, University 
of California Press, 1965), p. 4. Also a useful reference is Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the 
Millennium (Fairlawn, New Jersey, Essential Books, 1957). 

Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


authorities who used force to suppress them. Religious dissent often 
attracted dissatisfied and suppressed elements of society who, in the 
process, challenged the Church with its wealth and power as well as 
governments to which it was closely allied. From the communal up- 
rising at Cambrai in the eleventh century that responded to the teach- 
ings of Ramihrd, to the Bundschuh of the sixteenth century with its 
vision of an egalitarian future, socio-religious movements appeared, 
took violent form, and were suppressed. Orthodox Christianity as with 
other religions, faced challenges from mystics who found authority in 
their own direct experiencing of God and then developed an ideology 
to explain and elaborate on their achievements. Tanchelm and his 
ideological descendants, the Brethren of the Free Spirit, found God 
within them and so rejected the Church as a hindrance to their search 
for salvation as they mobilized individuals to reject all religious auth- 
ority except for their own. The concept of a ‘spirit within’ remained a 
permanent part of western civilization and the basis of protest 

Concepts and symbols for the opponents of orthodoxy were also 
available from pre-Christian religions. As Christianity spread north- 
wards through Europe, elements of existing religions were either 
adopted and included within Christianity or defined as ‘Satanic’ and 
forbidden. They did not totally disappear, however, but remained 
below the surface as vehicles of dissent. From outside the expanding 
Christian sphere, both ancient and existing religions provided 
Europeans with sources of symbols and possible legitimization for 
socio-religious movements. The rise of Freemasonry in the fourteenth 
century, with its legendary beginning in pre-Islamic Egypt, and its use 
of Islamic symbols fused with Christian doctrines, exemplifies the 
pattern of adapting elements from non-Christian religions to give form 
to protest within western civilization. 

The nature of dissent in western civilization was fundamentally 
changed by the Protestant Reformation, which destroyed the idea of a 
single religious authority and taught that each individual could make 
his judgment of religious truth through a study of the scriptures. This 
ideological position was made feasible through three interrelated de- 
velopments: the technology of printing, translations of the scriptures 
into regional languages, and rising rates of literacy. Gutenberg’s print- 
ing of the Bible in movable type by 1456, and Martin Luther’s trans- 
lation of it into German in 1522, marked the beginning of this 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


revolution. Religiously expressed dissent continued as part of western 
civilization. There was, however, another crucial development, namely 
the rise of secular systems of thought in the seventeenth and eighteenth 
centuries, which supplied non-religious legitimization for protest. By 
the eighteenth century, Europe exported religious and secular concepts 
that justified social orthodoxy and social change. The Perso-Arabic 
civilization, by contrast, based social and political behaviour solely on 
religious authority. 

Perso-Arabic civilization shared many of the same religious roots as 
western civilization. This similarity was clearly demonstrated with the 
emergence of Islam. The Prophet Muhammad drew on the Judeo- 
Christian heritage as well as other religions in the Middle East. In the 
seventh and eighth centuries, Islam swept over the existing religions 
and cultures from northern Africa and the Iberian Peninsula in the 
West, to the edge of Central Asia and India in the East. Islam evolved 
from the prophetic message of Muhammad as codified in the sacred 
scriptures, the Qur’an, and the record of Muhammad’s words and 
deeds, the hadith. For the majority of Muslims — the Sunnis ~ religious 
authority originated with Muhammad and after his death rested with 
the Qur’an, the sunnah (established practices), hadith, ijma (the con- 
sensus of the Muslim community), and figh (Islamic law as interpreted 
by generations of legal scholars). Muslims were to follow the sunnah 
until the arrival of the madhi (the rightly guided one), who would 
descend to earth, destroy those who held erroneous beliefs, and estab- 
lish a period of religious perfection. Thus Islam contained a form of 
both the messianic vision of an ideal future and prophetic tradition, on 
the line of prophets from Abraham to Muhammad. Not all Muslims, 
however, considered Muhammad as the final figure of religious 

Those who accepted Shi‘ah Islam maintained that special knowl- 
edge and power passed from Muhammad to his son-in-law, ‘Ali, and 
to ‘Ali’s descendants. This concept resulted in a line of imams (living 
religious leaders), who possessed authority as successors to the Prophet 
Muhammad. The Shi‘ah system of religious leadership led to numer- 
ous controversies over who was or was not the proper and legitimate 
imam. More than one line of imams emerged. The Itna ‘Ashariyas, a 
major subdivision of the Shi‘ahs, followed a progression of twelve 
imams, the last of whom disappeared and would reappear some time in 
the future. By contrast, the Isma‘ilis claimed only seven imams. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Sufis or islamic mystics existed both in Sunni and Shi‘ite Islam. They 
contained a rich heritage of asceticism, of religious discipline and 
theological speculation, centred on religious teachers, pirs and shaikhs, 
and organized ‘nto orders, silsilahs, or tarigahs, that is paths to truth. 
As with other forms of mysticism, Sufis sought to experience God 
directly and in doing so became divided into orthodox and heterodox 
Muslims, under the leadership of a pir or shaikh. Pirs taught a wide 
variety of religious concepts and practices. When alive they built repu- 
tations for sanctity and wisdom, initiated their disciples through 
bai‘at, and provided counsel for their followers. After their deaths a 
pir’s tomb often became a place of pilgrimage and worship. The Sufis 
provided an extensive pool of symbols, organizational structures, and 
rituals utilized by Islamic movements of return. 

The belief in a madhi or an imam and the practices of the Sufi 
mendicants created a reservoir of symbols, myths, institutions, and 
ideas that legitimized protest in terms of religion. Since Islam was a 
fusion of religion and polity, religious dissent contained a political 
dimension, as illustrated by the Khawarijites. The earliest of the sec- 
tarian Islamic movements was sparked by the controversy that sur- 
rounded ‘Ali and his claim to be the rightful successor to Muhammad. 
The puritanical sect, the Khawarijite sect, opposed ‘Ali and later the 
Umayyad state. Expressing an extreme egalitarianism and strict adher- 
ence to Islamic principles, they represented a reassertion of nomadic 
attitudes against what they saw as ‘sedentary conformists’ who had 
been unfaithful to Islamic teachings.> The Khawarijites were the first 
of a long line of ‘movements of return’ that sought to rediscover 
the period of righteousness and purity that existed during the life 
of Muhammad and his immediate followers. As in all religions that 
have at their base a prophetic message, debates continued within Islam 
as to what constituted proper belief and practice. In the eighteenth 
century, Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab founded a puritanical 
movement aimed at removing all erroneous innovations within Islam, 
including the worship of saints, the use of a rosary, and the veneration 
of shrines. This socio-religious movement was reminiscent of the Kha- 
wariites. Though suppressed by the Ottoman Empire, the Wahhabi 
movement survived and continued to be influential in the Islamic 

Not all Islamic sects remained within the limits of their parent 

3 Fazlur Rahman, slam, 2nd edn. (University of Chicago Press, 1979), p. 167. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


religion. In the nineteenth century a Persian, ‘Ali Muhammad, came 
into contact with the ultra-Shi‘ite doctrines of Shaikh Ahmad ibn 
Zayn al-Din al-Ahsai. As a result, ‘Ali Muhammad declared himself 
the madhi and took the title Bab (the gate). He taught a messianic, 
egalitarian Islam that rejected the use of a veil for women, circumcision 
for men, and ritual ablution before prayer. He ordered a variety of 
other changes and legitimized them by allegorical interpretations of the 
Qur’an. This new prophet attracted followers from among the dis- 
enchanted in Persian society‘ and acquired othodox opponents with the 
result that ‘Ali Muhammad was executed in 1850. After his death his 
disciple, Baha-Allah, stepped forward as his successor. Baha-Allah and 
his son, Abbas Effendi ‘Abd al-Baha, moved beyond Islam and 
launched a new religion, Bahaism. 

Within the South Asian subcontinent the two imported civilizations 
interacted with the indigenous Hindu—Buddhist civilization that 
evolved from an interaction between three cultures: the agricultural 
and urbanized civilization of the Indus Valley, the nomadic Aryans, 
who became militarily dominant over the Indus civilization around 
1700 to 1500 BC, and the Adivasis, indigenous inhabitants of the sub- 
continent, many of whom lived at pre-agricultural stages of develop- 
ment. The Aryans contributed their language, Sanskrit, the sacred 
literature of the Vedas, plus their own deities and rituals. Remnants of 
the Indus Valley people provided many elements of the later civiliz- 
ation, particularly as the nomadic Aryans began to settle into an agri- 
cultural existence. The Adivasis were either incorporated into the 
expanding civilization or pushed back into the hills and jungles. By 
1000 BC, urban life began to re-emerge after the fall of the Indus cities 
and with them came a rise of small city states. The process of political 
consolidation gained speed in the next few centuries. Small kingdoms 
became larger until the establishment of a subcontinental state, the 
Mauryan Empire, c. 322-183 Bc. During these years of rapid social, 
economic, and political change the older ways of life and much of 
religion as it then existed were no longer compatible with the reality of 
urbanization and political growth. 

In the texts of the Upanishads, eighth to fourth centuries sc, there 
appeared a trend toward indirect criticism of the existing sacrificial 
religion with its expensive and elaborate rituals conducted by Brahman 

‘ Philip K. Hitti, The Near East in History: A 5000 Year Story (Princeton, New Jersey, D. 
Van Nostrand Co., 1961), p. 404. 

Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


priests. The Upanishadic thinkers, Brahmans, who had left the ordi- 
nary world of religious practice, pursued immortality as a final answer 
to the problems of life, death, and rebirth. For them sacrificial rituals 
produced only transitory gains, and were thus useless. They did not 
directly attack orthodoxy, but brushed it aside in a search for more 
lasting solutions to life’s problems. These renegade Brahmans did not 
found socio-religious movements. Theirs was an elite doctrine for the 
chosen few. The Upanishads, however, marked the beginning of a long 
tradition of criticism and religious dissent, through which those who 
rejected established norms of society could find expression. 

In the sixth and fifth centuries Bc a number of socio-religious move- 
ments appeared; two of these, Jainism and Buddhism, began as Hindu 
cults, and eventually became separate religions. Both disagreed sharply 
with existing orthodoxy. They rejected the authority of the Vedas, the 
use of sacrifices, and the role of Brahman priests. As movements 
preaching new doctrines, they used the vernaculars rather than San- 
skrit, were open to all social classes, including women as well as men, 
and discarded the current social distinctions. Both of these religious 
movements found support among a variety of classes: the ruling elite, 
merchants, artisans, and those at the bottom of the social structure. 
Buddhism and Jainism spread first throughout the Gangetic Plain, then 
southwards, finally to the peninsular world of the Dravidians. 

The four centuries, from roughly the second century Bc to the 
second century AD, remain unclear as to the pattern of historical de- 
velopments, especially in northern India. By the sixth to seventh cen- 
turies AD, however, a new type of Hinduism appeared with the rise of 
bhakti (devotionalism), with a highly emotional and personal focus on 
a single deity. There is considerable scholarly debate as to whether the 
roots of bhakti were in the northern cults of Pancharatras, Bhagavatas, 
and Pashupatas, or in the Dravidian South. Not open to question, 
however, was the beginning of a wave of bhakti movements in the 
Tamil area of peninsular India during the sixth to seventh centuries aD. 

For centuries south India had been penetrated by northern culture 
with its emphasis on Brahmanical rituals, priestly superiority, the 
sanctity of the Vedas, and the use of Sanskrit in ceremonies and rituals. 
This influence, however, did not extinguish Dravidian culture, which 
reasserted itself with the rise of the new devotionalism. Poet-saints 
flourished who expressed themselves in Tamil and later in other 
languages of the South. They came from all social classes including the 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


lowest and most disadvantaged. For the exponents of bhakti, devotion 
and faith were all that truly mattered. God, in his mercy, would release 
them from rebirth and the misery of life, if only the devotees were true 
to their faith. Caste, rituals, and priests were all irrelevant. The devotees 
could, and occasionally did, leave their normal social roles and re- 
sponsibilities to concentrate on worship. In the process social control 
was lost and dissent made a reality. 

The early radicalism of bhakti slowly declined. Devotional hymns 
were collected, standardized, and brought within the sphere of ortho- 
doxy. The Hindu saint, Ramanuja (d. aD 1137?), argued successfully 
that bhakti could be considered one more path to release from rebirth. 
He accepted both the caste system and the authority of orthodoxy. Asa 
Tamil Brahman, Ramanuja incorporated bhakti into orthodox Hin- 
duism and brought non-Brahmans into greater prominence within that 
orthodoxy. His compromise also muted the earlier radical dissent of 
the Vaishnavite devotees. A similar process took place among the 
poet-saints of Lord Shiva. In time the Shaivite bhakti hymns were 
codified and given a sophisticated system of philosophy to create the 
Shaiva Siddhanta form of orthodox Hinduism. Two schools of thought 
emerged in Shaiva Siddhanta, one based on Sanskritic literature as 
interpreted by Brahmans and the other, using Tamil texts, expounded 
largely by upper-caste non-Brahmans. Thus the social and cultural 
radicalism of southern bhakti was drawn into a broadened orthodox 
Hinduism becoming one more acceptable path to release from the cycle 
of rebirth. 

One socio-religious movement in southern India, Virashaivism, 
stands out for its radical ideas and its institutional success. Founded by 
Basava (?1125—70), this movement centred on the worship of Shiva. It 
was an aggressive, proselytizing, and uncompromising sect that re- 
jected Vedic authority, the role of priests, caste distinctions, and the rite 
of cremation, favouring burial instead. The Virashaivas also attempted 
to restructure the place of women in society. They considered men and 
women equal; allowed widows to remarry; condemned child marriage 
and arranged marriage, and no longer classed women as polluted during 
their menses. Their strict moral code included vegetarianism and a ban 
on the use of liquor and drugs. The Virashaivas entered into compe- 
tition with the Jains, Buddhists, and orthodox Hindus. In order to 
maintain their separate communal identity and to replace the Brah- 
mans, they created their own priests, and founded a number of monas- 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


teries as focuses of religious authority. This system is stil] maintained 
today, as is a sense of separateness among the Virashaivas. 

The wave of devotionalism moved northwards as poet-saints became 
active throughout the Deccan, then in the Gangetic plain, Bengal, and 
the North-West. Bhakti saints wrote in the vernacular languages and 
thus extended Hinduism to all levels of society. The arrival of devo- 
tional Hinduism in the North followed a fundamental change in the 
political-religious structure, as Islam, with the values and attitudes of 
the Perso-Arabic civilization, entered the subcontinent. The years aD 
1192~1206 witnessed the conquest of the North from the borders of the 
Mid-East to Bengal with pockets of Hindu resistance in Rajasthan and 
the Himalayan foothills. During the fourteenth century the Muslim 
ruling elite pushed south into the Deccan, gaining control over roughly 
two-thirds of the subcontinent. 

Islam arrived in its various forms: Sunni, Shi’ah, and Sufi. At the 
orthodox level, Islam and Hinduism clashed, since they expounded 
almost diametrically opposed doctrines. At the popular and mystical 
levels, however, it was possible for the two religions to interact. The 
popular Islamic reverence for saints, miracles, and religious healing, as 
well as the institution of wandering Sufi mendicants, were compatible 
with Hindu practices. Also, the more fundamental concepts of mono- 
theism, egalitarianism, and the rejection of idolatry, paralleled many of 
the teachings found among Hindu followers of bhakti. Devotionalism 
and the movements of protest that it often sustained coexisted within 
the context of the indigenous and the new-conquest civilization with its 
own tradition of dissent. 

A powerful mixture of social criticism and devotion grew from the 
teachings of Ramananda (1360-1470). He was a Sri Vaishnava leader, 
fifth in the line of succession after Ramanuja. Ramananda taught an 
egalitarian devotionalism focused on Rama, used simple Hindi as his 
language, and accepted disciples from all segments of society. Rama- 
nanda’s teachings spread throughout the northern plains and were 
carried forward by his disciples, often in more radical forms than his 
own. Kabir (1440-1518), a weaver, possibly a Muslim by birth, became 
a disciple of Ramananda. Kabir taught a strict monotheism, arguing 
that each devotee should seek God directly and that he could do so 
without becoming a mendicant and abandoning his family. Kabir re- 
jected both orthodoxies, Hindu and Islamic, as well as all forms of 
caste. His doctrines enjoyed broad appeal among peasants, artisans, 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


and untouchables. This was a sustained attack on the established order; 
one that envisioned a new egalitarian society. 

A similar message was proclaimed by Guru Nanak (1469-1539), a 
householder and a clerk for the provincial Punjab government. Guru 
Nanak created a quietist movement that rejected priestly Hinduism, its 
rituals, idols, and basic authority. He also taught equality. Nanak was 
followed by a succession of nine gurus. The Sikhs, as his followers came 
to be known, created their own scripture, the Granth Sahib written in 
Punjabi, using the Gurmukhi script. They developed new life-cycle 
ceremonies conducted by their own members, thus gradually cutting 
their ties with Hinduism. Beginning as a quietist sect, the Sikhs evolved 
into a structured socio-religious movement and finally a separate 

The tradition of dissenting bhakti initiated by Ramananda persisted 
throughout the North. Dadu (1544-1603), a disciple of Kabir, marked 
the emergence of the next generation in this line of bhakti. He was a 
mystic who preached egalitarian ideas, rejected rituals, priests, pilgrim- 
ages, and temples, calling for all to worship Brahma as a deity without 
form (nirguna). His adherents, the Dadupanthis, were strongest among 
the lower castes of Rajasthan. Malukdas (1574-1682) continued Rama- 
nandi devotionalism as did Charan Das of Delhi (1703-82). Some 
bhakti leaders attempted to draw upon both religions thus creating a 
bridge between them. The Damis, founded by Pran Nath in the seven- 
teenth century, used excerpts from the Qur’an and the Vedas to 
express their ideas. Similarly Bab Lal, also of the seventeenth century, 
turned to the Vedanta of the Hindus and to Sufi writings from Islam as 
inspiration for his own ideology. 

By contrast, two very successful bhakti movements demonstrate that 
devotionalism was not inevitably associated with dissent. In Bengal, 
Chaitanya (1486-15 33) taught an intensely passionate worship of Lord 
Krishna, which utilized music, singing and dancing as its major modes 
of expression. As with many devotional sects, it was open to all, even 
Muslims. Chaitanya prohibited animal sacrifice, permitted widow re- 
marriage, and preached a strict moral code, but his main approach to 
orthodoxy was to ignore it. Devotion to Krishna was all that mattered. 
His disciples used both Bengali and Sanskrit in their literature, a 
compromise position to begin with and one that saw them soon incor- 
porated into Hindu orthodoxy. Similar to and contemporaneous with 
Chaitanya’s movement was the one founded by Vallabhacharya (1479- 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


1531). It soon became popular in Gujarat and the surrounding areas. 
Vallabhacharya focused on Krishna and the erotic interaction between 
Krishna and the gopis (milk maids). This was a devotional movement of 
passion, joy, and religious exaltation. It raised no issues of social or 
religious revolt and was orthodox from the beginning. Bhakti, then, 
cannot be equated with dissent and protest; it was instead a source of 
ideas and institutions that could legitimize the condemnation or the 
maintenance of established society. 

With the evolution of Hindu—Buddhist civilization, the introduction 
of Perso-Arabic and western civilizations, religion played a dual role. It 
sustained and justified the established social order while also providing 
an instrument for challenges to that order. Repeatedly socio-religious 
movements arose which called for the creation of an egalitarian society, 
rejected the role of priests and the rituals they conducted, turned 
against the worship of idols, and promoted the concept of monotheism. 
Such movements often attempted to redefine the role of women, grant- 
ing them equality that included marriage customs, the right to edu- 
cation and, at times, relief from the restrictions of ritual pollution. It is 
against this background that we must attempt to understand the socio- 
religious movements that flourished during the years of British political 
rule and within the context of three interacting civilizations. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 




The first region under consideration is Bengal and its adjoining terri- 
tory of Assam in the North-East. Bengal proper is a huge delta built up 
by the combined river systems of the Ganges and the Brahmaputra. 
Bengal and its environs are ringed by mountains in the North and East, 
by the bay to the South, the hills of Orissa and Chota Nagpur to the 
South-West, and Bihar to the West. Divided by numerous rivers and 
consisting of swampy land with abundant rainfall, Bengal was de- 
veloped late in the history of South Asia and remained at the edge of 
Hindu—Buddhist civilization. Eastern Bengal, Assam, and the hill tracts 
bordering Burma marked the end of one major civilization and the 
beginning of the South-East Asia cultural sphere. 

The incorporation of Bengal into the expanding culture of north 
India brought with it Sanskrit, Hinduism, and the caste structure. 
Brahman priests ascended to the foremost position in society, but never 
with the same degree of dominance as in the central Gangetic Plain or in 
south India. The Kshatriya (warrior) and Vaishya (merchant) castes 
were absent. Instead two smaller groups, the Kayasthas, a writer-clerk 
caste, and the Baidyas, once physicians and later landlords, marked the 
next levels below the Brahmans. Thus the mass of Bengalis were classed 
as Sudras or peasants; beneath them were the untouchables. Within this 
region Buddhism and, to a lesser degree, Jainism provided a long- 
standing challenge to Hinduism. In the surrounding hill tracts, the high 
civilization of the valleys and the delta faded away. Many of the tribes 
within the jungles and highlands had their own languages, deities, social 
structures, and tribal culture. 

In the first decade of the thirteenth century, the Hindu-Buddhist 
world of Bengal was significantly altered by Islamic conquerors. The 
establishment of Muslim rule cut ties of political influence and econ- 
omic support between Hinduism and the state. Over the centuries 
Islam also changed the socio-religious composition of Bengal through 
conversion. Eastern Bengal became heavily Muslim, so much so that by 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


oO 100 miles 

1 Bengal and north-eastern India 

Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


the nineteenth century they constituted a majority of the population. 
Hindus resided throughout Bengal in smaller percentages to the East 
and larger in the West. The creation of a Bengali Muslim population 
was concentrated at two ends of the socio-economic spectrum, a small 
elite, urban-based, and composed mostly of a ruling class who con- 
quered and then governed this region and, through conversion, a 
peasant-untouchable class, illiterate, uneducated, rural and poor. A 
middle section was missing. Consequently, between the ruling elite and 
the mass existed numerous Hindu groups who staffed the govern- 
mental administration and conducted most of the economic functions 
of the province. 

Changes in society brought about by Islamic conquest were 
mirrored by a new linguistic complexity. Sanskrit remained the sacred 
language of Hinduism, but lost its association with government. Per- 
sian and Urdu became languages of administration, while Arabic was 
limited to Islamic scholars, and Sanskrit to the Hindu priests. Bengali, 
in one or another dialectical form, constituted the language of the 
peasants, both Hindu and Muslim. Its popularity increased with devo- 
tional movements, since the elite languages were useless in communi- 
cating with the wider Bengali community regardless of religious 

The arrival of the British as merchants of the East India Company 
had a restricted impact, but after the battles of Plassy (1757) and Buxar 
(1764), the English gained military control and formed a new govern- 
ment. The Muslim ruling elite was pushed aside and replaced by 
Englishmen. This process took time, but with the establishment of the 
Indian Civil Service by Lord Cornwallis (1786-93), all senior adminis- 
trative positions were restricted to Englishmen. Ascendancy of British 
law and later the English language accompanied the creation of a new 
administration. At a stage when their administration was still relatively 
crude, the British reordered Bengal’s socio-economic system. In 1793, 
they announced the Permanent Settlement, regulations that defined a 
diverse group of individuals ranging from petty chiefs to hereditary 
tax-collectors as absolute owners of land. Private property as known in 
the West had not existed in South Asia where the major issue was over 
shares in the productivity of land, not to land itself. Traditional landed 
rights disappeared as peasants became tenants in the western sense of 
the word. The government restricted its interest in landowners to the 
collection of an annual tax. Thus by the end of the eighteenth century 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


and the beginning of the nineteenth, British administration had rede- 
fined landed wealth and its ownership. They also excluded all ‘natives’ 
from senior governmental positions, were they Hindu or Muslim. This 
latter step affected the Muslim elite and, in time, a new Hindu group, 
but for the majority of Bengalis it was issues relating to land and 
productivity that remained the most relevant. 


The Fara‘izis 

Socio-religious movements among Bengali Muslims drew upon the 
dynamics of that society for their motivation, but the concepts, sym- 
bols, and intellectual framework for such movements came from Indian 
Islamic thought as centred on Delhi and from the Sa‘udi Arabian cities 
of Mecca and Medina. These were the two main sources, although ideas 
might occasionally reach Bengal from other centres of Islam. The 
Mughal Emperor, Akbar (1556-1605), adopted a policy of accommo- 
dation with the Hindu nobility. This approach was successful in estab- 
lishing the Empire, but alienated many orthodox Islamic leaders. 
Under Akbar, the state could no longer be depended on to enforce 
Islamic law and practice. Akbar’s actions stimulated a counter trend of 
protest and movements of return. One of the ablest exponents of 
Islamic fundamentalism, Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi (1564-1624), called 
for a strict adherence to the shariat, the Islamic code of behaviour, and 
opposed popular customs that appeared to be heresies adopted from 
the surrounding sea of Hinduism. Sirhindi’s teachings gained accept- 
ance as the Mughal Empire moved away from the policies of Akbar and 
towards the official orthodoxy of the Emperor Aurangzeb (1659-1707). 
With the disintegration of the Mughal Empire in the eighteenth 
century, anew and more severe crisis struck Indian Muslims. Shah Wali 
Ullah of Delhi (1703-63) linked the decline of Muslim power and 
morality to ignorance that resulted in an inability to comprehend the 
true nature of Islam. He advocated an education focused on the 
Qur’an and hadith that would enable Muslims to regain their past 
status, to bring an end to the internal struggles between differing 
Muslim groups, and purge their faith of non-Muslim customs. Thus he 
shared many of the same aims and goals of al-Wahhab, but was less 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


radical and less uncompromising in his approach. Wali Ullah wanted 
to extinguish conflict among Indian Muslims, since communal unity 
was needed to restore Islam politically and spiritually to its proper 
pre-eminence. To this end, Shah Wali "Ullah translated the Qur’an 
into Persian, a language more widely known than Arabic among his 
fellow Muslims. This act was bitterly opposed by orthodox leaders, but 
one of his sons, Shah ‘Abdul Qadir, went one step further by trans- 
lating the Qur’an into idiomatic Urdu. The teachings of Shah Wali 
Ullah and the Delhi School of Islamic thought plus the doctrines of 
al-Wahhab of Sa‘udi Arabia constituted a basic frame of reference for 
socio-religious movements among South Asian Muslims, as exempli- 
fied by the Fara’izis of Bengal. 

Shari‘at "Ullah, the founder of the Fara‘izis, was born in 1781 in 
the village of Shmail in eastern Bengal. He received his elementary 
education in Calcutta and Hughly. In 1799, at the age of eighteen, 
Shari‘at Ullah left for Mecca. The first two years he studied under an 
emigrant Bengali, Maulana Murad, and for the next fourteen years 
became the student of the Hanafi scholar, Tahir Sombal. Shari‘at 
Ullah was also initiated into the Qadiriyah order of Sufism during 
this period. In addition he spent two years at al-Azhar University in 
Cairo. When he returned to Bengal in 1818 as a scholar of Islamic law 
and philosophy,' he began preaching, but soon returned to Mecca, 
where he obtained the formal permission of his teacher to initiate his 
own religious campaign. After returning to Bengal, probably in 1820 or 
early 1821, he quickly attracted adherents among the peasants of east- 
ern Bengal. 

Shari‘at "Ullah’s message was one of religious purification. He was 
deeply shocked by improper beliefs and behaviour popular among 
Bengali Muslims. He called for a return to fara‘iz (the obligatory 
duties of Islam), specifically the ‘profession of faith (kalimah), attend- 
ing daily prayers (salat or namaz), fasting in Ramadan (sawm or rozah), 
paying the poor tax (zakat) and pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj)’. Along with 
these rites Shari‘at "Ullah stressed the principle of tawhid (monothe- 
ism). Deviations from the original message of Muhammad were the 
products of either bid‘ah (sinful innovations), or shirk (polytheistic 
religious beliefs). In practical terms Shari ‘at "Ullah condemned the 

1 Mu‘in-ud-din Ahmad Khan, History of the Fara‘idi Movement in Bengal, 1818-1906 
(Karachi, Asiatic Society of Pakistan, 1965), pp. 2-3. This is the most authoritative study of 
the Fara‘izis available today and will be used here extensively. If other sources are utilized, 
they will be indicated by a footnote. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


worship conducted at the shrines of various Islamic saints, rituals 
connected with the birth of a child or with circumcision, and the intense 
wailing at ceremonies to honour the Shi‘ah heroes, al-Hasan and 
al-Husain. Some of these rituals were blamed on Hindu influence either 
retained by converts to Islam, or simply accepted by uneducated 
Muslims copying customs from the non-Muslim community. 

The scripturalist fundamentalism of Shari‘at "Ullah won accept- 
ance primarily among peasants in eastern Bengal. In order to effectively 
reach this audience the Fara‘izi leaders preached in Bengali and used 
that language in their initiation ceremony rather than Persian, Arabic or 
Urdu. They introduced a distinct pattern of dress that distinguished 
members of their movement from the rest of their community. Mil- 
itant, united, and composed mainly of illiterate peasants and artisans, 
the Fara‘izis soon faced opponents as they penetrated the eastern 
Bengali districts of Dacca, Faridpur, Jessore, and Badkarganj. 

To begin with, Fara‘izis directly challenged the orthodox or Sadiqi 
Muslims who wished to maintain the practice of Islam as it was then. 
The Sadiqis were mainly descendants of the Muslims who had entered 
Bengal after the conquest. Many of them were members of the landlord 
class, a group seen by the Fara‘izis as economic, as well as ideological 
enemies. Hinduism was also an opponent, a fountain of polytheism and 
evil innovations. Once more economics heightened religious tensions, 
since the majority of landlords in eastern Bengal were Hindus. As early 
as 1831, Barasat had become the centre of Fara‘izi-led disturbances 
against the power of local landlords. Indigo factories were burnt and 
peasants refused to pay rents to Hindu landlords because they often 
demanded illegal payments.* Muslim peasants resisted for religious as 
well as economic reasons. Hindu landlords collected money for cer- 
emonies such as Durga Puja, the annual celebration of a Hindu god- 
dess. Shari‘at "Ullah urged his followers to reject such demands and 
they did. Throughout the 1830s conflict flared between the Fara‘izis 
and their landlords with each side blaming the other, as the religious 
movement slowly became enmeshed in economic and political issues. 
This trend toward rural conflict continued after the death of Shari‘at 
Ullah in 1840 when his son, Dudu Miyan, succeeded him as head of 
the community. 

Born in 1819 under the name Mushin al-Din Ahmad, but known as 

2 Blair B. Kling, The Blue Mutiny: Indigo Disturbances of 1859-1862 (Philadelphia, 
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1966), p. 68. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Dudu Miyan, he was the only son of Shari‘at "Ullah. Dudu Miyan 
was educated by his father and then at the age of twelve was sent to 
Mecca for further studies. He never achieved the levels of scholarship 
attained by his father, but Dudu Miyan quickly proved himself an 
energetic leader; able to create an effective organizational structure for 
the Fara‘izis in their struggles with opposing movements and the 
landlord—planter class of Bengal. At first he organized his followers 
along two lines of authority: the siyasi, which focused on political 
issues, and the dini concerned with religion. He later fused them into a 
single hierarchy. Dudu Miyan held the position as supreme leader or 
ustad. Under him served three levels of officials: the uparast khalifah, 
the superintendent khalifah, and a goan khalifah or village-level leader. 
Each official was in charge of a circle of decreasing size, with the village 
officials responsible for a cluster of 300 to 500 families. These officers 
were charged with organizing village courts to replace the govern- 
mental legal system and raising volunteer fighters to defend their 
community when needed. 

Unlike his father, Dudu Miyan entered the world of politics and 
economics with a direct challenge to the status quo. He proclaimed that 
all land belonged to God and that the land tax was thus both illegal and 
immoral.} This declaration was extremely popular among Muslim peas- 
ants, but completely unacceptable to landlords, indigo planters, and the 
police. Serious clashes took place in 1841 and 1842, and asa result Dudu 
Miyan and forty-eight of his followers were arrested, tried, and con- 
victed. The case proceeded slowly through various stages of appeal and 
finally in 1847 the conviction was set aside by the High Court in 
Calcutta. This was a dramatic victory for the Fara‘izis, one that greatly 
increased their prestige and also brought about a decade of peace 
between them and the landlords. The outbreak of fighting in 1857 
prompted the British to arrest and imprison Dudu Miyan. He was 
released in 1859, rearrested, and finally freed in 1860. By this time he 
was seriously ill and died while staying in Dacca in 1862. The death of 
Dudu Miyan created a void which was not quickly filled. His eldest 
son, Ghiyath al-Din, was chosen to replace him in 1864, but died later 
that same year. The second son, ‘Abd al-Ghafur, known as Naya 
Miyan, followed his elder brother; however, since he was still too 
young for effective control, three lieutenants became his guardians and 

3 Tauriq Ahmad Nizami, Muslim Political Thought and Activity in India During the First 
Half of the 19th Century (Aligarh, Three Mens Publications, 1969), pp. 83-4. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


supervised the movement until sometime in the 1870s when Naya 
Miyan assumed active leadership of the community. 

Naya Miyan was born in 1852. Educated at first by his father, after 
the arrest of Dudu Miyan he studied under a tutor. The picture of Naya 
Miyan’s youth is sketchy. Apparently he did not travel to Arabia but 
received his entire education in Bengal. In 1874, under his leadership, 
struggles with the landlords reached a crucial turning point. Tenant 
farmers demanded written leases that would legalize their occupancy 
rights to the land. The landlords refused to issue such leases and also 
demanded the payment of a cess, considered illegal by the tenants. The 
Fara‘izis were deeply involved in this struggle. They furnished much 
of the leadership and manpower behind peasant resistance. Open con- 
flict lasted until 1879 when the peasants won with the aid of a sympa- 
thetic British official, thus beginning a period of cooperation with the 
government that lasted into the twentieth century.‘ 

After his death, in 1884, Naya Miyan was replaced by his youngest 
brother, Sa‘id al-Din Ahmad (1855-1906). Under his leadership the 
Fara‘izis survived primarily as a religious movement without signifi- 
cant economic and political goals. Their amiable relations with the 
British were recognized in 1899 when the government granted Sa‘id 
al-Din the title of Khan Bahadur. A group of Fara‘izis separated from 
the parent organization as a protest against closer ties with the British, 
thus generating the first schism within this extremely stable movement. 
Nonetheless the Fara‘izis had succeeded in redefining Islamic belief 
and practice among many of the Muslim peasants of eastern Bengal. Its 
overall impact, however, must be seen in terms of competitive and 
complementary groups active within the same area and with the same 

An Islamic leader, Sayyid Ahmad Barelwi, launched a revivalist 
movement, the Tariqah-i-Muhammadiyah, that preached both a return 
to past purity and an open struggle, a jihad, with non-Muslims. He had 
interpreted the fatwa of ‘Abdul ‘Aziz as declaring British India dar 
ul-harb (the house of war), that is a territory ruled by non-Muslims, 
and one that pious Muslims must oppose as a sacred duty.> By the late 
1820s one of Sayyid Ahmad Barelwi’s disciples, Titu Mir (1782-1831), 

4 Kalyan Kumar Sengupta, ‘Agrarian disturbances in r9th century rural Bengal’, Indian 
Economic and Social History Review, 8, no. 2 (June 1971), pp. 201-2, 204-5. 

5 For a more detailed examination of the career of Sayyid Ahmad of Barelwi and the 
Tariqah-i-Muhammadiyah, see chapter 4. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


began preaching in rural western Bengal. He expounded a funda- 
mentalist doctrine that condemned elements of popular Islam as errors, 
called upon his followers to practise equality among their coreligion- 
ists, and to adopt a unique form of dress as an outward sign of their 
religious commitment. He opposed Hinduism and the landlord class. 
Titu Mir quickly won supporters among the peasants. His movement, 
however, ended in 1831 when he and his followers rose against the 
government. They briefly controlled three districts, but were subdued 
by British troops. In 1832, another disciple of Sayyid Ahmad, ‘Inayat 
‘Ali, arrived in Bengal. He began touring the rural areas and ex- 
pounded to the Muslim peasants a purified Islamic creed. ‘Inayat ‘Ali 
travelled until 1840 and settled in the district of Jessore. Within four 
years another disciple reached Bengal. 

In 1835 Mawlana Karamat ‘Ali moved to Bengal, where he remained 
an effective proponent of Islam until his death in 1873. Karamat ‘Ali 
sailed the rivers of Bengal and Assam for nearly forty years ina flotilla 
‘which constituted a travelling-cum-residential college’.6 His 
Ta’aiyuni movement taught a purified Islam shared by the Tariqah-i- 
Muhammadiyah and other nineteenth-century Islamic movements. 
There were, however, deep and at times bitter points of divergence 
between Karamat ‘Ali and the Fara‘izis. This was first demonstrated 
when he met with Shari‘at "Ullah in 1836-7. Differences between the 
two became public in 1839 at Barisal, the scene of a debate between 
Karamat ‘Ali and the Fara‘izis. The primary point of disagreement lay 
over whether or not congregational prayers could be legally held on 
Fridays and on the annual ‘Id festivals. Below this rested the question 
of whether British India should be classed as dar ul-harb or dar 
ul-Islam (the house of Islam), where Muslims could and should practise 
their religious rituals. Both the Tariqah-i-Muhammadiyah and the 
Fara‘izis adopted the former interpretation, and based it on the fatwa 
of ‘Abdul-‘Aziz. Karamat ‘Ali, however, rejected this view. Thus for 
the Ta’aiyunis these prayers were proper and even required. Although 
the two movements shared basic points of theology, such as an accept- 
ance of the Hanafi school of law, a rejection of polytheism and er- 
roneous innovations, and an emphasis on puritanical Islam, the 
question of prayers remained an acrimonious point of difference be- 

tween them. 

6 Abdus Subhan, ‘Social and religious reform movements in the nineteenth century among 
the Muslims — a Bengali reaction to the Wahhabi movement’ in S. P. Sen (ed.), Social and 
Religious Reform Movements (Calcutta, Institute of Historical Studies, 1979), p. 487. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


These two movements clashed repeatedly. Tracts defending each 
position were published as this controversy came to symbolize respec- 
tive dogmas. In general, the Ta’aiyunis were more moderate than the 
Fara‘izis or the Tariqah-i-Muhammadiyah. Karamat ‘Ali, himself a 
Shi‘ah, accepted the pir-muridi system of religious teachers and their 
disciples rejected by other movements, although he labelled as illegit- 
imate the ‘urs or annual death anniversary rites of famous pirs. During 
the second half of the nineteenth century, public disputes between 
sectarian movements became commonplace among Bengali Muslims. 
Not all Islamic movements publicly disagreed. The Ahl-i-Hadith, 
another descendant of the Tariqah-i-Muhammadiyah, entered Bengal. 
It too practised Jum‘ah and ‘Id prayers, but there is little indication of 
conflict between it and the Fara‘izis. Internal Muslim discord was 
moderated in the twentieth century by a strengthened sense of commu- 
nal unity. 

The proponents of a purified Islam and the socio-religious move- 
ments they created produced serious changes among Bengali Muslims, 
particularly in the rural areas. The sense of communal identity, of being 
a Muslim, was clarified and made explicit. All aspects of Muslim belief 
and life were discussed by popular tracts, nasihat namahs, written in 
Bengali. This literature was intended to instruct ordinary Muslims in 
the basic tenets of Islam. It also described the proper life for all 
Muslims. The creation of widespread religious literature in Bengali 
inspired Muhammad Naimuddin’s translation of the Qur’an into that 
language completed in the years 1892~—1908. Public religious debates 
popularized the basic concepts of Islam and became occasions of social 
mobilization and social integration as well.’ 

The Fara‘izis, Ta’aiyunis, Ahl-i-Hadith, and Tariqah-i-Muham- 
madiyah were all transitional movements of return led by members of 
the ‘ulama (theologians) who drew their followers primarily from the 
peasant classes, expressed their ideas through the vehicle of Bengali, 
and their inspiration from both Delhi and Sa‘udi Arabia. In their 
search for a purified religion the Fara‘izis and allied movements at- 
tempted to purge Islam of what they considered errors that stemmed 
from ignorance, superstition or implied borrowing from Hinduism. 
This search led them into opposition with the established orthodoxy of 

” Rafiuddin Ahmed, ‘Islamization in nineteenth century Bengal’ in Gopal Krishna (ed.), 
Contributions to South Asian Studies, no. 1 (Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1979), p. 105. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


the Sadiqi Muslims. In the case of the Fara‘izis and the followers of 
Titu Mir, they linked religious issues with economics with the result 
that both groups clashed with Hindu landlords and the British govern- 
ment. Titu Mir’s followers were suppressed, but the Fara‘izis accepted 
the presence of the British and were accepted by them. These move- 
ments mobilized and Islamized Bengali Muslims, thus strengthening 
their communal identity and their separation from Bengali Hindus. 
The socio-religious movements of the Bengali Hindus by con- 
trast emerged from the colonial milieu after it was established in 


From the early seventeenth through the mid-eighteenth centuries, 
extremely limited forms of cultural interaction had existed between the 
English merchants and South Asian society. During this period power 
rested with Indian governments and consequently there was little 
incentive to learn from an alien western civilization. Initially the British 
found themselves one state among many, but by 1818 they had become 
militarily dominant throughout the subcontinent. During this process 
of conquest Indians sank from undisputed rulers to the status of 
‘natives’, a conquered and subjugated people. This reordering of re- 
lationships created one of the most important dimensions to the overall 
context within which all social, religious, and cultural change took 
place; another was the fundamental needs of government perceived by 
the English as they themselves were transformed from merchants into 
bureaucrats and administrators. 

During the governorship of Warren Hastings (1772-85), as the Brit- 
ish began to accept their new role as rulers, policies and attitudes 
became apparent that dictated the outlines of cultural interaction 
within the emerging colonial milieu. The English of this period did not 
exhibit the sense of racial and cultural superiority so characteristic of 
the nineteenth century. For many, particularly Hastings and those 
senior officials who surrounded him, it was an era of excitement and 
discovery as they examined the civilization now under their control. 
With minds influenced by European classicism, the British turned to a 
study of Indian languages, literature, religion, and social structure. 
Underlying this scholarship was the assumption that English rule 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


would be transitory, lasting only until the indigenous culture had 
reclaimed its former pinnacle of achievement. English scholar-officials 
spoke of a ‘golden age’ of antiquity and contrasted this with contempo- 
rary decay. British scholarship and governance had as its task and 
justification the restoration of Indian civilization to its past purity. 
Thus the ‘Orientalist’ was born, a non-Indian scholar who explained 
and ordered the culture of South Asia. 

Hastings supported ‘Orientalism’ personally and through govern- 
mental policy. As the new rulers established an administrative struc- 
ture, they needed an expanding number of trained officials, both 
English and Indian. Under Hastings senior appointments were re- 
served for Englishmen who ‘demonstrated linguistic proficiency, a 
deep understanding of India and a sense of benevolent responsibility in 
regard to the Indian people’.* In 1781, he founded the Calcutta Madras- 
sah as a school for Muslim officials of the East India Company. The 
language of instruction at this school was Persian, the court language of 
the Bengal government and the Mughal Empire. Thus the British 
attempted to rule through the languages already in use by government 
and through their own version of European classicism, but they could 
not ignore the regional language. By the 1770s, it became necessary to 
reproduce government documents in Bengali, which was achieved after 
Robert B. Wray succeeded in casting Bengali type in 1778. 

In 1800, the Orientalist dream of an acculturated and linguistically 
proficient administrator found its concrete expression with the estab- 
lishment of Ft. William College. Lord Wellesley (1798-1805) created 
this ‘Oxford of the East’ to train civil servants. Scholars at the College 
translated ancient texts, wrote grammars, compiled dictionaries, and 
collected a library of manuscripts. With the expansion of British terri- 
tory, the vernacular languages became increasingly important. A 
knowledge of Sanskrit or Persian was of little use to a district official 
who had to communicate with the society around him. This need for 
command of the vernaculars led the government to seek aid from 
missionaries resident in the Danish enclave of Serampore. East India 
Company policy had forbidden missionaries from residing within 
Company territory. Because of this ban three Englishmen, W. Carey, 
J. Marshman and W. Ward, lived at Serampore. As Baptist missionaries 
they focused their attention on the vernaculars in order to reach, and 

8 David Kopf, Orientalism and the Bengal Renaissance: The Dynamics of Indian Modern- 
ization, 1773-1835 (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1969), p. 222. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


possibly convert, the ordinary Indian. By 1805 they could print works 
in Bengali, Urdu, Oriya, Tamil, Telugu, Kanarese, and Marathi. In this 
first decade of the nineteenth century various individuals and organiz- 
ations produced literature in both classical and vernacular languages. 
The shift of emphasis from classical to vernacular languages was fol- 
lowed by an increasing demand for the use of English as the language of 
administration and education. 

The question of which language should become the instrument of 
government and education was debated during the first three decades of 
the nineteenth century between the Orientalists and the ‘Anglicists’, 
who maintained that English was preferable to a revival of the classical 
languages and to the use of the vernaculars at the higher levels of 
education and administration. This debate was concluded in the 1830s 
under dramatically different circumstances from those of the later 
eighteenth century. By 1818-19, the British had annexed vast tracts of 
land with a variety of vernacular languages. Administration of this 
enlarged Empire could not be conducted solely in the vernaculars, but 
needed a single-link language understood by the ruling elite. The 
decision was already made by Lord Cornwallis when he created the 
Indian Civil Service and restricted it to Englishmen. His action pro- 
duced a uniform governing elite that used its own language. With the 
growth of bureaucracy the area of English language usage also ex- 
panded. Thus the British in India followed a pattern similar to other 
colonial powers who ruled through their own language. 

In 1813, with the twenty-year renewal of the East India Company 
Charter, two decisions were taken which affected both language and 
culture. The long-standing ban on missionaries was removed, allowing 
for a rapid penetration of Christian missionary organizations into 
Company territory. Also imbedded within the new Charter was an 
annual £10,000 expenditure of government funds for education. As a 
result, the different aims of the Orientalists and Anglicizers sparked a 
formal debate as to what kind of education, English or classical Indian, 
should be funded. During the governor-generalship of Lord William 
Bentinck (1828-35) this controversy was formally settled. In 1835, 
Thomas Babington Macaulay’s Minute on Education deprecated the 
use of South Asian languages and the study of Indian knowledge as 
useless. It was the duty of the British-Indian government to finance an 
education that was English in content and language. Macaulay envi- 
sioned the creation of a class that would act as a link between rulers and 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


ruled, as well as be a source of inexpensive manpower for the lower 
levels of the administration. Even before this debate was concluded, the 
transfer to English was well under way. In 1826 the government gave 
preference in junior law appointments to Indians with ‘suitable English 
certificates’.? Consequently a knowledge of English became the key to 
government service and to careers in a number of allied fields, such as 
law, medicine, teaching, business, and journalism — all forms of 
employment that brought individuals into regular contact with the new 

Indian response to new opportunities created by the British was 
determined largely by their place in pre-British society. At the height of 
the Orientalist period, scholars of Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, and of 
South Asian learning were hired by such institutions as Ft. William 
College. With the shift to English education those castes that were 
already literate supplied the students of this new language; in practice 
this meant primarily Bengali Hindus of the Brahman, Baidya, and 
Kayastha castes. In previous generations individuals from these groups 
mastered Persian to gain employment under the Mughal and post- 
Empire Muslim rulers. Now they learned English. 

By the second decade of the nineteenth century, a new anglicized 
elite began to create institutions to serve its own interests. In 1816, they 
founded the Hindu College. Instruction in this school included el- 
ements of both the Orientalist concern for classical languages and the 
Anglicizers’ desire to impart English education. Nearly half the student 
body studied western subjects and the English language even though 
they were not required to do so. In the following year, through the joint 
efforts of Indians and Englishmen, the Calcutta Book Society was 
established to provide inexpensive textbooks for elementary schools. 
The society also encouraged the creation of new elementary schools. 
The sole aim of the Calcutta School Society founded in 1818 was to 
promote education beyond that initiated by the government. In 1824 
they launched the Sanskrit College, an institution that also taught 
English and western science. Expansion of educational facilities pro- 
ceeded at a steady pace. In 1829, Gour Mohan Addy opened the 
Oriental Seminary, a Hindu-supported school that taught English 
language and literature, western mathematics, and sciences. Unlike 

9 Sufia Ahmed, Muslim Community in Bengal, 1884-1912 (Dacca, Oxford University Press, 
1974), P- 7- 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


some of the earlier schools, the Oriental Seminary was open to all 
castes. A third source of English education sponsored by the mis- 
sionaries reached a new degree of effectiveness and notoriety when 
Alexander Duff inaugurated his school in Calcutta. Duff offered a free 
English education for anyone who wished to attend. 

Acceptance of English education lay primarily among a small group 
of Indians clustered in Calcutta. They exhibited a variety of responses 
to English ideas, customs, and the implications of western civilization. 
Conservatives such as Radhakanta Deb, Rasamoy Dutta, and Ram- 
kanal Sen, who were all leaders in the Hindu Dharma Sabha, accepted 
the necessity of learning English, but attempted to limit the incorpor- 
ation of foreign culture within Hindu society.!° Opposed to them were 
cultural radicals who rejected Hindu social norms in favour of English 
culture and the secular rationalism imported from Europe. These 
young radicals were led by a Eurasian, Henry Louis Vivian Derozio 
(1809-31). Brilliant, an impressive speaker, a poet and teacher, Derozio 
was appointed instructor of English literature at the Hindu College in 
1826. Within two years his ardent disciples had begun publishing an 
English-language weekly, the Parthenon, which viciously attacked 
Hindu religion and society. An intense clash ensued between radical 
and conservative Hindus who, in the spring of 1831, succeeded in 
forcing Derozio to resign his post at the Hindu College. He retained his 
influence among students after his resignation, but died later that year 
at the age of twenty-two. 

The distance between Radhakanta Deb and Henry Derozio marked 
the differences between a minimal acceptance of the new culture and a 
maximal one. The radicals enthusiastically embraced all that was 
English — language, ideas, and customs such as beef-eating and hair- 
styles. Hindu conservatives, by contrast, wanted the practical ad- 
vantages afforded by a command of English, but were willing to make 
only those changes in customary behaviour needed to work with the 
new rulers. They defended the status quo from the external criticisms of 
the Christian missionaries and the internal attacks of Hindu radicals. 
For those who lived and worked within the sphere of this new power 
and its accompanying culture, that is, within the colonial milieu, they 
had no choice but to examine a set of questions that affected their lives. 

10 Salahuddin A. F. Ahmed, Social Ideas and Social Change in Bengal, 1818-1835 (Leiden, 
E. J. Brill, 1965), p. 166. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


These queries ranged from the fundamentals of religious belief to the 
practical aspects of daily living as was shown by the first socio-religious 
movement that arose within the colonial milieu of Bengal. 


The Brahmo Samaj 

The unfolding of Hindu acculturative movements began with the 
career of a Bengali Brahman, Rammohun Roy (1772-1833). He was 
born into a world of diverse cultural influences. His father’s family 
followed Chaitanya, and his mother was a worshipper of divine female 
power. Professionally the Roys had served under Muslim rulers and so 
were among the Persianized members of the Hindu elite. This tie to 
non-Hindu government gave them a somewhat lowered status, as they 
were not counted among the purest of the Brahmanical community. 
Roy learned Bengali as his mother tongue, but also studied Persian in 
preparation for future employment and Sanskrit as befitted his priestly 
rank.!' Young Roy questioned orthodox beliefs, and consequently 
came into conflict with his parents. The year after his father’s death in 
1803, Roy published his religious views in a Persian tract, Tohfat 
al-Muwabhiddin (A Gift to Deists, 1804), making public his criticisms 
of idolatry and polytheism. Roy had already entered the world of 
private banking and from there he was drawn into the colonial milieu, 
for his clients included several English officers. He began to learn 
English and spent nine years working for the East India Company. He 
retired in 1814 and afterwards turned his energies to issues of social 
custom and religious belief. 

The most dramatic question of Roy’s varied career, and one that 
concerned him for the remainder of his life, was the rite of sati, the 
immolation of Hindu widows on their husbands’ funeral pyre. Sati was 
not practised widely throughout the Hindu community, but it was 
strong among the higher castes in Bengal. Roy had been deeply upset, 
when one of his female relatives committed sati. In 1818, he published 
A Conference Between an Advocate for and an Opponent Of the 

"Several accounts state that Rammohun Roy was sent to Patna for training in Arabic and 
Persian, and then to Benares for study in Sanskrit. There is, however, no conclusive evidence 
on these points. See ibid., pp. 33-4. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Practice of Burning Widows Alive. Roy cited scriptural sources to 
justify his contention that sat? was not required by Hindu law and was 
instead an erroneous accretion; an example of degenerate Hinduism. 
Orthodox Hindus were appalled by his condemnation of what they 
considered a proper and necessary ritual. Englishmen, particularly 
Christian missionaries, joined in this debate calling for a government 
ban on sati. Finally in 1829, after much hesitation, the British-Indian 
government outlawed sati. The law was challenged by orthodox 
Hindus and placed before the Privy Council for final decision. Roy 
travelled to England to give evidence in this case and also before 
Parliamentary hearings on the proposed Reform Act. It was on this trip 
that he died and was buried in England. Sati as an issue led Roy into the 
general question of women’s rights, particularly the need for women’s 
education. The other major role of his thinking revolved around the 
delineation of proper Hindu belief. 

Roy’s adherence to theism and his rejection of idolatry, Brahman 
priests, and their rituals, sketched the basic outlines of his recon- 
structed Hinduism; for, to him, God and his existence were proven by 
the complexity of reality. Rather like European rationalists, Roy envi- 
sioned God as the ‘almighty superintendent of the universe’.!? This 
rational and highly ethical vision of Hinduism had been lost over the 
centuries through the unfortunate influence of Brahman priests. Roy 
would return Hinduism to its past purity. Once proper belief was 
re-established, erroneous customs such as sati, the debarring of women 
from education, elaborate and useless rituals, idolatry and polytheism 
would disappear. Roy based his vision of interpretation of Hinduism 
on the Vedas, Upanishads, and the Vedanta-Sutra. His own writings 
elaborated on the validity of these texts and the revised Hinduism they 
justified. With this approach he transformed the ‘sins’ of Hinduism 
into mere errors caused by ignorance.' He also attempted to legitimize 
his arguments on the basis of reason and social utility. For Roy, religion 
could not be judged solely on its own internal scriptural evidence, but it 

2 D. H. Killingley, “Vedant and modernity’ in C. H. Philips and Mary D. Wainwright 
(eds.), Indian Society and the Beginnings of Modernization c. 1830-1850 (London, School of 
Oriental and African Studies, 1976), p. 132. 

‘3. John Morearty, ‘The two-edged word: the treacherousness of symbolic transformation: 
Rammohun Roy, Debendranath, Vivekananda and “The Indian Golden Age” in Warren 
Gunderson (ed.), Studies on Bengal (East Lansing, Michigan, Asian Studies Center, Michigan 
State University, 1976), p. 89. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


must also be measured by reason and shown to be free of contradiction 
and functioning to uphold a beneficial social order." 

Rammohun Roy substituted scriptures for priests as the sources of 
proper knowledge. This doctrine stimulated the translations of the 
Upanishads and of the Vedanta-Sutras into the vernacular languages as 
well as into English. It also meant an increased use of printing to make 
these texts and his own writings available to all who might wish to read 
them. This ended the prohibition against any but the first three varnas 
from reading the most sacred of Hindu literature. Now women, peas- 
ants, untouchables, and non-Hindus could read and study the sacred 
scriptures. In 1821, while struggling with the Serampore missionaries, 
Roy established his first journal, the bilingual Brabmmunical Maga- 
zine, to broadcast his opinions to a literate audience. Soon a number of 
individuals and associations had their own journals, tracts, and trans- 
lations. Religious debates were conducted in public by anyone who 
wished to do so. Although orthodox leaders complained about Roy’s 
arrogance in assuming he could define proper Hindu belief and custom, 
they had no alternative but to meet him in the new arena of public 
religious disputation. 

Roy rejected missionary claims to superiority by pointing out that 
Christianity too was laced with superstition and error. If its absurdities 
were removed what remained was a ‘simple code of religion and moral- 
ity ... so admirably calculated to elevate men’s ideas to high and liberal 
notions of one God’.'5 He had the greatest respect for ethical Christian- 
ity; however, it was in no way superior to ethical Hinduism. Thus Roy 
pursued equivalence as the basic relationship between the two 

Hindu orthodoxy expressed its opposition to Roy’s condemnation 
of contemporary religion through the Hindu Dharma Sabha founded 
in 1830. Yet this was not an organization of strictly orthodox pundits. 
Most of those involved in the Sabha were closely connected with the 
English government, and in order to achieve their goals they borrowed 
the organizational techniques of the West as well as the new technology 
of printing. The programme of the Dharma Sabha was aimed at limiting 
the intrusion of English culture. For them, Roy appeared as going too 

4 James N. Pankratz, ‘Rammohun Roy’ in Robert D. Baird (ed.), Religion in Modern 
India (New Delhi, Manohar, 1981), pp. 165-7, 172. 

8 J. N. Farquhar, Modern Religious Movements in India (New York, Macmillan Com- 
pany, 1919), p. 32. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


far in his willingness to change Hinduism and demonstrated too great 
an acceptance of Christian concepts. 

Roy first attempted to establish an organizational base for his ideas 
when in 1815 he founded the Atmiya Sabha (Friendly Association). 
This was a private society that held weekly meetings at his residence. 
Members recited Hindu scriptures, sang hymns, and held discussions 
on religions and social issues.'* The society ceased meeting sometime in 
1819. Nine years later Roy organized the Brahmo Sabha that met for 
the first time on 20 August 1828. The Sabha gathered every Saturday 
evening from seven o’clock to nine o’clock. The service consisted of 
selections from the Upanishads first chanted in Sanskrit and then 
translated into Bengali, a sermon in Bengali and the singing of theistic 
hymns. Anyone who wished to could attend, but those who did were 
almost all Bengali Brahmans. At this time there was no membership, no 
creed, and no formal organization. 

On 23 January 1830, the Sabha began its tenure in a new building 
erected by Roy and his supporters. A Trust Deed filed by Roy provided 
a sketchy statement of principles for the Sabha. It included a reaffir- 
mation of egalitarianism, Roy’s concept of the deity, ‘the Eternal 
Unsearchable and Immutable Being who is the Author and Preserver of 
the Universe’,’” a prohibition of all forms of idolatry and sacrifice, anda 
ban on criticism of other religious beliefs and practices. Roy did not 
elaborate on these principles. In November 1830 he left for England, 
and after his death in 1833 the young Brahma Sabha faded almost to 

Rammohun Roy’s organization was revived by Debendranath Tagore 
(1817~1905), whose family were also Brahmans who had worked for 
the Muslim rulers of Bengal, and became associated with the British, 
and wealthy landowners as a result of the Permanent Settlement. 
Tagore experienced a religious crisis in 1838 and the following year 
formed the Tattvabodhini Sabha (Truth-Teaching Association), a so- 
ciety that held weekly religious discussions and monthly worship. He 
and his new organization accepted Vedanta, as had Roy, but in contrast 
emphasized the superiority of Hinduism. Tagore struggled with mis- 
sionaries in general and Alexander Duff in particular.'8 In 1840, the 

16 [bid., p. 31; Ahmed, Social Ideas and Social Change, p. 35. 

'? Farquhar, Modern Religious Movements, p. 35. 

18 Warren M. Gunderson, ‘The fate of religion in modern India: the cases of Rammohun 
Roy and Debendranath Tagore’ in Gunderson, Studies on Bengal, p. 136. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Tattvabodhini School was established to counter Duff’s own insti- 
tution. Tagore began publication of the Tattvabodhini Patrika in 1843, 
a newspaper that quickly became a forum for religious discussions and 
an outspoken critic of the missionaries. As a result Tagore gained a 
major voice in the propagation of theistic Hinduism. In spite of his 
success with the Tattvabodhini Sabha, he decided to revive the Brahmo 

Debendranath Tagore and a number of his friends joined the Brahmo 
Sabha in 1842, but it was a year later that he began to restore the Sabha 
by bringing to it a degree of structure and ideological coherence. He 
wrote the Brahma Covenant, a creedal statement that listed the basic 
obligations of membership and changed the name to the Brahmo Samaj. 
On 21 December 1843, he took an oath to accept the Covenant along 
with twenty of his friends. In 1850, he released a volume of scriptures, 
the Brahma Dharma, for use in public and private worship. Finally in 
1861, Tagore revised the Hindu life-cycle rituals, giving them a particu- 
lar Brahmo form; however, he did not deviate significantly from the 
Hindu sacraments already in existence. 

Under Tagore’s leadership and through the dynamism introduced by 
a new generation of Bengali youths, the Brahmo Samaj began to expand 
out of Calcutta into the cities of eastern Bengal. In 1846, a branch of the 
Samaj was opened in Dacca and during the next two decades the 
Brahmos continued to spread throughout the East. During the 1850s 
and 1860s young Bengalis were attracted to the Brahmo Samaj. They 
brought with them a restlessness, a sharp rejection of their parents’ 
values, and a militancy not found among the older Brahmos. One man, 
Keshab Chandra Sen, stood out among these young disciples. Sen 
(1838-84) was born into a respectable Vaishnavite family of the Baidya 
caste. He received an English education and worked for the Bank of 
Bengal. By 1857, he had joined the Brahmo Samaj and by 1859 became 
an active worker. He was an impressive speaker who soon grew into an 
outstanding spokesman among the younger members of the Samaj and 
a close associate of Debendranath Tagore. 

In 1860, Sen founded the Sangat Sabhas (Believer’s Associations). 
These were small discussion groups that met weekly, but his energetic 
disciples soon showed a preference for action rather than talk. Their 
militancy led them to abandon caste and the sacred thread, to practise 
temperance, and work for the equality of women. Their desire to 
combine belief and action emerged from the study of Hindu and 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Christian writings. Sen’s disciples increased during the 1860s, bringing 
with them a drive for social radicalism and a growing missionary 
programme throughout Bengal. There was also a widening gulf be- 
tween the younger and older members of the Samaj. 

In 1862 Sen and his followers secretly celebrated an intercaste mar- 
riage, but in 1864 they sponsored an intercaste marriage that was also a 
widow remarriage, and did so publicly. The more conservative Brah- 
mos were shocked and orthodoxy horrified.'? Two years later Sen 
embarked on a grand tour of Madras and Bombay where he dissemi- 
nated Brahmo ideology to members of the English-educated elite in 
these two major cities. His success as a dynamic leader brought the 
Samaj to new heights of expansion, and also to the edge of internal 
conflict. On 5 October 1864, the Samaj building was damaged by a 
cyclone and weekly meetings were shifted to the Tagore residence. 
Debendranath Tagore allowed those conducting the services to wear 
their sacred threads. Sen objected and in 1865 withdrew with his section 
of the Samaj. This division along generational and ideological lines was 
formalized on 15 November 1866, when Sen organized the Brahmo 
Samaj of India. Those loyal to Tagore grouped themselves into the Adi 
(original) Brahmo Samaj.?° 

The Adi Samaj depended on Tagore’s leadership and reflected his 
own values. He saw the Samaj as strictly a religious organization 
defined by ritual and theology. He had little or no interest in social 
reform and devoted much of his attention to the defence of Hinduism 
from missionary criticisms. With its conservative orientation, the Adi 
Samaj objected to the proposed Brahmo Marriage Act of 1872, for it 
illustrated one of their constant fears, namely that they might be 
estranged from the community of Hindus. Concerned with defending 
Hinduism and remaining within it, the Adi Samaj drifted back towards 
contemporary Hinduism, becoming a small sect dependent on the 
person of Debendranath Tagore and comprised heavily of his close 
friends and relatives. With his death in 1905 the effective role of the Adi 
Brahmo Samaj came to an end. 

Keshab Chandra Sen emerged from the break with Tagore as a 
dramatic leader who appealed to young Bengali Hindus in revolt 

19 Pradip Sinha, Nineteenth Century Bengal, Aspects of Social History (Calcutta, Firma 
K. L. Mukhopadhyay, 1965), p. 121. 

20 For a background on the split, see Sivanatha Sastri, History of the Brahmo Samaj (2 vols., 
Calcutta, R. Chatterjee, 1911), vol. 1, pp. 151-2, 158-60; also David Kopf, The Brahmo Samaj 
and the Shaping of the Modern Indian Mind (Princeton University Press, 1979), p. 229. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


against contemporary religion. During the 1860s and 1870s a stream of 
recruits, often fleeing their families and their own excommunication, 
flowed towards Calcutta. Under Sen’s tutelage, the Samaj won converts 
primarily from the villages and towns of eastern Bengal. The Brahmos 
also generated religious conflict between themselves and Hindu 
orthodoxy. By 1868, sixty-five Samaj branches were operating in the 
eastern section of the province; almost all of them allied to Keshab’s 
movement. The Brahmo Samaj of India had by then twenty-four 
missionaries who were organized two years later into the Sri Durbar, 
an ‘apostolic body of elders and teachers’.2! They were effective 
in convincing villagers who had not been influenced by English edu- 
cation or urban values. As a group they followed the example of 
Bijoy Krishna Goswami, a Brahmo who stressed the religious nature of 
the Samaj and provided a dramatically different model of living from 
Sen with his love of ostentation and ceremony. As a result there 
gradually came into existence a division within the Samaj between 
religious ascetics and the majority who used their rationality 
and emancipation to live a more materially successful life. In 1870, 
Sen left for England where he toured, lectured, and met Queen Vic- 
toria. On his return, he demonstrated an increased interest in social 
action intended to restructure the society and customs of Bengal. He 
organized the Indian Reform Association with the intent of improving 
the life of the peasants and to reach them he published a journal, Sulabh 
Samachar, written in simple Bengali prose. As a result a new faction 
coalesced around those members most enthusiastically dedicated to 
social action. 

By 1872, Sen’s organization had expanded throughout much of the 
subcontinent. Branches of the Samaj extended through Bihar, the 
United Provinces, and had reached as far as the Punjab. The Samaj also 
penetrated Assam, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, and possessed limited 
influence in the South and West. Of the 101 Samajes that existed by 
1872, the vast number were located in Bengal, and those founded 
elsewhere largely rested on communities of Bengalis who had travelled 
outside of their province to find employment. 

In the early 1870s the Samaj was rocked by controversy over a 
legislative proposal, the Brahmo Marriage Act, passed in 1872. The law 
legalized Brahmo marriages, but did so by declaring that Brahmos were 

21 Kopf, The Brahmo Samaj, p. 229. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


not Hindus and so were not subject to Hindu law. The social radicals 
had fought for this since it provided both a civil marriage freed from 
Hindu rituals, as well as a legalization of intercaste marriages. The 
controversy generated by the marriage bill was accompanied by other 
points of conflict, as radicals attempted to introduce further changes in 
the role of women. One such radical, Durga Mohun, proposed that 
women be allowed to sit with their relatives during services at the 
Brahmo temple. Sen argued against this and, following this debate, 
turned away from his advocacy of social change. After 1875 he demon- 
strated a new interest in strictly religious issues by organizing a seminar 
to study different religions and their prophets. Here he found Brahmos 
from the ascetic faction who gladly joined in this project. 

By 1875—6, Keshab Chandra Sen had begun to focus on anew type of 
Brahmoism that contained elements of ecstatic religious experience and 
shaktism (the worship of female power). He met Ramakrishna Parama- 
hansa, a Bengali mystic who may have furthered his involvement in 
devotional worship. So the rift deepened between Sen, who had drawn 
closer to the ascetics within the Samaj, and the social activists. This 
polarization led to a disagreement over the role of Sen as leader of the 
Samaj. His critics demanded the creation of a constitution and some 
degree of representation by members of the Samaj. Tensions erupted in 
February 1878 when he announced the marriage of his daughter to the 
Maharaja of Cuch Bihar. This marriage violated the Brahmo Marriage 
Act because of her youth and the proposed use of idolatrous ritual. On 
15 May 1878, the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj was founded by Brahmos 
who rejected Sen’s leadership. 

Sen continued to move in the direction of bhakti and of a uni- 
versalistic religious ideology. In February 1880, he called upon his 
supporters to create a religious revival and underscored his message by 
leading a procession through the streets of Calcutta. Equipped with 
flags, musical instruments and singing hymns, Sen and his disciples 
marched in the fashion of Chaitanya’s devotional Vaishnavism. Sen’s 
ideas moved towards an attempt to synthesize the world’s religions, 
blending elements of different faiths into a single set of rituals and 
beliefs. In January 1881, he founded the Nava Vidhan (New Dis- 
pensation) symbolized by a red banner bearing the name of his church 
plus the Hindu trident, the Christian cross, and the Islamic crescent. 
Two months later he introduced the Christian Eucharist, substituting 
rice and water for bread and wine. As part of his efforts a newspaper, 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


called the New Dispensation, appeared in March 1881, and in 1884 a 
new code, the Nava Samhita, replaced the existing Brahma Dharma. 
Keshab Chandra Sen died later in 1884 and the movement quickly 
broke under the impact of factionalism. The future of the Brahmo 
Samaj rested instead with the Sadharan Samaj. It inherited the majority 
of branch samajes within and beyond Bengal. It also continued a 
programme of social action and rationalistic religion. 

The Sadharan Samaj maintained its weekly Sunday services, the 
Brahmo Young Men’s Union, the Sanghat Sabhas, and Sevak Mandala 
(Service Society). In 1891, it opened the Das Ashram, a welfare insti- 
tution for untouchables, and the Brahmo Girls School of Calcutta. 
Throughout the last two decades of the nineteenth century, it founded 
small hospitals, orphanages, a leper asylum, offered legal aid to op- 
pressed women, and began a mission movement among the Khasi hill 
tribes. The Sadharan Samaj allied with the movement of Verasalingam, 
a Telugu reformer, in Andhra, with groups in Bangalore, and also 
continued to expand in Bengal.?? Protap Chandra Majumdar, a leader 
of the Brahmo Samaj, carried the ideas of the Sadharan Samaj to 
England and America in 1874, 1884, and again in 1893 at the Chicago 
World Parliament of Religions. In spite of its missionary efforts, the 
Sadharan Brahmo Samaj remained a relatively small elite organization. 

The Brahmo Samaj, an acculturative movement among Bengali 
Hindus, was led by members of the English-educated elite and sup- 
ported by them. It originated within the colonial environment of 
Calcutta and flowed out to other cities, then towns, following a line of 
Bengali emigrants north-west to the Punjab. It was carried to the South 
and West as well by Brahmos leaders. The acculturated ideology of 
Brahmoism with its reinterpreted Hinduism, western organizational 
forms of a voluntary religious association with congregational meet- 
ings, society officers, missionaries, a creed, printed literature and bank 
accounts, also reached to the far South and to the west coast through the 
travels of its leaders. There societies of the Samaj were founded or the 
Samaj was imitated by local members of the educated Anglicized elites. 
Thus the Brahmos provided a new Hinduism and a model of religious 
organization to others within the colonial milieu. Their own movement 
split into three different directions, the Adi Samaj back towards the 
parent religion, the New Dispensation towards a cult centred on the 

22 Ibid., p. 330. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


person of Keshab Chandra Sen and focusing on elements of the bhakti 
past, and the Sadharan Samaj that held to the original teachings of 
Rammohun Roy. Beginning in the 1880s, educated Bengalis moved 
away from Brahmo ideology and the social programme it attempted to 
implement. The Sadharan Brahmo Samaj continued to function in the 
twentieth century, but new trends of thought, both religious and 
secular, appealed to young men who were once attracted to 

Bijoy Krishna Goswami and the Vaishnavite revival 

The religious career of Bijoy Krishna illustrates the interaction between 
pre-British culture and the new world of the colonial milieu. Bijoy was 
born on 2 August 1841 in Santipur, a village in eastern Bengal. His 
family worked as hereditary priests of the Chaitanya sect. They were 
deeply religious, orthodox, and unaffected by western culture or the 
new education. As a child Bijoy shared in this religiosity. He was 
devoted to the idol of Krishna and would fall into ecstatic trances. The 
young Brahman studied a traditional curriculum in the local elemen- 
tary and high school. Yet there was a restlessness and questioning in the 
young Brahman. He felt uncomfortable in his expected role as a priest 
and guru with the result that he left home in 1859 to attend the Sanskrit 
College in Calcutta.23 Here as a poor student he met Debendranath 
Tagore who gave him financial aid and drew him into the Brahmo 
Samaj. Tagore became his religious preceptor and also funded his study 
at the Calcutta Medical College. 

Exposed to western ideas and the Samaj, Bijoy intensified his ques- 
tioning of Hindu institutions and beliefs. By 1860 he began attending 
the Brahmo services and enthusiastically entered this movement to the 
point of abandoning his sacred thread, an act that led to a break with his 
family and to his being excommunicated by his caste brotherhood. 
Bijoy participated in the Sangat Sabha in 1861 and its theological 
discussions. He accepted the leadership of Keshab Chandra Sen and 
became a successful Brahmo missionary. Bijoy, however, was uneasy in 
his Brahmoism. He clashed with Tagore in 1864 over the latter’s 
attempt to reinstate the sacred thread and in 1866 he followed Sen into 
the newly founded Brahmo Samaj of India. Two years later Bijoy 

2 Alexander Lipski, ‘Vijay Krsna Goswami: reformer and traditionalist’, Journal of Indian 
History, 52, no. 1 (1974); pp. 209, 213; Kopf, The Brahmo Samaj, p. 220. Lipski’s article is the 
standard source for this section; if others are used they will be cited. 

* Kopf, The Brahmo Samaj, p. 219. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


criticized Sen for ‘avatarism’, a concept that arose from Sen’s insistence 
that he was the ‘Saviour’ of Hinduism.” Bijoy’s partial disillusionment 
with the Samaj led him to study the Chaitanya Caritamrita, a biog- 
raphy of the great bhakti saint, under the guidance of Harimohun 
Pramanil. Bijoy visited various Vaishnava gurus but did not break with 
the Samaj. Instead in 1869 he returned to his work as a Brahmo 
missionary, yet Bijoy increasingly blended devotional Vaishnavism as 
taught by Chaitanya with his own concept of Brahmoism. 

Bijoy made eastern Bengal his own special sphere, winning new 
disciples from that area. In 1872 he organized the Bharat Ashram, 
where advanced devotees lived together while searching for spiritual 
enlightenment. Three years later he met Swami Ramakrishna Parama- 
hansa whose influence stirred Bijoy to reconsider his view on monothe- 
ism, the role of gurus, and the worship of the goddess Kali. Still, he did 
not leave Brahmoism, although he did abandon Sen and join the newly 
founded Sadharan Samaj. Bijoy, however, remained unsatisfied with 
Brahmo ideology and with its leaders, particularly Sivanath Shastri and 
Ananda Mohan Bose. After searching for a guru able to satisfy his 
spiritual quest, Bijoy met Brahmananda Paramahansa, a Punjabi Brah- 
man, who initiated him into sanyas, the formal stage of a renunciant, 
under the name of Swami Hariharananda Saraswati. Bijoy left his 
concern for social service for the study of yogas and bhakti, as he 
returned to worshipping the idols of Radha, Krishna, and Durga. He, 
too, became a guru and accepted his own disciples. His Brahmo col- 
leagues reacted adversely to Bijoy’s new religious style and launched an 
investigation of him on 17 May 1886. Asa result Bijoy left the Sadharan 
Samaj and from 1888-97 he lived in Dacca at his own ashram. Bijoy 
became a minister in the east Bengal Brahmo Samaj, an organization 
that was independent of the other Brahmo Samajes, but in 1889 he 
finally broke completely with the Brahmo movement and began his 
career as a spokesman of revived Vaishnavism. In 1890, he visited 
Brindaban and Mathura and four years later travelled to Allahabad for 
the festival of Kumba Mela. In March 1897, he left Bengal for Puri 
where he died even as his religious hero, Chaitanya, had done centuries 

Bijoy Krishna Goswami’s life had been a circular pilgrimage from his 
orthodox Vaishnavism through the Brahmo Samajes of Tagore, Sen and 

2 [bid., p. 221. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


the Sadharans, returning finally to the devotional Vaishnavism of Chai- 
tanya. In the process he did not found a single structured movement, 
but he did inspire a revival of Vaishnavism through his disciples such as 
Bipan Chandra Pal and the religious literature they produced. Pal was 
an English-educated Brahman who joined the Brahmo Samaj, but after 
a visit to the United States became disillusioned with the West and the 
Samaj. In 1895, Bijoy Krishna initiated Pal as his own disciple.” This 
drift away from Brahmo ideals toward a revival of orthodox Vaishnava 
bhakti paralleled Keshab Chandra Sen’s own path as well as the rise of 
nationalism and the emergence of another socio-religious movement 
that combined defence of Hinduism, social service, and a restructuring 
of ancient monasticism. 

The Ramakrishna Math and Mission 

The history of this acculturative socio-religious movement began with 
the birth of Gadadhar Chatterji on 18 February 1836, in the Hughli 
district of Bengal. He was born into an orthodox but poor Brahman 
family. During his youth, Gadadhar demonstrated both a restlessness 
and a fascination with religion. He received no formal education but 
found employment at the newly established Dakshineshwar Temple 
located just outside Calcutta. Gadadhar served as one of the priests who 
conducted the worship of Kali, the divine goddess. The young Gadad- 
har began to withdraw from his ritual duties, and devoted his time 
instead to meditation. He would sink into states of apparent un- 
consciousness and occasionally burst forth into extreme religious ec- 
stasy. In 1859, Gadadhar’s relatives attempted to turn him away from 
his preoccupation with personal religion by arranging his marriage. 
This strategy failed to change the young man’s behaviour. Gadadhar 
abandoned his priestly duties and instead proceeded with his search for 
a direct, mystical union with God. 

During the 1860s he studied with a Bhairavi Brahmani, a wandering 
female ascetic who instructed him in the Tantras, then with a north 
Indian Vaishnava mystic, and finally with Tota Puri, a devotee of 
Shankaracharya. Tota Puri initiated Gadadhar into sanyds, and gave 
him the name Ramakrishna. He next turned to an exploration of 
religions other than Hinduism. Ramakrishna studied Sufism and 
played the role of a Muslim in his dress, prayers, and total behaviour. 

26 Alexander Lipski, ‘Bipanchandra Pal and reform Hinduism’, History of Religion, 11, no. 
2 (Nov. 1971), p. 229; also Farquhar, Modern Religious Movements, pp. 294-5. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Using similar techniques, he explored Christianity with the result that 
he had visions of both Christ and the Madonna. Ramakrishna acted out 
other roles such as Radha, the wife of Lord Krishna. In this instance he 
dressed and behaved as a Hindu woman. By 1871, Ramakrishna 
appears to have achieved a degree of inner peace. His young wife, 
Sarada Devi, joined him and in 1872 he worshipped her as the Divine 
Mother, transforming their marriage into a spiritual partnership.”” 

By the early 1870s, Ramakrishna was beginning to attract a small 
group of disciples, mainly young men, who found in him a nurturant, 
non-judgmental teacher. Many of them came from the growing 
number of English-educated. He provided a refuge from the strains, 
both cultural and psychological, generated from this educational ex- 
perience. The disciples gathered, Ramakrishna talked, and occasionally 
they raised questions or spoke of their own doubts and needs. Rama- 
krishna did not teach a structured set of ideas. Two themes, however, 
ran through his discussions, the universality of all religions — all were 
true and led to God, and a corresponding logical conclusion that beliefs 
and rituals of Hinduism should be preserved. If all religions were true 
there existed no reason for criticism or conversion.?® The teachings of 
Ramakrishna were popularized by Keshab Chandra Sen after 1875 
when the two met for the first time. In 1882 one of the disciples, 
Mahendranath Gupta, began to record his teacher’s conversations and 
continued to do this until Ramakrishna’s death in 1886. 

While Mahendranath prepared a written record of Ramakrishna’s 
teachings, another disciple, Narendranath Datta, arrived. Narendra- 
nath was born on 12 January 1863. His father was a successful lawyer 
who saw to it that his son received an English education. The young 
Narendranath graduated from the Mission College in Calcutta and 
then began to study law. Like many of his generation, he was attracted 
to and joined the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj, but in 1882 Narendranath 
met Ramakrishna. The holy man was far more drawn to the student 
than vice versa, but after the deaths of Keshab Chandra Sen and of 
Narendranath’s father in the early months of 1884, the bond between 
Ramakrishna and his new disciple grew much stronger. Narendra- 
nath’s indecision as to whether to accept or reject this new guru finally 

27 Farquhar, Modern Religious Movements, pp. 188-94; Swami Gambhirananda, History 
of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission (Calcutta, Advaita Ashrama, 1957), pp. 8-12. 

28 Leo Schneiderman, ‘Ramakrishna: personality and social factors in the growth of a 
religious movement’, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 8 (Spring, 1969), 62-8. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


ended in June 1885 when he participated in the annual festival of 
worship dedicated to the goddess Kali. In October 1885 Ramakrishna 
fell ill and was moved to Calcutta. His disciples went along to care for 
their guru. Narendranath organized his fellow devotees in their task 
and tried to bring a degree of order to their lives. When Ramakrishna 
lay near death he charged the young disciple to ‘teach my boys’ and 
‘keep them together’. On 16 August 1886 Ramakrishna died, leaving a 
vacuum in leadership and no central point of authority. Some of the 
disciples remained, lived together, and centred their attention on a 
search for release from the cycle of rebirth. Others roamed from one 
pilgrimage centre to another occasionally returning to Calcutta. There 
was little organization or discipline and those who lived together 
demonstrated an essentially orthodox pattern of religious activity. 
Narendranath attempted to engage them in a social programme focused 
on the education of women and peasants, the improvement of agricul- 
ture, and a campaign against child marriage. He failed and in 1890 
abandoned his fellow monks. Narendranath sought aid from Hindu 
princes during the years 1890-3. In 1892 he travelled down the western 
coast of India and through the South where at the suggestion of the Raja 
of Khetri he took the name Swami Vivekananda. Having heard about 
the proposed World Parliament of Religions, Vivekananda raised funds 
for his travel expenses to the United States. He left Bombay on 31 May 
1893 and arrived in Chicago on 11 September. Vivekananda did not 
return to India again until early 1897. 

Swami Vivekananda’s four years in the West greatly changed his 
position in contemporary Hinduism. News reached India of his success 
at the World Parliament and of his travels throughout the United States 
and England. He received a warm welcome from westerners, consider- 
able publicity, and a small but growing circle of disciples. Vivekananda 
founded several Vedanta societies that disseminated his ideas. They also 
generated financial assistance both abroad and at home in India. The 
success of Swami Vivekananda stirred many Hindus with an example of 
spiritual superiority attested to by westerners themselves. From his 
new-found status as a Hindu celebrity, Vivekananda wrote extensively 
to the monks he had left behind, urging them to take up an active 
programme of social service with the promise that he would send them 
the necessary financial assistance. 

When he arrived at Colombo in January 1897, Vivekananda was 
accompanied by a group of western disciples. He travelled north to 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Calcutta in a triumphant procession. As soon as he had rejoined the 
monks, Vivekananda began to mould them according to his own ideas 
and priorities. He had been extremely impressed with the institutions 
he observed on his travels and wanted to establish an organization of 
Hindu monks along similar lines. He encountered considerable oppo- 
sition, but managed, on 1 May 1897, to establish the Ramakrishna 
Mission. Using money collected in the West, Vivekananda purchased 
property for anew monastery, the Belur Math. He became president of 
this organization and Swami Brahmananda accepted the office as head 
of the new monastery. Vivekananda next created rules and regulations 
for the monastery. He also opened a second math at Mayavati in the 
Himalayas. Using his financial resources, Vivekananda introduced a 
famine relief programme, the first concrete expression of his concept of 
social service. Within a few months he had transformed the small group 
of devotees into the nucleus of a new organization devoted to a Hindu 
social gospel.” 

Unfortunately Vivekananda’s health worsened steadily. He suffered 
from diabetes and, in 1898, was advised to return to the West. Viveka- 
nanda reached New York in August 1899. He travelled throughout the 
United States, returned to England, and in 1900 visited the Congress of 
Religions held in Paris. In December 1900 Vivekananda returned to 
Belur Math, but his health was considerably worse from his incessant 
travels. He acted almost immediately to invest legal control over the 
growing organization and its property in a Board of Trustees. An 
election was held and on 12 February, Swami Brahmananda became 
president after Vivekananda resigned from that office. On 4 July 1902, 
Vivekananda died at the age of forty, leaving behind him a new type of 
Hindu religious organization, a blending of traditional monasticism 
and imported institutional concepts. 

Vivekananda’s vision of Hinduism was deeply divided between its 
glorious past and a degenerate present. In this he shared the perceptions 
of Rammohun Roy and other Hindu thinkers of the nineteenth cen- 
tury. Hindus were filled with superstition, with the trivia of elaborate 
rituals, rent by jealousy of anyone who might attempt to provide 
leadership or direction, and ‘possessing the malicious nature befitting a 

27 Cyrus R. Pangborn, ‘The Ramakrishna Math and Mission: a case study of a revital- 
ization movement’ in Bardwell L. Smith (ed.), Hinduism, New Essays in the History of 
Religions (Leiden, E. J. Brill, 1982), p. 113. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


slave’.>° Repeatedly he described a lack of manliness among Hindus and 
a feminine passivity. In disgust he blamed this on devotion to such 
figures as Radha, chief lover of Lord Krishna, with the result that ‘the 
whole nation has become effeminate — a race of women!’ The present 
state of Hindu decline stemmed from ignorance and their position as a 
subjugated people. Underlying Vivekananda’s anxieties over Hindu 
degeneracy was the fear of possible extinction as conversion reduced 
the size of the Hindu community. 

To counter this depressing description of contemporary life Viveka- 
nanda offered a complex set of ideas. First, he spoke of a past age of 
glory, of success, when Hindus acted as teachers to a world dependent 
on their spirituality. To Vivekananda the one universal religion was 
Vedanta, an expression of Hindu spiritual supremacy. He linked this 
concept to a dualistic division of the world between East and West. The 
West had positive achievements in the freedom and respect given 
women, in its emphasis on work, its organizational talents, and in its 
high level of material prosperity. It was, as well, ‘gross, material, selfish 
and sensual’.*! Vivekananda labelled the West as materialistic and con- 
trasted it with a spiritual East by which he meant India and Hinduism. 
Technology, a work ethic, and new forms of organization were to be 
integrated into Hindu culture, for they were merely techniques. In turn 
Hindus would transfer their spirituality to the West. “This is the great 
ideal before us, and everyone must be ready for it — the conquest of the 
world by India ... Up, India, conquer the world with our 

The restored Hinduism that Vivekananda wished for was not based 
on social criticism, but on selfless action by the dedicated followers of 
Ramakrishna, who would find their salvation through social service, 
and at the same time prove the superiority of their beliefs. Begun with 
the teachings of a traditional sanyasi, this socio-religious movement 
drew into it young members of the English-educated elite thus creating 
an acculturative movement. It also proved to be successful among 
non-Hindus of the West under Vivekananda’s leadership and in so 
doing was the first Hindu movement to explore a totally new source of 

30 Eknath Ranade (comp.), Swami Vivekananda’s Rousing Call to the Nation (Calcutta, 
Centenary Publication, 1963). Quotes in this paragraph are from pages 26, 126, 94, and ro1, 

» [bid., p. 61. 

3% Prabha Dixit, ‘The political and social dimensions of Vivekananda’s ideology’, Indian 
Economic and Social History Review, 12, no. 3 (July-Sept. 1975), 301. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


support. When Vivekananda died, he left his ideas, plus the less struc- 
tured teachings of Ramakrishna and a social service organization. The 
major pieces existed, but only in the twentieth century would these fuse 
together and create a successful socio-religious movement. 


A hundred years of religious developments in the Bengali region 
flowed in two main channels, one rural and Islamic, the other Hindu 
and urban. Among Bengali Muslims the Fara‘izis and allied move- 
ments were transitional in nature owing nothing in their leadership or 
membership to the colonial milieu. Hindus, by contrast, created groups 
that drew upon the upper caste, urban, educated, for their leadership 
and much of their support. At times movements within each religious 
community produced communal conflict, a sharpening of religious 
definition, and of communal separation. Yet the forces behind major 
socio-religious movements depended heavily on the internal dynamics 
of each religious community and of Bengali society. Islamic leaders, 
speaking from their traditional role of ‘wlamd, addressed a primarily 
peasant audience. They drew on the Islamic schools of philosophy and 
theology outside South Asia, particularly from the area of Sau‘di 
Arabia, and from Muslim intellectual centres of north India. Bengali 
Muslims created one transitional movement and joined others from 
outside the region. The other Muslim societies in Bengal existed with- 
out direct opposition to the government. 

The Hindu socio-religious movements, the Brahmos, the Rama- 
krishnas, and the followers of the neo-Vaishnavas drew symbols, con- 
cepts, and scriptural legitimization for the long history of protest 
within their religious heritage as well as limited elements of western 
civilization. Rammohun Roy adopted some concepts of ethics, theism, 
and rationalism from the West and Keshab Chandra Sen conscripted 
Christian symbols. Led by members of a rising educated-elite, the 
Hindu movements of return adopted imported organizational struc- 
ture. In their reaction to Christianity, the Brahmo Samaj sought equiv- 
alence while the followers of Vivekananda and Keshab Chandra Sen 
held to Hindu superiority over all religions. The Ramakrishna Math 
and Mission also illustrates a fusion of social service with the ancient 
institution of the monastic order. These acculturative movements 
created new forms of Hinduism that met the social and psychological 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


needs of an educated elite caught between two opposing poles of 
civilization, the indigenous Hindu and the intrusive Western. 

Both sets of socio-religious movements, Hindu and Islamic, 
strengthened religious consciousness through competition between 
themselves and other groups within the same community. At the same 
time the boundaries between competing movements were defined and 
redefined by means of arguments placed in print, circulated and coun- 
tered in pamphlet wars. Individuals were made aware of their own 
positions in terms of particular movements and other religions. To be a 
Hindu or a Muslim took on new meaning with the clarification and 
definition of religious terms, creeds, and rituals. In a multi-religious 
society such as Bengal or the South Asian subcontinent, the drive to 
establish or re-establish a purified form of religion led inevitably to the 
rejection of behaviour and beliefs attributed to other religions. Conse- 
quently, the distance between religions grew and communal lines hard- 
ened. Bengali religious movements, however, must be seen both in 
terms of the region and of other developments elsewhere in the sub- 
continent. To accomplish that, the next area for examination will be the 
central Gangetic plain, consisting of Bihar and the United Provinces. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 




The vast northern plain of the Ganges—-Jumna River system stretches 
from the banks of the Jumna River south-east to the edges of Bengal. To 
the North are the foothills and behind them the great barrier of Hima- 
layan mountains. The southern borders of this plain are marked by 
another range of hills that merge into the Vindhya mountain chain, the 
line of demarcation between northern India and the Deccan plateau of 
the South. Within this geographic area evolved the Hindu-Buddhist 
civilization, beginning in the second millennium before Christ. After 
the conquest of northern India by Islamic armies, it also became the 
hub of Indo-Muslim civilization. This vast plain repeatedly provided 
the population and productivity needed to build and sustain major 
kingdoms and empires. 

The population of the Gangetic basin reflects its history. Hindus live 
throughout the plains and foothills. Their society possessed a complex 
caste system encompassing all of the traditional varnas along with 
innumerable divisions of specific castes and sub-castes. Hindus pre- 
dominated with 86 per cent of the population, while the largest min- 
ority were the Muslims with 13.7 per cent.! The Muslim population, 
however, showed distinctly different characteristics from the Islamic 
community of Bengal. In the North-Western Provinces they accounted 
for 38 per cent of the urban population. More concentrated in the cities 
and towns of the West, Muslims encompassed over 50 per cent of the 
urban dwellers in the area of Rohilkhand. Bihar held an even smaller 
percentage of Muslims; nevertheless, it too had a significant concen- 
tration of them in its towns and cities.2 Many Muslims were drawn to 
urban life through their occupations in government service, trade, as 
artisans, and through Islamic learning or a preference for urban life 

' Census, 1891, North-Western Provinces and Oudh Report, p. 171. 

2 Francis Robinson, ‘Municipal government and Muslim separatism in the United Prov- 
inces, 1883 to 1916’, Modern Asian Studies, 7, pt. 3 (1973), 394; Anil Seal, The Emergence of 
Indian Nationalism: Competition and Collaboration in the Later Nineteenth Century (Cam- 
bridge University Press, 1968), p. 58. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


6 200 miles 

2 The Gangetic core: Uttar Pradesh and Bihar 

Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


demonstrated by many absentee landlords. Behind the two communi- 
ties lay the centuries of Muslim political dominance when a new 
civilization arrived. 

Bihar had already been absorbed by the English with the conquest of 
Bengal and over the next eighty-one years they annexed the entire 
Gangetic basin. The British acquired Benares in 1775, then paused, and 
in 1801, two extensive tracts were ceded from the kingdom of Awadh. 
Two years later, in 1803, the English extended their territory to the 
Jumna River and the foothills south of the plains. During the governor- 
generalship of Lord Dalhousie (1848-56) the English seized three small 
states on the southern edge of the plains and in 1856 annexed the 
kingdom of Awadh, thus completing their control of the Gangetic 
basin. The establishment of British rule brought with it a number of 
political and cultural changes, but their degree varied for different areas 
and for social divisions within those areas. 

The arrival of British rule did not create as fundamental a restructur- 
ing of society as it had through the Permanent Settlement of 
Bengal. Roughly two types of land settlement existed, one based on 
dominant caste lineages within a given village who were classed as land- 
owners and paid an annual tax. A second tax system existed in Awadh 
and Bihar where talugdars acted as a combination of tax-collectors, 
landowners, and petty chieftains. The culture of Muslims and Hindus 
of the plains was centred, however, in the cities and not the 

The cities of this central plain illustrate the complex interaction of 
three civilizations. Benares was not only an early outpost of the British 
Empire, it was an ancient Hindu city as well, a place of temples, 
pilgrimages, and Hindu thought whose sanctity was recognized by all 
Hindus. A city of similar religious importance was Hardwar, located at 
the edge of the plains, where the holy Ganges emerged from the 
mountains. A place of pilgrimage and great religious festivals, Hardwar 
had little or no other function, either politically or economically. For 
South Asian Muslims, Delhi held greater importance than any other 
city on the Gangetic plains. It was the first capital of Islamic conquest 
and continued so under the Delhi Sultanate. In the Mughal Empire, 
Delhi shared that role with Agra to the South-East. Even after the 
Empire had disintegrated, Delhi remained a cultural and symbolic force 
in the subcontinent. The city also retained much of its vitality even in 
the late eighteenth century. In 1803 the British annexed Delhi and a 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


new era of peace began. For Muslims, Delhi remained a source of 
Islamic thought and education, of poetry, prose and the arts. Many of 
the ‘ulama studied here and after departing disseminated its culture 
throughout the plains and beyond. 

One example of Islamic education in Delhi was the Madrassah-i- 
Rahimiyah founded by Shaikh ‘Abdu’r-Rahim (1644-1718). After 
the death of its founder the Madrassah continued under the leadership 
of his son, Shah Wali ’Ullah (see pp. 18-20). Those who received 
advanced education here carried with them the ideas of Wali "Ullah, 
his condemnation of degenerate Islam, and his methods of returning it 
to past purity and past power. After studying in Sa’udi Arabia, Wali 
"Ullah returned to Delhi convinced that numerous errors had crept 
into Islam both at the level of the ‘ulama and of popular practice. A 
blind acceptance of figh (the schools of law), ijma (popular consensus), 
which justified many unacceptable rituals, customs and beliefs, and the 
use of questionable authorities, contributed to deviation from the true 
teachings of the Prophet. Wali "Ullah accepted two forms of ultimate 
authority, the prophetic message as stated in the Qur’an and the 
hadith or accounts of prophetic tradition.} Through the use of itihad 
(individual inquiry and reasoning), Islamic scholars could rediscover 
the proper forms of worship and behaviour, remove error, and restore 
Islam to its purity as exemplified during the life of Muhammad. For 
Wali Ullah the ‘door to ytihad’ remained open and inquiry still valid, 
while to orthodox Sunnis such an approach was no longer acceptable 
since the four schools of law made this unnecessary. Shah Wali "Ullah 
did insist, however, that itihad could only be conducted by Islamic 
scholars. Individuals with less education might fall into error and so 
should accept only the teachings and the judgments of the ‘ulama on 
points of law and practice.‘ 

Concerned with strengthening Muslim unity, Shah Wali Ullah 
faced two divisive issues: Sufism, Islamic mysticism, and the Shi'ites. 
On the question of mysticism, he recognized the validity of Sufism and 
of its disciplinary techniques. He combined theological education and 
mystical training as two valid approaches to religious knowledge. Wali 
Ullah, nonetheless, rejected the excesses that Sufism was susceptible 

3 Aziz Ahmad, Studies in Islamic Culture in the Indian Environment (Oxford, Clarendon 
Press, 1964), pp. 203-4. 

‘ Barbara Daly Metcalf, Islamic Revival in British India: Deoband, 1860-1900 (Princeton 
University Press, 1982), pp. 37-9. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


to in its more heterodox forms.> As to the Shi‘ite beliefs in the auth- 
ority of ‘Ali and the zmams, he considered them unacceptable, but at 
the same time maintained that the Shi'ites were Muslims whom he 
wished to correct through persuasion rather than direct confrontation. 
Shah Wali ’Ullah died in 1763 and his son, ‘Abdul ‘Aziz (1746- 
1824), replaced him as head of the Madrassah-i-Rahimiyah. In 1803, 
after the British seized Delhi, ‘Abdul ‘Aziz issued a fatwa, that some 
understood as declaring India no longer dar ul-Islam, that is, under 
Islamic political control. It was instead dar ul-harb, an area under rule 
of non-Muslims. For ‘Abdul ‘Aziz the Mughal emperor no longer 
ruled in spite of the fiction maintained by the British. Thus the tie 
between Islam and political authority was severed. The question of 
‘proper’ relations with the new British government was to divide and 
confuse Muslims throughout South Asia. 

Delhi with its symbols of Islamic dominance was not simply a 
Muslim city. Hindus comprised the majority of its population. In 1847, 
Hindus accounted for 54.3 per cent of Delhi’s people and in 1881 it had 
risen to 57.12 per cent. In the mean time the Muslims had fallen from 
4§.2 per cent to 41.82 per cent.® The divided nature of Delhi’s popu- 
lation would have implications for communal conflict, but before 
examining this, it is necessary to survey the spread of printing as it 
paralleled the arrival of the British. By 1848, Indians owned and oper- 
ated seventeen presses in the North-Western Provinces, two in Be- 
nares, and the remainder concentrated along the western edge of the 
province with seven in Delhi and five in Agra. These presses printed a 
stream of pamphlets, books, journals, and newspapers in Hindi and 
Sanskrit for Hindus, and in Arabic and Persian for Muslims. Both 
communities wrote extensively in Urdu. A variety of subjects were 
discussed: education, science, law, medicine, poetry, guides to social 
behaviour, yet the largest number of publications dealt with one or 
another aspect of religion. Many of these were reprints and translations 
of sacred literature.” The presence of Christian missionaries and socio- 
religious movements accounted, in part, for this focus on religious 

5 Istiaq Husain Qureshi, The Muslim Community of the Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent, 
610-1947 (The Hague, Mouton and Company, 1962), pp. 190-1. 

& Sangat Singh, Freedom Movement in Delhi, 1858-1919 (New Delhi, Association Publish- 
ers House, 1972), p. 15. 

7 Government of India, Selections from the Records of the Government, North-Western 
Provinces pt. 44 (Allahabad, Government Press, 1866). 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


The famine of 1837-8 stimulated the Church Missionary Society to 
reopen a mission in Agra. This mission also founded an orphanage and 
press. In 1841, K. G. Pfander joined the Church Missionary Society’s 
Agra mission and began a campaign of proselytism aimed specifically at 
the Muslim community. In reaction to this campaign a stream of 
newspapers and tracts appeared in Agra, Delhi, and Meerut. Pfander 
continued to lead an aggressive conversion campaign until 1855, when 
he was posted to a mission station in Peshawar. The citizens of Delhi 
were drawn into similar controversy in the early 1850s. Ram Chandra, 
a Hindu teacher at the Delhi College, who would later convert to 
Christianity, clashed with the chief gazi (a Muslim judge), of the city. 
Christians, Muslims, and Hindus struggled to defend their own beliefs 
in print and in public debates.® It was within this arena of cultural 
interaction and conflict, of Mughal decline and a newly emerging 
British government, that the first of the transitional movements arose 
to restore the fallen Muslim community to its rightful place as the 
ruling power of the subcontinent. 



The founder of this socio-religious movement, Sayyid Ahmad Barelwi 
was born on 29 November 1786 in Rai Bareilly, a town near Lucknow 
(see p. 22). He received his early education at home. In 1806, he visited 
Delhi where he met Shah ‘Abdul ‘Aziz, was impressed enough to take 
bai‘at (the initiation by a religious preceptor) from him, becoming in 
the process his religious disciple. He was, at the same time, initiated 
into three different Sufi orders. Sayyid Ahmad returned home and was 
back in Delhi in 1809. Next he travelled to Tonk in Rajasthan where he 
joined the Nawab’s army. In 1817 he left and returned to Delhi. The 
Nawab of Tonk had made an alliance with the British and this act was 
unacceptable to Sayyid Ahmad. He dreamed of recreating an Islamic 
state, one that would follow a purified form of the religion and 
re-establish Islam to its proper position of political and cultural 
supremacy. Once again in Delhi, Sayyid Ahmad was accepted as a 
leader by the ‘ulama. He gave bai‘at to Muhammad Isma‘il 

§ A.A, Powell, ‘Muslim reactions to missionary activity in Agra’ in C. H. Philips and Mary 
Doreen Wainwright (eds.), /ndian Society and the Beginnings of Modernisation c. 1830-1850 
(London, School of Oriental and African Studies, 1976), pp. 142-52. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


(1781-1831), the grandson of Shah Wali "Ullah, and to ‘Abdul 
Hayy (d. 1828), the son-in-law of ‘Abdul ‘Aziz. Because Sayyid 
Ahmad had visited Mecca in the years 1822-3, he had the authority of 
one who had concluded the hajj (the sacred pilgrimage). In addition, 
Sayyid Ahmad preached his own vision of a purified and restored 

Sayyid Ahmad accepted the basic teachings of Shah Wali "Ullah 
and, like him, called for the removal of erroneous innovations, all 
elements of polytheism, and idolatry. He rejected customs and rituals 
from the Indian, Roman, and Persian civilizations unless they were 
consistent with the Qur’an and Sunnah.’ Sayyid Ahmad was adamant 
against the concept of an intermediary between God and man, telling 
his listeners that they could not seek aid from ‘saints, apostles, imams, 
martyrs, angels, and fairies’. As with Wali Ullah, he accepted Sufism, 
acting himself as a Sufi teacher to his own disciples. Sayyid Ahmad was, 
however, more severe with the Shi‘ah beliefs since he saw them as 
another source of error. His ideas were propagated through pamphlets 
and books. The first printed statement of his teachings was the Sirat 
ul-Mustagim (The Straight Path) written in Persian by Muhammad 
Isma‘il and published in 1819. The later publications were mainly in 
Urdu, since Persian could not reach a large audience of literate 

The ideology of Sayyid Ahmad Barelwi contained one basic differ- 
ence from the teaching of Shah Wali "Ullah and his disciples: Sayyid 
Ahmad intended to put his beliefs into action through a jihad (a sacred 
war against non-Muslims). He accepted ‘Abdul ‘Aziz’s fatwa as 
declaring that British territory was dar ul-harb and, in accordance with 
Islamic law, jthad could only be conducted from an area of Islamic 
control. Consequently Sayyid Ahmad decided to begin his struggle on 
the north-west frontier of the Sikh kingdom. From April 1824, when he 
returned to Bareilly after his pilgrimage to Mecca, to January 1825, 
when he departed for the frontier, Sayyid Ahmad collected funds and 
recruits for the coming campaign. From his home town, he travelled 
west and then north, reaching Peshawar in November 1826 where he 
began fighting against the Sikhs from the tribal lands of the Yusufzai. In 
February 1827, Sayyid Ahmad was elected imam, enrolled mujahidin 
(religious warriors), gave bai‘at to his adherents, and had his name 

9 Ahmad, Studies in Islamic Culture, pp. 210-11. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


read in the khutbah (sermon).'° The war waxed and waned as it became 
deeply involved with tribal politics of the frontier. In 1830 Sayyid 
Ahmad seized the city of Peshawar, but was forced to abandon it. In 
1831, he was killed at the battle of Balakot along with many of his men 
and his disciple, Muhammad Isma‘il. 

In the wake of Sayyid Ahmad’s death the movement faltered; its 
headquarters shifted first to Delhi and then to Patna in Bihar. New 
leadership arose from two brothers, Wilayat ‘Ali and ‘Inayat ‘Ali, 
who were from a prominent Sadiqpuri family of Patna City, Bihar. 
Wilayat ‘Ali first heard Sayyid Ahmad while a student at the Farangi 
Mahall in Lucknow. On his return from Mecca, Sayyid Ahmad 
stopped at Patna and gave bai‘at to the entire family. The brothers 
joined him on the frontier, but were sent back after a short time to 
organize a system to gather finances and fighters. The brothers proved 
extremely able. Using itinerant preachers, they collected weapons, 
supplies, money, and recruits from the Muslims of eastern Bengal, the 
North-Western Provinces, Bihar, and Rajasthan. Wilayat ‘Ali 
travelled to Bombay and as far south as Hyderabad in the Deccan, 
while ‘Inayat ‘Ali toured Bengal. By the mid-1840s both brothers 
returned to the frontier, where they faced a rapidly changing situation. 
After the death, in 1839, of the Sikh ruler, Ranjit Singh, his kingdom 
suffered from internal upheavals. Sikh control over the frontier 
weakened and their relations with the British became strained. In 1846, 
the Sikh kingdom fought the English and lost. The British then annexed 
the Jullundur Doab, and began to assist the Sikh state with its war on 
the frontier. In 1849 they absorbed the entire kingdom, bringing the 
English into a direct confrontation with the frontier jihad. 

The fighting continued, but it proved increasingly difficult for the 
Muslim warriors. In 1853 Wilayat ‘Ali was killed and his younger 
brother died in 1858. The uprising of 1857-8 brought some relief to the 
frontier, but after re-establishing control, the British were determined 
to end this frontier war. The Ambeyla campaign launched in the closing 
months of 1863 destroyed Muhammadi military power.!! The British 
then dismantled the organizational and support system. In 1863 they 
arrested major figures in the movement and in the years 1864-5 

‘0 Harlan Otto Pearson, ‘Islamic reform and revival in nineteenth century India: the 
Tariqah-i-Muhammadiyah’, Doctoral Dissertation, History (Duke University, 1979), p. 51. 

" Qeyamuddin Ahmad, The Wahabi Movement in India (Calcutta, Firma K.L. Muk- 
hopadhyay, 1966), pp. 200-9. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


conducted a series of trials. A second round of arrests was followed by 
more trials in 1871-2. The British-Indian government managed to 
bring an end to the flow of money and men to the frontier, and this in 
turn made the resumption of warfare impossible. This movement did 
not end, however, but splintered into different sects and schools of 
thought that survived into the next century. 

The death of Sayyid Ahmad divided his followers roughly into two 
groups. The more devoted and radical considered him to be the imam— 
madhi and expected that he would return to lead them once again. They 
gravitated to the Patna school created by the ‘Ali brothers. Delhi 
housed the moderate thinkers who moved away from the concept of 
jihad, and did not accept Sayyid Ahmad as the madbi nor expect him to 
return. Meanwhile the Muslims of Delhi maintained the intellectual 
heritage of Shah Wali "Ullah and ‘Abdul ‘Aziz. 

Young Muslims continued to travel to Delhi for education, and one 
of them, Sayyid Nazir (d. 1902), became the leader of the Ahl-i-Hadith, 
a branch of the Tariqah-i-Muhammadiyah. Sayyid Nazir Husain first 
studied at Sadiqpur in Bihar and then in 1826 travelled to Delhi where 
he became a disciple of ‘Abdul ‘Aziz and his successor, Muhammad 
Ishaq (1778-1846). The intellectual respect given to Nazir Husain held 
together a network of ‘ulama who saw themselves as inheritors of a 
line of thought stretching back to Shaikh Sarhindi. They accepted the 
teachings of the Shah Wali "Ullah school, but were more uncompro- 
mising in their ideas. They rejected Sufism, and with it a variety of 
rituals and ceremonies associated with saintly shrines, including the 
pilgrimage to the grave of Muhammad. All forms of polytheism were 
condemned as well as the beliefs and practices of the Shi‘ites. Nazir 
Husain had been a Shi‘ite, but abandoned this when he studied with 
‘Abdul ‘Aziz.!? At the core of Ahl-i-Hadith doctrine lay an accept- 
ance of ‘God, His books, His prophets, and His angels as enjoined in 
the Qur’an’.!? Their theological position denied the legitimacy of the 
four schools of law and advocated the use of itihad for members of a 
trained and educated elite. They were also separated from other 
Muslims by their use of a different form of prayer. The Ahl-i-Hadith 
advocated widow remarriage as Islamic and attacked the institution of 
the dowry as anon-Muslim innovation. Their position paralleled many 

'2 Metcalf, Islamic Revival in British India, pp. 71-2. 
‘5 Aziz Ahmad, Islamic Modernism in India and Pakistan, 1857-1964 (Oxford University 
Press, 1967), p. 115. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


of the purification movements but did so primarily within the limits of 
the ‘ulama. 

Reform for the leaders of the Ahl-i-Hadith would be achieved 
through the literate elite and ashraf Muslims. They looked for aid 
among Muslim princes, great landowners, and the ‘ulama. They 
spread their vision of renewed Islam through publications, learned 
teachers, and formal debates. During the second half of the nineteenth 
century, the Ah]-i-Hadith comprised an effective voice in debates both 
within the Islamic community and without. They regarded the ‘ulama 
as the class that would restore Islam to its proper status, an approach 
that dominated Muslim thinking in northern India during the second 
half of the nineteenth century. The prime question among Muslims 
remained just who would become the accepted leaders of this class. 

The Tariqah-i-Muhammadiyah led by Sayyid Ahmad Barelwi aimed 
at restoring Islam to political dominance through the use of force, and 
drew upon all Muslims for support. Its vision of a restored and purified 
Islam was equalitarian rather than dependent on a single section of 
society and used military force as a method of achieving its ends along 
with the techniques of persuasion, debate, and publication employed 
by other Muslim movements of return. The failure of Sayyid Ahmad’s 
military campaign and of the Indian Mutiny turned Muslims away 
from the use of military means to restore Islam to its proper place and 
from attempts to uplift the entire community. During the remainder of 
the nineteenth century, movements of return focused on the ‘ulama 
and ashraf Muslims of the upper classes. 

The Dar ul-Ulum Deoband 

Throughout the centuries after the Muslim conquest of north India the 
‘ulama, as teachers, interpreters of religious law, and theologians, 
were closely linked to political power. In many ways they functioned 
similarly to the Brahman priests during the Hindu period. The decline 
of the Mughal Empire and its replacement by the British threatened 
them and, during the second half of the nineteenth century, led to 
movements of restoration based on a linking of ‘u/ama class interests 
with the fortunes of the Islamic community rather than the state, as had 
been the case in the era of Islamic political dominance. As a group the 
‘ulama saw little reason for adapting their own ideas to English 
culture, although they could not ignore British political-military 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


power. The traditions of Islamic thought, especially as expressed by the 
Delhi school, provided the boundaries within which the majority of 
‘ulama searched for a new world of purified religion and a resurgence 
of their own class. This approach to the challenges of the post-1857 
years is exemplified by the Ahl-i-Hadith and the Deoband seminary 

Two major figures in the founding of the Deoband school were 
Muhammad Qasim Nanautawi (1833-77) and Rashid Ahmad Gangohi 
(1829-1905). Both had their homes in towns of the Doab, came from 
familes of the ‘u/ama class, and were influenced by the intellectual life 
of Delhi. Because of a family feud, Muhammad Qasim was sent to stay 
with relatives in Deoband where he studied at the maktab (primary 
school) of Maulana Mahtar ‘Ali and Shaikh Nihal Ahmad. By the 
1840s he moved to Delhi for further education. Rashid Ahmad studied 
in his home town of Gangoh, then travelled to Karnal and Rampur, 
finally ending in Delhi where he met Muhammad Qasim. The two 
young students became disciples of Imdad "Ullah (1815-99), a Sufi pir, 
whose home was in the Doab and who shared a similar cultural back- 
ground. They took bai‘at from him and apparently became private 
students at Delhi College where they came into contact with the 
teachings of Sayyid Ahmad Barelwi and with the Delhi school of 
thought.'* During their stay in Delhi the two young men returned to 
the Doab and in 1867 settled in Deoband where they opened a madras- 
sah at the Chattah Masjid. Although the setting was similar to madras- 
sahs throughout the subcontinent, a fundamental difference quickly 
became apparent. To begin with, they wanted their school to be a 
separate institution and not merely an appendage to the local mosque. 
The casual and personal teaching style used for centuries was replaced 
by a permanent teaching staff. Students enrolled in the school studied a 
defined curriculum with annual examinations. Much of the organiz- 
ational form was adopted from British institutions and then modified 
to fit the needs of Deoband. The curriculum was not English. Instead 
they used the syllabus of the Farangi Mahall—a Muslim college associ- 
ated with the court in Lucknow - as their guide in establishing the 
educational content of the school, while placing at the centre of their 
education the hadith, the source of proper religious practice. 

| Metcalf, Islamic Revival in British India, pp. 75-80. Unless otherwise indicated, the 
information on Deoband has been drawn from Professor Metcalf’s detailed study of this 
school and movement. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Administratively they developed an Islamicized organization that 
borrowed heavily from the government colleges. It began with three 
officers: the sarparast (rector), ‘a patron or guide of the institution; the 
muhtamim, or chancellor, the chief administrative officer; and the sadr 
mudarris, the chief teacher or principal, the person responsible for 
instruction’.45 In 1892, Deoband added an officer whose duties 
stemmed directly from Islamic culture. This was the mufti who super- 
vised the issuing of fatwa, a major task of traditional ‘ulama. Ques- 
tions of law, custom, and behaviour were submitted to the school and 
answered in the form of fatwa, issued by the assembled scholars. The 
final authority within this institution was vested in a Consultative 
Council that decided all questions of personnel, curriculum, finances, 
and organizational procedures. This administrative structure marked a 
sharp break from the older organization of Muslim schools, which 
were personal in nature and under the control of local leaders. 

In the past, schools were supported by the institution of waqf (an 
endowment of land for charitable purposes). Deoband, by contrast, 
depended on public donations usually in the form of annual pledges. 
These came from a variety of individuals rather than a single source, 
further underscoring its wide base of support and the consequent 
independence of the institution from individual or local control. The 
breadth of its acceptance was demonstrated by the number of schools 
modelled after Deoband. By 1880, graduates had established over a 
dozen schools throughout the Upper Doab and Rohilkhand. The 
Deoband seminary was the centre of this expanding educational 
system. It provided advice, assistance, a central depot for records, and 
external examiners for the new schools. By 1900, this expanding edu- 
cational system dispensed the Deobandi ideology in the North from 
Peshawar to Chittagong, and in the South-East at Madras. 

Deobandis conceived of Islam as having two points of focus, sha- 
ri‘at (the law, based on scriptures and religious knowledge), and the 
tariqah (path, derived from religious experience). Thus they accepted 
Sufism with its forms of discipline and the role of the ‘ulama in 
interpreting the four schools of Islamic law. The Qur’an, hadith, qiyas 
(analogical reasoning), and ma (consensus) provided the foundation 
of religious knowledge, but understanding them required the ‘ulama 
as guides. Uneducated Muslims could not make judgments on 

18 [bid., p. 95. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


belief or practice. The Deobandis, while accepting Sufism, rejected 
numerous ceremonies and the authority of pirs who claimed sanctity by 
their descent rather than by their learning. Knowledge granted auth- 
ority and not inheritance. Pilgrimages to saints’ tombs, and the annual 
death rites of a particular saint (the ‘urs), also lay outside acceptable 
Islamic practice. Along with types of behaviour seen as erroneous 
innovations, were classed any social or religious practice that appeared 
to come from Hindu culture. 

The Deoband programme of study was originally set to cover ten 
years, but later reduced to six. Officially the school did not object to 
western learning or to the use of English, but neither was introduced. 
Instead, the syllabus focused on Islamic texts, covering ‘Arabic and 
Persian grammar, prosody and literature, history of Islam, logic, 
Greco-Arab philosophy, kalam, dialects, disputation, medieval ge- 
ometry and astronomy, Greco-Arab medicine, jurisprudence, the 
hadith and tafsir (Commentaries on the Qur’an)’.'* In time Persian 
was de-emphasized; instead the seminary utilized Arabic as the 
language of the scriptures and Urdu as the language of north-Indian 
Muslims. The Deobandi curriculum was designed to prepare students 
for their role as members of the ‘u/ama and in doing so to strengthen 
that group as the link between Islamic religion and culture, and the 
Muslim population. 

As the reputation of Deoband grew, students arrived from through- 
out the British-Indian Empire, but most came from Punjab, the North- 
Western Provinces, and Bengal. Once a student had enrolled he fell 
under the care and discipline of the institution. They lived nearby — 
until a hostel was constructed at the end of the century — were given 
supplies by the school, and treated if they fell ill. The students lived 
respectably, attended class regularly and, if they failed to work, were 
promptly dismissed. Their holidays were limited to every Friday and 
one month off each year. After six years at Deoband many of the 
students formed close ties with their fellows, ties that stayed with them 
for the remainder of their lives. Such bonds strengthened that section of 
the ‘ulama sympathetic to Deobandi ideas, adding the dimension of an 
‘old boy’ social network to this community. 

The structure of Islamic society, especially of the ashraf, greatly 
enhanced Deoband in its search for financial resources. They rejected 
the use of government grants-in-aid, since that assistance would be 

© Ahmad, Islamic Modernism, p. 105. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


suspect because it came from non-Muslims. Consequently, the school 
turned to imported methods of fundraising. Using the printing press 
and postal services, they developed a system of pledges and gifts 
complete with money orders, annual reports, and the publication of 
donors’ names. The Deobandis also made special appeals on the cel- 
ebration of various Muslim festivals. Donors included princes, govern- 
ment servants, religious leaders, merchants, and landowners. Many of 
these were associated with the school through their relatives or clans- 
men, through membership in a religious order or through a similarity 
of ideas. This success in finding widespread financial and ideological 
support ensured the continued growth of Deoband, but also generated 
strains within the movement. 

The school faced two crises: one in 1876 and a second in 1895, both 
associated with its relationship to local Muslim leaders. The first con- 
troversy centred on erecting buildings separate from the mosque, an act 
that made a physical statement of Deoband’s desire to remain an 
independent institution. In 1895 the conflict focused on staffing and 
control of the school’s administration. Once again, the local leaders 
attempted to gain power. In both instances those who challenged the 
Deobandis lost and the school retained its wide base of support and its 
original leadership. Controversy did not, however, originate solely 
within the institution or its immediate environment. 

Outside the school, Deobandis entered into debates with other 
Muslims to defend and explain their ideology. Their steady issuance of 
fatwa, 269,215 in the first century, earned the institution a reputation 
for authority in all aspects of Muslim life. Deobandis also participated 
in debates with both Christian and Hindu critics of Islam. Muhammad 
Quasim, a fine public speaker, defended Islam against Christian mis- 
sionaries and Arya Samaj Hindus. In 1876 he entered a ‘religious fair’ 
against a Hindu convert to Christianity, the Reverend Tara Chand. He 
also challenged Swami Dayananda Saraswati, the founder of the Arya 
Samaj, to a public debate. 

The impact of Deoband as a school and a transitional socio-religious 
movement grew first from its new style of Islamic education with an 
appointed staff, fixed curriculum, and regular examinations. This struc- 
ture, as well as the methods used to raise funds, were adopted from the 
English model of education and the organization of voluntary associ- 
ations. These techniques enabled the Deobandis to base their school on 
a broad support of the ashraf Muslims, provide an effective Islamic 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


educational system that promoted their ideas of return to proper Is- 
lamic practice, and create the foundation of a revived class of ‘ulama 
who could function without the patronage or power of a Muslim state. 
The Deobandis gained widespread respect and influence in the North 
and beyond through their students and the numerous fatwa on ques- 
tions of proper religious practice. They also inspired the founding of 
schools modelled after the Deoband ul-‘Ulum, debated with op- 
ponents of Islam and with those Muslims who rejected their vision of 
Islam. The Deobandis, as with other movements discussed in this 
section, were not products of the colonial milieu, but of the living 
tradition of Indo—Muslim thought and practice. The first Muslim ac- 
culturative movement also emerged from a Delhi environment, but 
with different goals and techniques. 


The establishment of the English political sphere preceded the slow and 
uneven growth of a new colonial culture as it radiated out from urban 
areas. New knowledge was disseminated by government and mis- 
sionary schools, but the North-Western Provinces and Bihar absorbed 
this education much more slowly than Bengal, Bombay, and Madras. 
An Orientalist attitude persisted in the schools of this area. Benares 
College, founded in 1791, and Delhi College, established in 1792, both 
focused on classical learning in Sanskrit, Arabic, and Persian. The 
British took over Delhi College in 1825 and three years later it began 
courses in English language and literature, and western science. Be- 
nares, however, continued its classical orientation. The study of 
English was not encouraged by a need to know it for professional 
purposes. Persian had been replaced in 1837 by Urdu as the language of 
administration, but Urdu remained dominant in government well into 
the second half of the nineteenth century. By 1865, some knowledge of 
English was required for upper level judicial posts, but not until 1889 
was a Bachelor of Law degree needed before beginning a legal career.'” 

The acquisition of an English education followed different commu- 
nal and social divisions here than in either Bengal or Punjab. The 
Muslims of the North-Western Provinces, Bihar, and Awadh, as 

'7 David Lelyveld, Aligarh’s First Generation, Muslim Solidarity in British India (Prince- 
ton University Press, 1978), pp. 95-6. The information on Sayyid Ahmad Khan and the 
Aligah movement will be from this work unless otherwise cited. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


urbanized members of a middle- and upper-class minority, had a higher 
level of literacy and education than the Hindu majority. Consequently, 
Muslims absorbed English education and accounted for a greater per- 
centage of students attending school than their proportion of the total 
population.'® In spite of this acceptance of education in general, the 
number of English-speaking Muslims grew slowly through the nine- 
teenth century. 

The two parallel streams of education, Islamic and English, can be 
clearly seen in a single institution, the Delhi College. Students emerged 
from the Orientalist branch of this school prepared for careers as 
Muslim scholars and Urdu-speaking government servants. The Angli- 
cist wing of the school produced students knowledgeable in western 
subjects, as well as the English language. This new education helped to 
create the ‘Delhi Renaissance’ that began in the 1830s and out of this 
came young radicals enthusiastic about western concepts, and critical 
of their own culture, who occasionally converted to Christianity. This 
was a period of cultural interaction and intellectual excitement that 
arrayed outspoken critics against the orthodox majority of their com- 
munity whether it was Hindu or Muslim. The events of 1857-8 brought 
an abrupt end to the activities of young Anglicized radicals who were 
either killed or fled the city. It is against this background that we must 
examine the career of an Islamic leader, Sayyid Ahmad Khan, who 
sought an accommodation with the English as a political power and 
also as representatives of another civilization. 


Sayyid Ahmad Khan and the Aligarh experiment 
Born into a prestigious family of Delhi, Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-98) 
spent his childhood in and out of the Mughal court. His family was 
connected to ‘Abdul ‘Aziz and he himself studied the work of Shah 
Wali Ullah. Sayyid Ahmad did not learn English, but according to the 
older pattern of education, studied Arabic and Persian, yet he was 
fascinated with western science, mathematics, and astronomy. He did 
not receive a religious education and instead demonstrated the person- 

18 Seal, Emergence of Indian Nationalism, pp. 305-6. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


ality more akin to a courtier or government official than to an ‘ulama. 
In 1838, Sayyid Ahmad entered British service and gradually advanced 
up the judicial ladder until his retirement in 1877. During these years he 
was posted in a number of cities and towns, mostly in the upper 
Gangetic plain with his longest stay in Delhi from 1846-54. During the 
Mutiny, Sayyid Ahmad remained loyal to the British, yet this event 
reshaped his life, and gave him a cause that he served until his death. 

The uprising directly threatened Sayyid Ahmad and all those who 
served the British-Indian state. Had that power been swept away those 
who worked for it would also have been destroyed. Yet the restoration 
of peace brought with it neither tranquillity nor security for Sayyid 
Ahmad. The English were bitter, vengeful, and suspicious of the 
Muslim community whom they blamed for the revolt. Sayyid Ahmad 
belonged to a minority community, stripped of its past glories, ruled by 
a non-Muslim state, and faced with hostility. He reacted by writing 
three political statements, one was the Asbab-i-Baghvati-i-Hind 
(Causes of the Indian Revolt), in which he laid much of the blame for 
the uprising on missionary activities and attempted to demonstrate that 
Islam as a religion was not responsible. Sayyid Ahmad produced two 
pamphlets in English under the title Loyal Muhammadans of India that 
contained accounts of Muslims who remained allied with the Raj. A 
third publication was his History of the Revolt in Bijnor telling of his 
own experiences during the revolt. 

For Sayyid Ahmad Khan, the future of Islam rested with the fortunes 
of Muslims, particularly those in northern India. His writings soon 
began to draw others to him as he, in turn, founded a variety of public 
forums for his ideas. In order to end British suspicion and to create a 
bond with them, he organized a celebration in honour of the continu- 
ance of British rule and did so using public subscriptions. From cer- 
emonies of loyalty he shifted to famine relief and by the mid-1860s had 
experimented with creating both a college and an orphanage. These 
projects failed, but through them Sayyid Ahmad learned the techniques 
necessary to mobilize individuals and resources. He became a leader of 
the Muslim community as well. 

Sayyid Ahmad did not limit himself to the issue of loyalty. Instead he 
began to discuss the need to translate European works of science and 
the arts into the languages of north India. In 1863 he travelled to 
Calcutta and spoke before the Muslim Literary Society where he called 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


for the study of European science and technology, arguing that nothing 
in Islam forbade such learning. His views stood in sharp contrast with 
Muslims who saw no value or utility in importing non-Muslim 
knowledge. Meanwhile the Scientific Society, which he had established 
earlier, moved its headquarters to Aligarh where he had been posted. 
Using Sayyid Ahmad’s private press, the Society began publishing a 
weekly newspaper to disseminate his ideas. In 1866, Sayyid Ahmad 
created the British-Indian Association of the North-Western Provinces 
as another expression of his desire for closer relations with the British. 
Sayyid Ahmad, spurred by curiosity about English society, and a desire 
to locate material to refute Sir William Muir’s Life of Muhammad, left 
for England with his son who went to acquire an advanced English 
education. He spent seventeen months, 1869-70, travelling and 
returned impressed, even shocked, by what he had seen. 

For Sayyid Ahmad, this visit left him with a depressed vision of 
Muslim society in particular and India in general: “The natives of India 
... when contrasted with the English in education, manners and up- 
rightness, are like them as a dirty animal is to an able and handsome 
man.”!? To end this state of decadence Sayyid Ahmad felt that some of 
the characteristics of English society — its discipline, order, efficiency 
and high levels of education, along with science and technology — must 
be adopted by the Muslim community. His goal, in turn, raised funda- 
mental questions concerning the validity of the Prophet Muhammad 
and his message. Sayyid Ahmad approached these issues with two basic 
suppositions. First, he maintained that the Qur’an contained ultimate 
truth and existed prior to the knowledge of science. Secondly, science 
or natural law was itself true, thus there could be no contradiction 
between the Qur’an and natural law. If there was, then either the 
Qur’an was misunderstood or natural law in error. 

Studying the Qur’an was both necessary and difficult, since it 
contained two types of verses, ‘the “clear” and the “ambiguous”, as 
“essential” and ‘“‘symbolic”, the former constituting the irreducible 
minimum of Islamic faith and creed, the latter being open to two or 
more interpretations, permitted deductions appropriate to other ages 
and circumstances different from those of Arabia in the early seventh 
century’.2° Sayyid Ahmad argued that if a naturalistic and rational 

'9 Lelyveld, Aligarh’s First Generation, p. 106. 
20 Ahmad, /slamic Modernism, p. 45. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


explanation could be found that did not directly clash with the 
Qur’an, it was to be used. Orthodox Muslims labelled Sayyid Ahmad 
and his followers as necharis, a term of derision and disgust. 
Opposition to Sayyid Ahmad Khan grew from two levels, one of 
thought and the other of practice. Many disagreed with his interpret- 
ation of Islam. In addition orthodox Muslims were appalled when he 
insisted that ‘it was all right to wear shoes for prayer in the mosque, to 
participate in Hindu and Christian celebrations [and], to eat at a 
European-style table’?! Sayyid Ahmad defended his actions by the 
validity of ijtihad, and the need for new interpretations as a method of 
adjustment to changed circumstances. Few among the ‘ulama ac- 
cepted this, since they considered Sayyid Ahmad uneducated in re- 
ligion, a man outside their class, and thus unfit to use the institution of 
ytihad. Sayyid Ahmad addressed himself to members of the ashraf, and 
stressed the importance of ancestry and of social status. The ashraf were 
the rightful descendants of past rulers who should act to regain their 
proper and legitimate place even if cooperation with and adjustment to 
the British were required. Sayyid Ahmad used the term quam for 
Muslim society, first for the North and then to refer to Muslims 
throughout British India. As the nineteenth century progressed the 
Muslim quam, however, found itself facing a new threat. During the 
last quarter of the nineteenth century the spectre of an aggressive, 
expanding Hindu elite replaced the fears centred on the British-Indian 
government for Sayyid Ahmad and other Muslim leaders of the North. 
The British conquests in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth 
centuries stimulated a growth of trade, while their legal system pro- 
tected commercial activities. For urban Hindus of the upper castes this 
meant a new degree of prosperity and with that came an increase in 
aggressiveness and a pride in their culture. Wealthy Hindus built 
temples, sponsored the publication of Hindu religious literature, and 
founded organizations for a variety of purposes.2? By 1867, Hindus 
demanded that Urdu be replaced by Hindi as the language of adminis- 
tration. Sayyid Ahmad acknowledged the threat of this movement 
when Babu Shiva Prasad of Benares requested that the Scientific Society 
replace Urdu with Hindi for its proceedings and reports. Shiva Prasad 

21 Lelyveld, Aligarh’s First Generation, pp. 130-1. 
2 C. A. Bayly, The Local Roots of Indian Politics, Allahabad, 1880-1920 (Oxford, Clar- 
endon Press, 1975), pp. 363-5. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


acquired his own press and organized a campaign promoting the use of 
Hindi.?3 The demands to replace Urdu with Hindi increased over the 
second half of the nineteenth century. In 1873 it was accepted for use in 
the ower courts of Bihar, and in 1881 received equal status to Urdu 
throughout that province. Language was not the only point of conten- 
tion between Hindus and Muslims. During the last two decades of the 
century, Hindus became aggressive defenders of the cow and 
demanded that it be protected from slaughter either for food or at the 
Muslim ceremony of ‘Id. The two issues of cow protection and Hindi 
stood at the forefront of competition between the Hindu and Muslim 
communities, one containing a rising elite, the other an elite struggling 
to regain its lost political and social status. 

For Sayyid Ahmad the answer to the present dilemma of the Muslims 
lay in an education that disseminated elements of English knowledge 
within an Islamic context. In 1872 he organized a Select Committee 
charged with planning an education system. The Committee’s reports 
discussed the educational needs of the various classes within Muslim 
society. Sayyid Ahmad, who acted as secretary, spoke of education for 
peasants, shopkeepers, artisans, and labourers, as well as Muslims who 
looked to government service or purely religious occupations. The 
Committee’s work led to the concept of a school that was intended to 
serve all Muslims and cut across sectarian differences. A number of 
Hindus donated to this cause, and after 1873 Hindus were expected to 
participate in the student body. As planning advanced, this dream 
became in reality an education for sons of the respectable ashraf 

In June 1875, the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College of Aligarh 
opened its doors. This institution enrolled students at the elementary 
levels, studying the standard government curriculum under an English 
headmaster, but doing so in a carefully constructed Islamic environ- 
ment. In January 1878 college classes were initiated, but the young 
college faced serious problems. It needed students. Many of those who 
attended did so primarily because they were related to Muslims in- 
volved in the college movement, and consequently the student body 
grew slowly. After the first year Hindus attended, but their numbers 
peaked in 1889 and declined during the next decade. Meanwhile the 
contribution of Aligarh to the educated Muslim elite took on an 

23 For further information on Shiva Prasad, see Jurgen Lutt, Hindu Nationalismus in Uttar 
Prades, 1867-1900 (Stuttgart, Ernst Klett Verlag, 1970), pp. 37-64. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


increased significance: ‘Between 1882 and 1902 Aligarh had sent up 
220 Muslim graduates, or 18.5 per cent of the 1,184 in all of India 
.. [and] accounted for 53.6 per cent of the Muslim students from 
Allahabad University.’2* The graduates from Aligarh became an im- 
pressive part of the limited number of Muslim degree holders in the 

Sayyid Ahmad envisioned the college as preparing men to serve the 
quam. \t would supply educated, honest, public-spirited leaders able to 
work with the English government, and to protect the Muslim com- 
munity. In time this elite would lift the Muslims into a cooperative 
dominance, ruling India in partnership with the British. Theodore 
Beck, the English headmaster, accepted Sayyid Ahmad’s educational 
vision, modifying it according to the ideas of the English public school. 
For Beck, Aligarh’s graduates should be young men of character 
grounded in Islamic values; an Indian version of the educated gentry of 
England. This approach did not lead to intellectual and academic 
excellence as was demonstrated by Aligarh’s uninspiring record in the 
annual university examinations. The activities of this college did not 
revolve around the classrooms or textbooks, but campus social-life. 
The presence of Beck and other Englishmen focused student energies 
on public speaking and debate. The core of student life became the 
Union where student factions fought to win elected offices with great 
energy and passion. Islam as a philosophical and theological system 
received little attention, although a consciousness of being a member of 
the Islamic community pervaded the entire institution. 

Aligarh remained primarily an undergraduate college. Advanced 
degrees were offered to the MA level; however, these programmes 
attracted few students. In 1896 an LL B degree was instituted, but drew 
only a limited response. Problems of finance and factional strife slowed 
the development of Aligarh. During the late 1880s, a bitter and widely 
publicized dispute developed between Sayyid Ahmad and Sami ’U]- 
lah, a distinguished jurist, over the method of choosing Sayyid Ah- 
mad’s successor. In 1889 the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental Fund 
Committee passed a Trustee Bill, setting rules and procedures ad- 
vocated by Sayyid Ahmad. Asa result Sami Ullah withdrew from the 
college, taking many of the older and wealthier contributors with him. 
In this instance the British government offered the funds needed to 
maintain Aligarh. Another loss of support came with the departure of 

+ Lelyveld, Aligarh’s First Generation, p. 185. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Shibli Nu‘mani. He had joined the Aligarh faculty in 1883 to teach 
Persian and aid in Arabic instruction. As a scholar deeply committed to 
Islam and a teacher with close ties to his students, Nu‘mani contrib- 
uted a sense of Islamic devotion to the campus. He could not, however, 
be comfortable with the extensive role of foreign knowledge that 
existed in the Aligarh curriculum. He resigned from Aligarh, and with a 
group of ‘ulama founded the Majlis-i-Nadwah ul-‘Ulum of Luck- 
now in 1893. Two years later he helped to open the Nadwah Dar 
ul-‘Ulum, a seminary intended to unite all Muslims through a single 
institution that transcended sectarian differences. 

For the rest of Sayyid Ahmad Khan’s life, Aligarh was his most 
important cause. He dedicated much of his time and energy to adminis- 
tering the college. Sayyid Ahmad functioned as a one-man managing 
committee, overseeing all budgets, college publications, correspond- 
ence, teaching, and student discipline. After 1887, with the addition of 
several young men from Cambridge to the college faculty, Sayyid 
Ahmad gradually abandoned some of his responsibilities, although he 
remained extremely active until his death. Beyond the college he con- 
tinued his public campaign to revive the fortunes of the Islamic com- 
munity. In 1886, he founded the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental 
Educational Conference to popularize and encourage the fusion of 
English and Islamic education.?> That same year he spoke out against 
the Indian National Congress and Muslim participation in this openly 
political organization. To Sayyid Ahmad, the Congress offered noth- 
ing for the embattled Muslim community except the possibility of 
rekindled British hostility. Two years later, in 1889, along with Theo- 
dore Beck, he organized the United Indian Patriotic Association as a 
counter to the Congress. Once more he sought to emphasize loyalty to 
the British. 

The difficulties faced by Sayyid Ahmad and the graduates of Aligarh 
were expressed in 1890 by Mustafa Khan in An Apology for the New 
Light. He discussed the shortcomings of Indo-Muslim culture, the 
pride of his fellow students, as well as their relative isolation, and the 
value of English education. He described how their style of dress, the 
fez and a Turkish coat, had given his fellow students a ‘national iden- 
tity’.2¢ Aligarh’s new generation of leaders, he wrote, would unite the 
dispersed Muslims into a single gaam, a community no longer divided 

23 Ahmad, Islamic Modernism, pp. 37-8. 
% [bid., pp. 248-50. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


by sectarian strife, class tensions or linguistic pluralism. This dream of 
internal tranquillity remained unfulfilled. Aligarh and Sayyid Ahmad 
faced opposition from numerous Muslim movements and they in turn 
competed with each other. 

The efforts of Sayyid Ahmad Khan to defend and then strengthen the 
Muslim community marked a sharp break with previous attempts to 
purify Islam and return it to its past glory. Sayyid Ahmad envisioned 
the creation of an administrative elite which would govern in cooper- 
ation with the British rather than focus its attention on the ‘ulama. He 
incorporated western knowledge including science, looked to a new 
type of education as the prime tool of his campaign, and justified this 
through his own system of scriptural interpretation. Sayyid Ahmad 
was concerned with the fate of the Muslims as a religiously defined 
community. This concentration on Muslims as a group of people rather 
than on proper religious practice led him to reject the Indian National 
Congress, oppose aggressive Hinduism, and to lay the foundation for a 
consciousness that evolved into religious nationalism. He was opposed 
by Muslim movements that did not accept his inclusion of western 
learning into Islam. Perhaps the most uncompromising of all were the 
‘ulama \ed by Maulana Ahmad Riza Khan. 

The Barelwi ‘Ulama in defence of Islamic orthodoxy 

At a polar opposite to the acculturative movement of Sayyid Ahmad 
Khan and the transitional movements that advocated degrees of change 
in Islam stood the Barelwi ‘Ulama, who defended contemporary 
religion from criticism within and beyond the community. This group 
was led by Ahmad Riza Khan (1856-1921), an effective exponent and 
apologist for Islamic customary practice. His family migrated from 
Afghanistan, became attached to the Mughal court, and finally settled 
on a landed estate near Bareilly. Ahmad Riza descended from a line of 
distinguished scholars and soon established his own reputation for 
learning in the area of figh, for an impressive memory, and for his 
linguistic abilities. He joined and then became a shaikh in the Qadiri 
order of Sufis. In this role he gained a reputation for skills in divination 
and in the construction of numerical charts for similar purposes. He 
also began a long career in opposing all those who were critical of 
Islamic customs, beliefs and practices. These he labelled ‘Wahhabis’, 
both a theological and political condemnation. Ahmad Riza drew 
around him an expanding circle of disciples. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Ahmad Riza Khan placed at the centre of his teachings the figure 
of the Prophet who possessed total knowledge of spiritual truth 
and for whom Ahmad Riza had the greatest respect. He could 
brook no criticism of Muhammad, celebrated the Prophet’s birthday, 
and saw him as unique among all men. He also gave his respect and 
public deference to all sayyids since they were descendants of the 
Prophet. In his conception of Islam, saints, retained a bodily existence 
after death. They could thus both hear prayers and grant requests 
from the grave. This position led him to accept the celebration of 
‘urs, revere saints, tombs, and the rituals associated with these 
powerful figures. The Prophet, saints, pirs, and shaikhs could all 
act on behalf of Muslims who sought their assistance. In addition 
Ahmad Riza accepted as valid, customs and parochial cults as long as 
they were not in contradiction to established sections of hadith. His 
teachings then supported the pro-British religious leaders who were 
under attack by many leaders of transitional and acculturative Islamic 

An erudite scholar, Ahmad Riza answered questions on proper 
behaviour, issued an impressive number of fatwa, and entered into 
controversies with the Ahl-i-Hadith and the Deobandis. For him these 
were the greatest danger to Islam. He wrote condemning their ideas and 
made fun of their programmes. He labelled them kafirs and Wahhabis. 
Ahmad Riza also attacked one element of contemporary Islam and that 
was the Shi‘ites. He even forbade his followers to wear black and green 
during Mohurram. He ‘wanted to preserve Islam unchanged; not as it 
was idealized in texts or the historical past, but Islam as it had evolved 
to the present’ .?” 

As an orthodox, defensive movement, the Barelwi ‘Ulama rejected 
those who would reinterpret Islam or who wanted to challenge the 
existing religious status quo. They did not limit their activities to 
debates or the issuance of rulings on particular questions, but also 
founded schools to instruct future members of the ‘ulama. One ma- 
drassah was established in Bareilly, another in Lahore (1887), and a 
third in Philibhit (1920). As with other movements that placed religion 
at the centre of an individual’s existence, they rejected political action 
including the Khilafat movement in which Indian Muslims attempted 
to defend Turkey and the symbolic head of Islam, the Khalifah, as well 

2” Metcalf, Islamic Revival in British India, pp. 296-314. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


as Gandhi’s campaigns. Politics was a distraction from the demands of a 
truly religious life. 

Ahmad Riza Khan was a mujaddid to his followers, a religious figure 
of great authority who deserved reverence and respect. He won dis- 
ciples mainly from the rural areas and among the uneducated, with a 
small sprinkling of government servants. The Barelwis accepted a wide 
variety of customary practices, defended the established religious elite, 
and demonstrated no interest in adopting elements of western knowl- 
edge. They did, however, contribute to the hardening of lines between 
Sunnis and Shi‘ahs. Outside the Islamic community they entered into 
controversy with aggressive Hindu groups such as the Arya Samaj and 
with Christian missionaries. Nevertheless, their main opponents 
remained Islamic movements of return that condemned many of the 
customs defended by the Barelwis. Their position was then similar to 
movements of orthodox defence in other religions. Although accultur- 
ative socio-religious movements called for change, not all did so in an 
outwardly aggressive manner, as was exemplified by the Radhasoami 
Satsang of the Hindus with its inward orientation. 


The Radhasoami Satsang 

The beginnings of the Radhasoami Satsang are to be found in the life of 
Swami Shiv Dayal, later known as Soamiji Majaraj (1818-78). Shiv 
Dayal was born in Agra into a banking family of the Khatri caste. 
Originally they came from Punjab and were Nanakpanthis, a sect that 
revered Guru Nanak.?® The family’s guru, Tulsi Sahib of Hathras, 
‘recognized’ the spiritual uniqueness of Shiv Dayal, and consequently 
the young man was left to follow his own preferences, which included 
periods of lengthy meditation. He secluded himself in a small room 
isolated from others for days at a time. Apparently, Shiv Dayal had no 
formal education and only a short career as a tutor to one of the Indian 
princes.?’ Shiv Dayal was married at a young age to Naraini Devi, 

28 Mark Juergensmeyer, ‘Radhasoami reality: the logic of a new modern faith’ (unpub- 
lished manuscript), ch. 1, p. 2. 
29 S. D. Maheshwari, Radhasoami Faith, History and Tenets (Agra, Radhasoami Satsang, 

1954), P- 13- 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


later called Radhaji. As he matured Swami Dayal began to draw to him 
a circle of disciples. He taught a path of devotion, Surat Shabad Yoga, 
by which a person could follow the sound, shabd, that emanated 
from the Supreme Being back through various levels of consciousness 
to its point of origin, and in so doing find eternal peace through 
union with the ultimate. Shiv Dayal drew on the sant tradition and 
on such figures as Kabir and Guru Nanak (see pp. 12-13). He utilized 
the Sikh scriptures, the Guru Granth Sahib, and the writings of Tulsi 

One of Shiv Dayal’s disciples, Salig Ram (later known as Huzur 
Maharaj), urged him to found a public society and so, in January 1861, 
the Radhasoami Satsang was launched. Its daily meetings consisted of 
readings from either the Satsang sacred books or the writings of various 
north-Indian saints. Also used were prayers, hymn-singing, and a talk 
by Shiv Dayal or, if he could not be present, by one of his followers. In 
such instances a portrait of the Swami was worshipped. The use of 
pictures was an early development in this movement. Shiv Dayal pre- 
sented his disciples with a photograph of himself and his wife so that 
they might have it as an aid to their meditation. The role of the guru in 
the Swami’s teaching was of the utmost importance, since he alone 
could direct disciples in their quest for the Supreme Being. Members of 
the Satsang depended totally on their teacher, spent as much time as 
possible with him, and centred their devotion on his personage. 

He remained the focal point of an unstructured group during his life. 
Shiv Dayal was responsible for two versions of a single book, the Sar 
Bachan (Essential Utterances), one in prose and the other in poetry.>! 
In 1876 the Satsang built him a new residence at Soami Bagh, a perma- 
nent camp of Radhasoami mendicants, approximately three miles out- 
side Agra. This became the headquarters of the movement and also a 
place of pilgrimage. Here Shiv Dayal died and a small samadhi or 
memorial was built in his memory. The loss of its founder left the 
Radhasoamis without a single leader. One of the disciples, Sanmukh 
Das, supervised the mendicants encamped at Soami Bagh, property 
rights were held by the Swami’s younger brother, and women within 
the movement were told to obey Radhaji as their leader. Just before his 
death Shiv Dayal recommended that his disciples should look to Salig 

3° Juergensmeyer, ‘Radhasoami reality’, ch. 1, p. 3. 
31 J. N. Farquhar, Modern Religious Movements in India (New York, Macmillan Com- 
pany, 1919), p. 166. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Ram for advice in spiritual matters, but no one was named as successor 
to Shiv Dayal.» 

Nevertheless, there existed two strong candidates, Salig Ram and 
Jaimal Singh. Salig Ram was born in Agra on 14 March 1829. His family 
were Kayasthas from Mathura who had moved to Agra where Salig 
Ram was educated first in a local maktab and learned Persian. He next 
attended Agra College and, in March 1847, joined government service 
in the office of the Postmaster General. His career was highly success- 
ful. In 1871 the government bestowed the title of Rai Bahadur on him 
and ten years later he was appointed the first Indian Postmaster General 
in the North-Western Provinces. It was during these years of govern- 
ment service, in November 1858, that Salig Ram first met Shiv Dayal. 
He became a devoted disciple of the Swami and later an active member 
of the Satsang. 

Baba Jaimal Singh (d. 1903) was a Punjabi, born into a Jat Sikh family 
who met Shiv Dayal in 1856.33 While serving in the army, he gained a 
reputation for spiritual leadership and began to attract his own dis- 
ciples. In 1884, Jaimal Singh started to initiate members of his own 
Satsang as disciples of Shiv Dayal. When he retired from the army in 
1889, Jaimal Singh turned his full attention to tending his growing band 
of followers.34 Similarly Rai Salig Ram, after his retirement from 
government service in 1887, returned to Agra to become the recognized 
guru of one section of the Satsang and a successor to Shiv Dayal. He 
served as such from his retirement in 1889 until his own death in 1898. 
During these years another line of succession emerged within the main 
Agra section of the Radhasoamis. 

Salig Ram brought to the Satsang a sense of organization and doctri- 
nal development lacking under Shiv Dayal. Ideology was standardized 
through a series of publications. Salig Ram wrote the Prem Bani, four 
volumes of verse in Hindi, the Prem Patra, six volumes of prose also in 
Hindi, the Radhasoami Mat Prakash, a prose statement in English, and 
several smaller treatises in Hindi and Urdu. This body of literature gave 
members of the movement a more detailed exposition of its ideology 

2 Juergensmeyer, ‘Radhasoami reality’, ch. 2, p. 3. 

3 Philip H. Ashby, Modern Trends in Hinduism (New York, Columbia University Press, 
1974), Pp. 76. 

34 Om Parkash, ‘Origin and growth of the Radha Soami movement in the Punjab under 
Baba Singh Ji Majaraj, Beas (1884~1903)’, Punjab History Conference: 12th Proceedings 
(1978), 227-8. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


and spiritual practices.?> Since the Satsang did not proselytize, their 
publications also assisted in winning new members. Recruits were 
welcomed from any sectarian or religious background and membership 
included Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, and Jains of all classes.5* The one 
requirement for membership was an acceptance of the guru and his 

Salig Ram managed to hold the loose coalition of leaders together, 
but this unity was weakened further with the death of Radhaji in 1894. 
When Salig Ram died in 1898, the question of a succession again placed 
strain on the Satsangis. One faction in Agra favoured Ajudia Prasad, the 
Swami’s son, while a larger section preferred Brahm Shankar Misra, 
who was recognized as the replacement for Salig Ram. Born Brahm 
Shankar Misra in Benares on 3 March 1861, the new leader was from a 
Bengali Brahman family. He received an advanced English education. 
In 1884 Brahm Shankar earned a Master of Arts degree at Calcutta 
University. Later he joined Bareilly College as a teacher and still later 
served in the Accountant General’s Office in Allahabad.” In 1885, 
Brahm Shankar read a copy of Sar Bachan and then joined the Satsang. 
He soon became a prominent member and even developed his own 
Satsang meetings in Allahabad. When Salig Ram died, Brahm Shankar 
replaced him and became known as Maharaj Sahib. He held this 
position until his death on 12 October 1907. 

In an attempt to create formal unity among the various branches of 
the movement and the contending leaders, Brahm Shankar introduced 
the Central Administrative Council in 1902. This body was intended to 
regulate the conduct of business for the Satsang and its branches, to 
preserve and administer all properties given to Swami Dayal or ac- 
quired by the Satsang, and to execute any other tasks ‘in accordance 
with the directions and mandates of the Sant Sat Guru’.3* The Council 
was intended to strengthen Brahm Shankar’s authority and also was 
something of a compromise with other leaders. Members of the Coun- 
cil were elected, ten out of a slate of twenty-eight, by the entire 
membership. The youngest brother of Shiv Dayal became its first 
president, with Misra and Salig Ram’s son serving on the Council. 
These three had the right to initiate new members into the Satsang. This 

35 Maheshwari, Radhasoami Faith, p. 46. 

36 Juergensmeyer, ‘Radhasoami reality’, ch. 1, p. 4. 

37 See both Maheshwari, Radhasoami Faith, p. 49, and Farquhar, Modern Religious Move- 
ments, p. 165. 

38 Maheshwari, Radhasoami Faith, pp. 97-8. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


right was extended to Jaimal Singh, and to the leaders of Satsangs 
in Bengal and Benares.*? In accordance with the Council’s goals, 
the relatives and heirs of Shiv Dayal signed over all property to the 
Council on the basis that it belonged to the Sant Sat Guru who was 
then leading the community and not to him or to his descendants. 
Two years later the Radhasoami Trust was established and it held all 
property under the management of a somewhat smaller body. Thus 
control and administration became centralized, at least in theory. 
Jaimal Singh, however, refused to turn his records over to the Council 
and acted independently because he believed himself the sole spiritual 
heir of Shiv Dayal. 

Brahm Shankar also introduced a new sense of discipline to the 
functioning of the Satsang. He insisted that discourses be delivered at a 
set time regardless of the seasonal changes. Men and women were 
seated separately at the Satsangs and he even instituted a system of 
separate child care. In addition Misra attempted to restructure the role 
of the sadhus (begging mendicants). The Radhasoamis taught a form of 
grihastha dharma (a religious path for householders), and discouraged 
anyone from leaving his family for religious ends. Brahm Shankar 
maintained that those who were already sadhus should settle down, 
abandon begging, and their ochre robes, and then the Satsang would 
provide them with a monthly stipend. In addition to his organizational 
changes he added one, not quite finished book, to the literature of the 
Satsang. This was a 300-page volume entitled Discourses on Rad- 
hasoami Faith. By this time the doctrine of the Satsang had grown in 
detail and structure. 

In the eyes of the Radhasoami Satsang the whole of creation con- 
sisted of the three descending spheres. The highest was one of total 
spirituality, the second a mixture of spiritual-material, and the last a 
reverse combination of the material-spiritual. The Supreme Being 
dwelt in the first level and man at the lowest subdivision of the last. Man 
must find his way up through levels and sublevels to the ultimate spirit 
that rules over all and it is the guru on earth who has the knowledge and 
techniques needed for the journey. This ideology centred on two 
principles from which were constructed a moral code of action. First, 
‘all acts including spiritual practice which tend to free the spirit from 
matter and raise it towards its sources are good works’, and second, ‘all 
acts which tend to degrade the spirit by weighing it down- 

39 Juergensmeyer, ‘Radhasoami reality’, ch. 2, p. 9. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


wards deeper and deeper into matter are bad works’. In practice, this 
meant a vegetarian diet free from liquor and drugs, a moral life, and a 
strong emphasis on the devotional practice of religion. 

The Radhasoamis entered the twentieth century as a divided re- 
ligious movement held together loosely by the personality of Brahm 
Shankar Misra. It possessed doctrines of worship and an organizational 
structure that borrowed concepts from English society and fused them 
to the ancient institution of the guru. It exhibited a strong sense of 
social justice and a successful entrepreneurial drive by businesses acting 
on behalf of the community and not the individual. The Radhasoamis 
tended to ignore whatever did not directly affect their own vision of life 
and the universe, and to search for social and religious changes within 
their various Satsangs. 

In defence of Hindu orthodoxy: the Bharat Dharma Mahamandala 

Unlike the Radhasoami Satsang with its focus on a particular religious 
vision, the Bharat Mahamandala strove to defend Hindu orthodoxy 
against all opponents whether they lay outside of, or within, Hinduism. 
The first fifteen years of the Mahamandala were closely tied to the life 
of its founder, Pandit Din Dayalu Sharma.*! Born in May 1863 in the 
town of Jhajjar, the young Gaur (a subcaste of the Brahmans) learned 
Persian and Urdu in local schools. Din Dayalu also studied Sanskrit. 
He next attended the government school in Jhajjar. Din Dayalu worked 
for the census of 1881, and in the following year founded his first 
Hindu association, the Panchayat Taraqqi Hunid (The Council for the 
Advancement of the Hindus). In 1883 its name was changed to the 
Society Rafah-i-‘Am in an attempt to include Muslims and thus to 
serve all religions. The society published a monthly paper, Hariyana. 
In 1885, Din Dayalu accepted a position as editor of the Mathura 
Akhbar, an Urdu monthly dedicated to expressing Hindu religious 
principles. The following year he left Mathura and travelled to Lahore 
where he shared the editorship of the Urdu weekly, Koh-i-Nar, with 
Munshi Har Sukh Rai. Through his travels and work on two news- 
papers, Pandit Din Dayalu met prominent Hindus of both Punjab and 

“© Farquhar, Modern Religious Movements, p. 162. 

“| Pandit Harihar Swarup Sharma, an untitled, unfinished and unpublished Hindi biog- 
raphy of Pandit Din Dayalu Sharma, pp. s~9. Information in this section will be from this 
source unless otherwise cited. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


the North-Western Provinces. Using his contacts, Din Dayalu turned 
again to establishing an expressly Hindu organization. 

In 1886 the young pandit called a meeting in Hardwar and founded 
the Gau Varnashrama Hitaishini Ganga Dharma Sabha (The Religious 
Association for the Benefit of the Cow, Social Order, and the Holy 
Ganges). The immediate issue that stimulated this organization rested 
with boxes set up along the banks of the Ganges by the Arya Samaj. 
After they had bathed in the river the pilgrims dropped donations into 
these receptacles. In this way, the money collected at an orthodox 
pilgrimage site aided Hindu critics of orthodoxy. This new society, 
after electing officers and establishing its own organization, urged the 
priests of Hardwar to end this practice that allowed their enemies to 
profit from orthodox rituals. Discussion then turned to questions of 
respect for the holy Ganga (i.e. the Ganges River), cows, Brahman 
priests, and places of pilgrimage. All agreed that Hindus were divided 
and so there must be an attempt to create a greater degree of unity, and 
that they must work for the preservation of sanatana dharma. At the 
close of this first meeting, the new society had constructed an organiz- 
ational structure with officials, a headquarters in Hardwar, and a set of 
published rules. The Sabha had articulated the view of Brahman priests 
as to the type of social and cultural tasks facing them and their allies, but 
little else was accomplished. 

In the aftermath of the Hardwar meeting, Din Dayalu travelled 
extensively organizing Sanatana Dharma Sabhas, goshalas (homes for 
cattle), and Sanskrit schools. He toured Punjab, the Gangetic plain, and 
went as far east as Calcutta. During this period he and others spoke of 
creating an organization with broad goals, one that would represent all 
Hindus. At a meeting held in April 1887 in the Princely State of 
Kapurthala, a small group of Din Dayalu’s associates joined with him 
to plan a new organization, the Bharat Dharma Mahamandala, with the 
purpose of bringing together all leaders of the orthodox Hindu com- 
munity. A welcoming committee was organized with Pandit Din 
Dayalu as its chairman. It met in Hardwar on 4 May 1887, sent out 
letters and circulars announcing the new society, and the date of its first 
meeting, 29-31 May 1887. They invited individuals to attend and 
suggested that anyone with a question concerning the Vedas, Shastras, 
Puranas, or other Hindu scripture should submit it in writing so that it 
could be answered by the assembled priests. 

The first gathering of the Mahamandala was set for the Hindu holy 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


day, Ganga Dashmi, when Hardwar was filled with pilgrims.It began 
with ritual bathing, followed by other ceremonies, numerous speeches, 
and the passing of resolutions. These focused on the need to protect 
varnashramadharma, the traditional pattern of religious duties as ex- 
pressed in the caste system, on the urgency for religious preaching, for 
Sanatana Dharma Sabhas, and for the defence of Hinduism from critics 
both within the community and outside of it. Din Dayalu spoke on the 
need for Sanskrit schools and for Hindi to be the language of education 
and administration. The Mahamandala agreed to send out updeshaks 
(paid missionaries) to propagate its goals and act to tie this organization 
with local Sanatana Sabhas. This first meeting ended with great enthusi- 
asm and renewed hope that orthodoxy could protect itself in an era of 
apathy and degeneracy. The Mahamandala was sustained by members 
of the ruling Hindu aristocracy, landowners, priests, heads of Hindu 
societies as well as the Theosophists who were represented by Colonel 
Olcott (see pp. 167-79). 

The Mahamandala held its second meeting 24-7 March 1889, at the 
Shri Govinda Deva temple in Brindaban. This time the announcement 
was written in Hindi according to a decision taken at the first meeting 
to use Hindi for all Mahamandala proceedings. The notice claimed that 
prior to their first gathering there were fewer than 100 Hindu religious 
organizations in India, but that in the last two years their number had 
risen to over 200. Once again the Mahamandala met at the same time as 
a major religious fair in order to guarantee as large a gathering as 
possible. It reported that over 500 delegates attended with more than 
5,000 visitors. This assembly resembled the first meeting with a combi- 
nation of rituals, speeches and resolutions. Similar results came from 
the 1890 gathering in Delhi. The Mahamandala met there on 14-16 
November 1890, in a much grander and more elaborate setting than the 
two earlier gatherings. The conference site was on the banks of the 
Jumna River. Two pavilions, one small and one large, stood at the 
meeting place. The smaller contained 125 Brahmans reciting the gayatri 
mantra, the larger had a platform for priests with a throne holding the 
sacred scriptures. There was a speakers’ podium as well upon which sat 
the high-ranking officers of the Mahamandala. It was a grand setting 
that illustrated the dreams and hopes of orthodox Hindus. 

Although the Delhi gathering followed previous patterns, two resol- 
utions showed new directions: one which objected to government 
interference with Hindu customs. This issue grew from the proposed 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Age of Consent Bill then being widely discussed. A second resolution 
condemned the use of dowries for marriages, and thus placed the 
Mahamandala in the role of a critic of, at least, one contemporary 
practice. Din Dayalu had already spoken against ‘bad customs’ such as 
the singing of obscene songs, as an example of Hindu degeneracy. 
Another departure from previous practice appeared on the fifth day 
when the conference was open only to delegates. Problems of organiz- 
ation and administration had created serious internal tension. After a 
lengthy discussion the delegates decided that ten representatives should 
be chosen as trustees for the Mahamandala, and that each delegate 
should return to his home association to ask its members where they 
thought the organizational headquarters should be established. In re- 
sponse to an invitation from Pandit M. M. Malaviya, they agreed to 
hold their next meeting in Benares. 

The conference at Benares began on 29 February 1892, and lasted 
fifteen days. On the fifth day a Mantran Sabha or Advisory Council 
was chosen, and for the next four days discussion focused on the 
functioning of this council. These deliberations failed to solve the 
various organizational and administrative problems facing the Maha- 
mandala. On 2-4 November 1893 it returned to Delhi, but unlike all 
previous meetings this was an organizational work-session limited to 
official delegates. After lengthy discussions they managed to choose a 
Karyakarina Sabha or Working Committee. Pandit Din Dayalu pushed 
for the founding of a Hindu college, but received only partial support 
for this idea. Later an office of the Mahamandala was established in 
Delhi with Din Dayalu overseeing it. 

The Mahamandala continued its conferences: at Amritsar in 1896, 
Kapurthala in 1897, and Mathura in 1899. Din Dayalu remained secre- 
tary, but turned much of his attention toward the creation of a college 
in Delhi. The question of where such a college might be located became 
an issue among the supporters of the Mahamandala. Finally with the 
assistance of the Vaishya Conference of Delhi, Din Dayalu opened the 
Hindu College, Delhi, on 15 May 1899. The College survived, but was 
plagued by a continuing struggle to find funds for its maintenance. 

In August 1900 the Mahamandala returned once more to Delhi. It 
claimed an attendance of delegates from over 800 Dharm Sabhas. Again 
there was a series of grand events. The Maharaja of Dharbanga arrived 
on his special train to take the office of conference president. A pro- 
cession carrying the Vedas, a performance of the sandhya ritual, 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


speeches, and resolutions demonstrated the growing importance of the 
Mahamandala. Yet beneath the surface tensions between rivals for 
leadership emerged following the Delhi conference. In 1896 Swami 
Gyanananda founded the Nigamagama Mandali in Mathura. This or- 
ganization became part of the Mahamandala in March 1901. Swami 
Gyanananda then began to issue regulations and make decisions con- 
cerning the Mahamandala. He was supported by several Hindu leaders 
and also the Theosophical Society. In 1902 Pandit Din Dayalu Sharma 
resigned his position as secretary and gradually withdrew from the 

Under Swami Gyanananda’s leadership, the headquarters moved to 
Mathura and in 1903 to Benares where it remained. In addition Swami 
Gyanananda became secretary and a new constitution was adopted.*? 
In the next three decades the Mahamandala evolved into a subcontinen- 
tal organization. By 1930 it had provincial bodies as far east as Calcutta, 
to the South in Madras, to the West at Karachi, and to the North in 
Srinagar; 950 branch societies were registered with the Mahamandala 
and accepted their rules. Another 150 sabhas of various kinds were 
associated with the main organization. The Mahamandala maintained 
its goals through periodic conferences and the celebration of religious 
sacrifices. They lobbied with the government over issues that sup- 
ported orthodoxy and on questions that threatened their interests. The 
Mahamandala sent delegations to the Viceroy and fought various legis- 
lation on marriage, divorce, cow protection, and opposed dams on the 
Ganges River, in short anything that appeared to threaten the practise 
of ‘proper’ Hinduism. They could and did mobilize public opinion 
through their extensive organizational structure. 

The Mahamandala was organized into various departments that 
focused on preaching by paid missionaries of Hindu orthodoxy, the 
establishment of Sanatana Dharma schools, the publication of support- 
ing literature, journals such as Suryodya and the Mahamandala Maga- 
zine, religious texts, and approved rules of conduct. A major division of 
the Mahamandala conducted rituals, established religious centres, 
managed them, and carried out an extensive programme of repair to 
numerous existing temples, pilgrimage sites, and monasteries. They 
also fought the ‘unjust’ building of mosques. Funds for this and other 

#2 All information on the Mahamandala in the twentieth century is drawn from the Sri 

Bharat Mahamandala Directory, 1930, published in Hindi by the Mahamandala office in 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Mahamandala projects rested heavily on large donations from Hinda 
princes. Their activities also included efforts to uplift women through 
education, founding almshouses for indigent women, widows’ homes, 
and the publication of journals, books, and tracts for women. 

The Bharat Dharma Mahamandala had grown from its roots in the 
societies founded by Din Dayalu Sharma into a widespread organiz- 
ation that claimed, with some justification, to represent Hindu ortho- 
doxy. Funded by Hindu rulers, wealthy landowners, and merchants, 
this was perhaps the most successful orthodox organization in the 
subcontinent. Its impressive programme touched all major interests of 
the Hindu religious establishment, provided a body to pressure the 
government on issues that affected Hinduism as they envisioned it, 
linked diverse regional groups, and attempted to standardize religious 
practices throughout the Hindu community. Most successful north of 
the Vindhya Mountains, the Mahamandala was able to establish nu- 
merous bases in the Deccan and even to penetrate the Dravidian South. 
As an orthodox society it also created and maintained an extensive 
organizational structure, a feat few orthodox groups, in any religion, 
were able to emulate. 


Socio-religious movements of the Gangetic plains drew on the long- 
standing customs and ideals of each religious community. They did so 
in a region of South Asia where the power of two traditional religious 
elites, the Brahmans and the ‘ulama, restricted direct challenges to 
established customs more than in either Bengal or the Punjab. What 
interaction existed between the two religious communities was largely 
defensive and acted to clarify the lines that divided Hindus and 
Muslims. There is little evidence of influence from one community 
helping to shape a particular movement within the other. 

By the end of the nineteenth century, Muslims of the Gangetic plains 
had produced socio-religious movements designed to restore their 
community to its rightful position in society. All, save the Barelwis, 
advocated various alterations in contemporary religion, and legiti- 
mized their programmes through different versions of religious auth- 
ority. Four ideological approaches and concomitant patterns of action 
were clearly discernible. The Tariqah-i-Muhammadiyah attempted to 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


re-establish Islamic supremacy through war and thus to elevate the 
entire Muslim community. Egalitarian in their approach, the Muham- 
madis appealed to all levels of Islamic society. After the defeat of the 
Muhammadi jihad and British suppression of the Mutiny, Muslim 
movements were primarily concerned with the loss of status and power 
of the elites. The Deobandis, Ahl-i-Hadith, and founders of the Nad- 
wah Dar al-‘Ulum focused on the role of the ‘ulama as ‘natural’ 
leaders of the Muslims. They all dealt with the loss of Islamic political 
power by creating an Islamic community that would retain its cohesion 
through an appeal to the individual’s conscience, rather than state 
authority. The ‘#lama would instruct their fellow Muslims and thus 
lead the way to a religious revival as well as to the maintenance of their 
own class status. By contrast, Sayyid Ahmad Khan envisioned the 
re-emergence of a bureaucratic and administrative elite who would 
guide their fellow Muslims into cooperation with the British-Indian 
government, and do so on the basis of a mixture of Islamic and western 
education. Finally the Barelwis defended orthodoxy in an alliance with 
the hereditary pirs of the countryside. Muslims, in their encounter with 
foreign conquest and civilization, fragmented into opposing schools of 
thought and action that represented different constituencies within their 
society and expressed contrasting perceptions of their historic dilemma. 
These movements also extended beyond the Islamic community, in reac- 
tion to challenges from an increasingly aggressive Hindu elite that saw 
itself as the spokesman for the majority community. 

During the second half of the nineteenth century, Hindus of the 
Gangetic plain created two types of socio-religious movement within 
this region, both acculturative, but one also defensively orthodox. 
They were also influenced by the Brahmo Samaj, as Bengalis moved 
north-west in search of employment. The Hindus of the Gangetic basin 
first turned to their traditional institutions. The Radhasoamis refur- 
bished the guru, adding to this ancient institution such innovations as 
photography and new forms of organization. They offered a flexible 
approach to social and cultural change, for whatever problem or ques- 
tion might arise, the living guru provided an answer. Religious auth- 
ority was alive and available for those who accepted it, and such 
authority covered all aspects of life. The Radhasoamis appealed to a 
rising vernacular, literate group and to a lesser degree to English 
literates. Through their publications and meetings, they promised a 
form of spiritual enlightenment and a new psycho-social order. For the 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


remaining issues of change and of cultural adjustment, they either 
adopted what they needed for their religious community or ignored 
them as irrelevant to the search for spiritual progress. By contrast, the 
Bharat Dharma Mahamandala, as with the Barelwis, attempted to 
defend established religion with an organization based on the pre- 
British elite of aristocrats, priests, landlords, princes, and merchants. 
They maintained that if each individual would adhere to varnashra- 
madharma, then Hinduism would once more flourish as it had prior to 
the arrival of Islam. Members of both religious communities turned 
first to their own traditions of thought and action, and only in the 
second half of the nineteenth century was there the beginning of 
conscious interaction with British culture. Struggles with the opposing 
communities played a less important role here than the communal 
conflicts of Punjab and the North-West. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 




The Punjab encompasses the land west of the Sutlej to the Indus River, 
and from the Himalayan foothills south to the confluence of the 
Panjnad and Indus Rivers. North of the Punjab are the foothills and the 
Himalayan mountains that include the Kashmir valley. To the West lies 
the edge of the Iranian plateau with its sharp hills, tribal groups, and 
key passes. To the South of eastern Punjab is Rajasthan with its dry, 
hilly topography that merges to the East with the great Indian desert. 
Beyond Rajasthan, at the lower end of the Indus River, is Sind, a 
semi-desert land at the edge of South Asia. 

The Hindu-Buddhist cultures of the North-West extend back in 
time to the third millennium sc and were the first to be incorporated 
into the Islamic world, Sind in ap 712, and the Punjab by the end of the 
twelfth century. Majorities of Muslims lived in Sind, western Punjab, 
and Kashmir. Hindus remained the majority in eastern Punjab, Rajas- 
than, and the Punjab hills. The religious structure of this region was 
given a new dimension when Guru Nanak founded Sikhism (see p. 13). 
In 1799, under the leadership of Ranjit Singh, they established a Sikh 
kingdom that ruled Punjab and Kashmir. 

In 1803 British victories brought them to Delhi and the eastern 
border of the Sikh kingdom, as the lands between the Sutlej and Jumna 
Rivers came under British control. After 1818 the princes of Rajasthan 
accepted British supremacy, and in 1843 Sind was annexed to the 
Bombay Presidency. The two Anglo-Sikh wars led to the acquisition of 
the Jullundur Doab in 1846, and of the entire Sikh kingdom in 1849. 
The British Empire expanded to its geographic limits with a fluctuating 
border in the trans-Indus territory. This vast surge of the British 
political sphere, the last such expansion in South Asia, was followed by 
a much slower uneven growth of the cultural milieu. 

Delhi during its pre-Mutiny ‘renaissance’ became the source of 
cultural interaction for the Punjab until it was replaced by Lahore. In 
between these two cities, Ludhiana gained prominence after 1834 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Qo 500 km 
6 300 miles 

<igwalpiedi fe 

Julundur pa ittaur 




3 Punjab and north-western India 

Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


when the American Presbyterian Mission established its new head- 
quarters there. The next year the Mission acquired a printing press and 
proceeded to publish tracts, translations of the scriptures, grammars, 
and dictionaries in Punjabi, Urdu, Persian, Hindi and Kashmiri. As 
with the Baptists of Serampore, the Ludhiana missionaries did much to 
standardize the languages of this region. They also introduced new 
forms of religious organization and aggressive proselytism. For the 
missionaries, Ludhiana was a forward base from which they quickly 
expanded after the Punjab was annexed on 29 March 1849. The growth 
of Christian missions was interrupted briefly by the Mutiny, but 
during the 1860s they created a chain of missions throughout the 
North-West. Theirs was an aggressive and uncompromising Christian- 
ity, which was expressed in print and through open preaching in the 
streets. During the second half of the nineteenth century, Christian 
converts rose from 3,912 in 1881 to 37,980 by 1901 — small numbers for 
Punjab, but percentage increases that frightened indigenous religious 
leaders. The Christian missionaries were seen as part of a government 
machine that first defeated the Punjabi, next sought to govern him, and 
then to convert him. This comprised a ‘hard’ impact in contrast with the 
experience of Bengalis during the period when Christianity and 
government could still be seen as somewhat separate. It is against this 
framework that we must view the first of the socio-religious move- 
ments of Punjab. 


The Nirankaris 

Baba Dayal Das (1783-1855) founded the Nirankaris, a movement of 
purification and return. Dayal Das was born into a Malhotra Khatri 
family in Peshawar and raised as a pious, religiously oriented boy, but 
beyond this we know little of his early life. After his parents died, Dayal 
Das moved to Rawalpindi where he opened an apothecary shop. Ap- 
parently disenchanted with contemporary religion, Dayal Das con- 
cluded that Sikhism was decadent, filled with falsehood, superstition 
and error. Sometime during the decade of the 1840s, he called for the 
return of Sikhism to its origins and emphasized the worship of God as 
nirankar (formless). Such an approach meanta rejection of idols, rituals 
associated with idolatry, and the Brahman priests who conducted these 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


rituals.! A repudiation of Brahman priests meant also a rejection of 
those Sikhs allied with them. Dayal Das quickly ran into opposition 
from the established religious authorities; consequently, the movement 
progressed in secret until the British gained control of the Punjab. 

The Nirankaris focused more on deficiencies in religious practice 
than on a critique of theology. The appropriate path to God was 
through worship based on meditation rather than complex ritual. 
Dayal Das urged his disciples to meet each morning for daily worship 
in their dharmshalas. He stressed the importance and authority of 
Guru Nanak and of the Adi Granth (the source of all authority and 
knowledge). His disciples were ‘to worship the formless God, to obey 
the shabad of the guru [in the Adi Granth], to clean the shoes and feet of 
the congregation [as an act of humility], to serve one’s parents, to avoid 
bad habits, and to earn one’s livelihood through work’.? In accordance 
with Sikh tradition, Dayal Das taught a religious code for the house- 
holder, that is, an individual who retained his familial and social ties and 
had not withdrawn into the role of a mendicant. 

In addition Dayal Das taught that women should not be treated as 
unclean at childbirth; disciples should not use astrology or horoscopes 
in setting the time for ceremonies; the dowry should not be displayed at 
marriages; neither lighted lamps nor blessed sweets, prasad, should be 
placed in rivers; and no one should feed Brahmans as payment for 
conducting rituals. Eating meat, drinking liquor, lying, cheating, using 
false weights — all were forbidden. Each should follow a strict moral 
code and use only the proper life-cycle rituals as taught by Dayal Das. 
The new ceremonies included those of birth, naming of a child, a 
shortened marriage ceremony that had at its core a circumambulation 
of the Adi Granth, and a death-rite requiring that the body be im- 
mersed in a river or cremated. All ceremonies eliminated the services of 
a Brahman priest. 

Slowly the Nirankaris attracted new members. Because of per- 
secution, Dayal Das purchased land on the edge of Rawalpindi where 
he constructed a dharmshala, which became a centre of worship and 
was known as the Nirankari Darbar. Baba Dayal Das died on 30 
January 1855 before he could bring organization and cohesion to this 

1 There is some disagreement on just when Baba Dayal Das began to preach and draw to 
him disciples, see John C. B. Webster, The Nirankari Sikhs (Delhi, Macmillan Company, 

1979), p. 10; information from this section will be from Webster or it will be cited specifically. 
2 Ibid., p. 14. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


movement. The Nirankaris of Rawalpindi placed his body in the Lei 
River at a spot where he used to meditate. Later it was known as 
Dayalsar and considered sacred by the Nirankaris. Before his death 
Dayal Das named his son, Baba Darbara Singh (1814-70), to succeed 

Darbara Singh, born under the name of Mul Rai, was an energetic 
and persuasive leader who was determined to cut all ties with Hin- 
duism. A year after he had replaced his father, Darbara Singh began to 
issue hukamnamas (statements describing both doctrine and approved 
rituals). He toured the Rawalpindi area and while travelling preached, 
converted, and married his followers according to their own rites. In 
1861 he visited Amritsar and asked permission to perform the Ni- 
rankari marriage ceremony at the Golden Temple. This request was 
rejected; however, he conducted such a service in Amritsar on 17 April 
1861.3 In fifteen years Darbara Singh opened forty new subcentres as 
the number of disciples continued to grow: under him the Nirankaris 
had their most rapid period of expansion. He died on 13 February 1870, 
and his younger brother, Rattan Chand, succeeded him. 

Rattan Chand established new centres and appointed biredars (lead- 
ers) for each congregation or sangat. The biredars oversaw these groups 
and were charged with reciting the hukamnamas every fifteen days. 
Thus they provided a tie between the head of the Nirankari movement 
and its members. Rattan Chand developed Dayalsar into a religious 
hub as new biras (congregations) were added to the surrounding towns 
and villages. In 1903 he wrote a will leaving all property of the associ- 
ation to his successor, and before his death on 3 January 1909 he named 
his son, Baba Gurdit Singh, to fill that office. Gurdit Singh headed the 
movement until his death on 26 April 1947. 

The historical impact of the Nirankaris remains a matter of some 
debate, since even the most basic information is open to question. The 
census of 1891 stated that there were over 60,000 Sikhs in this move- 
ment. John Webster considers these figures exaggerated, and those of 
the 1921 census as too low with the more realistic estimate of around 
5,000 members.‘ Drawing on Sikh tradition, the Nirankaris focused on 
Guru Nanak, on Sikhism before the establishment of the Khalsa by 
Guru Gobind Singh at Anandpur, and the militarization of the faith. In 
this they pursued a path open to both orthodox, keshadharis, Sikhs and 

3 Man Singh Nirankari, ‘The Nirankaris’, Panjab Past and Present (April 1973), 5-6. 
* See Nirankari, ‘The Nirankaris’, pp. 6-7, 10; and Webster, The Nirankari Sikhs, p. 16. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


to the non-baptized ranks of the sahajdhdaris, but drew members mainly 
from the urban non-Jat section of the Sikh community. The Nirankaris 
stressed proper religious practice, issued hukamnamas to define its 
concepts of what was correct and built a series of worship centres 
staffed by their own priests. They did not clash with or oppose the 
British, but grew in part through the establishment of British rule in the 
Punjab since that freed them from the restriction of the Sikh govern- 
ment. The Nirankaris thus became a permanent subsection of the Sikh 
religion and in doing so helped to clarify the lines dividing Sikhs from 
Hindus. Their dependence on Guru Nanak and early Sikhism for their 
model of ‘pure’ religion separated them from another transitional 
movement, the Namdharis. 

The Namaharis 

Baba Ram Singh (1816-85) founded this transitional movement. He 
was born into a poor carpenter’s family in the village of Bhaini Arayian 
in Ludhiana district. Little is known about Ram Singh’s early life. 
Apparently he received no formal education and was married at the age 
of seven. Later his wife was addressed as ‘Mata’ or mother by members 
of the Namdhari movement.’ In 1836, when Ram Singh was twenty, he 
joined the army of Ranjit Singh and served until 1845. While a soldier 
he demonstrated a deep commitment to religion and began to attract his 
own following. In 1841, he met Balak Singh of Hazru in Campbellpur 
district and became his disciple. Balak Singh urged his listeners to live a 
simple life and to reject all ritual except for repeating God’s name. 
Those who accepted Balak Singh’s leadership saw him as a reincarna- 
tion of Guru Gobind Singh. Before his death, Balak Singh chose Ram 
Singh as his successor. 

In 1855 Ram Singh returned to Bhaini, where he reopened the 
family’s shop and lived there until his exile in 1872. Gradually disciples 
flocked to Bhaini where Ram Singh ran a free kitchen and preached his 
ideas of a purified Sikhism. In 1857, he formally inaugurated the 
Namdhari movement with a set of rituals modelled after Guru Gobind 
Singh’s founding of the Khalsa. Ram Singh used a recitation of gurbani 
(hymns from the Granth Sahib), ardas (the Sikh prayer), a flag, and 
baptism for entry into the new community. Each of the baptized Sikhs 

5 Fauja Singh Bajwa, The Kuka Movement: An Important Phase in Punjab’s Role in India’s 
Struggle for Freedom (Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass, 1965), pp. 5-6; this is the basic source used 
for the Namdharis and any other sources will be cited. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


was required to wear the five symbols with the exception of the kirpan 
(sword) no longer allowed by the British government. Instead of the 
sword, Ram Singh required them to keep a /athi (a bamboo stave). In 
addition the Namdharis wore white clothes with a white turban and 
carried a rosary to further set them apart from all others. 

Ram Singh demanded that his adherents abandon the worship of 
gods, goddesses, idols, graves, tombs, trees, and snakes. Popular saints 
were rejected along with the rituals conducted by Brahman priests and 
the authority of the hereditary custodians of the Sikh gurdwaras 
(centres of worship). He also condemned the claims to special status by 
the Sodhis and Bedis, descendants of the Sikh gurus. The Namdharis 
were told to abstain from ‘drinking, stealing, adultery, falsehood, 
slandering, back-biting and cheating’.6 The consumption of beef was 
strictly forbidden, since protection of cattle remained one of the Nam- 
daris’ most ardently held values. Proper behaviour was enforced by 
panchayats (village courts), which dispensed the appropriate punish- 
ment for a particular transgression. Ram Singh condemned beggary and 
thus the role of mendicants. His was a householder’s religious path that 
stressed hard work, cleanliness and a moral life. 

The Namdharis granted women a degree of equality. They too were 
initiated through baptism, allowed to remarry when widowed; dowries 
were rejected, and child marriage forbidden. For men, there was an 
emphasis on strength and martial qualities drawn from the teachings of 
Guru Gobind Singh and, no doubt, from Ram Singh’s years as a soldier. 
As he articulated his ideas, the movement grew and the village of Bhaini 
became a point of pilgrimage later known as Bhaini Sahib. In time 
Namdhari worship acquired a new dimension. Hymns were ac- 
companied with shouts of joy (k#ks), as the worshipper slipped into a 
state of ecstasy. This form of worship resulted in the Namdharis being 
referred to as kukas (shouters). Many outside the Namdhari com- 
munity saw them as peculiar and extreme, but they considered them- 
selves as bearers of the only true Sikhism.’ 

Ram Singh attracted many of his disciples from the peasant and 
untouchable castes and transformed them into a disciplined com- 
munity. Sangats were organized in any village that had a group of 
Namdharis. Each sangat had its own place of worship, a granthi 

6 [bid., pp. 24-5 
2 Kuch ane. Sachs A History of the Sikhs (Princeton University Press, 1966), vol. 2, pp. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


(scripture-reciter), and a free kitchen. The granthi taught Gurmukhi 
and the Sikh scriptures to both children and adults. Sangats were 
grouped together and administered by subas (governors), naib subas 
(assistant-governors), and jathedars (group leaders), whose primary 
function was to collect funds and remit them to the headquarters at 
Bhaini. The Namdharis also maintained a system of preachers to spread 
their message and their own postal runners to ensure communications 
within the community. Among the Namdharis, prophetic letters 
appeared that described a reincarnation of Guru Gobind Singh in the 
person of Ram Singh, and predicted the re-establishment of the Sikh 

The Punjab government became sufficiently uneasy with the 
Namdharis that on 28 June 1863 they interned Ram Singh in his village 
where he was held until the end of 1866. By 1863, the Namdharis were 
estimated to have between 40,000 to 60,000 members and approxi- 
mately 100,000 by 1871.9 The impressive growth of this movement as 
well as its militant ideology led the Punjab government to keep them 
under close surveillance and to prohibit Namdhari missionaries from 
preaching to Sikh troops of the British-Indian army. The period from 
1867 to 1870 remained quiet as the Namdharis continued to make 
converts. Yet some type of conflict with the government seemed almost 
inevitable. When Ram Singh visited Amritsar in 1867, he arrived with 
nearly 3,500 followers, converted 2,000, and conducted himself as a 
prince. He travelled with an escort of soldiers, held court daily, and 
exchanged gifts with local rulers. The clash, when it finally exploded, 
was not over Ram Singh’s acquisition of secular status, but the issue of 
cow protection. 

Under Ranjit Singh the slaughter of cattle had been outlawed, but the 
British lifted this ban. Cattle once more became a source of meat for the 
British and for Punjabi Muslims. The latter also publicly sacrificed 
cattle on the Islamic festival of ‘Id. Both Hindus and Sikhs objected to 
this and found offensive the presence of slaughter-houses and meat 
shops. The Namdharis were pledged to protect cattle and to end their 
slaughter. In 1871 two incidents occurred as Namdharis put their 
beliefs into practice. On the night of 15 June, a small band attacked a 

8 [bid., p. 130. 

9 Estimates of size vary; Bajwa claims between 300,000 to 400,000 by the end of the 1860s, 
but the lower, 100,000 figure is given in G. §. Chhabra, Advanced History of the Punjab 
(Ludhiana, 1962), p. 370. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Muslim slaughter-house in Amritsar. One month later a second attack 
took place in Raikot, Ludhiana District. The British arrested those 
involved and hung eight of them; however, this did not quiet matters. 
Another band marched on the small Muslim state of Malerkotla in 
January 1872. They intended to seize weapons and possibly begin an 
uprising against the government. To this threat the British reacted with 
speed and viciousness. The Deputy Commissioner of Ludhiana, 
Mr L. Cowan, rushed to Malerkotla, arrested the Namdharis, and on 
17-18 July executed sixty-five of them. 

In the aftermath a mixed military and police force raided Bhaini and 
arrested Ram Singh; he was exiled to Burma where he died in 1885. The 
government stationed a police post in the village of Bhaini where they 
remained until 1922. With the removal of Ram Singh, his younger 
brother, Baba Budh Singh, became head of the Namdharis. During the 
remainder of the nineteenth century studies of Namdhari attempts to 
find allies against the British in Nepal, Kashmir and Russia illustrated 
their enduring hostility toward the British government. Pilgrims con- 
tinued to reach Bhaini, but the movement was effectively curtailed. The 
census of 1891 counted 10,541 Namdharis and in 1901 the number had 
risen to only 13,788.!° 

The teachings of Ram Singh and his guru, Balak Singh, promised a 
return to purified Sikhism, not of Guru Nanak, but of Guru Gobind 
Singh. Both leadership and membership came from the Jat peasant class 
of Punjab, the same segment of society that had supported Guru 
Gobind Singh and his version of Sikhism. They shared with the Ni- 
rankaris the belief that Sikhism was decadent and degenerate and they 
too sought to return it to past purity. The Namdhari vision of a 
restructured Sikhism, however, called for a total reshaping of the Sikh 
community into a militant, religious—political dominion that threat- 
ened established religious authority and brought them into direct con- 
flict with the British-Indian government. With their ecstatic 
devotionalism, a millennial vision of the future, a tightly organized 
religious community that contained elements of a parallel government 
they, like the Tariqah-i-Muhammadis, struck against British political 
dominance and in return were suppressed. Neither Namdharis nor 
Nirankaris, both transitional movements, were concerned with 

10 Chhabra, Advanced History, p. 379. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


adjusting to the cultural influences of the colonial milieu, a world that 
had only begun to penetrate the Punjab. 


Once again we must look to Delhi and Ludhiana for sources of 
imported knowledge, technology, and the beginnings of cultural inter- 
action in the North-West. After the annexation of 1849 and the up- 
rising of 1857, Lahore became the premier city of the North-West; the 
centre of provincial administration as well as a place of social, edu- 
cational, and religious ferment. Students travelled to Lahore from 
throughout the province. There they received an education, partici- 
pated in the culture of Lahore and then disseminated it throughout the 
North-West when they departed for jobs in other cities and towns. 

The conquest of the Punjab generated a sudden need for educated 
Indians to staff government offices and the institutions erected by 
Christian missionaries. Brahmans and Kayasthas were recruited from 
Bengal and from the North-Western Provinces. Their arrival created an 
elite situated below the English rulers, but above Punjabis who lacked 
an English education or an understanding of the new colonial world. 
Bengalis provided three models for emulation: one as orthodox 
Hindus, a second as converts to Christianity, and a third as members of 
the Brahmo Samaj. Of the three types, the Brahmos were the most 
outspoken, aggressive, and articulate. In 1863 a few Bengalis and Punja- 
bis founded the Lahore Brahmo Samaj. Much of the dynamics of this 
society derived from the leadership of Babu Novin Chandra Roy, a 
Bengali employed as paymaster of the North-Western Railway offices 
in Lahore. He wrote extensively as an advocate of socially radical 
Brahmoism, fought for increased use of Hindi, and succeeded in 
recruiting new members among Bengalis and Punjabis. The Lahore 
Brahmo Samaj was aided by visits from leading Bengali Brahmos. 
Keshab Chandra Sen spoke in Lahore in 1867 and 1873, Debendranath 
Tagore in 1867, 1872 and 1874, and Protap Chandra Majumdar in 

Islamic influences also reached Punjab and the North-West from the 
Gangetic plain and particularly from Delhi. The career of ‘Abdul- 

" Kenneth W. Jones, Arya Dharm, Hindu Consciousness in 19th-Century Punjab (Berke- 
ley, University of California Press, 1976), p. 16; and Sivanatha Sastri, History of the Brahmo 
Samaj (Calcutta, R. Chatterjee, 1911), vol. 2, p. 395. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Minan Wazirabadi illustrates the diffusion of Islamic ideas. He was 
born in Jhelum, travelled first to Bhopal and then to Delhi for his 
education. In Delhi he studied under Nazir Husain and when he 
returned to the Punjab, he brought the ideology of Ahi-i-Hadith with 
him, becoming one of this movement’s most effective exponents.!? 
Another prominent supporter of Ahl-i-Hadith in Punjab was Maulawi 
Muhammad Husain of Batala (Gurdaspur district), who began publish- 
ing the newspaper, Isha‘at-i-Sunnab.'3 At an extreme of movements of 
return, the Lahore Ahl-i-Qur’an, founded by ‘Abd "Ullah Chakra- 
lawi, rejected orthodox Islam as well as all movements such as the 
Ahl-i-Hadith that accepted forms of authority other than the Qur’an. 
Chakralawi and his few followers clashed with all other Muslim 
groups, remaining as they did on one end of a continuum of advocates 
for religious and social change. 

New types of Islamic organization began to appear in the years after 
the Mutiny. In 1866 the Anjuman-i-Himayat-i-Islam (the Society for 
the Defence of Islam) was founded in Lahore by Muhammad Shafi and 
Shah Din, both followers of Sayyid Ahmad Khan. This society opened 
schools that included western education and required the study of 
English. They emphasized female education, loyalty to the British- 
Indian government, and opposed the Indian National Congress. This 
organization was not limited to Lahore. The parent association estab- 
lished branches throughout the subcontinent.'* Three years later the 
Anjuman-i-Islamiyah (the Islamic Society) was organized in Lahore to 
teach Muslim youth the principles of Islam and elements of western 
knowledge. Thus influences from Muslim movements outside of the 
North West flowed into that area and beyond through societies and 
organizations created in the North-West. The largest of the Hindu 
acculturative socio-religious movements, the Arya Samaj, also demon- 
strated the inward and outward flow of ideas and organizations. 

The Arya Samaj 

The career of one man, Swami Dayananda Saraswati (1824-83), 
changed the face of the Punjab and the territories surrounding it. He 
‘2 Barbara Daly Metcalf, Islamic Revival in British India: Deoband, 1860-1900 (Princeton 
University Press, 1982), p. 292. 
13 Spencer Lavan, The Ahmadiyah Movement, a History and Perspective (Delhi, Manohar 
Book Service, 1974), p. 10. 

14 J. N. Farquhar, Modern Religious Movements in India (New York, Macmillan, 1919), 
pp. 347—8; Lavan, Ahmadiyah Movement, p. 10. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


was born in Tankara (Gujarat), a town in the small Princely State of 
Morvi. His father, a Samavedi Brahman of the Audichya caste, had 
considerable status and wealth. Young Dayananda, born Mul Shankar, 
was educated in his home by local tutors. He studied religious texts and 
Sanskrit in preparation for his life as an orthodox Shaivite. He ques- 
tioned and then rejected his expected role. After delaying the marriage 
his parents wanted, the young Mulji fled from his home to begin the life 
of a wandering mendicant. He was initiated into the order of Saraswati 
Dandis, taking the name Dayananda and then dedicated his life to 
searching for release from rebirth.!> 

His life’s direction changed in November 1860, when he met and 
became the disciple of Swami Virajananda. After nearly three years 
with Virajananda, Dayananda emerged with a new set of goals, namely 
to purify Hinduism and save it from its contemporary degenerate state. 
He also had devised a method of accomplishing this. For Dayananda all 
truth was to be found in the Vedas by anyone who used the proper 
analytic and grammatical tools needed to understand Vedic Sanskrit. 
Dayananda separated all Hindu scriptures into two categories: arsha 
and un-arsha. The former included the Vedas and any text based on a 
proper understanding of the Vedas. The latter were the products of the 
post-Mahabharata period of history when true Vedic knowledge was 
lost and ignorance prevailed. The Vedas then comprised the yardstick 
against which all other scriptural texts were judged, as were questions 
of religious custom and ritual. 

Dayananda began to preach a ‘purified’ Hinduism, one that rejected 
the popular Puranas, polytheism, idolatry, the role of Brahman priests, 
pilgrimages, nearly all rituals, and the ban on widow marriage — in 
short, almost all of contemporary Hinduism. He still dressed and lived 
as a sadhu, spoke in Sanskrit, and debated with orthodox priests. 
Dayananda visited Calcutta in 1872 where he met Debendranath 
Tagore as well as other Brahmos. When he left Bengal, Dayananda had 
abandoned the dress of a mendicant and spoke in Hindi to reach an 
audience of middle-class, often educated Hindus. Among them his 
message found a much greater acceptance. One of his new disciples, 
Raja Jai Kishen Das, suggested he record his ideas, with the result that, 
in 1875, Dayananda published his first edition of the Satyarth Prakash 
(The Light of Truth), in which he elaborated his concepts of true 

'S See J. T. F. Jordens, Dayananda Saraswati, His Life and Ideas (Delhi, Oxford Uni- 
versity Press, 1978), pp. 1-23. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Hinduism. Dayananda condemned all that he considered false, i.e. 
orthodox Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Jainism and, Sik- 
hism. For him there was only one true faith, Vedic Hinduism. 

In 1874 Dayananda travelled to Gujarat and Bombay. On ro April 
1875 he established the Bombay Arya Samaj (Noble Society). It sur- 
vived and became the first successful organizational expression of his 
ideas. Turning north Swami Dayananda reached Delhi in January 1877. 
Once there sympathetic Hindu leaders, primarily Brahmos, invited 
him to visit Lahore. After arriving in Delhi on 19 April 1877, Daya- 
nanda attacked idolatry, child marriage, elaborate rituals, the Brahman 
priests, and, at the same time, insisted on the infallibility of the Vedas. 
Orthodox Hindus were outraged and critics, such as the Brahmos, 
disturbed by his insistence on Vedic truth.'¢ 

Swami Dayananda remained in the Punjab until 11 July 1878, when 
he left for the North-Western Provinces. During these months he 
criss-crossed the Punjab. In Lahore he quickly attracted a group of 
dedicated disciples, many of whom were students and graduates of the 
Lahore colleges. On 24 June 1877, after three months of public lectures 
and private discussions, the Lahore Arya Samaj held its first meeting. 
The lengthy statement of belief was rewritten by Punjabi Aryas and 
reduced to ten simple principles that became the universal creed of the 
Samaj. Soon Arya Samajes were organized in different cities of the 
province. In the meantime Dayananda left for the North-Western 
Provinces. He toured primarily the western Gangetic plain until the 
spring of 1881 when he departed for Rajasthan. Here he spent the last 
two years of his life in a vain attempt to persuade the Rajput princes to 
accept his vision of a purified world. In this he failed; yet on his death in 
Ajmer on 30 October 1883, he left behind him Arya Samajes scattered 
throughout the Punjab and the North-Western Provinces plus a few in 
Rajasthan and Maharashtra. 

The Arya Samaj lacked any central organization and each Samaj was 
independent. Dayananda’s death, however, did not lead to disinte- 
gration, but to a burst of energy, as numerous Samajes sought to 
honour their departed teacher. They were nearly unanimous in the 
desire to found a school that would impart his Aryan form of Hin- 
duism, and thus be safe from Christian influence. The Lahore Samaj 
drafted plans for this institution and on 6 December 1883 set up a 

16 Jones, Arya Dharm, pp. 34-7; information has been taken from this source unless 
otherwise cited. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


subcommittee to raise funds. Initially they were quite successful, but 
by 1884 enthusiasm waned. In 3 November 1885 the Antarang Sabha 
(Executive Committee), of the Lahore Samaj, received a letter in which 
Lala Hans Raj promised to serve as principal of the school without pay. 
Hans Raj, a Bhalla Khatri, had joined the Arya Samaj while a student at 
the Lahore Government College. His act of selflessness rekindled the 
desire for a school. Events then moved quickly. The newly organized 
Dayananda Anglo-Vedic Trust and Management Society held its first 
meeting on 27 February 1886 and the school was opened on 1 June of 
that year. Within one month 550 students had enrolled and on 18 May 
1889 the Punjab University granted affiliation to the new Dayananda 
Anglo-Vedic College. The high school and college taught a curriculum 
similar to the government schools, but did so without government 
support or the participation of Englishmen on the faculty. It was highly 
successful, as students trained in this institution demonstrated the 
quality of their education in the annual examinations. 

The Dayananda Anglo-Vedic Trust and Management Society was 
the first centralizing organization within the Samaj, with representa- 
tives from many branch samajes. Still it was limited to issues concerning 
the school. Consequently, a formal representative body convened in 
October 1886, the Arya Pratinidhi Sabha, Punjab. Delegates to this 
Sabha came from throughout the province and in time from branches in 
Sind and on the trans-Indus frontier. It dealt with a wide variety of 
questions and provided a degree of centralization missing since Daya- 
nanda’s death. As the Samaj expanded, other provincial sabhas were 
established: the North-Western Provinces (1886), Rajasthan (1888), 
Bengal and Bihar (1889), Madhya Pradesh and Vidarbha (1889), and 
Bombay (1902). Organizational developments, however, could not 
prevent the rise of internal tensions. 

Serious strains first appeared among the Aryas as the Dayananda 
Anglo-Vedic school progressed from a set of ideals to their concrete 
expression. A militant party, led by Pandit Guru Datta, began to 
separate itself from more moderate Aryas. Pandit Guru Datta Vidyar- 
thi was born of a wealthy Arora family in Multan. He earned botha BA 
and MA degree at the Government College. Guru Datta joined the 
Arya Samaj and was deeply committed to Dayananda and his message. 
For Guru Datta this was a religious experience. He considered Daya- 
nanda a rishi (a divinely inspired prophet), and the Satyarth Prakash a 
text that must be taken literally and could not be questioned. He and 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


those, such as Pandit Lekh Ram and Lala Munshi Ram, who shared his 
vision, wanted the proposed school to focus on Aryan ideology, on the 
study of Sanskrit and the Vedic scriptures. For them it must be 
modelled after the ancient Hindu universities, and would thus produce 
the new ‘pure’ Hindu youth. The school, once established, expressed 
the ideas of more moderate Aryas who wished to provide an English 
education safe from non-Hindu influence and relevant to careers 
within the colonial milieu. 

Tensions between adherents of opposing Aryan concepts erupted in 
the late 1880s, as the question of who would become principal of the 
Dayananda Anglo—Vedic College was debated in the Managing Com- 
mittee. The militants wanted Pandit Guru Datta and a change in the 
curriculum; the moderates preferred Lala Hans Raj and the existent 
form of education. The moderates won, but out of this struggle came 
two clearly defined parties. The militants, later known as the ‘Gurukul’ 
wing, stressed the religious nature of the Samaj and the moderates, the 
‘College’ party, saw Dayananda as a great reformer, but not as a 
divinely inspired rishi. The issue of vegetarianism came to symbolize 
these internal differences. Militant Aryas insisted on a strict vegetarian 
diet, while the moderates maintained that this question was one of 
personal choice and irrelevant to membership in the Samaj. By 1893, 
the Arya Samaj was formally divided. The militants gained control over 
most of the local Arya Samajes and the Arya Pratinidhi Sabha, Punjab. 
The moderates kept their hold on the Managing Committee and the 
school. They established rival local organizations and in 1903 founded 
the Arya Pradeshik Pratinidhi Sabha as their own provincial repre- 
sentative body. Power and leadership for them remained focused on the 
Managing Committee and education their primary cause. 

The division of 1893 left the moderates and supporters of the College 
in severe difficulties. They had lost the organizational structure that 
supported their educational work. Slowly they rebuilt it and were able 
to provide the necessary money, not only to maintain the Dayananda 
Anglo-Vedic College, but to expand it. The student body grew to 961 
by 1914. More importantly, the Lahore school became the model for 
other Aryas as local samajes established elementary and secondary 
schools throughout the Punjab. By 1910, the Managing Committee 
framed rules and regulations governing schools affiliated to it, and thus 
became the formal head of a growing educational system. 

Moderates added to their educational activities other forms of service 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


to the Hindu community. As early as 1877 Rai Mathura Das opened the 
first Arya Samaj orphanage in Ferozepore. It grew slowly until the 
famines of the late 1890s. In response to Christian relief measures that 
both saved starving children and converted them, Lala Lajpat Rai, a 
leading moderate in the Arya Samaj, announced that the Samaj would 
shelter any orphan sent to them. In February 1897, he began a campaign 
to collect funds for orphan relief. This opened a struggle between the 
Aryas and Christian missionaries over legal control of Hindu orphans. 
In the meantime, Aryas travelled to the Central Provinces and brought 
back children who were sent to Ferozepore and to other newly estab- 
lished orphanages throughout the Punjab. Orphan and famine relief 
illustrate the tendency ot moderate Aryas to view Hindus as members 
of acommunity rather than a religious sect and then act for the benefit 
of that community. Militant Aryas, however, developed a somewhat 
different set of priorities. 

With the division of 1893-4 the militants replaced their main pur- 
pose, education, with an emphasis on Ved prachar (proselytism and 
preaching). After the death of Pandit Guru Datta on 18 March 1890, 
leadership fell into the hands of Lala Munshi Ram and Pandit Lekh 
Ram. Under their guidance the Arya Pratinidhi Sabha created a plan for 
professional missionaries. The entire province was divided into circles 
(mandalis), and in November 1895, six full-time missionaries were 
hired to preach and work with local Arya Samaj branches. Volunteers 
aided them, tracts were published, and newspapers printed in both 
English and the vernaculars. The Arya Samaj borrowed the insti- 
tutional forms and techniques of the Christian missionaries needed to 
counter the challenges presented by the three conversion religions, 
Christianity, Sikhism and Islam, as they made inroads into the Hindu 

Traditionally, Hinduism lacked a conversion ritual. After the in- 
troduction of a decennial census in 1871, religious leaders began to 
focus their attention on the issue of numerical strength. For Hindus the 
census reports pictured their community as one in decline, its numbers 
falling in proportion to those of other religions.!” Christian success in 
converting the lower and untouchable castes furthered Hindu fears and 
led the militant Aryas to develop their own ritual of conversion, 
shuddhi. Initially shuddhi was employed to purify and readmit Hindus 

'7 Kenneth W. Jones, ‘Religious identity and the Indian census’ in N. G. Barrier (ed.), The 
Census in British India: New Perspectives (Delhi, Manohar, 1981), pp. 73-101. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


who had converted to Islam or Christianity. During the 1880s and early 
1890s, Aryas conducted individual reconversions; however, consider- 
able opposition existed to this practice and it was often difficult for a 
reconvert to find admission to Hindu society. In the wake of the 1891 
census that reported an increase in Christian converts of 410 per cent 
for the previous decade, Aryas and their Sikh allies in the Singh Sabhas 
began to expand the use of shuddhi. Individual conversions gave way to 
group conversions. The first of these was performed on 31 March 1896, 
when the Shuddhi Sabha purified five people, and on 5 April another 
six. During the 1890s larger and larger groups were purified and the 
meaning of shuddhi reinterpreted. Originally shuddhi applied only to 
those converted, but soon it was performed for anyone whose ances- 
tors had once been Hindus. Aryas also used shuddhi to purify untouch- 
ables and transform then into members of the clean castes. During the 
first decade of the new century, Aryas purified a number of Rahtias, a 
caste of Sikh untouchables, as well as Hindu Odes and Meghs. 

Shuddhi and Arya proselytism challenged the other religious com- 
munities, creating tension and discord between them. The most dra- 
matic of all such clashes resulted from the career of Pandit Lekh Ram 
(1858-97). He was born in Peshawar near the north-western frontier; 
educated in Persian and Urdu by Muslim teachers. He joined the 
Peshawar Arya Samaj in 1880 and travelled to Ajmer, where he was at 
Dayananda’s bedside when he died. The next year, Lekh Ram resigned 
from the police to devote himself completely to the Samaj. He wrote 
extensively in condemnation of Islam in general and the Muslim leader, 
Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, in particular. In 1892 he published Risala-i- 
Jihad ya ya‘ni Din-i-Muhammadi ki Bunyad (Jihad, the Basis of the 
Muhammadan Religion). In it, Lekh Ram portrayed Islam as a religion 
of murder, theft, slavery, and perverse sexual acts. Repeated writings 
by the Pandit angered Muslims who responded in kind. Islamic leaders 
appealed to the courts, but failed to silence Lekh Ram. On 6 March 
1897, the Pandit was assassinated and the resulting furor tore apart the 
Punjab, as Muslims and Hindus moved to the edge of communal 
violence. On the surface conditions quieted in the next few months, but 
tensions remained embedded in north-western society. 

In addition to Ved prachar and shuddhi, militant Aryas turned their 
attention to education. By the early 1890s Lala Munshi Ram (later 
known as Swami Shraddhanand), Lala Dev Raj, and their fellow Aryas 
in Jullundur, had established a girls’ school, the Arya Kanya Pathshala, 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


to provide an education safe from missionary influence. They also 
founded the Kanya Ashram or women’s hostel. Both the school and the 
hostel were considered controversial to most of the Hindu community, 
whether orthodox or moderate Aryan. The success of the Kanya Path- 
shala stimulated discussions among its supporters for expansion 
towards higher education, with the result that on 14 June 1896, they 
founded the Kanya Mahavidyalaya. Initially this was an extension of 
the older school, but it grew steadily, becoming a fully developed high 
school and finally a women’s college. By 1906, the Mahavidyalaya 
enrolled 203 students in all grades and the Ashram housed 105 students, 
a mixture of unmarried, married, and widowed women. Gradually the 
school became the core of an educational movement, as its alumnae 
opened their own girls’ schools. The Kanya Mahavidyalaya published 
literature for women’s education and founded the Hindi monthly, 
Panchal Pandita, in 1898, ‘to preach and propagate about female edu- 
cation’.'8 For the militant Aryas, education was intended to produce a 
new ideal Hindu woman. 

Along with their attempts to educate women the militants also 
advocated widow remarriage. They launched societies to support such 
marriages and to put these ideals into practice. Over the next decade 
widow remarriage became increasingly acceptable among Punjabi 
Hindus. There was, however, a line drawn between virgin widows, 
those who had not lived with their husbands, and non-virgin widows, 
especially women who had borne children. Only the remarriage of 
virgin widows was beginning to be accepted in the late nineteenth 
century. The cause of widow remarriage drew adherents from a wide 
spectrum of the Hindu community, yet leadership was often provided 
by militant Aryas who wished to create the ‘new’ Hindu as envisioned 
by Dayananda. 

Pandit Guru Datta’s dream of a school system modelled after the 
ancient Hindu universities survived his death, since Lala Munshi Ram 
and other militant Aryas shared this vision. In the late 1890s Munshi 
Ram dedicated himself to the creation of a new educational institution, 
one where students would follow a life of celibacy, discipline, and 
Vedic learning. In 1898 the Arya Pratinidhi Sabha of the Punjab voted 
to establish such an institution. On 22 March 1902 the Gurukula 
Kangri opened in Hardwar, with Lala Munshi Ram as its manager and 

18 Jones, Arya Dharm, p. 217. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


moral guide. Students at the Gurukula entered the first grade 
and remained there through college. They lived on the campus under 
strict faculty discipline, and learned selected western subjects through 
the lens of Aryan ideals, Hindu scriptures, and the vernacular 

With the establishment of the Gurukula, militant Aryas had com- 
pleted their own system of religiously oriented education for both 
women and men. The Samaj had become a major acculturative move- 
ment with its purified Vedic Hinduism that rejected almost all contem- 
porary Hinduism. Drawing its leadership and members from educated 
Hindus, primarily of the upper castes, the Arya Samaj adopted an 
imported organizational structure and parliamentary procedures. The 
two wings of the Samaj created a wide variety of institutions, offered 
new forms of worship, introduced proselytism, including paid mis- 
sionaries, a conversion ritual, and reduced their teachings to a funda- 
mental creed. Commitment to Aryan ideals focused the energies and 
wealth of their devotees into a variety of fields. It also provided the 
necessary psychological strength to publicly oppose existing rituals and 
customs. The ideals of the Samaj were not only preached, but put into 
action. The Samaj with its aggressive defence of Vedic Hinduism rein- 
forced the lines drawn between Hindus and other religions. They also 
created escalating religious conflict. The Samaj entered the twentieth 
century divided over interpretations of Dayananda, his message, and 
the methods of putting those ideas into concrete form. In the process, 
Aryan Hinduism had become a creedal religion, repeatedly defined and 
explained through a system of proselytism and conversion. The Aryas 
were not, however, the only Punjabi socio-religious movement to 
follow this pattern of creed and conversion. 

The Dev Samaj 

As with many of the first Aryas in Lahore, the career of Pandit Shiv 
Narayan Agnihotri as a religious leader grew from his involvement 
with the Lahore Brahmo Samaj. Pandit Agnihotri was born into a 
family of Kanauji Brahmans on 20 December 1850.! At the age of 
sixteen Agnihotri enrolled in the Thomson College of Engineering at 

19 P. V. Kanal, Bhagwan Dev Atma (Lahore, Dev Samaj Book Depot, 1942), p. 51. J. N. 
Farquhar states that Agnihotri was born in 1850, but gives no source for this information. The 
remaining dates in Kanal’s work are uncontested and so it has been used as the standard 
biography for this section. Other sources will be cited. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Roorkee. As a student he was introduced to Vedanta through the 
teachings of Shiv Dayal Singh who, in 1871, formally initiated Agni- 
hotri and his wife as his own disciples. Two years later Agnihotri left 
Roorkee for Lahore where he accepted a position as drawing master in 
the Government School. 

After settling in Lahore, Pandit Agnihotri was attracted to the 
Brahmo Samaj through the influence of his guru and of Munshi 
Kanhyalal Alakhdhari. He joined the Samaj in 1873 and quickly 
became a major figure in that organization. The Pandit was a dramatic 
speaker, prolific writer, and a successful journalist. While a member of 
the Brahmo Samaj, he spoke and wrote in favour of marriage reform 
and vegetarianism. He expounded the rationalistic and eclectic Brahmo 
doctrine. Gradually he committed more of his time to the Samaj and, in 
1875, Agnihotri became an honorary missionary of the Samaj.?° Five 
years later, he travelled to Calcutta where he was ordained as one of the 
first missionaries of the newly established Sadharan Brahmo Samaj. 

Pandit Agnihotri met Swami Dayananda in 1877 and, although many 
of their ideas were compatible, they clashed with each other on a 
personal basis. Afterwards Agnihotri repeatedly attacked Dayananda 
and the Arya Samaj. Writing in Hindi, Urdu, and English, Agnihotri 
borrowed criticism from European scholars to reject Dayananda’s 
interpretation of the Vedas. Aryas replied with a stream of tracts 
condemning Agnihotri, first as a Brahmo, and later as leader of his own 
religious movement. Pandit Agnihotri became increasingly involved in 
the work of the Brahmo Samaj. He took a modified Brahmo form of 
sanyas on 20 December 1882 and changed his name to Satyananda 
Agnihotri. As a full-time practitioner of religion, Agnihotri left his post 
as drawing master, but still retained his married life. Friction developed 
within the Brahmo Samaj and doubts in the Pandit’s own mind so that 
in 1886 he resigned from the Punjab Brahmo Samaj. 

On 16 February 1887 Agnihotri founded the Dev Samaj (Divine 
Society). At first this organization was considered an extension of the 
Brahmo Samaj, but it soon began to deviate from their doctrines. 
Agnihotri rejected Brahmo rationalism and taught instead that only the 
guru, in the person of Agnihotri, could provide a path of eternal bliss. 
At the upper end of an evolutionary ladder, he possessed the ‘Complete 
Higher Life’, a stage of being beyond the dangers of degeneracy and 

20 Farquhar, Modern Religious Movements, p. 173. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


disintegration. A soul moved up this ladder of life or down it. Degene- 
racy could be achieved by anyone, but progress upward required the 
guidance of an enlightened soul, and in this world the only guide was 
Pandit Agnihotri. In 1892 he initiated the dual worship of himself and 
God. Three years later, the worship of God was dispensed with, leaving 
the guru as the sole point of attention for members of the Samaj. 

The Dev Samaj held regular services consisting of hymns, a sermon, 
and readings from the Deva Shastra. Murti puja (idol worship) was 
combined with these other types of worship. Agnihotri or his portrait 
replaced the traditional idol. In its patterns of worship and its ideology, 
the Dev Samaj fused traditional concepts with demands for radical 
social change. It taught a code of honesty in public and private. The Dev 
Samajis were forbidden to lie, steal, cheat, accept bribes or gamble. 
They should take neither liquor nor drugs and were expected to be 
strict vegetarians. Adultery, polygamy, and ‘unnatural crimes’ were 
outlawed and each member was expected to follow a useful life — that is, 
to work and live as a householder. All levels of membership looked to 
Agnihotri, known later as Dev Bhagwan Atma, for guidance in their 
lives and in their search for fulfilment. 

The Dev Samaj demanded that its members abandon all caste re- 
straints; they were expected to practise intercaste dining and intercaste 
marriage. Pandit Agnihotri also wished to restructure the role of 
women. He attempted to eliminate child marriage by setting the age of 
marriage at twenty for boys and sixteen for girls. Agnihotri discour- 
aged excessive dowries, the seclusion of women, and their traditional 
mourning rites. He taught that widow marriage was acceptable and 
married a widow himself after the death of his first wife. The Dev Samaj 
encouraged the education of women and opened a coeducational 
school in Moga (Ferozepore district) on 29 October 1899.?! 

The emphasis on a stern moral standard plus considerable social 
radicalism appealed to educated Punjabi Hindus, ‘graduates, magis- 
trates, doctors, pleaders, money-lenders, landlords and Government 
servants’, who comprised the membership of the Dev Samaj.?2 The Dev 
Samajis were almost totally educated men and even contained a large 
percentage of literate women. This, and their position in society, gave 
the movement far greater influence than sheer numbers would allow. 
This acculturative socio-religious movement was always an elite organ- 

21 Kanal, Bhagwan Dev Atma, pp. 345-6; and Census, 1911, Punjab Report, p. 139. 
2 Census, 1911, Punjab Report, p. 139. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


ization drawing its membership from the highly educated upper caste 
Hindus of Punjab. Centred on a guru, the Dev Samaj produced a 
mixture of religious tradition and radical social change, especially in the 
role of women. The Samaj peaked in 1921 when it had 3,597 members. 
After the death of Pandit Agnihotri the Dev Samaj declined, but it did 
not disappear. It continued to practise the Vigyan Mulak Dharma 
(Science Grounded Religion).?3 The radicalism of the Dev Samaj, 
Brahmo Samaj, and Arya Samaj, the attacks by individual critics, such 
as Kanhyalal Alakhdhari, and the criticisms of the Christian mis- 
sionaries stirred orthodox Hindus to defend their religion from all who 
opposed it. 


Pandit Shraddha Ram Phillauri 

The first nineteenth-century leader of Hindu orthodoxy in Punjab was 
Pandit Shraddha Ram who was born in 1837 at Phillaur (Jullundur 
district). His family belonged to the Marud Joshi Brahmans and served 
the Bhandari Khatri community of Phillaur. His father, a worshipper 
of shakti, earned his living as a priest. The young Shraddha Ram was 
educated to follow the same profession, but in a manner unique to the 
North-West. He studied both Sanskrit and his native tongue of 
Punjabi, but because of the long Islamic dominance in this area, he also 
learned Persian and Urdu from a local maulawi (Islamic scholar).24 By 
the time he was nineteen, Shraddha Ram had begun to perform his 
priestly role. One evening after reciting a part of the Mahabharata in 
public, Shraddha Ram was arrested and expelled from Phillaur by the 
police who thought he was preaching revolution. This was either just 
before or at the beginning of the Mutiny. Shraddha Ram travelled to 
Patiala, then Hardwar and back to Ludhiana, where he found employ- 
ment with the Reverend J. Newton of the American Presbyterian 
Mission. The young Pandit translated tracts and books into the 
languages of the North-West. His work included parts of the New 

23 Census, 1931, Punjab Report, p. 301. 

2% Tulsi Deva, Shraddha Prakash, Pratham Bhag, Shri Pandit Shraddha Ram Ji Ka Jivan 

(Lahore, Punjab Economical Press, 1896), pp. 3-12. This is the only biography of Shraddha 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Testament and the Qur’an, the latter translated from Persian. Later he 
broke with Newton and returned home. Yet this tie with the English 
rulers was maintained, as he continued to write books for the use of 
government officials. 

After his return to Phillaur, Shraddha Ram began to preach Vaish- 
nava Hinduism. He called for forsaking liquor, flesh, theft, gambling, 
falsehood, and vanity. He condemned ‘bad customs’, such as public 
bathing, and urged his listeners to maintain all the signs of an orthodox 
Hindu. Each should follow the rituals of purification, learn the gayatri 
mantra, wear a red mark on the forehead, a necklace of Tulsi beads, and 
greet each other with ‘jayatri hari’ (‘Victory to God’). Shraddha Ram 
went from town to town where he preached and organized hymn- 
singing. His travels took him to Kapurthala in 1863-4 along with other 
Hindu leaders. It was rumoured that the Maharaja of Kapurthala was 
about to succumb to the preaching of a Christian missionary, Father 
Golaknath, and convert. Shraddha Ram, so it is claimed, persuaded the 
Maharaja to remain a Hindu, thus defeating the missionaries. In 
1867-8, he joined with Munshi Yamuna Prasad in establishing a Hindu 
school in Ludhiana that taught both Sanskrit and Persian. They also 
organized a Hindu Sabha to sustain sanatana dharma (the eternal 

Pandit Shraddha Ram continued to defend orthodox Hinduism and 
bitterly condemned Christianity as ‘trivial and gross’. He maintained 
‘there are only two things you can get from being in the Christian 
religion that are not possible in Hindu dharma, one is liquor and the 
other is eating left over food and meat’.25 Shraddha Ram visited Amrit- 
sar in 1872~—3 and preached at the Guru ka Bagh. He excoriated the 
Namdharis and also claimed that Ram Singh was one of his disciples. 
He spoke against the Anand Marriages (reformist Sikh marriage cer- 
emonies), the killing of Muslim butchers, and for the necessity of 
Brahman priests and their rituals. A number of Sikhs who heard him 
felt that Shraddha Ram had denied the sanctity of the Sikh gurus. A near 
riot erupted and for the remainder of his stay Shraddha Ram required 
police protection to ensure his safety. 

Shraddha Ram published a number of books and tracts that ex- 
plained his beliefs and criticized his opponents. Perhaps the most 
significant of all his works appeared in 1876. This was Dharma Raksha 

2 Ibid., pp. 31-2. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


(In Defence of Religion). Here he defended orthodox Hinduism by 
references to various scriptures given in the text in Sanskrit and then 
explained in Urdu. He rejected the idea that human reasoning had any 
validity, only the scriptures counted, and yet when it came to customs 
he considered unacceptable — such as Ras Dhari with its erotic adven- 
tures of the young Krishna — Shraddha Ram discounted them through 
the authority of his own personal logic. As with many a Sanatanist, he 
asked for change, but its scope remained extremely limited. 

In 1872, as amember of the Amritsar Dharma Sabha, Shraddha Ram 
joined with other Hindu leaders including the critic of contemporary 
Hinduism, Kanhyalal Alakhdhari, in an attempt to purify Hindu social 
and customary practice. The two men cooperated until 1873 when 
Alakhdhari founded the Niti Prakash Sabha in Ludhiana. Shraddha 
Ram with his followers attended the initial meeting, delivered a devas- 
tating condemnation of Kanhyalal, and then left with his followers. The 
two leaders became enemies and also typified the division among 
Punjabi Hindus into critics and defenders of their religion. The year 
1877 brought a new and more dangerous opponent to Shraddha Ram 
with the arrival of Swami Dayananda Saraswati. Dayananda’s success 
stirred Shraddha Ram to action. He followed Dayananda around the 
province to counter his call for a restructuring of Hinduism. In all their 
travels the two men never met, although supposedly challenges to 
formal debates were issued by both sides. After Dayananda left for 
Rajasthan, Shraddha Ram continued to argue against the Arya Samaj. 
He also turned his attention to establishing organizations to protect 

On 13~—15 March 1880, a celebration was held at Phillaur to mark the 
founding of the Hari Gyan Mandir. Along with this temple Shraddha 
Ram opened a school where the four Vedas would be taught. That same 
year Shraddha Ram organized the Hardwar Sabha with a rest-house for 
mendicants visiting the holy city and Brahman pilgrims. His third 
accomplishment of 1880 was the establishment of the Gyan Mandir in 
Lahore; it too had a school attached. Shraddha Ram fixed the pattern of 
services for this temple and arranged that the temple property would 
not be inherited by his relatives. He was able to do no more since he 
died in the first quarter of 1881. 

Shraddha Ram had laid the foundation for later Sanatanist move- 
ments, but he himself created only a few small organizations unco- 
ordinated and without central authority. He did, however, leave 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


behind him a collection of writings that expounded Sanatanist ideas and 
defended them from a variety of critics. Typical of adherents to Punjabi 
culture, Shraddha Ram clashed with other religions including Chris- 
tians and Sikhs. He found support from pre-British elites among them 
Brahmans, landowners, princes, and merchants. Orthodox Hindus of 
Punjab would have no movement until the young Brahman, Din 
Dayalu Sharma, began his own organizational efforts in 1887 (see pp. 
77-82). Shraddha Ram’s defensive campaign was the first attempt to 
protect orthodoxy in Punjab and was a natural outgrowth of socio- 
religious movements that threatened the entrenched religious establish- 
ment of the Hindu community. Paralleling these critical movements 
within Hindu society were similar ones among the Sikhs of Punjab. 


The Singh Sabhas 

A series of events led to the founding of the first Singh Sabha at 
Amritsar. The Sikh community had been shaken by Namdhari unrest, 
the speeches of Shraddha Ram, and by Christian conversions. In the 
beginning of 1873, several Sikh students at Amritsar Mission School 
announced that they intended to become Christians. This incident 
stirred a small group of prominent Sikhs to form the Singh Sabha of 
Amritsar, which held its first meeting on 1 October 1873. Among those 
who helped to establish the Sabha were Sir Khem Singh Bedi, Thakur 
Singh Sandhawalia, Kanwar Bikram Singh of Kapurthala, and Giani 
Gian Singh. Sandhawalia became its president and Giani Gian Singh its 
secretary. The Sabha intended to restore Sikhism to its past purity, to 
publish historical religious books, magazines and journals, to propa- 
gate knowledge using Punjabi, to return Sikh apostates to their original 
faith, and to involve highly placed Englishmen in the educational 
programme of the Sikhs.” 

The Singh Sabha was directed by an Executive Committee consisting 
of the president and secretary plus a few members. As the Sabha 
expanded, new officers were appointed, a vice-president, assistant sec- 
retary, a giani (scholar of the Sikh scriptures), an updeshak (preacher), a 

26 Harbans Singh, ‘Origins of the Singh Sabha’, Panjab Past and Present (April 1973), 28-9. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


treasurer and a librarian. They were elected each year and could be 
re-elected. Members had to be Sikhs with a strong belief in the teach- 
ings of the gurus. They paid a monthly subscription and were asked to 
pledge themselves to serve the community and to be loyal to Sikhism. 
All the original members were baptized Sikhs, although no require- 
ment for this was written into the constitution of the Sabha.”” They met 
every two weeks, held anniversary celebrations, and special meetings 
on festival days or in response to specific challenges by other religious 
groups. The Sabha soon began to issue hurmatas (records) of its de- 
cisions, each of which was the result of a majority vote. The Sabha also 
kept records of its income and expenditures, and produced annual 

The Singh Sabha represented the leaders of the Sikh community. It 
was joined by members of the landed gentry, the aristocracy, and by 
various types of temple servants: pajaris who conducted rituals, 
granthis who recited the Sikh scriptures, mahants who administered 
the gurdwaras, gianis and descendants of the gurus.28 The Sabha pre- 
pared a calendar that listed the correct dates of the births and deaths of 
the ten gurus. They embarked on the preparation of a definitive text of 
the Dassam Granth; however, this task proved so demanding that a 
separate organization, the Gurmat Granth Pracharak Sabha, was 
founded to finish it. The Singh Sabha published numerous tracts and 
books and in 1894 organized the Khalsa Tract Society to popularize 
Punjabi, the Gurmukhi script, and to issue monthly tracts on the Sikh 
religion.?? Soon the Singh Sabha of Amritsar was emulated by a new 
organization that also proved to be a competitor for leadership within 
the Sikh community. 

The Lahore Singh Sabha held its first meeting on 2 November 1879. 
This new society was led by Professor Gurmukh Singh (1849-98) and 
Bhai Ditt Singh (1853-1901). Gurmukh Singh drew others into the 
Lahore Sabha through his personality, his extensive writings, and his 
efforts in the field of journalism.>° This new Singh Sabha announced 
goals similar to those of the Amritsar society. They also wanted to 

27 Gurdarshan Singh, ‘Origin and development of the Singh Sabha movement, consti- 
tutional aspects’, Panjab Past and Present (April 1973), 46. 

28 See Teja Singh, ‘The Singh Sabha movement’, Panjab Past and Present (April 1973), 
31-2; and N. G. Barrier, The Sikhs and Their Literature (Delhi, Manohar Book Service, 
1970), Pp. XXiv. 

29 Teja Singh, ‘Singh Sabha movement’, p. 32. 

30 Barrier, Sikhs and Their Literature, p. xxvi; and Chhabra, Advanced History, pp. 382-3. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


return Sikhism to its past purity by expunging all elements of non-Sikh 
origin. The Lahore Sabha intended to publish literature on Sikhism and 
authentic texts of the various Sikh scriptures. They wished to impart 
‘modern’ knowledge through the vehicle of Punjabi, and published 
journals and newspapers to achieve these ends. The first president of 
this Sabha was Diwan Buta Singh, and Bhai Gurmukh Singh served as 
its secretary. The Lahore Singh Sabha formed an Educational Com- 
mittee to encourage Sikh learning and also invited sympathetic English- 
men to join in the Committee’s project. Another of the early acts of this 
Sabha was to affiliate with the Singh Sabha of Amritsar. 

Differences between the Lahore and Amritsar societies quickly sur- 
faced. The Lahore Sabha was more democratic and accepted members 
from all castes including untouchables. Their programme of purifying 
Sikhism directly opposed the vested interests of the Amritsar Sabha. 
The career of Bhai Ditt Singh illustrates the type of friction that erupted 
between the two organizations. Ditt Singh, himself of low-caste status, 
wished to remove the ‘evils of caste’ and ‘guru-dom’ from the Sikh 
community. Because he was an effective writer, he became the main 
propagandist for the Lahore Sabha. His publications chided high-caste 
Sikhs for denigrating converts, especially from the lower castes; Ditt 
Singh also attacked the hereditary priests and claimants to special status 
as descendants of the gurus. His tract, Sudan Natak (A Dream Drama), 
ridiculed the religious establishment and resulted in a court case, the 
first of many that grew from his writings.*! The Lahore Sabha soon 
confronted considerable opposition within the Sikh community, and 
were banned from meeting in many local gurdwaras. Consequently, 
the Singh Sabhas found it necessary to erect their own gurdwaras 
served by priests who accepted the Singh Sabha ideology. 

The Lahore Sabha expanded with local branches in many of the 
Punjab towns. The Amritsar Sabha developed its own societies, but its 
growth was far slower than the Lahore society. In 1880 a General Sabha 
was established in Amritsar to provide a central organization for all 
Singh Sabhas. On 11 April 1883 this was renamed the Khalsa Diwan, 
Amritsar. It included thirty-six to thirty-seven different Singh Sabhas 
as well as the Lahore association. The officers reflected an attempt 
to bring all groups together to heal the differences between them. 
Raja Birkam Singh of Faridkot accepted the title of patron, Baba 

| Barrier, Sikhs and Their Literature, p. xxvi. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Khem Singh Bedi, president, Man Singh, officer-in-charge of the 
Golden Temple, Bhai Ganesh Singh and Bhai Gurmukh Singh as joint 
secretaries. This effort at unity lasted but a short time. In 1886 the 
Lahore Singh Sabha created its own Khalsa Diwan (Sikh Council). 
Only the Sabhas of Faridkot, Amritsar, and Rawalpindi allied with the 
original Diwan; the rest turned to the Lahore leadership and to its 
radical ideology of social and religious change.* 

The Lahore Khalsa Diwan received assistance from the Maharaja of 
Nabha as its patron, while Sir Attar Singh served as its president and 
Bhai Gurmukh Singh as its secretary. At first they had good relations 
with the Arya Samaj. Several young Sikhs joined the Aryas, seeing in it 
many of the same ideals that motivated members of the Singh Sabha. 
The two organizations appeared to be moving along parallel paths. 
Dayananda criticized Sikhism, but the Aryas had not emphasized this 
until the Lahore anniversary celebrations of 25 November 1888. On 
this occasion Pandit Guru Datta attacked Sikhism and labelled Guru 
Nanak ‘a great fraud’. Other Aryas, including Pandit Lekh Ram and 
Lala Murli Dhar, joined this denigration of Sikhism. As a result, three 
young, educated Sikhs, Bhai Jawahir Singh, Bhai Ditt Singh Giani, and 
Bhai Maya Singh, departed the Samaj for the Lahore Singh Sabha. They 
became staunch defenders of Sikhism against all external criticism, 
especially from the Aryas. Arya-Sikh relations ranged from vicious 
tract-wars to cooperation in the area of shuddhi, but as the two move- 
ments matured they tended to draw further and further apart. 

The Singh Sabhas continued to expand, new branches were founded 
that, at times, created their own distinct ideas and programmes. The 
Bhasur Singh Sabha became a hub of Sikh militancy under the lead- 
ership of Bhai Teja Singh. Members of this Sabha were required to wear 
the five symbols of orthodoxy, to accept strict religious discipline, and 
if they did not do so, were expelled. Its members were treated as equals 
regardless of their class or caste origins. The Bhasur Singh Sabha was 
aggressive in its missionary zeal and extreme in its ideology. In time it 
developed into the Panch Khalsa Diwan and competed with other 
Khalsa Diwans. Not all deviation or enthusiasm by local Singh Sabhas 
proved as controversial. Under the leadership of Bhai Takht Singh 
(1860-1937), the Ferozepore Singh Sabha opened a girls’ high school 
and hostel when the education of women was still unacceptable to 

32 Gurdarshan Singh, ‘Origin and development’, pp. 48-9. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


many Sikhs. Other Sabhas connected with the Lahore Diwan built 
orphanages, opened schools for all classes and castes, and produced a 
stream of literature, tracts, journals and newspapers. 

Although strong differences in membership, ideology, and pro- 
grammes divided the Amritsar and Lahore Diwans, they did cooperate 
in establishing a Sikh college. Representatives of both Khalsa Diwans 
met in Lahore to draw up plans for the proposed college. A hukam- 
nama (ruling) was issued from the Golden Temple that requested each 
Sikh to give a tenth of his income for the college project. Sympathetic 
Englishmen organized a committee in London to raise funds and 
donations were requested from the Sikh ruling families. This institution 
became a degree-granting college in 1899 and the foremost success of 
Sikh efforts in higher education. 

During the 1890s, Sikhs in both wings of the Singh Sabha movement 
became increasingly concerned with the question of Sikh identity; were 
they or were they not part of the Hindu community ? Competition with 
Hindu movements had done much to fuel this discussion. Western 
scholars, involved in translations of different Sikh scriptures, added 
further stimulus to controversy surrounding the role and meaning of 
Sikhism. In 1898, the Sikh philanthropist, Sardar Dayal Singh Majithia, 
died leaving his wealth to the Dayal Singh Trust. His widow contested 
his will with the result that an English court had to decide whether the 
deceased was a Sikh or a Hindu. Throughout 1898, 1899, and 1900, the 
lawsuit and the question of Sikh identity were argued in public meet- 
ings, in the press, and through numerous publications. The more 
radical Sikhs claimed that Sikhism was separate from Hinduism, while 
others maintained it was a subdivision of Hinduism. The Arya Samaj 
added more fuel to this debate. 

Sikh leaders of the Rahtia community, untouchable weavers from the 
Jullundur Doab, demanded that the Singh Sabhas remove their social 
and religious liabilities. Sikhism rejected caste, they maintained, and so 
this error of ignorance and Hindu influence should be extinguished. 
Since the Singh Sabha leaders did not respond to their pleas, they turned 
to Lala Munshi Ram of the Arya Samaj. He welcomed them and, 
on 3 June 1900, the Samaj conducted a public ceremony of shuddhi in 
the city of Lahore for 200 Rahtias. The Aryas gave each of thema sacred 
thread signifying his pure status, shaved their beards and hair, and 

33 For a discussion of Sikh papers, books and tracts, see Barrier, Sikhs and Their Literature. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


introduced them to the proper rituals of worship. In short, the Rahtias 
were transformed into clean-caste Hindus. The Sikhs, who witnessed 
this spectacle, became enraged, seeing it as sacrilege and a threat to their 
community. In the following months Aryas continued to purify 
members of the Rahtia caste and Sikh leaders pulled further away from 
the Hindu community. In 1905 Sikh reformers struck back as they 
succeeded in ‘cleansing’ the Golden Temple of Brahman priests, idols, 
and Hindu rituals. This action strengthened the argument that Sikhs 
were separate from the Hindu religion, an idea which gained wider and 
wider acceptance among educated Sikhs during the twentieth century .>4 

Meanwhile leadership within the Sikh community shifted. The 
Lahore Singh Sabha lost many of its prominent members. Sir Attar 
Singh died in 1896, Bhai Gurmukh Singh in 1898, and Bhai Ditt Singh 
in 1901. Attention moved to a new organization, the Chief Khalsa 
Diwan founded in Amritsar, where it first met on 30 October 1902. A 
constitution and an elaborate structure of organization were adopted 
and, in 1904, the society was registered with the government. Sikh 
leaders again attempted to unite the diverse organizations within their 
community under one umbrella. Yet only twenty-nine of the 150 Singh 
Sabhas then in existence agreed to join the Chief Khalsa Diwan. 
Membership was limited to baptized Sikhs and the organization 
depended on individual subscriptions for financial support. The Chief 
Khalsa Diwan failed to transcend internal divisions among the Sikhs, 
divisions that surfaced in the decade after World War I. 

Initially Sikhs had responded to the loss of political domination 
much as had the Muslims of north India, but they differed in the models 
of Sikhism used for their socio-religious movements. The Singh Sabhas 
sought an adjustment to British control, but the two wings differed in 
their membership within the Sikh class and caste structures. These 
differences were manifest in the competing ideologies each group ar- 
ticulated. The Lahore Singh Sabha spoke for a rising educated elite and 
the Amritsar Sabha, while calling for changes in religion, rejected any 
fundamental restructuring of authority within the community. It paral- 
leled many of the orthodox defensive movements of the Hindus and of 
Islam which drew upon the strengths of pre-British elites and members 
of the religious establishment. The Amritsar Singh Sabha wanted only 
limited adjustment of British culture. Both wings realized the need to 

34 Kenneth W. Jones, ‘Ham Hindu Nahin: Arya-Sikh relations’, 1877-1905, Journal of 
Asian Studies, no. 3 (May 1973), 468-75. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


gain a command of western knowledge if Sikhs were to compete 
successfully with Hindu and Muslim Punjabis, but here again they 
differed on the extent of this education and who should receive it. In the 
development of their ideas the two branches of the Singh Sabhas helped 
to redefine the ‘true’ Sikhism and to draw lines between it and the other 
religious communities in Punjab. In the twentieth century the Singh 
Sabhas were overwhelmed by other organizations. In the first decade 
they were supplanted by the Khalsa Diwans and then in the 1920s by 
the struggle for control over the Sikh place of worship. Paralleling the 
Arya Samaj and Singh Sabhas, a socio-religious movement among 
Punjabi Muslims also added to this general process of self-definition 
that characterized so much of the nineteenth century. 


The Ahmadiyahs 

The Ahmadiyahs began with the career of one man, the messianic 
Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835—1908). Mirza Ghulam was born in the 
village of Qadiyan on 13 February 1835.25 His family once held exten- 
sive estates that were seized by the Sikhs when they gained control of 
the Punjab. A few villages remained, but the young Ahmad grew up in 
an atmosphere of frustration over the decline in his family’s status and 
wealth. He was educated by private tutors, the first of whom was Faz] 
Ilahi, a resident of Qadiyan and a scholar of the Hanafi School of Law. 
In 1845 he studied with Faz] Ahmad, a member of the Ahl-i-Hadith, 
who tutored him in Arabic grammar. At seventeen he began to work 
with the Shi‘ah tutor, Gul ‘Ali Shah of Batala, and became acquainted 
with Muhammad Husain, a fellow student of Gul ‘Ali Shah. 

After finishing his education Mirza Ghulam’s father sent him to 
Sialkot. There he read law and oversaw a number of legal cases in- 
stituted to regain the family’s lost estates. While in Sialkot Mirza 
Ghulam met several Christian missionaries. In 1868 he returned to 
Qadiyan and in 1876 his father died. Little is known of his life during 

35 This date is given by Lavan in his recent study of the Ahmadiyahs. Farquhar states that 
he was born ‘about 1838’. See Lavan, Abmadiyah Movement, p. 22, and Farquhar, Modern 

Religious Movements, p. 137. Lavan’s is presently the most authoritative study of the 
Ahmadiyahs and so will be used as the basic source of this section unless otherwise cited. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


the years 1868 to 1876, but after his father’s death Ghulam Ahmad 
ceased to concern himself with the family estates and turned his atten- 
tion to religion. He debated, mostly through newspapers, with Pandit 
Kharak Singh, a Christian convert, and with Pandit Shiv Narayan 
Agnihotri, then a leader in the Brahmo Samaj. In May 1879 Mirza 
Ghulam announced his forthcoming book, the Barahin-i-Ahmadiyah 
(Proofs of Ahmadiyah) in the pages of Muhammad Husain’s journal, 
Isha at-t-Sunnah. The Barahin appeared in six issues of Isha’at and 
was published in four volumes from 1880-4. 

Ahmad described his basic ideas, his claims to special authority, and 
his programme for rejuvenating Islam in Barahin. He stressed the 
fundamental principles of Islam and the duties of all Muslims. His 
claims to religious authority rested on the visions and messages he 
received from God. Mirza also refuted the doctrines of other religious 
leaders both within and outside Islam. The Arya Samaj and its founder 
provided him with a dramatic enemy and one close to home. Mirza 
Ghulam clashed with Sharampat Rai (1855-1932), a resident of Qa- 
diyan and secretary of the local Arya Samaj. In a registered letter he 
offered to send a copy of the Barahin to Swami Dayananda and to 
debate him over the truth of Islam and its superiority over Hinduism. 
Dayananda failed to respond. In August, Mirza reported a vision in 
which he saw that Dayananda would die in the near future, a prophecy 
that was fulfilled in October. Nevertheless confrontations between 
Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and the Arya Samaj lasted until his death in 

Controversies within the Islamic community developed at roughly 
the same time. In March 1882 Mirza Ghulam Ahmad announced that 
he had received a divine command that he should be a mujaddid (a 
renewer of the faith).** He did not make additional claims or take 
further steps to initiate his own disciples until 12 January 1889. On that 
date his son, Bashir ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad, was born thus fulfilling 
one of his prophecies. He chose then to announce conditions on which 
he would grant bai‘at to his disciples. In 1890-1 he published three 
works and publicly claimed that he was the masih mau‘ud (promised 
messiah) and the madhi. Mirza Ghulam was thus the future saviour of 
both Islam and Christianity. Different ‘4/ama, including Muhammad 
Husain of Batala, ‘Abd al-Haqg Ghaznavi of Amritsar, Nazir Husain 

3¢ Lavan, Ahmadiyah Movement, p. 36. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


of Delhi, and Ahmad ’Allah of Amritsar immediately condemned 
him. Muhammad Husain arranged for fatwa against Mirza Ghulam 
that were signed by a number of ‘u/amad representing different groups 
within the Islamic community. Public debates quickly followed. On 
20 July 1891, Mirza Ghulam disputed with Muhammad Husain in 
Ludhiana. In September, he travelled to Delhi where he debated with 
Nazir Husain, the distinguished leader of the Ahl-i- Hadith movement. 
This confrontation took place in the Jama‘a Masjid and culminated in a 
near riot, a fairly common occurrence and one that grew from the 
extremely bitter personal, as well as theological, differences expressed 
in speech and writing. 

Partly out of response to the critical statement issued by various 
‘ulama, a meeting of Ahmad’s adherents was held in Qadiyan on 27 
December 1891. This was the first general gathering of the movement. 
Eighty individuals attended and such a meeting was held each year 
afterwards. In 1892 500 members travelled to Qadiyan from Punjab 
and the North-West. People came from as far east as Aligarh and from 
as far west as Mecca. At the 1892 meeting, the Ahmadiyahs declared 
their goals: ‘To propagate Islam; to think out ways and means of 
promoting the welfare of new converts to Islam in Europe and 
America; to further the cause of righteousness, purity, piety and moral 
excellence throughout the world, to eradicate evil habits and customs; 
to appreciate with gratitude the good work of the British Govern- 
ment.’37 The Ahmadis attempted to expand their membership through 
proselytism and continually engaged in contests with a wide variety of 
opponents. In 1897 they began publishing the newspaper, al-Hakam, 
to explain the Mirza’s doctrines and attack those who disagreed with 

Controversy with other Muslims reached its height in the years 
1898-9 over Mirza Ghulam’s claim to messiah status, his interpre- 
tations of the word jihad, and over numerous other theological issues. 
Finally the British Government intervened, impelled to act by his habit 
of prophesying the demise of his opponents. On 24 February 1899, 
after a court-hearing, Muhammad Husain signed a statement in which 
he promised to stop using abusive language against Mirza Ghulam who 
in turn agreed to cease predicting the death of his critics. This did not 
end controversy, but did diminish somewhat the intensity and open 

37 Quoted ibid. p. 93. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


animosity that characterized the 1890s. In the process Mirza Ghulam 
came to consider his own followers as separate from the body of Sunni 
Muslims. On 4 November 1900, he called for the Ahmadiyahs to list 
themselves separately on the census of 1901. At this time al-Hakam 
listed 1,098 members who now comprised their own officially recog- 
nized religious society. 

Paralleling his tussles with different Islamic groups, the Mirza 
engaged in a struggle with various Christians, particularly the Punjabi 
converts, Imad al-Din, Thakur Das, and ‘Abd ’Allah Asim. One 
public dispute with ‘Abd ’Allah lasted for fifteen days. It was held in 
May-June 1893 at the village of Jandiyala. At the root of this contro- 
versy lay the Mirza’s claim to be the masih mau‘ud. He argued that 
Christ did not die on the cross, but survived, and travelled to Kashmir 
where he lived until the age of 120 administering to the lost tribes of 
Israel who had settled there. Christ was thus, a man, a prophet, but not 
the son of God, and Mirza Ghulam was also a prophet fulfilling a 
similar historic role. Christian leaders rejected Ahmad’s claims through 
a series of polemical tracts and by condemning him in their public 

From the late 1880s Pandit Lekh Ram spoke and wrote extensively 
against Islam and with special vehemence against Mirza Ghulam Ah- 
mad. In 1887 Lekh Ram published his answer to the claims of Mirza 
Ghulam in Takzib-i-Barahin-i-Ahmadiyah (Accusing as False the 
Proofs of Ahmadiyah). Nur ud-Din Ahmad answered in 1890 with 
Tasdiq-i-Barahin-1-Ahmadiyah (Verifying the Proofs of Ahmadiyah), 
and Mirza Ghulam in 1891 with Ta’id-i-Barahin-i-Ahmadiyah (Con- 
firming the Proofs of Ahmadiyah). A year later Lekh Ram condemned 
all Islam in his treatise on Jihad. Ahmad responded with numerous 
attacks against different elements of the Arya Samaj ideology. He 
found a particularly vulnerable point with Dayananda’s concept of 
niyog, the idea that barren women or virgin widows might have chil- 
dren without being married. This was one of Dayananda’s teachings 
that found little or no acceptance among members of the Arya Samaj, 
but was often used to embarrass the movement. Ahmad published 
Radd-i-Niyog (The Rejection of Niyog) in 1895. He also predicted that 
Pandit Lekh Ram would not live long, a prophecy that was fulfilled in 

During these years of conflict, the Ahmadis continued to make 
converts and a community formed around Mirza Ghulam at Qadiyan. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


The ideology of the Ahmadiyahs shared many elements of other 
nineteenth-century Muslim movements of return. Mirza Ghulam 
condemned the worship of tombs and numerous other customs as shirk 
(polytheism). He interpreted the Qur’an to justify the gradual 
elimination of slavery. He explained pardah (the seclusion of 
women), and the Muslim institution of divorce as solutions to worse 
evils, and redefined jihad to exclude the concept of holy war as often 
accepted by theologians. He taught his followers to perform the five 
daily prayers, obey God and his Prophet, and to conduct themselves 
righteously and ethically. As long as he was alive the Ahmadiyah 
community was united partly through the Sufi institution of baz‘at, as 
each member was initiated at the hands of Mirza Ghulam and by his 

The ideology of the Ahmadiyahs appealed at first to middle-class, 
literate Muslims; however, because of its location in Qadiyan, the 
Ahmadiyahs began to attract more members from the less educated, 
poorer rural classes. The origins of its members produced with the 
Ahmadis a bipolar pattern. Among the literates were doctors, 
attorneys, landowners and businessmen. They tended to come 
from the district towns rather than from the few major cities, 
and were somewhat separated from a growing rural and less affluent 
membership. As with other Islamic movements of return, the Ahmadis 
attempted to remove all error and to return to what they considered 
the ‘true’ fundamentals of their religion. The role of Mirza Ghulam, 
however, led to clashes within Islam, particularly with the ‘wlama 
who did not consider Mirza a qualified religious leader. The aggressive, 
militant stance of the movement brought it into direct conflict with 
Hindus, Sikhs and Christians among others. The acculturative 
Ahmadis adjusted their doctrines to the reality of British power and the 
fact of western civilization as was most clearly illustrated by their 
reinterpretation of jihad. Conversion and proselytism became the main 
goals of the Ahmadis as they proved uniquely able to win converts from 
outside of the subcontinent. Success was accompanied in the twentieth 
century by internal division and drove their community into two 
distinct organizations, and conflict at all levels continued to be 
a byproduct of the Ahmadis as it has been of Punjabi movements in 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 



The diversity of religious communities in the Punjab led to a greater 
number of socio-religious movements than in any other region of 
South Asia. In addition, divisions within and among religious com- 
munities appeared repeatedly. The two Sikh transitional movements 
grew from the crises within this community, by the turmoil among the 
Sikhs after the death of Ranjit Singh, and by the British conquest of the 
Sikh kingdom. They reflected the long-standing differences that existed 
among the Sikhs. The major Sikh acculturative movement, the Singh 
Sabha, was bifurcated between a pre-British elite centred in Amritsar 
and a new rising group at Lahore. 

The Sikhs were not the only Punjabi community at war with itself. 
Punjabi Hindus too were rent by opposing visions of what should be 
done to save degenerate Hinduism from further decline. The founding 
of the Lahore Arya Samaj in 1877 brought to the North-West an 
aggressive movement of return, one that was uncompromising in its 
insistence that it alone possessed truth and its willingness to condemn 
all other systems of belief. This stance echoed existing conflicts be- 
tween proponents of radical change and defenders of orthodoxy. It 
brought the Samaj into conflict with the Brahmo Samaj, among reform- 
ers, with orthodox Hindus, and with the smaller Dev Samaj. Aryas also 
accepted the mantle of defenders of Hinduism against the challenges of 
Christian missionaries, Muslim religious leaders, and eventually both 
wings of the Singh Sabha movement. 

Punjabi Muslims were influenced by movements of return from the 
Gangetic basin and reactions to those movements by orthodox 
Muslims added to religious controversy through the leadership of 
Mirza Ghulam and his claims to a prophetic role. The Ahmadis demon- 
strated a similar set of dynamics as they fought against the ‘udama, the 
Ahl-i-Hadith, Sayyid Ahmad Khan’s organization, and Muslim ortho- 
doxy. They, like the Aryas, also attempted to defend their parent 
religion, Islam, and their unique ‘truth’ against the condemnation of 
other religious groups including the Christian missionaries. 

All Punjabi religious communities created acculturative movements 
that began in one of its cities and then expanded to the others, to smaller 
towns, and occasionally to the villages. Each had the Punjabi tendency 
to see their ideas as the absolute, unbending truth. Such movements 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


were aggressive with the exception of the Dev Samaj. They adopted 
western organizational techniques with which they created a wide 
variety of institutions. Each possessed missionaries, tract societies, 
parochial schools, centres of worship, systems of fund-raising, bureau- 
cracies, and central associations. Lines dividing one religion from 
another and one socio-religious movement from all others were de- 
fined, and aggressively defended. By the end of the nineteenth century, 
religious identity was in the process of expressing itself in combinations 
of symbols based on language, script and religion. This newly strength- 
ened communal consciousness was exported from the Punjab by such 
movements as the Arya Samaj and the Ahmadiyahs. The Punjab was 
not only influenced by religious associations outside of it, particularly 
from movements within Bengal and the Gangetic core, but also itself 
became an exporter of movements. The North-West was a region on 
the periphery of the Hindu-Buddhist civilization and one historically 
unsettled by invaders. Here the religious elites strong in the Gangetic 
basin and in the South could not maintain control over their respective 
communities and were repeatedly challenged by individuals and groups 
that demanded radical change in the status quo. It was a region in 
turmoil that during the twentieth century added a political dimension 
to its forms of religious consciousness. In the four decades before 
Independence the attitudes, strategies and organizations predominant 
in the Punjab spread to other areas of the subcontinent, carrying with 
them forms of aggressive religious competition. Further to the South 
the dynamics of socio-religious movements changed in part, although 
not totally. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 




Below the Gangetic basin and to the east of the Indus plain a series of 
steep hills and valleys run eastwards separating the northern sub- 
continent from its peninsular South. This central region of hills and 
jungles has impeded north-south movement, acting as a cultural and 
political barrier. On the western coast lies the Kathiawar peninsula and 
the immediate mainland attached to it. Together they comprise the 
region of Gujarat, which is partially isolated from the rest of the 
subcontinent. A narrow strip of land runs north and south connecting 
mainland Gujarat to the coast below it and through this coastal band 
passes the trade routes from the Gangetic plain. To the East are the 
Central Provinces containing a rich agricultural tract, Chhattisgarh, 
surrounded by hills, separated from the Deccan and the northern 
plains. The river valley and delta of the Mahanadi constitute the eastern 
region of this transitional belt, the area of Orissa. Bordered by hills to 
the North-West and South-West, Orissa is the site of a regional society 
created from a mixture of indigenous cultures, influenced from Bengal 
to the North, and the Telugu region to the South. Below this chain of 
hills is Maharashtra, an area composed of three geographic features: the 
Konkin coast, the western Ghats, an escarpment beginning at the Tapti 
River, and the Deccan, a dry inland plateau broken by numerous hills 
that extend south across the Godavari River, the linguistic border 
between the Deccan and the Dravidian South. 

The culture and social system of Gujarat, the Central Provinces, and 
Orissa showed affinities with northern India. These areas had castes 
and subcastes representing all levels of the varna system. In Gujarat the 
two most powerful caste clusters were the merchants and members of 
the ruling elites, both Hindus and Muslims. A further feature of Guj- 
arati society was the tight, hierarchical control maintained by elders 
within each caste. Gujarat was the home of a Hindu majority and small 
minorities of Jains, Muslims, and Parsis. Muslims from the North 
conquered Gujarat in aD 1297, yet the Islamic community accounted 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 






4 The central belt and Maharashtra 

Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


for only 10.3 per cent of the population in 1881. Muslim penetration in 
the central hills was limited to only 5 per cent and in Orissa to a mere 
2.29 per cent.! The Central Provinces and Orissa both had Hindu 
majorities, but also significant tribal populations who were only par- 
tially assimilated into the high culture of South Asia. British conquest 
began in 1803 with the defeat of the Maratha ruler, Raghuji Bhonsla, 
Raja of Nagpur. At that time Orissa fell under English control. Gujarat 
was taken in 1819 as a result of the defeat of the Maratha state. British 
power then moved into the hill tracts of the Central Provinces. Yet in all 
three areas the British controlled considerable tracts of land through 
local rulers. 

South of Gujarat and the central hills lay Maharashtra, a linguistic 
and cultural region with its own distinct social structure. Beginning in 
the thirteenth century, a series of bhakti saints standardized the Ma- 
rathi language, aiding in the development of an extensive religious 
literature. As an Indo-European language, Marathi was tied to north- 
ern culture; however, in its caste system, Maharashtra showed a simi- 
larity to the society of the South. Essentially the Maratha social 
structure was divided into three classifications, Brahmans, non-Brah- 
mans and untouchables. The non-Brahmans, whether functionally rul- 
ers or not, were considered Sudras or peasant castes. Merchants and 
traders active in Maharashtra tended to be from other regions or were 
Maratha Brahmans. Maharashtra was effectively dominated by a small 
group of three Brahman castes, the Chitpavans and Sarawats from the 
coast, and the Desharthas from the Deccan. Maratha Brahmans often 
held overlapping roles as priests, landowners, estate managers, and 
government servants. Thus they concentrated different forms of power 
within this group of castes. The Brahmans stood at the apex of the 
Maharashtrian social system, its largest single-caste cluster was the 
Maratha—Kunbis, a peasant cultivator group who provided the man- 
power for the creation of the Maratha Empire in the seventeenth and 
eighteenth centuries. 

In 1612 the East India Company established its first trading centre on 
the west coast at the port of Surat. Although they would retain a 
presence there as the Mughal Empire declined, the British shifted their 
headquarters to the island of Bombay in 1687. This remained their 
centre of trade and power in western India until 1818, when they 

' Census, 1881, Central Provinces Report, p. 10. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


defeated the Marathas and annexed much of the lands under Maratha 
control. Gujarat, the Deccan as far east as the Nizam of Hyderabad’s 
kingdom, the coast lands south to Goa, and the corridor north to 
Rajasthan, all came into the sphere of British political and military 
dominance. Within this central band of the subcontinent three tran- 
sitional movements appeared in the nineteenth century. 


The Swami Narayana Sampradaya of Gujarat 

One of the future leaders of Gujarat was born in 1781 in the village of 
Chhapaia near Ayodhia in the North-Western Provinces. He came 
from a Brahman family and was named Ghanashyam Pande. Little else 
is known about his early life except that he left home in 1793 in search of 
a guru.? After five years of wandering he changed his name to Nilakan- 
tha Brahmachari.> According to legend he travelled the great pilgrimage 
route from Nepal and the Himalayas, south to Rameshwar visiting 
many religious sites along the way. Returning to Nasik, he met a group 
of holy men who were followers of Ramananda Swami (1739-1802). 
The Swami was born in the North-Western Provinces, but located his 
headquarters in Lojpur, Gujarat. The young Nilakantha joined this 
band and travelled to Gujarat where he became an ardent disciple of 
Ramananda Swami. By 1800 Nilakantha had settled in Gujarat and 
changed his name to Sahajananda Swami, a name he retained until his 
death in 1830. The new disciple impressed his guru with skills in yoga, 
with an extensive religious knowledge, and with his dedication. Also he 
was able to place many of the devotees into states of trance, a talent that 
impressed the members of this sect. In 1802 Sahajananda succeeded as 
acharya (spiritual preceptor) upon the death of Ramananda. Once in 
charge, Sahajananda built an expanding movement based on devotion 
to Krishna as he followed the path laid down by Ramananda Swami. 
This was a popular and well-established form of Hinduism in Gujarat. 

Sahajananda Swami preached a puritanical ideology both of belief 

2 Raymond B. Williams, A New Face of Hinduism: The Swaminarayan Religion (Cam- 
bridge University Press, 1984), pp. 8-10. 

3 M.J. Mehta, ‘From Sahajanand to Gandhi: role perception and methods’, and Vijay Singh 
Chavda, ‘Social and religious reform movements in Gujarat in the nineteenth and twentieth 
centuries’, both in S. P. Sen, Social and Religious Reform Movements (Calcutta, Institute of 
Historical Studies, 1979), pp. 230-1, 202-3. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


and practice. He taught his disciples to abandon the singing of vulgar 
songs at weddings and on such festivals as Holi, and to refrain from 
luxurious or licentious behaviour. He advocated vegetarianism and 
condemned the use of liquor and drugs. Sahajananda instructed his 
adherents to bathe daily, not to eat before performing their worship, 
and not to use water or milk without first straining it.* He attacked the 
actions of the Vama-Margas who worshipped female power (shakti), 
and practised animal sacrifices, meat-eating, drinking, and sexual rit- 
uals.> On the role of women his message was somewhat ambiguous. He 
insisted that men and women be seated separately at all religious 
gatherings. He taught that a woman should obey her husband, accept 
his behaviour no matter how insulting it might be, and to worship him 
as a deity. Yet Sahajananda also attacked the restrictions on widow 
remarriage, the institution of sati, and the practice of female infanticide. 
It is possible that he was influenced by British officials and Christian 
missionaries on the questions of sati and infanticide, since both insti- 
tutions were openly condemned by Englishmen in Gujarat.6 Women 
were also given a place in his movement as sankhydyoginis (female 
religious mendicants). Sahajananda formed a special order of women 
aesthetes whose prime responsibility was preaching to and prose- 
lytizing women. 

The ideology of the Swami Narayana movement was explained in the 
Shikshapatri (Conduct of Disciples) published by Sahajananda in 1826. 
In later years a number of books and pamphlets appeared explaining 
and elaborating on the beliefs and practices advocated by Sahajananda. 
The movement expanded rapidly under Sahajananda’s leadership. He 
toured Gujarat extensively and created a network of disciples. He also 
made contact with many of the feudal rulers of both mainland and 
peninsular Gujarat.” Sahajananda was a charismatic leader who per- 
formed miracles and inspired many individuals to accept his spiritual 
guidance. He was assisted by bands of holy men who travelled widely 
and disseminated his message. 

The Swami Narayana movement developed a hierarchical structure. 
At its apex was Sahajananda, the acharya. Religious mendicants were 

recruited from all castes, but the future acharyas had to be Brahmans. 
* Chavda, ‘Social and religious reform’, pp. 230-1. 
5 Williams, New Face of Hinduism, pp. 24-5. 
© M. J. Mehta, ‘The Swami Narayana sect (a case study of Hindu religious sects in modern 

times)’, Quarterly Review of Historical Studies, 17, no. 4 (Calcutta, April 1978), 229. 
7 Mehta, ‘From Sahajanand to Gandhi’, p. 227. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


The mendicants were divided into three hierarchical orders, the 
brahmacharis, sadhus, and palas. The first two orders’ primary 
responsibility was to proselytize. The brahmacharis had no caste mark 
and only ate food acquired through begging. Sadhus, by contrast, 
maintained caste restrictions and were limited to non-Brahmans of the 
second and third varnas. These two orders travelled together in mis- 
sionary bands. The third category were the palas who acted as temple 
servants and attendants. They were drawn from the Sudras (peasant 
castes). No untouchable was allowed to become a pala or to enter the 
Swami Narayana temples except for the two specifically built for their 

Sahajananda Swami first attracted disciples from among the tra- 
ditional genealogists and bards of Gujarat who served in many of the 
Princely Courts of that region. Members of the warrior, merchant, 
artisan castes and members of tribal groups joined as the movement 
expanded. Growth meant two things, greater wealth and projects made 
possible by these resources. Income was generated by bhets (gifts) 
given by devotees and by cash contributions. Followers of Sahajananda 
were expected to make two annual donations of one-half rupee on the 
festival days of Ram Navami and Divali. By 1847, this amounted to an 
annual income of Rs 175,000, which made the construction of temples 
and guest houses possible.’ Sahajananda built three temples during his 
tenure as leader. With the construction of the temple at Gadhada (1829) 
he also built a dharmshala, and moved his headquarters here from 
Lojpur. Smaller temples were also erected in numerous towns and 
villages. In addition a number of sabha mandaps (assembly halls) were 
constructed where both mendicants and members of the laity could 
stay. The buildings and mendicant orders comprised a network that 
held this growing religious movement together. 

Since Sahajananda Swami was celibate the question of succession was 
unanswered. Sahajananda took two steps towards solving this potential 
problem. First, he declared that the office of acharya could be held by a 
householder and secondly, in 1816, he invited his two brothers to settle 
in Gujarat with their families. After they arrived, he adopted two of his 
nephews, Ayodhya Prasad and Raghavir Prasad, whom he appointed as 
his successors to the office of acharya. When Sahajananda died in 1830, 
the two nephews divided the movement. One took the position as 
acharya of the Uttaraji or northern section, headquartered at 

8 Ibid., p. 227. 9 [bid., p. 228. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Ahmadabad. This subdivision included part of Gujarat, Ujjain, Benares 
and Calcutta; the other subdivision, the Dakshina Bhag, or southern 
section, included southern Gujarat, Broach, Surat, and Bombay. 
Sahajananda Swami was deified during his lifetime and an idol repre- 
senting him was worshipped beside Vishnu and Lakshmi.!° In 1872, the 
Swami Narayanas claimed 380,000 members.!! By the twentieth cen- 
tury, this movement had achieved the status of a recognized subdiv- 
ision of Gujarati Hinduism. 

The transitional socio-religious movement of Swami Narayana drew 
upon the religious traditions of limited dissent from the Gangetic basin 
and the Gujarati region. Swami Narayana Sampradaya’s dissent, how- 
ever, was limited to a few aspects of Hindu custom, particularly with 
regard to the marriage customs, infanticide, and the Vam-Margist 
sectarian form of Hinduism. Mostly, the Swami Narayana Sampradaya 
acted to reinforce Hindu values and practices, and to encourage Hindu 
devotionalism.'? This movement had a broad appeal for pure-caste 
Hindus, tribals and some untouchables. Its followers were divided into 
religious practitioners and laity, given a network of religious insti- 
tutions managed by an organization of hereditary Brahmanical leaders 
and built largely on pre-British forms. The Sampradaya became a 
permanent feature of Gujarati Hinduism and during the years follow- 
ing Independence spread abroad through Indian immigration. To the 
east of Gujarat a transitional movement among untouchables arose in 
the early nineteenth century, briefly attacked society in general, and 
then retreated to become a part of that society. 

The Satnamis of Chhattisgarh 

Two decades after Sahajananda Swami settled in Gujarat, a socio- 
religious movement came into being on the Chhattisgarh plain of the 
Central Provinces. Its founder, Ghasi Das, was a native of Bilaspur 
district, probably a Chamar, an untouchable leather worker. Nothing 
is known about his early life. On reaching adulthood he became a 
servant in the village of Girod (Raipur district). Sometime during the 
1820s, Ghasi Das and his brother set out on a pilgrimage to the 
Vaishnava temple of Puri in Orissa. They did not complete this journey 

10 Ibid., p. 232. 
! Mehta, ‘The Swami Narayana sect’, p. 225. 
2 For a discussion of the twentieth-century development of the Swami Narayana move- 

ment, with particular emphasis on the spread abroad after India’s Independence, see Williams, 
New Face of Hinduism. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


and, after reaching Sarangarh, they returned joyously shouting ‘sat 
nam’, proclaiming the concept of a single ‘true’ god. Ghasi Das aban- 
doned his normal life and became a religious ascetic. He retired to the 
forest for meditation and periodically reappeared making himself avail- 
able to individuals who sought spiritual inspiration and moral aid. 
Gradually his reputation grew and he gathered a group of disciples. 
Although anyone could come to Ghasi Das, almost all of his followers 
were from the Chamar caste. 

The religious career of Ghasi Das moved to a new stage when he 
withdrew to the forest for six months and then returned to preach a new 
religious doctrine. Ghasi Das urged his followers to abandon idol 
worship and all that it entailed. He maintained that all men were equal, 
thus striking against the system of caste. Ghasi Das also asked for a 
restructuring of dietary practices. Meat along with liquor and anything 
that resembled flesh or blood were forbidden, a ban that included 
tomatoes, lentils, and chillies. Beyond the issue of diet and basic belief, 
Ghasi Das taught his disciples to abstain from using cattle for plough- 
ing after midday or from taking food out to the fields. The use of cattle 
for farm work in the afternoons was frowned upon by the local Brah- 
mans. Through the dietary changes he advocated, Ghasi Das brought 
his untouchable disciples into conformity with upper-caste customs. 
Until his death in 1850, the Satnamis focused primarily on improving 
the status of the Chamars through adjustments within the untouchable 

Balak Das, Ghasi Das’s eldest son, became the next leader of the 
Satnamis. Balak Das was aggressive and radical in his attitudes to caste 
discrimination. He adopted the sacred thread worn only by the first 
three varnas. The twice-born Hindus were deeply affronted by what 
they considered his extreme presumptuousness. In the 1860s, a group 
of Rajputs retaliated by assassinating Balak Das. This murder sparked a 
dimension of social protest and rebellion against the upper castes 
among the Satnamis. Many refused to pay their land-taxes as the 
conflict escalated to include riots and further murders. Meanwhile, 
Balak Das was replaced by his son Sahib Das as leader of the Satnamis, 
although real power rested with Agar Das, a brother of the founder. On 
the death of Sahib Das the line of succession shifted to the two sons of 
Agar Das, Ajab Das and Agarman Das, who became high priests of the 

3 Central Provinces, District Gazetteer, Raipur, 1909, p. 81. This is the main source for the 
Satnamis and if any other sources are used they will be cited. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


movement. They divided all property and the right to collect a rupee 
from each of the Satnami households. Leadership then passed down 
these two lines of descent. 

In addition to this formal bifurcation of authority, the Satnamis 
suffered an earlier split over a ban on tobacco and smoking. Popular 
among many Chamars and other inhabitants of the Central Provinces 
was the chungi (leaf pipe). Ghasi Das banned all smoking along with the 
use of liquor and drugs. One section of the Satnamis maintained that 
Ghasi had lifted the ban before his death and broke away from the 
parent group. The new subsect was known as chungias. Another sub- 
division of the Satnamis were the Jahorias, named so from the term 
johar (essence), and composed of those Satnamis who took vows of 
mendicancy. They ate only pulses and rice, never slept in a bed and 
wore only uncoloured clothes. 

In time the Satnamis were linked to the Hindu bhakti saint, Rama- 
nanda. It was claimed that Rohi Das, a Chamar disciple of the great 
northern saint, was the true inspiration for the Satnamis. Those who 
accepted this story adopted the name, Rohidasi, rather than Satnami. 
This account has no historical foundation and a more likely source of 
influence on Ghasi Das was Jagjivan Das (d. 1761), a Rajput who 
founded the Satnamis of the Gangetic plains. It is reasonably certain, 
however, that the Satnamis of Chhattisgarh were an extension of the 
Ramanandi movements of the North. The Chhattisgarh area had been 
influenced by the teachings of Kabir, and by the first decade of the 
twentieth century the Kabirpanthis of this area claimed 685,672 
members in their own movement. In the same period the Satnamis had 
grown to 477,360. Of this number only 2,000 or so were not members 
of the Chamar caste, and within that community 52 per cent of the 
Chamars were Satnamis. Chhattisgarh remained the centre of this 
movement with 42 per cent of the Satnami concentrated within it.!* 

The Satnamis became a permanent subdivision of the Hindus of the 
Central Provinces. Lawrence Babb, who conducted field research 
among the Satnamis in 1966-7, describes them as essentially a single- 
caste movement with its own hierarchical system of priests, its sacred 

centres, and a calendar of ritual events.!5 As a transitional socio- 
4 Census, 1911, Central Provinces Report, p. 77. 
5 Lawrence A. Babb, ‘The Satnamis — political involvement of a religious movement’ in 
Michael Mahar (ed.), The Untouchables of Contemporary India (University of Arizona Press, 

1972), pp. 144-5; and see also by the same author, The Divine Hierarchy, Popular Hinduism 
in Central India (New York, Columbia University Press, 1975). 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


religious movement the Chhattisgarh Satnamis followed the well-es- 
tablished path of Ramanandi Hinduism, then for a brief period of 
extreme radicalism attempted to strike out against the caste system and 
society in general, but finally returned to an existence within that very 
system. This movement persisted as an untouchable form of Hinduism 
with its own priests, its hereditary leadership and its followers almost 
solely from one untouchable caste, with its area of impact limited to the 
Chhattisgarh plain. They, like the Swami Narayanas, were an extension 
of the religious and cultural developments within the Gangetic basin, a 
dimension that sets these two movements apart from Satya Mahima 
Dharma, a third transitional movement. 

The Satya Mahima Dharma of Orissa 

The early history of Satya Mahima Dharma revolves around three key 
men. The first was Mukand Das later known as Mahima Gosain. We 
have little information on his early life, his family or the sources for his 
ideas. He evidently spent the years 1840-50 living in Puri as an Achari 
Vaishnava. At the end of this decade he left for the hills where he 
wandered and meditated for approximately twelve years. In 1862 he 
reappeared as a siddhi (enlightened teacher), and journeyed throughout 
Orissa with a new message of revived Hinduism. His travels took him 
to the ashram of the second key leader, Govinda Baba. The two men 
quickly became friends and toured together throughout Orissa. Go- 
vinda Baba was a talented organizer and provided much of the skill 
necessary to establish a new religious movement. They recruited Bhima 
Bhoi, a young, blind, illiterate cowherd from the Khond village of 
Kankanapada, who became the third crucial leader of Mahima Dharma. 
He was a prolific poet who composed hymns for the movement and 
who inspired numerous disciples with his songs and his personality.!* 

During the 1860s and 1870s, this movement gained considerable 
strength. Because of its condemnation of orthodox Vaishnavism and its 
Brahminical supporters, there was also an increasing opposition. In 
1873, the Commissioner of the Orissa Division received a petition 
charging Mahima Gosain with luring women from respectable families 
away from their homes and into orders of nuns within Mahima 
Dharma. Little came of this, but the next year witnessed a violent clash 
at the village of Malativiharpur between supporters and opponents of 

‘e N. K. Sahu, ‘Bhima Boi’ in Daityari Panda (ed.), Mahima Dharma O Darshana 
(Koraput, Orissa, Dayananda Anglo—Vedic College, 1972), p. 17. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


the new movement. In the aftermath of this riot, the government 
attempted to arrest Mahima Gosain. He escaped, but fell ill and died in 
1876 at Kamaksha Nagar in Dhenkanal state.'? His body was taken to 
Joranda and buried there. After this Joranda became the sacred and 
administrative centre of Mahima Dharma. 

Mahima Gosain taught his disciples to worship one deity, Alekh 
Param Brahma, an eternal being who was without end and without 
form or description. This deity assembled the universe, dissolved it, 
and reassembled it again. All other deities were rejected since they did 
not exist, and the worship of idols was proclaimed useless. Brahman 
priests and their rituals were also invalid. Not surprisingly Mahima 
Gosain appealed heavily to the lower castes, to untouchables, and to 
members of the tribal communities.'8 His followers were required to 
perform a simple combination of prayer and ritual twice daily. In the 
morning they conducted saranam, which consisted of praying seven 
times while facing east and sitting in certain yogic positions. In the 
evening they performed darshanan, and on this occasion prayed seven 
times while facing west.'? Mahima Gosain divided his adherents into 
laity and monastic—mendicant orders. The laity (ashrikas) wore yellow 
clothing, married according to simple ceremonies, refrained from kill- 
ing animals, but could eat the meat of goats and deer if someone else 
supplied them. They also observed some of the normal caste restric- 
tions. Mahima Dharmis did not cremate their dead, but buried them in 
a sitting position. Mourning was restricted to ten days and on the 
eleventh a rite of purification signalled a return to normal social life.?° 

The disciples of Mahima Gosain, who had taken vows of renuncia- 
tion, were divided into three classes each representing a stage of re- 
ligious advancement. The first group, originally called niskamis, and 
later known as tyagi bhairagis, consisted of initiates who lived under 
the discipline of senior monks whom they served. The tyagi bhairagis 
acted as cooks, cared for the temples and ashrams, and in general waited 
on the other classes of mendicants. The apara sanyasis came second in 
this religious hierarchy. They were under the supervisiuon of the para 
sanyasis, the senior group, and participated both in travel and preach- 

'7 Sahu in ‘Bhima Bhoi’ gave this date as 1876, p. 18, and the Census, 1911, Orissa Report, p. 
212, gives the date of his death as 1875. 

‘8K. M. Patra, ‘Religious movement in modern Orissa, “Satya Mahima Dharma”’, Journal 
of Indian History, 55, pts. 1-2 (April-August 1977), 275, 280. 

19 Ibid., 277. 

20 Census, 1911, Bengal, Bihar and Orissa Report, p. 212. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


ing. When touring, the apara and para sanyasis begged for food from a 
single house. The para sanyasis represented the highest level of monas- 
tic achievement. They were the core of the movement and managed its 
various institutions. All three levels were open only to men. Women 
could join the movement as devotees, but they were forbidden to enter 
the monastic orders.?! 

With the expansion of the movement, Joranda took on an increasing 
importance as a centralizing force. It became a place of pilgrimage and 
the site of an annual festival on which the Mahima Dharmis came to 
honour their founder. Various ceremonies were conducted at two 
temples, the Sunya Mandir and the Dhuni Mandir. Perhaps of even 
greater significance was the annual feast, the Satsang Ghost, in which all 
participated. All sanyasis and bhairagis were expected to confess their 
failings to one of the para sanyasis before they could join the feast. After 
such confessions they received punishments, if necessary. Lay 
members also made their confession, although the punishments given 
them were minimal.?? This common meal demonstrated the unity of 
Mahima Dharmis and their transcendence of caste restrictions. Sanyasis 
underlined their rejection of the traditional social structure by refusing 
to take food from Brahmans, princes, and some of the professional 
classes, on the grounds that this food may not have been acquired in a 
righteous manner.” 

Expansion of Satya Mahima Dharma created a need for more centres 
of worship than Joranda. Tungis (small thatched huts) were built in 
those villages where a number of Mahima Dharmis resided. These 
places of worship contained sacred spaces and consequently the laity 
could join the services held there, but only sanyasis could reside in the 
tungis. A second type of religious centre, the ashram, was built. They 
were not as sanctified as the tungis and thus anyone could stay there as 
well as use them for various types of meetings. The distribution of 
ashrams provided an indication of the geographic spread of this move- 
ment. Orissa had the greatest number of ashrams (757), followed by 
Bengal (73), Andhra Pradesh (50) and Assam (33), with a total of 913.24 

When Mahima Gosain passed away in 1876, a council was called at 
Joranda to consolidate the movement. Bhima Bhoi attended and was 

21 Anncharlott Eschmann, ‘Spread, organization and cult of Mahima Dharma’ in Panda 
(ed.), Mahima Dharma O Darshana, pp. 9-10; and Patra, ‘Religious movement’, p. 276. 

22 Eschmann, ‘Cult of Mahima Dharma’, pp. 10-11. 

23 Binayak Misra, ‘Alekh religion in Orissa’, Modern Review, 50 (1931), §29. 
24 Patra, ‘Religious movement in modern Orissa’, p. 280. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


dissatisfied with the council’s actions; he decided to found a monastery 
for his own version of Mahima Dharma. He chose the village of 
Khaliapali as the site for this new institution. Maharaja Niladhar Singh 
of Sonepure granted him land for the Khaliapali ashram. It was built in 
1877 and quickly became the new centre of Mahima Dharma. Bhima 
Bhoi’s main spiritual consort, Sri Ma Annapurna, supervised this ash- 
ram. She was a sanyasini who lived under strict moral vows. Bhima 
Bhoi had two other companions and in 1892 he fathered a daughter and 
a son from his two ‘worldly’ consorts. 

Bhima Bhoi introduced the wearing of a rope made from Kumbhi 
bark to distinguish Mahima Dharmis from the general population. He 
also renamed the movement Kumbhipatras. Under Bhima Bhoi, Vaish- 
navism and the worship of Lord Jagannath came in for special criticism. 
The famous temple at Puri was seen as the centre of idolatry and 
responsible for many of the erroneous practices within contemporary 
Hinduism. On 9 March 1881, a group of Mahima Dharmis arrived in 
Puri to protest against the temple worship. They forced their way into 
the inner shrine and, according to some accounts, attempted to burn the 
wooden idols. The protesters were driven out, but tension between 
Satya Mahima Dharma and Hindu orthodoxy continued although not 
necessarily at this level.?5 In 1895 Bhima Bhoi died and was buried at the 
Khaliapali ashram. 

Satya Mahima Dharma continued into the twentieth century. Schol- 
arship on this movement is limited, and much of what has been written 
discusses the question of whether this was a Hindu or Buddhist move- 
ment. It is likely that the Satya Mahima Dharma was influenced by 
Buddhism, forms of bhakti developed in Orissa, plus some elements of 
tribal culture. The institution of confessions seems the most likely 
adaptation from Buddhist religious practices.”6 

Asa transitional socio-religious movement in opposition to contem- 
porary Hinduism, Satya Mahima Dharma drew support from the lower 
castes and partially assimilated tribal peoples who had little status and 
power within the society of Orissa. There is no evidence of influence 
from the colonial world of the British nor from cultural areas outside 
Orissa. Mahima Dharma bridged not only the pre-colonial and colonial 
worlds, but also the tribal and Hindu areas of Orissa and its surround- 

25 Eschmann, ‘Cult of Mahima Dharma’, p. 7; and Sahu, ‘Bhima Bhoi’, p. 18. 
2 Eschmann, ‘Cult of Mahima Dharma’, p. 8. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


ing territories. Those who followed this movement were given forms of 
ritual, places of worship, assembly halls, their own priesthood, dis- 
tinctive clothing, and customs that provided them with a separate 
identity at the edge of the Hindu religion. 


The city of Bombay was the main centre of the new colonial milieu. 
From here it spread north towards Ahmadabad, slowly southwards 
along the narrow coast, and inland through Poona to the ‘Desh’, the 
territory of the Deccan. A second smaller centre of English influence 
was found in the city of Surat on the Gujarat coast. Bombay began with 
a settlement of merchants and officials of the East India Company. 
They were accompanied by Indian merchants, middlemen, and ser- 
vants. The city attracted members of the commercial castes, especially 
Baniyas and Bhatias from Gujarat, who came to dominate much of the 
financial life of the city. Gujarati became the lingua franca of Bombay, 
but the Gujaratis themselves were sharply divided by subcastes that 
fragmented them into numerous social units. A few Nagar Brahmans of 
Gujarat, who knew Arabic and Persian, were attracted to the city, as 
were members of the Parsi or Zoroastrian community. Many Parsi 
merchants and traders of Surat moved south along with the English to 
become highly successful in the commerce of Bombay. 

The bulk of Bombay’s population were Maratha~Kunbis from the 
Deccan. They worked as unskilled labourers and accounted for 175,000 
residents in 1881.2” Chitpavan, Desharta and Saraswat Brahmans also 
settled in the city. By the mid-nineteenth century they had gained 
prominence in the professions, but did not dominate Bombay as they 
did the other areas of Maharashtra. Bombay was too heterogeneous for 
any one group to seize social, economic or religious control. By con- 
trast Poona was a homogeneous city, Maratha in language and culture. 
It prospered during the reign of Baji Rao I (1720-40) as the capital of the 
Maratha Empire, and attracted considerable wealth, but suffered a 
decline in its economic status during the later part of the eighteenth 
century and the first two decades of the nineteenth. Poona was domi- 

27 Anil Seal, The Emergence of Indian Nationalism: Competition and Collaboration in the 
Later Nineteenth Century (Cambridge University Press, 1968), p. 83. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


nated by Maratha Brahmans and was a centre of Hindu orthodoxy; a 
city rich in Maratha literature and culture with a strong sense of its 
recent political heritage. Influences from British culture passed from 
Bombay through Poona to the Desh, the lands beyond the coastal 

Once the British were in control of the vast territories of the Maratha 
Empire, they began constructing their own system of administration. 
The first governor of the Bombay Presidency, Mountstuart Elphin- 
stone (1819-27), adopted a cautious policy that used elements of the 
Maratha government and attempted to win the support of the Brah- 
mans. An individual, peasant land settlement was introduced that fitted 
well with the society of the Desh. In acting thus, Elphinstone did not 
create an upheaval in the economy and society of Maharashtra similar 
to that which shook Bengal.?? One institution he maintained was the 
dakshina, a system of annual payments to Brahmans that supported 
teachers, temple and household priests, and shastris (Brahman schol- 
ars). The extent of this institution can be seen from the fact that even 
under Baji Rao H, when the Maratha state had lost much of its wealth, 
50,000 Brahmans received dakshina payments in a single year. 

Within the realm of education the British maintained a similarly 
cautious programme. In 1820, the Native Education Society was 
founded in Bombay to improve existing schools and establish new 
ones. This was a direct descendant of the Bombay Education Society 
established in 1815 to educate European children of the city. English 
education was first accepted in Bombay, and more slowly in Poona. In 
1821, Elphinstone opened the Poona Sanskrit College as a means to 
educate Brahmans. He hoped that they would eventually become 
interested in western thought. Initially this school taught purely Hindu 
subjects. Once again Elphinstone and the Bombay government started 
a long-term policy of hoped-for change, but in the short term acted to 
uphold the Brahminical establishment. 

Another English school, the Elphinstone Institute, was founded in 
Bombay in 1825. In 1834, it became a college and began to produce the 
core of an English-educated elite. One of the first associations created 

28 Seal, Emergence of Indian Nationalism, pp. 70-1; and Ellen McDonald, ‘City-hinter- 
land relations and the development of a regional elite in nineteenth century Bombay’, Journal 
of Asian Studies (Aug. 1974), 583-4. 

29 Ravinder Kumar, Western India in the Nineteenth Century: A Study in Social History of 
Maharashtra (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968), pp. 152-4. 

30 Tbid., pp. 48-9. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


by this educated group was the Scientific Society of Bombay estab- 
lished in 1848, partly through student initiative, and partly through the 
urgings of their English professors. One year later two branch societies 
were organized, one which conducted its meetings in Marathi, the 
other in Gujarati. All three associations became the centre of discussion 
and debate on social, religious, educational, and scientific issues, bring- 
ing to Bombay City criticism of society similar to that which developed 
in Calcutta, Delhi, and Lahore.?! 

A trend toward English education and the acceptance of western 
knowledge appeared in Poona. In 1832, the government founded an 
English high school and used dakshina funds to do so. Four years later, 
in 1836, it was announced that the government would support only 
‘useful’ knowledge. The local Sanskrit College dropped Vedic studies 
and an English principal was appointed for this institution. Changes 
were also made in the dakshina system. Annual payments would, 
henceforth, be for the life of a particular recipient and could not be 
inherited. The amount spent on dakshina payments gradually dimin- 
ished as a more confident government slowly abandoned its tie to the 
Brahmans and to Hindu orthodoxy. In 1859, the dakshina fund was 
shifted to the Department of Education and transformed into fellow- 
ships open to all castes in secular schools and colleges. In effect the 
dakshina system came to an end as English education gained promi- 
nence in Poona. By the mid-nineteenth century, both Bombay and 
Poona acquired small-core groups of young men, primarily Brahmans, 
who had received or were studying for English education. During the 
same period a new force for change appeared first in Surat and Bombay 
City, and then in the Desh, as the colonial milieu expanded from the 
coast inland. As a result the first acculturative socio-religious move- 
ments arose in Surat. 


The Manav Dharma Sabha 

The British had been present in Surat since the second decade of the 
seventeenth century; however, it was not until the 1840s that tensions 

| Richard Tucker, ‘Hindu traditionalism and nationalist ideologies in rg9th century Mah- 
arashtra’, Modern Asian Studies, 10, no. 3 (July 1976), 234. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


arose through the introduction of western education and missionary 
activities. Beginning in 1820, the Bombay government opened a 
school in Surat and another in Broach. Within a decade other 
schools were added throughout the cities of Gujarat. Their curriculum 
consisted of English texts translated into the vernaculars. The teaching 
staffs came from local communities, but were often educated in 
Bombay, as was illustrated by the career of Mehtaji Durgaram 
Manchharam (1809-78), a Nagar Brahman, born in Surat and trained 
in Bombay. In 1830 he became headmaster of the Government 
School in Surat, an institution founded in 1826. Four years later 
when the Surat English School was opened, Durgaram took the 
position of headmaster. He became a leading figure among the small 
group of educated Gujaratis who coalesced in the 1830s as critics 
of contemporary society. Participants in this group were Dadoba 
Panderung Tarkhad, Dinmani Shankar, Dalpatram Bhagubai, 
and Damodar Das. Durgaram spoke for the others when he rejected 
‘the existence of ghosts, their exorcism by means of incantations, the 
evils of early marriage and the bar against remarriage of high caste 
Hindu widows’.*? By 1842, Durgaram had acquired a lithographic 
press that he and his friends used to disseminate their ideas, and the 
new knowledge being made available in the English schools. They 
did this through the Pustak Prasarak Mandali (Book Propagation 

Advocates of cultural and religious change were spurred to action by 
the conversion of a Parsi student, Nasarwanji Manakji, and the result- 
ing uproar in the Parsi and Hindu communities. After twenty days of 
pressure and debate the young Manakji recanted and was readmitted to 
the Parsi fold. This event led Durgaram, Dadoba, and a few friends to 
found the Manav Dharma Sabha on 22 June 1844. They held meetings 
every Sunday that were open to anyone who wished to attend. An 
article in the journal, Prabhakar, 5 January 1845, described their goals 
as being to ‘select what is true of all religions, such as Christian, 
Muslim, Hindoo etc., to expose hypocritical arts ... [that various 
religious leaders] ... have put into practice, and the falsehoods they 
have inserted into the Shastras in order to secure superiority over others 
and to dispel ignorance which has led men to accept the stories of these 

32 Chavda, ‘Social and religious reform in Gujarat’, p. 210. This is the main source on the 

Manav Dharma Sabha and any other sources used will be cited. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


deceivers as the word of God’.} As part of their programme of action, 
the Manav Dharma Sabha challenged magicians and the reciters of 
incantations to demonstrate their skills. If any could do so successfully, 
the Sabha would pay them Rs 27. They also criticized caste, but took no 
direct action against this institution. The Manav Dharma Sabha had 
only a short career as an active organization. It began to shatter in 1846 
when Dadoba Panderung returned to Bombay, and ceased to function 
in 1852 when Durgaram Manchharam left for Rajkot. Although its life 
was severely limited, this Sabha was directly linked to later develop- 
ments in Maharashtra and Gujarat as its members carried with them the 
ideals of the movement and became leaders in similar organizations. 
The Manav Dharma Sabha appealed to the small, educated elite of 
Surat and began as a reaction to Christian conversions. For a brief 
period this society appeared to be the foundation of an acculturative 
socio-religious movement with an ideology that spoke of the need for 
significant change. Its ideas and programme, however, lacked the abil- 
ity to generate strong commitment on the part of its followers, commit- 
ment of sufficient strength to directly challenge the leadership and 
domination of established religion. In spite of the short life span of this 
Sabha, the ideas generated here were passed on to two direct descend- 
ants, the first of which was the Paramahansa Mandali of Maharashtra. 

The Paramahansa Mandali 

The history of the Paramahansa Mandali was closely linked to the 
acculturative Manav Dharma Sabha and to the leadership of Dadoba 
Panderung (1814-82). Dadoba was born into a merchant family and 
received his final training in the Bombay Native School. In 1846 Bal 
Shastri Jambhekar, the headmaster of the Bombay Normal School, was 
replaced by Dadoba who returned carrying with him the ideas ex- 
pressed by the Manav Dharma Sabha. He outlined his doctrines in 
Dharma Vivechan (A Discussion of the Unity of Man), a volume 
written in 1843, but not published until 1848. He listed seven principles 
that became the basis for the new association: that God alone should be 
worshipped, that real religion is based on love and moral conduct, that 
spiritual religion is one, that every individual should have freedom of 
thought, that our daily words should be consistent with reason, that 
mankind is one caste, and that the right kind of knowledge should be 

33 J. V. Naik, ‘Early anti-caste movements in western India: the Paramahansa Sabha’, 
Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bombay, 49-50-51 (1974-6, new series), 145. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


given to all. These principles denied the polytheism of popular Hindu- 
ism, the caste system, and the Brahmanical monopoly of knowledge. 
Yet its promise of freedom of thought, and its insistence on reason as a 
base for moral conduct, meant that individuals who wished to follow 
Dadoba’s ideas might do so without adherence to a single doctrine.** 

In 1849, Dadoba and a small group of friends organized the Parama- 
hansa Mandiali, a radical socio-religious society that met in secret. All 
members were required to pledge that they would abandon caste 
restrictions. Each initiate had to take food and drink prepared by a 
member of the lower castes. Meetings were held at set times in the 
homes of various members and sympathizers. Most often they met in 
the home of Ram Bal Krishna Jayakar (1826-66), a Prabhu, who 
became president of the Mandali. These meetings opened and closed 
with bhakti hymns from the Marathi collection, the Ratnamala, and 
were held in that language. At times prayers written by Dadoba were 
also recited as part of the worship service. They read papers and 
discussed a variety of social and religious topics. The group soon came 
to an agreement on two major principles. First, they would not attack 
any religion and, secondly, they rejected any religion which claimed 
that it had ‘the infallible record of God’s revelation to man’.>> Thus the 
Paramahansa Mandali was limited to an intellectual rejection of re- 
ligious revelations. 

Those who joined this movement were largely young, educated 
Brahmans either from Bombay or drawn there in search of an advanced 
English education. As they completed their studies and left for employ- 
ment elsewhere, they carried the Mandali and its ideas with them. 
Branches of this organization were established in Poona, Ahmadnagar, 
and Ratnagiri. The Poona Mandali was active and played a part in 
efforts to open the dakshina system to non-Brahmans. Many of their 
members signed a petition to that effect and then had to struggle against 
orthodox attempts to excommunicate those whose names appeared on 
the memorial. The secret nature of the Mandali has made it difficult to 
trace its development and history during the 1850s. Rumours of its 

4 Ibid., p. 146. This is the main source for the Paramahansa Mandali and if other sources 
are used they will be cited. 

35 The founding date of the Paramahansa Mandali is given differently by various sources. 
Naik implied it was in 1847, Zelliot gives the date as 1848 and Farquhar as 1849. See Naik, 
‘Early anti-caste movements’, p. 144; Eleanor Zelliot, ‘The Maharashtrian intellectual and 
social change: an historical view’ in Yogindra K. Malik, South Asian Intellectuals and Social 
Change (New Delhi, Heritage Publishers, 1982), p. 38; and Farquhar, Modern Religious 
Movements, p. 75. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


existence were prevalent as early as 1851~2. In 1860 the Mandali’s 
records were stolen and made public. These documents contained the 
names of all members and a statement indicating that upon initiation 
each had eaten food forbidden to them by their caste. The Mandali 
collapsed immediately leaving behind outrage on the part of orthodoxy 
and humiliated radicals. In the aftermath two supporters of the Mandali 
converted to Christianity and one became a Theosophist. 

The acculturative Paramahansa Mandali, following the path of the 
Manav Dharma Sabha with its attempts to reject the caste system, idols, 
orthodox rituals, and Brahmanical authority, left little behind it in 
concrete achievements. Its insistence on remaining a secret organi- 
zation illustrated an unwillingness to openly challenge Hindu ortho- 
doxy. The Mandali and its sympathizers drawn from the urban-edu- 
cated Brahmans and merchants were isolated and had little base of 
support. Paralleling this absence of numerical and social strength was 
the lack of an ideology that provided its adherents with the emotional 
commitment needed to face the unwavering opposition of Hindu ortho- 
doxy. Once their identities were known the Mandali disintegrated. 
Yet the ideas seen in the Manav Dharma Sabha and the Paramahansa 
Mandali appeared once more in the form of a new socio-religious movement. 

The Prarthana Samaj 

The establishment of a new society dedicated to changing the religious 
and social life of Maharashtra came from the internal heritage of the 
Paramahansa Sabha and from the external influences brought primarily 
by Keshab Chandra Sen (see pp. 34-9). Sen visited Bombay in 1864 
and returned again in 1867. This second trip generated considerable 
enthusiasm among the English-educated elite of Maharashtra. That 
same year Dr Atmaram Panderung (1823-98), and a small circle of 
friends, created a new organization, the Prarthana Samaj (Prayer So- 
ciety). Several of these individuals had been involved in the Parama- 
hansa Mandali and thus both personnel and ideology were carried forth 
from the ruins of that organization.** With the exception of the Pande- 
rung brothers, the members of this organization were English-edu- 
cated Chitpavan and Saraswat Brahmans.’ In addition, the Samaj was 
aided by Gujarati merchants and members of the Parsi community, but 

36 Farquhar, Modern Religious Movements, p. 76. 
37 Christine Dobbin, Urban Leadership in Western India: Politics and Communities in 
Bombay City, 1840-1885 (Oxford University Press, 1972), p. 251. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


the actual membership was strictly Maharashtrian.** Bengalis con- 
tinued to provide assistance to this new organization through visits by 
distinguished Brahmos. In 1872-3, Protap Chandra Majumdar spent 
six months in Bombay where he helped to organize night-schools for 
education among the working classes and aided in starting the journal, 
Subodh Patrika; both were initiated in 1873. This journal was origi- 
nally published in Marathi, but in 1877 English columns were added. In 
spite of the assistance and inspiration supplied by Bengali Brahmos, the 
Prarthana Samaj leaders refused to accept the label of ‘Brahmos’ or to 
formally link their own society with the Bengali Samaj. 

Shortly after its founding, the members of the Prarthana Samaj 
agreed upon its rules and bye-laws. A managing committee was ap- 
pointed and weekly meetings were scheduled for each Sunday. These 
gatherings consisted of bhakti hymns, lectures, and readings from 
various scriptures. The Prarthana Samaj showed a syncretistic accept- 
ance of all religions. They drew upon Christian and Buddhist texts as 
well as different Hindu scriptures when compiling their weekly ser- 
vices.°? Their Samaj was pledged to worship the one God and to seek 
the truth in all religions. They wished to avoid sectarian conflict in their 
pursuit of morality and truth. The Prarthana Samaj initially had a 
vague, undeveloped set of ideas. As Ranade, the Indian leader and 
politician, noted in 1872, ‘our friends of the Prarthana Samaj seem to be 
perfectly satisfied with a creed which consists of only one positive 
belief in the unity of God, accompanied with a special protest against 
the existing corruption of Hindu religion, viz., the article which de- 
nounces the prevalent idolatry to be a sin and an abomination’.*° Later 
he wrote A Theist’s Confession of Faith in which he attempted to create 
an ideological base for the Prarthana Samaj. In it he stressed the one 
compassionate, omnipotent God similar to the divine figure found in 
the writings of the Maratha bhakti saints. In 1874, a new meeting hall 
was opened and for this occasion Ranade, working with several other 
members of the Samaj, prepared a creed. It declared that: ‘No carved or 
painted images, no external symbol which has been or may hereafter be 

38 Richard Tucker, Ranade and the Roots of Indian Nationalism (Bombay, Popular 
Prakashan, 1977), p. 58. 

39 Dobbin, Urban Leadership, pp. 250-1. 

40 Quoted in Tucker, Ranade, p. 59. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


used by any sect for the purpose of worship or the remembrance of a 
particular event, shall be preserved here.’*! From the first section of this 
statement the Samaj would seem to be directly condemning much of 
contemporary Hinduism. However, further on, they softened their 
attack considerably by a rejection of religious inflexibility: “No created 
being or object that has been or may hereafter be worshipped by any 
sect shall be ridiculed or condemned ... No book shall be acknowl- 
edged or revered as the infallible word of God; yet no book which has 
been or may hereafter be acknowledged by any sect to be infallible shall 
be ridiculed or condemned.’ The Prarthana Samaj retained its in- 
tellectualized vision of religious and social questions, and while it 
strove to change customs in both areas, it did not have the use of 
powerful emotional concepts and symbols to sustain its efforts and its 

The Samaj did attempt to provide education to all classes of the 
society and sought changes in four areas: they wished to end the ban on 
widow remarriage, to abandon all caste restrictions, to abolish child 
marriage, and to encourage the education of women. They were, 
however, reluctant to act directly and were always careful not to break 
with Hindu society as had the Brahmos of Bengal. This led them to 
follow a cautious programme. For instance, some of the Samaj 
members worked openly for the acceptance of widow remarriage, but 
the Prarthana Samaj as an organization did not lead in this campaign.” 
The Prarthana Samaj managed to open branch societies in Poona, Surat, 
Ahmadabad and Karachi. The majority of new Prarthana Samajes were 
located to the East and the South-East, at Kirkee, Kolhapur, and Satara 
in the Desh, or in the towns of the Dravidian South. By the early 
twentieth century, eighteen Prarthana Samajes existed in the Madras 

In 1875 the Prarthana Samaj faced its first crisis and a resulting schism 
among its members. Swami Dzyananda Saraswati visited Gujarat and 
Maharashtra with the result that a new ideology of revealed truth, 
radical change, and open conflict provided a dramatically different 
species of religious movement. A section of the Prarthana Samaj 

*! This and the following quote are from sbid., pp. 62-3. 
2 Farquhar, Modern Religious Movements, pp. 78-9. 

* Tucker, ‘Hindu traditionalism’, p. 330. 

“ Farquhar, Modern Religious Movements, p. 77. 



Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


membership was attracted to Aryan ideology and were excited by 
Dayananda. They wanted to have the Prarthana Samaj openly reject all 
caste rules and restrictions. After considerable internal debate led by S. 
P. Kelkar, those who accepted Dayananda’s message broke away and 
founded the Brahmo Samaj of Bombay. Kelkar’s Brahmo Samaj failed 
after eight years, and in 1882 he returned to the Prarthana Samaj to 
become one of their few missionaries. 

The Prarthana Samaj maintained various institutions: a free reading 
room, a library, night-schools for workers, an orphanage in Pandh- 
arpur and, after 1906, a Depressed Classes Mission of India under 
the leadership of Vithal Ramji Shinde. Such positive efforts did 
not lead to a direct attack on Hindu orthodoxy or Brahmanical power. 
By the late nineteenth century, the line of religious and social thinking 
exhibited by the Manav Dharma Sabha, the Paramahansa Mandali, 
and the Prarthana Samaj lost its strength and direction. Religion 
effectively remained in the hands of the Hindu orthodoxy. Only 
the widow remarriage debates of the 1860s, and the Age of Consent 
controversy of the 1880s and late 1890s, stirred orthodox leaders 
to organize. Both issues, however, were transitory and, conse- 
quently, so were the societies created by leaders on both sides of 
the issue.*5 In the 1880s and 1890s, Hinduism served as a vehicle of 
protest against the British and their culture and, in doing so, furnished 
symbols for political mobilization under the leadership of Bal Ganga- 
dhar Tilak. Social protest among non-Brahmans and untouchables 
move along secular lines rather than the theistic, syncretistic, non- 
aggressive and intellectualized protest of the Manav Dharma Sabha, the 
Paramahansa Mandali or the Prarthana Samaj. Brahmanical power was 
of such strength that it could not be openly challenged by an accultur- 
ative socio-religious movement. The Prarthana Samaj did succeed in 
creating various institutions, schools, reading rooms, places of 
worship, programmes for untouchable uplift, and exported its model 
of religious action inland to the Desh and to the peninsular South. 
Yet another example of such a movement existed in the Gujarat— 
Maratha areas, this from the minority community of Zoroastrians, the 

45 Richard Tucker, ‘From Dharmashtra to politics’, [Indian Economic and Social History 
Review, 7, no. 3 (Sept. 1970), 331-41. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 



The Rahnumai Mazdayasnan Sabha 

The Parsis, refugee Zoroastrians from Iran who, according to tradition, 
reached Gujarat in AD 936, spread along the western Gujarat coast 
living mainly in the ports and small towns of this area. Hereditary 
priests travelled with them ministering to small groups of families. In 
the thirteenth century Gujarat was divided into five panths. Each panth 
was governed by a council of priests and all five panths were tied 
together through links to Sanjan, the Iranian home of the Parsi emi- 
grants. Thus the Parsis evolved a system of socio-religious orders not 
unlike the caste system that existed among Gujarati Hindus. The Parsis 
were a closed community as well. They did not convert and did not 
intermarry with non-Parsis. Their temples and dokmas (towers of 
silence), where the dead were exposed, were closed to non-Parsis. 
Access to their sacred literature was restricted to Parsi priests and 
discussed only within the community. 

Over the centuries of their diaspora the Parsis of India retained a 
limited contact with the Gabars, those followers of Zoroastrianism still 
living in Iran. In the 1720s, Dastur Jamasp ‘Vilayati’, a learned priest 
from Iran, visited Gujarat and brought with him a calendar, plus a 
number of manuscripts of the Zoroastrian scriptures. When he 
returned to Iran, he left behind him a divided community, unsure 
whether to adopt the Iranian calendar he had introduced or to retain 
their traditional one. In 1746 a group of Parsis decided to accept the 
Irani calendar on the grounds that it was the more ancient and thus the 
more correct of the two versions. They became known as the Kadmi or 
ancient section of the Parsi community as opposed to the Shahanshahis 
(royalists), who retained the calendar used in Gujarat. This produced a 
major division of the community, one that lasted into the twentieth 
century. A second division was created by the movement of Parsis into 
Bombay where many of them became wealthy as merchants, shipbuild- 
ers, and commercial middlemen. Thus a new group of prosperous 
Parsis contrasted with their more rural and small-town co-religionists 

“© Mary Boyce, Zoroastrians, Their Religious Beliefs and Practices (London, Routledge & 
Kegan Paul, 1979), pp. 167~8. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


in Gujarat. The Bombay Parsis lived beyond the limits of the panth 
divisions and consequently were outside priestly control.*” 

As the Bombay Parsis prospered they began to construct religious 
buildings in the city, places of worship with a sacred fire and towers for 
exposing their dead. The money needed for construction and mainten- 
ance came from wealthy laymen who served as trustees to supervise the 
management of these new structures. Thus the laity of Bombay 
functioned beyond the authority of the hereditary priesthood. This 
community also posed questions for the East India Company in that 
they had little knowledge of its laws and customs. Consequently, the 
Company urged the Parsis to organize a council to oversee their fellow 
Zoroastrians. In 1728, the Parsi Panchayat was founded to manage 
the internal affairs of the community. It was composed of wealthy 
laymen and it too proved both a source of leadership and internal 
tension. The Panchayat’s status and power fluctuated during the 
eighteenth and into the nineteenth centuries. From a low point of 
influence and social control the Panchayat was reconstructed in 1818 
and issued a series of bundobusts (rules of conduct) in an attempt to 
create greater cohesion and uniformity within the Parsi community.*8 
The Panchayat, however, continued to suffer from charges of nepotism 
arising from the fact that it was dominated by a handful of powerful 
merchant families. 

In addition to internal tensions, the Parsi community faced a direct 
challenge from the Christian missionaries led by John Wilson, who 
held his first public discussion of Zoroastrianism in 1831. Wilson’s 
attacks on this religion were disturbing, but in 1839 a far more serious 
danger arose when three Parsi students converted to Christianity. This 
shocked the Parsis as did Wilson’s book, The Parsi Religion, published 
in 1843. Since the Parsis did not convert, Christian actions appeared 
difficult to understand and fearful in their impact. Perhaps as disturbing 
was the open discussion of their scriptures as they were examined by 
missionaries and European scholars. The Parsi priests were secretive, 
suffering from a degree of ignorance and a lack of the analytic tech- 
niques needed to end this ignorance. Nevertheless, the Parsis attempted 
to defend themselves against Wilson and his fellow missionaries. In the 
1840s, Naoroji Furdunji edited Fam-i-Famshid, a journal aimed at 

47 Ibid., pp. 189-90. 

4 Dobbin, Urban Leadership, pp. 99-100. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


defending the cause of Zoroastrianism. He also wrote a number of 
pamphlets and in 1850 published the book, Tarikha Farthost, in which 
he ‘proved’ that Zoroaster pre-dated Christ and that his religion was 
superior to Christianity. The various forces challenging the Parsi com- 
munity, and questions of its own self-identity within Bombay, stimu- 
lated the formation of a socio-religious movement designed to codify 
the Zoroastrian religion and reshape Parsi social life.*? 

In 1851, Naoroji Furdunji and a small group of educated Parsis from 
Bombay founded the Rahnumai Mazdayasnan Sabha (Parsis’ Reform 
Society), with funds provided by K. N. Kama. Furdunji became presi- 
dent of the Sabha, an office he held until his death in 1885, and Sorabji 
Shapurji Bengali accepted the position of secretary. Bengali was an 
ardent writer, whose main subjects were the glories of ancient Iran and 
popularizing the new western knowledge. In 1850, he began publishing 
a monthly journal, Jagat Mitra (Friend of the World), to further the 
acceptance of his ideas among literate Parsis. The Sabha also issued its 
own journal, Rast Goftar (The Truth Teller), as the main voice of their 
movement. In 1851, S. S. Bengali started another journal, Jagat Premi 
(Lover of the World) with the purpose of disseminating knowledge of 
ancient Iran. It contained stories on Iran’s cities, its sculpture and 
architecture, all as evidence of the greatness of the civilization that once 
existed in the Parsi homeland. 

The broad purposes of the Sabha were to achieve ‘the regeneration of 
the social condition of the Parsees and the restoration of the Zo- 
roastrian religion in its pristine purity’.°° To achieve this, Furdunji felt 
it was necessary ‘to fight orthodoxy, yet with no rancour or malice... 
to break through the thousand and one religious prejudices that tend to 
retard progress and civilization of the community’ .5! The leaders of the 
Sabha criticized elaborate ceremonies at betrothals, marriages, and 
funerals. They opposed both infant marriage and the use of astrology. 
The Sabha made known its opposition to orthodox beliefs and customs 
through lectures, pamphlets and the pages of their journal. It soon 
acquired a number of opponents among the priests and laity, even 
within Bombay where many of the older merchants still adhered to 
Parsi traditions. 

The search of the purified and proper Zoroastrianism led those 
associated with the Rahnumai Mazdayasnan Sabha to introduce west- 

” Ibid., pp. 59-60. 50 Farquhar, Modern Religious Movements, p. 84. 
51 Boyce, Zoroastrians, p. 200. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


ern scholarship into the training of Zoroastrian priests. In 1854, K. N. 
Kama established the Mulla Firoz Madrassah to teach the languages of 
Zend, Pahlevi, and Persian to young priests. During the 1850s, he 
established a translation fund so that the findings of modern research 
on his religion could be made available to his fellow Parsis. In 1863, 
following his lead, Jijibhai’s son, Rastamji, opened a seminary, the Sir 
Jamshedji Jijibhai Jarthosti Madrassah, under the headship of S. S. 
Bengali.>2 In 1864, Kharshedji Rastamji Kama, a cousin of K. N. Kama, 
established the Jarthosti Dini Khol Karnari Mandali to produce auth- 
oritative editions of the Zoroastrian scriptures, rituals and doctrines.*3 
These efforts to discover proper beliefs and interpretations unsettled 
many of the literate and concerned Parsis. A further shock was gener- 
ated with the visit of the German scholar, Martin Haug, in the 1860s. 
Haug declared that only the Gathas, a collection of ancient poems, 
could be considered as the words of the Prophet Zoroaster and thus 
should take precedence over all other texts. Haug went on to state that 
the Gathas taught a simple theism and not the elaborate ideology of 
contemporary Zoroastrianism. Once the initial shock passed, the crit- 
ics of orthodoxy concluded that they had gained a new argument in 
their struggles with the religious establishment. They had in this theis- 
tic Zoroastrianism a doctrine that could be defended against attacks by 
Christian missionaries. European scholarship provided legitimization 
for those who wished to rediscover the ‘pure’ Zoroastrianism of 

The definition of what was proper religion remained an issue that 
divided Parsis between those who advocated radical change, and those 
who wished only limited alterations in customs and rituals. The latter 
organized the Raherastnumai Mazdayasnan Sabha in opposition to the 
radicals. In 1863 Mancherji Hormasji Kama (1810-94) founded the 
orthodox journal, Suryodaya (Sunrise), edited by Manaji Barjorji Mi- 
nocheer.®> This division between radical and orthodox Parsis continued 
into the twentieth century. In 1909, a Parsi priest, Dr Dhala, returned 
from studying at Columbia University and announced the formation of 

an annual Zoroastrian conference, the goal of which was to inaugurate a 

52 Dobbin, Urban Leadership, pp. 63-4. 

83 Ibid., p. 64; and Ervad Sheiarji Dadabhai Bharucha, Zoroastrian Religion and Custom 
(Bombay, D. B. Taraporevala, 1979, original edn, 1893), pp. 90-1. 

5¢ Boyce, Zoroastrians, p. 203. 

55 See Dobbin, Urban Leadership, p. 62; and Farquhar, Modern Religious Movements, p. 
344, where he refers to the Rahe Rust (True Way). It is apparently the same society as the 
Raherastnumai Mazdayasnan Sabha. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


movement for restoring Zoroastrian religion to its pristine sublimity 
and simplicity. The first conference was held in 1910 and explored a 
variety of religious, social, and educational questions. It paid particular 
attention to the need for a moral and religious education in their 
schools. The meeting was, however, rent by dissension and violence, as 
was the 1911 session. The 1912 and 1913 conferences proved far more 
successful and membership in the conference programme reached 500. 
A series of projects were organized including a revision of the ritual 
calendar, the education of Parsi priests, plans for industrial and tech- 
nical education, a system of medical inspection for school children, the 
beginnings of a charitable organization, a dairy project, and an agricul- 
tural scheme. 

As the twentieth century progressed, a number of factors aided those 
who had demanded changes in Parsi customs and social behaviour. 
Many of the wealthy Parsis in Bombay were drawn into social contact 
with the English. Their wives began to appear at dinners, to change 
their habits of dress, and to adopt English customs and social forms. 
The age of marriage increased along with the amount of education given 
to their sons and daughters. The authority of traditional priests had not 
been transferred from Gujarat to Bombay, thus less resistance to 
change existed there than in many other Parsi communities. 

The Rahnumai Mazdayasnan Sabha drew heavily on the colonial 
milieu and on western scholarship to construct its reinterpreted 
Zoroastrianism. The sacred texts, rituals and customs of the Parsis were 
studied by western scholars, and their knowledge became the foun- 
dation of religious change and for the instruction of a new generation of 
Parsi priests. The Sabha was the creation of an educated and urban class 
of Parsis in Bombay City, who became a highly succesful elite within 
that city and the broader world of British India. This acculturative 
socio-religious movement provided a reshaped heritage that anglicized 
Parsis could defend against Christian missionaries and that was com- 
patible with their changed social, cultural, and economic environment. 
In so doing, the Parsi community was divided between this urban 
group and those who remained in Gujarat still under the authority of 
the traditional Parsi priests. Priestly power over the community as a 
whole was broken and authority among the rising elite shifted to 
prominent lay members who claimed their vision of Zoroastrianism 

6 Farquhar, Modern Religious Movements, pp. 88-9. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


was the only true one. The wealth and status of these urbanized Parsis 
was thus extended into the sphere of religion, permanently altering the 
dynamics of the Parsi community. The Sabha was, as a result, highly 
successful in adjusting Parsi culture to the needs of the new urbanized 
Parsi elite, who in time became models of behaviour for younger Parsis. 
Orthodoxy was undermined by the loss of a monopoly of scriptural 
knowledge, by their low level of education, their ignorance of the 
Zoroastrian texts, and their inability to control the elite of Bombay. By 
1947, the Parsi community had largely succeeded in adjusting to the 
colonial milieu with perhaps greater success than any other group in 

South Asia. 


This belt of hill tracts, river valleys, and the Kathiawar peninsula exists 
as a link and also a barrier between the northern plains and the Dravi- 
dian South, as was demonstrated by the transitional socio-religious 
movements that developed there. The Swami Narayana Sampradaya 
drew directly on the Gangetic basin for its leadership and ideology, 
while the Satnamis were indirectly linked to the area directly north. The 
Manav Dharma Sabha was Oriyan in its origins. The leadership and 
membership patterns of these movements also reflected the nature of 
this area, drawing supporters and leaders from high-caste Hindus, 
untouchables, and tribals. The Swami Narayana movement with its 
Brahman leadership, limited criticism of Hinduism, and emphasis on a 
re-enforced moral code belongs, in part, to past patterns of bhakti as 
well as the tradition of social protest. By contrast, the Satnamis began 
and ended as an untouchable movement with members of that com- 
munity as both leaders and followers. The Satya Mahima Dharma were 
more complex in structure with leadership from Hindu Brahmans, and 
partly Hinduized tribals. This movement attempted to create a form of 
religion that bridged the gap from formal Hinduism and the tribal hill 
people at the edge of the Hindu world. Its customs and beliefs struck 
against the established Hindu society of the plains and attempted to 
replace that system with one that would integrate tribals, untouchables, 
and elements of the Hindu community into a new, equalitarian, socio- 
religious world. To accomplish this goal the Mahima Dharmis drew on 
a variety of past religious teachings. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


This middle belt was slow to be incorporated into the colonial milieu. 
Its first acculturative movement was founded in Surat, one of the 
earliest areas to be integrated within the sphere of British cultural 
influence, but quickly shifted to Bombay, a major centre of colonial 
development. The ideology of religious criticism first crafted by the 
Manav Dharma Sabha was passed on and elaborated by the Parama- 
hansa Mandali, and the Prarthana Samaj. In the process of transference, 
leadership was centred in the hands of Maharashtrian Brahmans among 
the English-educated elite. The entrenched power of Maharashtrian 
Brahmans limited the role and success of all three movements and made 
it impossible to challenge Hindu orthodoxy directly, or to call for 
dramatic change. By the end of the nineteenth century, the Prarthana 
Samaj, the last of these three, lost what little influence it possessed. This 
dominance of the Brahmans within Maharashtra marked a shift to a 
pattern of religious power found in the South, missing in Punjab and 
Bengal, but present in the Gangetic heartland. 

Among the Parsis, the Rahnumai Mazdayasnan Sabha succeeded in 
challenging the domination of the Zoroastrian priesthood by building 
on a base of support among the urban Parsis of Bombay. They were 
beyond the territorial control of the priest, and their new sources of 
wealth and status freed them from priestly control. At the same time, 
success in the colonial milieu created for this new elite demands to 
reshape their religion, to defend it, and to legitimize their adjustment to 
the colonial world. This socio-religious movement succeeded but only 
at the price of dividing the Parsi community into two divergent wings, 
one still centred in the rural areas and small towns of Gujarat, the other 
with its base in the city of Bombay. Developments then among Hindus 
and Parsis of this region showed patterns drawn in part from the 
Gangetic plain to the North, but in Maharashtra far more characteristic 
of the Dravidian South. 

Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 




The last regional chapter of this volume examines an area defined 
partly by geography, but more extensively by culture and language. 
The northern border of the Dravidian South begins on the east coast 
at the southern edge of Orissa, runs roughly along the northern 
lines of the Godavari River as it flows through the central Deccan, 
dipping south-west to Goa. The remainder of peninsular India extends 
to the southernmost tip of the mainland. Little exists in the way 
of geographically defined sub-areas within this region except for the 
thin western coast that continues from Maharashtra to the Cape. The 
rest of the peninsula is comprised of the Deccan plateau as it is 
narrowed by the convergence of the Western and Eastern Ghats to just 
above the Cape. 

Each cultural and linguistic subdivision of the South radiates out 
from a core and blends into the others without clearly defined borders. 
The areas of each of the four languages — Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, and 
Malayalam — roughly correspond to the four southern states of India: 
Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu, Karnataka, and Kerala. Tamil is the oldest 
of the Dravidian languages with literature from the first century before 
Christ. The Tamil region was a second source of high culture pre-dated 
only by developments on the Indus and Gangetic plains.' The three 
other Dravidian languages are considerably younger. The literature of 
Kannada dates from the tenth century, Telugu from the eleventh, and 
Malayalam from the thirteenth to fourteenth centuries.2 Each was 
influenced by Sanskrit and northern Brahmanical civilization, but still 
retained its own unique culture. A degree of unity exists between the 
four linguistic areas. All have a rough tripartite social structure consist- 
ing of Brahmans at the apex of their society, followed by non-Brahman 

' Burton Stein, ‘Circulation and the historical geography of Tamil country’, Journal of 
Asian Studies, no. 1 (Nov. 1977), 7-8, 25- 

2 K. A. Nilakanta Shastri, Development of Religion in South India (Bombay, Orient 
Longmans, 1963), pp. 4-5. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


200 miles 

5 The Dravidian South 

Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


castes, and below them untouchables. Their caste systems tend to be 
more extreme and rigid than the northern structures, with a greater 
degree of separation between Brahmans and all others. The untouch- 
able members of society suffered from elaborate forms of discrimi- 
nation enforced by both Brahmans and non-Brahmans. 

The distribution of religions must be seen through the nineteenth- 
and twentieth-century political divisions of the South. The Madras 
Presidency directly administered by the British included the Tamil- 
speaking area, plus the eastern coastal plain, part of the Telugu linguis- 
tic sub-region, and a section of the Malabar coast where Kannada was 
the major language. Four major Princely States completed the Dravi- 
dian South. Hyderabad, in the south-central Deccan, was ruled by a 
small Muslim elite and populated by Telugu-speaking Hindus. Tra- 
vancore and Cochin were Hindu states located in the Malayalam 
language area on the south-western coast. In the Kannada sub-region 
the state of Mysore held the largest percentage of Hindus among the 
four kingdoms. The percentages of the major religious communities are 
given in the table below. This illustrates the long involvement in 
overseas trade that characterized the western coast, and the differing 
communal pattern that emerged there as a result of this involvement.} 

Ethnic and religious communities of the Dravidian South 

Religious Travancore, Hyderabad Mysore Madras 
community Cochin Presidency 
Hindu 66.67% 86.93% 91.00% 89% 
Muslim 6.8% 10.32% 5.42% 6% 
Christian 25.95% 0.40% 1.03% 3% 

The Christians were significant only in Travancore and Cochin, while 
the Muslims had their highest percentage in Hyderabad. Otherwise the 
South was overwhelmingly Hindu. The Kerala Christians became 
known as ‘Syrian-Christians’, since they accepted the authority and 
rites of mid-eastern Christianity. Their community was affected by the 
Jesuits in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and in the nineteenth 
and twentieth centuries by Protestant missionaries. The Christian com- 

} Census, 1911, Cochin Report, p. 20; Hyderabad Report, p. 41; Madras Report, p. 38; 
Mysore Report, p. 50; and Travancore Report, p. 193. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


munity was divided by schisms. In the sixteenth and seventeenth 
centuries those who accepted Jesuit teachings and Papal authority 
separated into their own subdivision, the Romo-Syrians. Converts 
made by Protestants were largely from the low castes and thus divided 
by theology and status from the Syrian-Christians who held a relatively 
higher position in the social structure.* The Muslims were descendants 
of merchants who, over time, created their own community, the Mopil- 
las. They were known for their heritage of political revolts before and 
during the years of British rule. 

The arrival of the British in south India began in 1620 when they 
established a small trading centre at Masulipatam. In 1639 the British 
acquired the site of Madras, but the East India Company did not annex 
significant tracts of territory until the second half of the eighteenth 
century. After the seizure of Bengal, they gained control of the 
Northern Circars in 1766. Under Lord Wellesley (1798-1805), 
the British seized the remainder of the east coast and in 1799 annexed 
half of Mysore’s territory. At the close of the eighteenth and the 
early nineteenth centuries, a series of treaties brought one state after 
another under British indirect control: Hyderabad (1798), Travancore 
(1805), Cochin (1809) and Mysore (1831). The British had gained 
dominance of the South giving it a political structure that remained 
until 1947. 

Once in control, the British adopted a conservative set of policies and 
refrained from any restructuring of the social or economic spheres of 
southern life. In land-owning and religion, the British largely accepted 
what was already in existence. Under Regulation VII of 1817, Hindu 
temples, monasteries, and in‘am lands donated to such institutions, 
fell under the supervision of the Board of Revenue. The Board was 
responsible for the finances, administration, maintenance, and oper- 
ation of all Hindu religious institutions. This included supervising 
festivals, ceremonies, the health and welfare of pilgrims, and their 
hostels, along with the collection of pilgrim taxes. Thus the British 
government maintained the tie between religion and the state including 
support of the Brahman class. It is within this fusion of a new British 
elite and the older south Indian elites that the first of the transitional 
socio-religious movements appeared. 

+ Susan Bayly, ‘Hindu kingship and the origin of community: religion, state and society in 
Kerala, 1750-1850’, Modern Asian Studies (April 1984), 182-6, 210-11. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 



The Nadars and Christianity 

The Nadars were a caste associated with toddy, a liquor produced from 
the fermented sap of the Palmira tree. The production and sale of toddy 
were seen as polluting, thus the Nadars held a position in the social 
structure as untouchables. They could not enter Hindu temples, use 
public wells, approach members of the higher castes within a specific 
distance, were limited to the type of dress they could wear, and forced 
to live outside of the village proper. In spite of these disabilities, they 
ranked higher than the lowest untouchables. In addition, some Nadars 
had achieved a degree of wealth, control over land, and a resulting 
improvement in their social status. They were a small subdivision of the 
Nadar community, called Nadans, who functioned as landlords over 
others of their caste. 

The Nadars were centred in the Tinnevelly district of the Madras 
Presidency where they comprised the largest single caste. Nadars also 
existed in southern Travancore. Closely related castes were found as far 
north as the Billavas of Mysore.* Given the untouchable status of the 
Nadars, it is not surprising that they responded to a religion offering 
escape from their socio-religious disabilities; in this case that ideology 
was Christianity. 

The Nadars first became acquainted with Christianity when Jesuit 
missionaries began proselytizing among the pearl fishers of the Tut- 
icorin coast. In 1680 they organized a congregation at Vadakkankulam 
consisting largely of Nadars, and five years later erected a church. The 
Jesuits established a permanent mission in 1701 and by 1713 counted 
over 4,000 converts in the Vadakkankulam parish. During the remain- 
der of the eighteenth century missionaries and south Indian catechists 
visited this community, but the influence of Catholic missionaries 
diminished, and in the late eighteenth century was replaced by that of 
the Protestants. In 1771, Anglican missionaries appeared from their 
bases in Tanjore and Trichinopoly. Along with Europeans, Indian 
converts carried on the work of proselytism. In 1784, a catechist named 
Rayappan made the first Nadar convert to Protestant Christianity. This 

5 Robert L. Hargrave, The Nadars of Tamilnad: The Political Culture of a Community in 
Change (Berkeley, University of California, 1969), pp. 12~42. 

© M.S. A. Rao, Social Movements and Social Transformation: A Study of Two Backward 
Caste Movements in India (Delhi, Macmillan Company of India, 1979), pp. 22-7. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


began a second wave of conversion during the 1790s. In 1797 a 
catechist with the Christian name of David succeeded in converting 
a group of Nadars. These new Christians were persecuted and 
consequently fled their home village for refuge on land purchased by 

The pattern of conversion, persecution, and flight was repeated. The 
Nadan landlords and members of the upper castes attempted to halt 
conversions to Christianity by using their social and economic power 
over the Nadars. In response, David, with the help of an English 
merchant, organized a band of ‘club men’ who ‘went about from place 
to place redressing the wrongs to the native Christians by force’.” By 
1803, more than 5,000 Nadars had converted, but David died and the 
movement lost much of its momentum. Half of the converts had 
abandoned Christianity by 1815. The arrival of Charles T. E. Rhenius, 
however, revived the conversion movement among the Nadar com- 
munity. Rhenius was a German, born in 1790, who reached India in 
1820 under the sponsorship of the Church Missionary Society. Be- 
tween 1820 and 1835 a new wave of conversion swept the Nadars of 
Tinnevelly. Group conversions took place, persecution followed, as 
did the establishment of Christian villages of refuge. In 1830 the Chris- 
tians of Tinnevelly formed the Dharma Sangam (Religious Society). 
The Sangam raised funds for a permanent endowment to purchase land 
where converts could live together free of outside interference. In 
addition to the Dharma Sangam a Native Bible and Tract Society was 
established in 1822 with its own press. By 1831, they had published 
45,000 tracts. Other funds were organized to aid the poor, to assist 
widows, and to pay the expenses of local missionaries. By 1850, there 
were nearly 40,000 Christian converts in Tinnevelly district under the 
guidance of the Church Missionary Society and the Society for the 
Promotion of Christian Knowledge plus another 20,000 in southern 

The dramatic rise of the convert community in Tinnevelly district 
heightened animosity among upper-caste Hindus. Some time in the 
mid-1840s two organizations appeared. The first was the Vibuthi San- 
gam (Sacred Ash Society), a semi-secret association dedicated to ending 

7 Hargrave, Nadars of Tamilnad, pp. 43-5. 

§ Robert E. Frykenberg, ‘The impact of conversion and social reform upon society in south 
India’ in Philips and Wainwright, Indian Society and the Beginnings of Modernization 
c. 1830-1850 (London, School of Oriental and African Studies, 1976), pp. 201-3. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Christian conversions. It was aided by a second association, the Ma- 
dras-based Sadu Veda Siddhanta Sabha (Society for Spreading the 
Philosophy of the Four Vedas). The Sabha acquired a press of its own, 
published a paper, and numerous anti-Christian tracts. It also main- 
tained contacts throughout the rural South. The Sadu Sabha appealed to 
wealthy men from various clean castes and attempted to hinder the 
missionaries through numerous charges sent to the Madras govern- 
ment. Associated with the rise of these organizations were attacks on 
Christian converts in November 1845. Hindu gangs converged on 
Christian villages, looted homes, and abused the converts. They 
challenged individuals to accept having ashes rubbed on their fore- 
head, a symbol of Hinduism. If they refused they were considered 
Christians and treated appropriately.? Disturbances continued through 
the 1840s and into the 1850s. A final outburst of violence erupted in 
December 1858 in the town of Tinnevelly. Unrest declined as the 
Christian Nadars achieved a degree of acceptance and toleration, al- 
though tension remained between high-caste Hindus and the Christian 

Paralleling developments among the Nadars of the Madras Presi- 
dency were Christian conversions among their caste fellows in south- 
ern Travancore. Here the Nadars were largely toddy-tappers and 
tenants of the upper-caste Nayar and Vellala landlords. They held a 
similar position within the caste system. Nadars could not come closer 
to Nambudiri Brahmans than thirty-six paces or twelve paces to a 
Nayar. They could not carry an umbrella, wear shoes or gold orna- 
ments, and Nadar women were forbidden to cover their breasts or to 
carry pots of water on their hips. These restrictions were open symbols 
of their untouchable status. The Nadars were also subject to heavy 
taxation and to the demands for corvée labour. They were at the same 
time aware of the conversions taking place among their fellow Nadars 
within British territory." 

Protestant missionaries first came to the Nadars of Travancore in 
1819 when the London Missionary Society opened a church at Nagar- 
coil. By 1820, they had 3,000 Nadars under their care and instruction. 
Conversion quickly led to controversy as the Nadars attempted to defy 
some of the restrictions traditionally placed upon them. The form and 
direction of their demands were provided largely by Colonel Munro, 

9 Ibid., pp. 207-8. 10 [bid., p. 214. "| Hargrave, Nadars of Tamilnad, p. 57. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


British Resident at the court of Travancore. In 1812 he issued an order 
permitting women converts ‘to cover their bosoms as obtains among 
Christians among other countries’.'2 In May 1814 the government of 
Travancore issued a circular allowing lower-class women, who had 
converted, to wear a short bodice or jacket in the style of Syrian- 
Christian and Muslim—Mopilla women. In the mean time missionary 
women designed a jacket that would be satisfactory to their concepts of 
decency. The Nadars, however, were not satisfied, since their concerns 
were matters of caste status and not western prudery. 

The conflict between Nadar converts and the Nayars intensified. By 
1822 Nadar women wearing a breast cloth were abused, humiliated, 
and at times attacked by angry Hindus who stripped off their breast 
cloths. Hindus petitioned their government to stop the converts from 
adopting the dress and behaviour of the upper castes. Other issues 
began to appear along with the question of breast cloths. The Nadars 
were charged with avoiding the payment of rents and of refusing corvée 
labour. Tensions exploded in 1828 with a series of attacks on the 
converts and missions. The government of Travancore issued a ruling 
on 3 February 1829 that prohibited Nadar women from covering their 
breasts, confirmed the duty of Nadar men to perform forced labour, 
and chided them for seeking assistance from the missionaries. This 
diminished the violence for a while, but it did not dissuade the Nadar- 
Christians from continuing to push their demands. Tension rose once 
again in the 1850s and exploded in October 1858 with another series of 
attacks on Nadar women. Unrest continued into 1859, when troops 
were brought in to quell the disturbances. A royal proclamation was 
issued by the Travancore government on 26 July 1859 that returned to 
the earlier compromise allowing Nadar women to wear a jacket or cloth 
in the style of low-caste fisherwomen. This proclamation did not 
satisfy either of the parties, but gradually violence diminished as the 
Nadars continued their progress under the guidance of Christian 

The transitional movement of untouchable Nadars passed beyond 
the stage of criticizing Hinduism to the point where they rejected it 
entirely and sought caste uplift through conversion to Christianity, a 
religion that promised them equality and an end to their social dis- 
abilities. The Brahmanical dominance in southern society made it 

2 Ibid., p. 59. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


impossible for untouchables to openly criticize religious practice or 
their social position within Hindu society. Only by rejecting Hinduism 
could they hope to escape its socio-religious constraints. The Mahars of 
Maharashtra followed a similar path that led them to conversion to 
Buddhism in the 1950s. Other untouchable communities considered 
this option and historically have taken it. Christianity filled a role 
similar to that of other religions — Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, and 
Islam — that offered those at the lower end of the social structure a way 
to improve their status and escape from caste-based disabilities. Others 
would seek similar redress from social degradation within the sphere of 
the colonial milieu.!3 

Nadar involvement with Christianity pre-dated the British conquest 
and the creation of the colonial milieu. Although greatly aided by the 
arrival of European missionaries, the Nadar conversions belonged to 
the tensions of the pre-British world. This attempt by untouchables to 
seek relief through conversion contributed to religious tensions be- 
tween Christians and Hindus, a situation that was accentuated by the 
activities of Christian missionaries throughout the nineteenth century. 
Hindu-Christian conflict created the one arena of major communal 
struggle in the South until the twentieth century, when northern forms 
of communal competition were exported to the South both against 
Christians and Muslims. 


The British presence in the South centred around Madras. Begun 
originally as Ft. St George, Madras grew into a city of 250,000 by 
1800.4 It was a hub of trade and commerce controlled almost totally by 
Englishmen and British-operated businesses. European economic 
dominance did not slow this expansion and the city reached 400,000 by 
1881. Yet its composition was somewhat different from either Calcutta 
or Bombay. Fewer outsiders were attracted to it and nearly three- 
quarters of its inhabitants were born within the city. Overwhelmingly 

13 [bid., pp. 59-70. 
4 R. Suntharalingam, Politics and Nationalist Awakening in South India (The University 
of Arizona Press, 1974), p. 24. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Tamil-Hindus, Madras had only 12 per cent Muslims and 10 per cent 
Christians.!5 Its culture was that of Tamilnadu with the overlay 
of anglicization that grew from the introduction of English educa- 

In 1717 the East India Company established a school at Cuddalore.'* 
That same year, missionaries of the Society for the Propagation of 
Christian Knowledge opened two charity schools in Madras City. The 
missionaries added to their educational efforts in 1784 with a school 
aimed at educating Anglo-Indian children. Yet progress was slow and 
English education was mainly in the hands of the missionaries. In 1819, 
the Madras Book Society was formed to provide books free of mis- 
sionary influence and four years later, in 1823, the government formed 
the Committee of Public Instruction to plan for the opening of non- 
missionary schools. Throughout the 1820s and 1830s, however, the 
government did very little. Finally in 1834, the Hindu Literary Society 
opened its own English school to teach children of ‘respectable fam- 
ilies’.'7 This concern for education came within the context of height- 
ened tensions between Hindus and missionaries stirred by the Charter 
Act of 1813, which allowed the missionaries to work freely within 
British-controlled territory, and by the controversy over Nadar con- 
versions. The increased presence of missionaries stimulated criticism of 
the ties to Hindu religious institutions. In August 1838, the govern- 
ment announced a reversal of its policy supporting Hinduism and the 
Brahman caste.!* 

In November 1839, a petition asking for the establishment of an 
English college in Madras with 70,000 signatures was presented to the 
governor. This petition demonstrated the popular demand for English 
education and the opposition to missionary schools.!? In 1841, the 
Madras High School was opened as part of a projected university 
system. The next year the government inaugurated four district schools 
in the major towns of the Presidency. The year 1841 also witnessed 
a concrete demonstration of what Hindu leaders had feared, when 
three students of a mission school converted to Christianity. The 

5 Anil Seal, The Emergence of Indian Nationalism: Competition and Collaboration in the 
Later Nineteenth Century (Cambridge University Press, 1968), p. 102. 

16 History of Higher Education in South India: University of Madras, 1857-1957 (Madras, 
Associated Printers, 1957), vol. 1, p. 2. 

7 Suntharalingam, Politics and Nationalism, pp. 37-8. 

18 [bid., pp. 34-5. 19 Seal, Emergence of Indian Nationalism, p. 107. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


conversions stimulated the founding of the Pachaiyappa School 
in ‘Black Town’, an Indian section of Madras. This school, later 
Pachaiyappa College, was controlled by Hindu trustees with the goal 
of providing an education in English and through the regional 

In spite of the apparent demand for higher education, only a small 
number of students finished its four-year course. Between 1841-55, 
the number earning this degree was limited to thirty-six students. 
Enrolment in the Madras High School rose from sixty-seven to 221 
in these same years, but many of the students quit after the first 
year or two. There was little need for such an education. Marathi 
remained the language of basic administration until 1854. Four years 
later, in November 1858, the government first held tests for positions 
earning more than Rs so. At this time graduates of Arts and Law were 
exempted from these examinations. Thus an advanced English edu- 
cation became a direct path to administrative posts. A year earlier, the 
government acted to enhance education in English by opening the 
Madras University. The steps taken during the 1850s led to a rapid 
advance of English education during the second half of the nineteenth 
century. By the 1880s, university graduates exceeded the supply of 
government posts. Those who received an English education found 
themselves increasingly competing with Tamil and Telugu Brahmans. 
Between 1876-86, Brahmans accounted for 73 per cent of all successful 
candidates in Madras University. For the nineteenth century the 
English-educated elite was a Brahman elite centred in the city of 
Madras, and it was here that the colonial milieu made its first 

The English language press had its beginnings with the Carnatic 
Chronicle in 1833. This journal carried articles in English, Tamil, and 
Telugu as it discussed local issues of general interest while attempting to 
remain clear of religious controversies. A similar policy lay behind the 
Native Interpreter founded in 1840; however, in October 1844 the 
Interpreter was purchased by Gajalu Lakshmanarasu Chetty and re- 
named the Crescent. Under the new name it became an advocate of 
Hinduism and a critic of government support for the missionaries. 
Friction between the two competing religious communities diminished 
during the 1850s only to be reawakened by a new round of conversions 
in the years after 1860, as missionaries returned once more to their 
scene of previous success in southern Madras Presidency and 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Travancore.*° They also entered new areas on the coast north of Madras 
City and inland to regions hitherto untouched. 

Missionaries in Tamilnad found themselves facing a new type of 
opposition, this time by organized Hindu groups using many of the 
techniques introduced by the missionaries themselves. In Negapatam, 
Hindus held large processions and rival meetings to draw attention and 
hopefully audiences away from Christian gatherings. The anti-Chris- 
tian forces were aided in 1887 by the establishment of the Hindu Tract 
Society. In 1889 they published eleven tracts, most in editions of 
10,000. These tactics proved effective. Organized opposition remained 
strong through the 1890s and the missionaries made progress only 
slowly and largely among the poorest classes in the countryside.?! As 
Christianity expanded into the rural areas and smaller towns, it became 
less a cause for the educated Hindus living in Madras City; their 
attention slowly turned to other issues. 

During the 1850s, debates over social and religious customs began to 
appear among the small, educated Hindu class. In an effort to encour- 
age change, Srinavasa Pillay, an educated Hindu who advocated social 
reform, organized the Hindu Progressive Improvement Society in 
November 1852. The Society advocated women’s education, the 
betterment of the depressed classes, and widow remarriage. Those who 
joined Pillay tended to be Hindus who had worked with him in 
managing charities. Venkataroylu Naidu, another advocate of reform, 
founded the Rising Sun in July 1853. This journal discussed social issues 
among the Hindus. With the death of Srinavasa Pillay that same year, 
leadership of the Hindu Progressive Improvement Society passed to 
Venkataroylu Naidu who led this organization in founding schools for 
children of the depressed castes, providing scholarships to the needy, 
fighting for the Widow Remarriage Act of 1856, organizing a Hindu 
reading room, and the Hindu Debating Society in Madras City. There 
was, however, little acceptance of Naidu’s ideas and, when he died in 
1863, many of his projects, including the Rising Sun, died with him. 
Impetus for changes in social and religious behaviour would next come 
from north-eastern India. 

20 Suntharalingam, Politics and Nationalism, pp. 38, 40-5, 143. 

21 Sundaraj Manickam, The Social Setting of Christian Conversion in South India, 1820-1947 
(Wiesbaden, Steiner, 1977), pp. 256-7. 

22 Suntharalingam, Politics and Nationalism, pp. 50-2. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 



The Brahmo Samaj, the Veda Samaj and the Prarthana Samaj 

By the 1860s knowledge of the Brahmo Samaj had reached southern 
India (see pp. 30-41). A Brahman of Cuddalore, Sridharalu Naidu, 
learned of the Samaj and was sufficiently attracted to it that he sold his 
property and left for Calcutta. He spent a year there studying Bengali 
and Sanskrit as well as Brahmo ideology. Naidu then returned south 
dedicated to spreading these new religious ideals. He did not, however, 
attract widespread attention, but Keshab Chandra Sen did during his 
visit to Madras in 1864. Sen gave numerous lectures, held meetings, and 
stimulated many of the educated Hindus to rethink their social and 
religious doctrines. Although his teachings were attractive and exciting, 
Sen’s outright rejection of idolatry went too far for Madras Hindus.?3 

A compromise resulted from Sen’s visit that led to the founding of a 
Veda Samaj at Madras City in 1864. This organization accepted the 
theistic ideals of the Brahmo Samaj, but at the same time was careful to 
remain within the borders of Hinduism. In its lengthy statement of 
belief the members of the Veda Samaj considered marriage and funeral 
rituals as ‘matters of routine, destitute of all religious significance’. 
Recruits spoke of ‘discarding all sectarian views, of gradually abandon- 
ing caste distinctions, of tolerating the view of strangers and never 
offending anyone’s feelings’. They promised to abstain from poly- 
gamy, attendance or patronage of nautchs, child marriage, and to 
campaign for widow remarriage. The Veda Samaj agreed to encourage 
the use of the vernaculars, and assist in the publication of a journal 
aimed at improving the ‘social and moral condition of the community’. 
Lastly, they would encourage the study and use of Sanskrit ‘by means 
not calculated to promote superstition’. This was then a restating of 
Brahmo ideals and goals in a diluted manner that would not create 
serious opposition from orthodox Hindus.” 

By the end of the decade, Sridharalu Naidu reached Madras and 
assumed the leadership of the Veda Samaj. Naidu reshaped this organ- 
ization into a Brahmo Samaj in both name and content. The older rules 
were removed and Naidu embarked on a Samaj programme. He sent a 

33_R. Srinivasan, ‘The Brahmo Samaj in Tamilnadu’, Journal of the University of Bombay 
(1975-6), 216, 218-19, is the only source for this section; others will be cited. 
%* Ibid., pp. 217-18. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


memorial to the Viceroy championing the Brahmo Marriage Bill and in 
1871 performed the first marriage in south India that followed Brahmo 
rituals. Naidu travelled throughout the South organizing new Brahmo 
Samajes. He also translated Brahmo literature into Tamil and Telugu, 
including Debendranath Tagore’s Brahma Dharma and Keshab 
Chandra Sen’s Model Form of Divine Worship. In addition he revived 
the nearly defunct journal, the Tattvabodhini Patrika, and began the 
Indian Mirror. Naidu both attracted new disciples and lost some of the 
members of the Veda Samaj through his stricter Brahmoism. One of 
Naidu’s staunchest supporters, Doraiswami Iyengar, headed the Samaj 
of Purusawalkam. Iyengar may have been the only Tamil Brahman in 
the Brahmo Samaj. He was an excellent speaker, a writer, composer of 
hymns and editor of Tattvabodhini Patrika. lyengar was the first 
Brahmo to openly abandon the sacred thread, an act for which he was 
condemned by orthodox Hindus. Iyengar travelled widely speaking to 
meetings in such cities as Bangalore, Tanjore, Trichinopoly, and Man- 
galore. When he died in 1887 the Brahmo Samaj lost one of its major 
figures. The movement had already suffered a grievous loss in 1874 
when Sridharalu Naidu was killed in a carriage accident. These two 
deaths brought the Brahmo Samaj of Madras to the point of extinction 
when in 1879, Pandit Basanta Ram, a Brahmo from Lahore, helped to 
revive it, 

Branches of the original Veda Samaj were founded in various towns 
of the South. Subbarayulu Chetty established one at Salem in 1866. 
After an initial period of enthusiasm, interest in this society waned and 
when Chetty died in 1868 it sank into a state of suspension. In 1871, 
S. P. Narasimalu revived the group changing it to a Brahmo Samaj. He 
was an enthusiastic and energetic leader who held fortnightly meetings 
in his home, launched a bilingual journal, the Salem Patriot, and started 
another Samaj at Coimbatore with a similar fortnightly journal, the 
Coimbatore Patrika. Brahmo Samajes appeared in other towns, some- 
times through local leadership and at other times through the arrival of 
a leader from outside the area. 

The Brahmo Samaj of Bangalore was the result of British military 
policy. In 1872 a British regiment was moved from Burma to Banga- 
lore. One of the regiment’s clerks, O. M. Rajavelu Naidu, subscribed to 
the Tattvabodhini Patrika. Others in the office staff read this paper and 
together they founded a Brahmo Samaj within the regiment. They 
brought this Samaj with them to Bangalore where a number of educated 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Hindus of the city began to attend its meetings. By 1872 a Brahman 
from Poona, Chandrasekhara Iyer, joined the Samaj and under his 
leadership it established schools, distributed prayer books and tracts, 
including one on female education, and started a Tamil monthly. If the 
Bangalore Samaj grew from an accidental combination of events, per- 
haps no other Samaj had as complex a history as the one founded in 

The Brahmo Samaj of Mangalore emerged through the activities of 
Nireshvalya Arasappa, one of the few educated Billavas, a caste that 
held similar status to the Nadars further south. Arasappa had been in 
contact with Christian missionaries, exploring the possibility of con- 
version by the Billavas as a way to improve their social position. These 
negotiations failed and a friend of his, one Ullal Raghunathaya, sug- 
gested he might consider the Brahmo Samaj. As a result, in April of that 
year three Brahmo missionaries arrived from Bombay accompanied by 
a representative of the Prarthana Samaj. A meeting was held, but with 
little response from the Billava community. The Brahmos spoke 
English and appeared dressed in western clothes, a fact that left most of 
the Billavas confused and apprehensive. Raghunathaya and some 
Saraswati Brahman friends acted as translators with the result that a 
Brahmo Samaj was established with a membership of nineteen. Meet- 
ings were held at Arasappa’s house until his death in 1876. 

The Saraswat Brahmans who joined found it uncomfortable gather- 
ing at the home of a Billava. Consequently, on 11 June 1870 they 
organized a separate society, the Upasana Sabha (Worship Society). 
This new organization accepted Brahmo doctrine and began its own 
weekly meetings. The Upasana Samaj, however, did not openly con- 
demn idolatry. In the meantime Raghunathaya remained loyal to his 
friend and continued to attend the meetings of the Brahmo Samaj. He 
was excommunicated in October 1871. Raghunathaya was later read- 
mitted to the Saraswat caste, but as a result joined the Upasana Sabha. 
This organization later changed its name to the Brahmo Samaj of 
Mangalore, while the original organization founded by Arasappa dis- 
appeared. Thus the Brahmo Samaj was transformed from a broadly 
critical movement led by an untouchable, to one of limited goals under 
control of the Saraswat Brahmans of Mangalore.*5 

Branches of the Veda Samaj, the Brahmo Samaj, and the Prarthana 

2 Frank F. Conlon, A Caste in a Changing World, the Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmans, 
1700-1935 (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1977), pp. 101-3. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Samaj in south India depended on one or two dynamic and energetic 
leaders. When they died or left, these organizations tended to fade from 
view. All Brahmo Samajes faced consistent and strong opposition from 
Hindu orthodoxy and could survive only through the dedication of 
individuals willing to take great social risks and, in most cases, by 
carefully limiting their degree of radicalism. Even these societies, 
whether Brahmo Samaj, Veda Samaj, or Prarthana Samaj, tended to lose 
what little influence they were able to generate by the last two decades 
of the nineteenth century. The 1911 census lists only 374 Brahmos in 
the Madras report and by 1921 that figure had dropped to 171.76 

Two of the three acculturative movements were imported from 
outside the Dravidian South and the third was but a pale echo of the 
Brahmo Samaj. Here, as in Maharashtra, Brahmanical dominance could 
not be successfully challenged. The urban-educated elite was neither 
strong enough to attack orthodoxy, nor sufficiently motivated to do so 
by an integrated ideology that could draw emotional commitment and 
provide legitimization for radical change. Ideas could be expressed, but 
it was not possible to put them into action except rarely and then only 
for short periods of time. Instead of the social and religious criticism of 
the Brahmo Samaj and related organizations, south Indian intellectuals 
were stirred by the Theosophical Society with its praise of all things 
Hindu and its criticism of orthodox Christianity. 

Theosophists among Hindu orthodoxy 

The origins of the Theosophical movement were rooted in one pattern 
of socio-religious dissent within western civilization. The term ‘Theo- 
sophy’ or divine wisdom, had become popular in the seventeenth 
century.”” As Theosophy developed into a movement, it utilized ideas 
and symbols from Egyptian, Hindu, and Buddhist religions as legiti- 
mization for its criticism of contemporary life in Europe and America. 
Two unusual individuals, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Henry Steel 
Olcott, founded the Theosophical movement in 1875 after becoming 
acquainted through a shared interest in spiritualism. Madame Blavat- 
sky was born on 12 August 1831 in Ekaterinoslav, Ukrainia. Evidently 
Blavatsky showed an interest in the occult when still young and later 
became a medium. In 1848 she was married to N. V. Blavatsky, a much 

26 Census, 1921, Madras Report, p. 63. 
27 Bruce F, Campbell, Ancient Wisdom Revived, a History of the Theosophical Movement 
(Berkeley, University of California Press, 1980), p. 28. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


older man. She left him after three months, and in the years prior to 
1872, when she appeared in Cairo earning her living as a medium, little 
was known about her. There she was befriended by a couple, the 
Coulombs, who were also involved in the occult. On 7 July 1873, 
Madame Blavatsky arrived in New York where she remained for the 
next five years. In the summer of 1874 she attended a gathering of 
spiritualists in Chittenden, Vermont, where she met Colonel Olcott. 
He was an ex-army officer who had become a journalist. Olcott and 
Blavatsky became colleagues and began to hold small, informal meet- 
ings at Madame Blavatsky’s rooms. It was at one of these meetings, on 7 
September 1875, that Olcott raised the idea of founding a Theosophical 
organization. The group readily agreed and created a temporary associ- 
ation with Olcott as chairman and William Quan Judge as secretary. 
They next framed their basic bye-laws and on 17 November 1875 
formally inaugurated the Theosophical Society ‘to collect and diffuse 
knowledge of the laws which govern the Universe’.”8 Initially the 
Society drew on such occult and spiritual concepts as existed in western 

The ideology of the Theosophists progressed rapidly when, in 1877, 
Blavatsky published Jsis Unveiled. This book appeared in two 
volumes, the first of which examined ‘spiritualism, modern science, 
psychic phenomena, Mesmerism, the Kabal, the knowledge and 
achievements of ancient peoples, and psychic feats and wonders’. The 
second volume contained criticisms of Christianity, esoteric interpret- 
ations of it, and other religions, and a ‘comparison of Christianity with 
Hinduism and Buddhism’.”? Isis Unveiled created excitement and en- 
thusiasm among those sympathetic with spiritualism, and devastating 
criticism from orthodox Christians. Blavatsky did not attempt to coun- 
ter her critics, instead, in December 1877, she indicated her desire to 
leave the United States for India.*° 

Contact with India was first established by Colonel Olcott. An 
Indian friend, Mulji Thekersey, gave him the name of Harishchandra 
Chintamani, president of the Bombay Arya Samaj. Through Chinta- 
mani Colonel Olcott learned of Swami Dayananda Saraswati, and on 18 
February 1878, he wrote to him. The letter arrived while Dayananda 

28 J. N. Farquhar, Modern Religions Movements in India (New York, Macmillan Com- 

pany, 1919), Pp. 213-15. 
29 Campbell, Ancient Wisdom, pp. 34-9. 
3° Farquhar, Modern Religious Movements, p. 226. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


was staying at Lahore and was followed by a discussion of possible 
cooperation between the two organizations. On 22 May 1878, the New 
York group changed its name to the Theosophical Society of the Arya 
Samaj of India. The Society also recognized Swami Dayananda 
Saraswati as ‘its lawful Director and Chief’. Letters continued to flow 
as both sides discussed their ideas and as the two Theosophical leaders 
prepared to leave for India.?! 

Olcott and Blavatsky sailed from New York on 17 December 1878, 
and arrived in Bombay on 16 February 1879. They were met by 
Chintamani and a few of his friends. Olcott delivered several public 
lectures in Bombay and caused something of a sensation with his 
criticisms of western culture and Christianity, plus his praise of Asian 
religions. Olcott and Blavatsky travelled from Bombay to Saharanpur 
to see Dayananda. They arrived there on 29 April and met Dayananda 
on 1 May. While waiting for Dayananda, Olcott lectured under the 
auspices of the local Arya Samaj. The meeting between Dayananda and 
his new allies was apparently cordial. When Dayananda travelled to 
Meerut, Olcott and Blavatsky accompanied him.>? Next they returned 
to Bombay where they met with the governor in an effort to still the 
suspicions of the British-Indian government about their intentions. 
Numerous rumours, many of them characterizing Blavatsky as an 
immoral woman, floated about the English community and for months 
after their arrival in India they were followed by the police.33 Govern- 
ment suspicions, however, did not impede the activities of the two 

Olcott and Blavatsky joined Dayananda at Benares in December 
1879. Blavatsky arrived accompanied by Alfred P. Sinnett, the editor of 
the Allahabad newspaper, the Pioneer. Sinnett was a respected figure in 
India and a valuable addition to their group. They met him while 
visiting Simla in 1880. Sinnett introduced them to leaders of the govern- 
ment and of society with the result that much of the suspicion generated 
on their arrival disappeared. Acceptance in Anglo—Indian society paral- 
leled a growing tension between the Theosophists and Dayananda. 
Disagreements had arisen over various points of doctrine, particularly 
the Aryan concept of God and their sharp criticism of contemporary 

3! Har Bilas Sarda, Dayanand Saraswati, World Teacher (Ajmer, Vedic Yantralaya, 1946), 
PP ba. Pp. 536-7. 

3 Anonymous, The Theosophical Movement, 1875-1925, A History and Survey (New York, 
E. P. Dutton, 1925), pp. 51-2; Campbell, Ancient Wisdom, pp. 79-80. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Hinduism. An open break did not occur until Dayananda visited 
Bombay. He arrived on 30 December 1881 and attempted to reconcile 
their increasing differences. When this failed, he openly condemned 
both Blavatsky and Olcott, their ideas, leadership, and actions since 
arriving in India. After his lecture on 28 March 1882, Dayananda 
published a flyer entitled Humbuggery of the Theosopbists. In July, 
Olcott responded in a special supplement to The Theosophist, a journal 
founded in October 1879. From this point on relations with the Arya 
Samaj were completely broken. For years afterwards each side con- 
tinued to abuse and criticize the other. 

Following their break with the Arya Samaj, Blavatsky and Olcott 
restructured the Theosophical Society. They formalized three goals: ‘to 
form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of humanity, without 
distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or colour; to encourage the study 
of comparative religion, philosophy, and science; and to investigate the 
unexplained laws of Nature and the powers latent in man.’ These 
goals were made public through numerous lectures by Colonel Olcott 
and in the pages of The Theosophist. From the beginning they drew 
both Europeans and Indians into the movement. A wide range of 
individuals joined including Allen Octavian Hume, Gopal Krishna 
Gokhale, and Major-General Morgan of the British-Indian army. Edu- 
cated Hindus and Parsis became members and branch societies were 
established in different Indian cities. Sinnett organized one of the 
earliest branches at Allahabad. It was given a Hindu colouring under 
the name of the Prayaga Psychic Theosophical Society. It included 
Englishmen and educated Brahmans led by Gyanendra N. Chakra- 
varti. Tensions arose between Englishmen and Indians over the ques- 
tion of caste distinction and the concept of a Universal Brotherhood. 
Difficulties also grew from the fact that Sinnett became a major link 
between Blavatsky and the ‘Mahatmas’ who sent messages to her 
through him and other Europeans. No messages passed through the 
Brahman Theosophists who considered it somewhat insulting that such 
revelations went only to ‘beef-eating, wine-drinking Englishmen’.*¢ 
The strains within this society, however, were not sufficient to divide it 
or to end its effectiveness, consequently the Allahabad branch 
remained active for many years. 

4 Sarda, Life of Dayanand, pp. 439-542, 555-9. 
35 Campbell, Ancient Wisdom, p. 78. 
% Anonymous, Theosophical Movement, p. 625. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


During 1880-1, Olcott and Blavatsky toured widely giving lectures 
from Lahore in the North to Ceylon in the South. In these early years 
the Theosophists had their headquarters in Bombay where in 1880 the 
Coulombs joined them. Madame Coulomb and her husband became 
assistants to Blavatsky in administrating the organization, and in main- 
taining its base of operations. In 1880, Blavatsky and Olcott began the 
institution of annual conventions designed to bring together Theo- 
sophists from throughout India. In addition, publications continued to 
appear. In 1881 Sinnett produced The Occult World and Olcott pub- 
lished his Buddhist Catechisms. In October of that year both Blavatsky 
and Olcott toured the South, visiting Tuticorin and Tinnevelly where 
there already was a branch society. They met with intense opposition 
from Christian missionaries and enthusiasm from Hindu leaders. In 
April 1882 they returned, this time for six weeks with even greater 
success. Societies were established in Madras City, Nellore, and Gun- 
tur. During this trip the idea of moving their headquarters to the 
Madras area was first discussed. Bombay had proved expensive and was 
less responsive to the Theosophists than Madras. The final decision to 
move was taken at the annual convention in December 1882.3” They 
purchased an estate on the coast at Adyar, just south of Madras City, 
for their new headquarters. 

Once settled at Adyar, Blavatsky and Olcott embarked on a new 
round of recruiting members and conducting an enlarged programme 
of activities. Blavatsky focused her attention on publishing The Theo- 
sophist, while Olcott travelled and lectured. In July and August 1883, 
he toured in the Tamil and Malayalam areas. New branches were 
opened in nearly all of the cities he visited. Olcott was greeted with 
considerable enthusiasm, particularly by the educated Hindus of the 
Brahman and higher non- Brahman castes. Funds came from merchants 
who had a tradition of supporting cultural and religious societies. Part 
of Olcott’s message was the need for Sanskrit knowledge among young 
Hindus, and for a rediscovery of ancient Hindu accomplishments. A 
committee was established and chaired by Ganpati Rao and, in July, it 
announced plans to open Sanskrit schools in Triplicane, Mulapore, 
Black Town, and Madras City. Schools were also founded in Madurai, 
Bellary, Nellore, Vizianagram, Trichinopoly, and Guntur, and were 
managed by the local Theosophical Societies.3® Colonel Olcott strove 

¥ Suntharalingam, Politics and Nationalism, pp. 296-7. 38 [bid., pp. 298-303. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


to establish a library at Adyar that would bring together all the litera- 
ture of the world’s religions and become a place for scholarly study as 
well as the training of priests. In December 1886 the Adyar Oriental 
Library was opened with dignitaries representing Hinduism, Buddh- 
ism, and Zoroastrianism.>? It marked an impressive achievement in 
Olcott’s plans, but this success came in the wake of a crisis that struck 
the Theosophical movement at its very roots. 

Olcott and Blavatsky left for Europe in February 1884 and, just 
before their departure, appointed a council to manage the Adyar head- 
quarters during their absence. There had been a number of disagree- 
ments between the Coulombs and several leading members of the 
society. Before she left, Madame Blavatsky attempted to end these 
disputes by giving the Coulombs the task of caring for the buildings 
and also for her rooms while she was away. Tensions did not end, 
however, but erupted after Blavatsky and Olcott reached England. The 
Coulombs left Adyar for refuge among a group of Christian mis- 
sionaries. They then proceeded to charge Blavatsky with fraud centring 
ona shrine room that was built into the Adyar headquarters. It suppos- 
edly had a fake back wall that opened into Blavatsky’s bedroom en- 
abling her to falsify a number of the spiritual phenomena that took 
place in seances she conducted.*? The ‘Shrine Room’ controversy 
gained great publicity and tarnished Blavatsky’s reputation. She 
returned to Madras in December 1884, and was met with a great 
welcome, but it was clear that if she stayed in India the entire matter 
would end in the courts. Olcott feared that a trial would become a test 
of Theosophy in general, and of ‘the truth of the Esoteric Philosophy’ 
and the ‘existence of the Mahatmas’ in particular. As a result Blavatsky 
left India after resigning as corresponding secretary. She did not return, 
and leadership in India fell completely into the hands of Colonel 

By the end of 1884 Olcott was faced with holding together the Indian 
Theosophical movement that numbered over 100 branches throughout 
the subcontinent. During 1885 he returned to touring and lecturing. He 
visited thirty-one branch societies and gave fifty-six lectures. Mean- 
while Blavatsky retained some degree of influence through her 

9 Ibid., pp. 303-4. 

“© Anonymous, Theosophical Movement, pp. 73-4; Farquhar, Modern Religious Move- 
ments, pp. 232-49. 

41 Campbell, Ancient Wisdom, pp. 88, 90-1. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


writings. In 1888 she published The Secret Doctrine, a two-volume 
work running to 1,500 pages. In it she further developed her ideas on 
the nature of the universe, the unity of God, the identity of all souls 
with the over-soul, ultimate reality, and the cyclical nature of the 
universe.*? For Indians she remained an absent, but inspiring figure, 
until her death in 1891. 

The ideology of the Theosophists, as constructed during the joint 
leadership of Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott, drew heavily 
on Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine with its theme of 
ancient wisdom, known and retained by adepts or masters who 
had chosen Blavatsky to reveal this knowledge to mankind. After 
Blavatsky reached India, the term ‘Mahatma’ was increasingly used for 
these spirit beings. Supposedly Blavatsky spent seven years in Tibet 
studying with Master Morya, and later was in contact with Koot Humi, 
another of the Mahatmas. Together the Mahatmas constituted the 
Great White Brotherhood or the White Lodge, an organization that 
provided guidance for mankind in its evolutionary path towards spiri- 
tual fulfilment. 

The Theosophists adopted a modified concept of rebirth and spiri- 
tual progress fused with the Hindu idea of karma. Hindu terms and 
concepts were added to the western spiritualists’ tradition. Together 
they formed a system that placed each person in the world as the result 
of a descent of the ego from the universal soul down into the world of 
matter. Theosophy offered a path of evolution back to the universal 
soul. Each individual was composed of a physical body, an astral body, 
and a divine soul that passed from rebirth to rebirth. Such an ideology 
was sufficiently compatible with Hinduism that there was little diffi- 
culty in adjusting it to orthodox religious thought. 

Colonel Olcott in his numerous lectures spoke glowingly of the 
glorious Hindu past, with its magnificent achievements in all areas of 
culture and science. Not only was the ancient civilization of India one 
of immense achievements, but it also was ‘the cradle of European 
civilization, the Aryans [were] the progenitors of the Western peoples, 
and their literature the source and spring of all Western religions and 
philosophies’. Olcott maintained that sufficient research into the past 
would allow the world to know ‘the whole truth about Aryan civiliz- 
ation’.*? Educated Hindus enthusiastically welcomed this doctrinaire 
articulation by a representative of western civilization. Olcott and 

2 Ibid., pp. 40-8. *} Suntharalingam, Politics and Nationalism, p. 294. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


the Theosophists offered self-respect and a series of arguments Hindus 
could use to protect themselves against western critics, especially the 
Christian missionaries. Through his lectures and travels, Colonel Ol- 
cott held the dominant position in the Indian Theosophical movement 
until the arrival in 1893 of a new convert, Annie Besant. 

Born into an Irish family living in London, Annie Besant (1847- 
1933), grew up talented, rebellious, and deeply interested in religion. 
As a young adult, Annie Wood married an Anglican clergyman. She 
soon found the life of a pastor’s wife limited and frustrating. She 
rebelled against both the marriage and orthodox Christianity. Annie 
Besant turned to writing pulp fiction and to investigating atheism and 
socialism. She became a journalist and it was in that role that she read 
The Secret Doctrine in 1888. Besant was so impressed with this work 
that she abandoned her previous beliefs and became an ardent Theo- 
sophist. She joined the household of Madame Blavatsky and began to 
edit the journal, Lucifer. Annie Besant rapidly gained a reputation 
among the Theosophists and when Blavatsky died she was one of the 
individuals considered for the presidency, as a possible replacement for 
Colonel Olcott, and as a successor to Blavatsky.4* Olcott was facing 
widespread criticism at that time. In the Report of the Proceedings of the 
Adyar Convention of 1892, the Indian section listed 145 branches, but 
stated that only five lodges were doing satisfactory work. Olcott re- 
signed as founder-president and then was reinstated, but critics still 
attacked him for supposedly poor leadership. 

While this controversy continued, attention was drawn to the Parlia- 
ment of Religions meeting in Chicago. In 1893 G. N. Chakravarti 
reached London on his way to the United States. He came as a repre- 
sentative of the Theosophical Society and of three Brahmanical organ- 
izations: the Hari Bhakti Prodayini of Cawnpore, the Varnashrama 
Dharma Sabha of Delhi, and the Sanatana Dharma Rakshani Sabha of 
Meerut.** Besant joined him when he departed for America and they 
returned to England together. Chakravarti then went on to India and 
Besant followed later. She reached Ceylon in November and arrived at 
Adyar for the annual convention. After the meeting was over, she and 
Olcott toured India. Besant proved to be a popular speaker who drew 
enthusiastic response from primarily Hindu audiences. Besant visited 

* Anonymous, Theosophical Movement, pp. 294-5; Farquhar, Modern Religious Move- 
ments, p. 267; Campbell, Ancient Wisdom, p. 101. 
45 Anonymous, Theosophical Movement, p. 447. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


numerous sacred sites, held meetings with Hindu priests, declared she 
was an Indian at heart, and adopted the sacred thread as a symbol of her 
union with the Hindu community. During the years 1893-7, Besant 
travelled to lecture, attend meetings, and investigate the occult. She was 
often out of India and, when there, spent much of her time in Benares 
and only occasionally in Adyar. She founded the Central Hindu Col- 
lege at Benares in 1898 and made that city her personal headquarters.‘ 
In 1907 Colonel Olcott died and Annie Besant replaced him as presi- 
dent of the Theosophical Society. At this time she shifted to Adyar, 
where she was based until her death in 1933. 

Annie Besant continued to lecture on the glories of ancient India and 
the role of spiritualism, but she also began to alter somewhat the 
ideological approach of Theosophy in India. Besant had been criticized 
by the Madras Social Reform Association for her uncritical praise of 
Hindu society. In 1908, she organized the Theosophic Order of Service 
with the goal of promoting practical, humanitarian work. It advocated 
brotherhood, national education, and an end to child marriage. The 
Order engaged in projects to abolish capital punishment, extend coop- 
eratives, promote hospital visits, advocate prison reform, support child 
welfare, aid the blind, and oppose the ‘white slave’ trade. It became 
active in a number of countries.*® There was nothing particularly Indian 
about their goals and projects, but through this new organization 
Besant introduced some of the social ideals that existed within Theo- 
sophy in its European and American settings. 

By 1910 there were indications of another ideological departure as 
Besant began to talk of a need for national unity. In 1913 she delivered a 
series of political lectures under the title of ‘Wake up India’, a logical 
extension of Olcott’s earlier discussions of ancient glory. Annie Be- 
sant’s speeches were given within a much more politicized environ- 
ment. In 1914, she joined the Indian National Congress. The following 
year she presented the concept of Home Rule Leagues and when the 
Congress failed to accept this she proceeded in 1916 to found them 
herself. The high point of Besant’s involvement in Indian politics came 
in 1917 when she was elected president of the Indian National 

© [bid., pp. 452-5. 

“ Eugene F. Irschick, Politics and Social Conflict in South India; The Non-Brahman 
Movement and Tamil Separatism, 1916-1929 (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1969), 
pp. 27-8. 

8 [bid., p. 26. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Congress. Her career as a political leader, however, was short, for with 
the rise to prominence of Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma) Gandhi, 
Besant dropped from the political centre. She could not accept Gandhi’s 
leadership and so was left behind after 1919 as the nationalist movement 
entered a new period of activism. 

Annie Besant’s career as president of the Theosophical Society in- 
itially met with great success. In the first few years she increased 
membership by 50 per cent to a total of 23,000.49 The Society reached its 
peak during the 1920s with approximately 45,000 members, but 
dropped sharply after 1930 to 35,000 or less. This rise and fall in 
membership was partly tied to the story of Jiddu Krishnamurti. In 
1909, a long-time member of the society brought Krishnamurti’s 
family to live at the Adyar headquarters. It included three boys, one of 
them the young Krishnamurti. Charles W. Leadbeater, an ex-Anglican 
curate who had joined the Theosophists in 1884, identified Krish- 
namurti as a vehicle of Lord Maitreya, and later of Christ. Krish- 
namurti was proclaimed the ‘World-Teacher’ who had come to impart 
true knowledge to mankind. Leadbeater and Blavatsky managed to 
obtain legal guardianship over Krishnamurti and his brother Nitya- 
nanda. Gradually a cult centred on Krishnamurti. Besant founded the 
Order of the Star in the East with officers in various countries, its own 
periodicals, and badges. When students at the Central Hindu College 
began to wear badges with J. K. on them, Besant was forced out of that 
institution by prominent Hindus who feared a new type of conversion 
movement. During the 1920s Krishnamurti won increasing public 
attention. The Order of the Star in the East grew to some 30,000 
members, many of whom also joined the Theosophical Society. As 
Krishnamurti matured he rejected the idea of a messianic role for 
himself. Finally in 1929, he dissolved the Order of the Star in the East 
and in 1930 he resigned from the Theosophical Society. Within a few 
years the membership dropped by nearly one-third. Annie Besant died 
in 1933 and George Arundale served as president for twelve years 
(1933-45). He was followed by the first Indian president, C. Jin- 
arajadasa (1945—-53).°° Theosophy remained active in India, but with 
sharply diminished influence. During its earlier years, however, the 
Theosophists were nearly omnipresent throughout the subcontinent as 
they appeared in one region after another. 

When still centred in Bombay, the Theosophists drew into their 

“9 Campbell, Ancient Wisdom, p. 119. 50 Ibid., pp. 120-31. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


circle Gujarati Hindus, such as Manilal Nabhubhai Dwivedi (1858-98), 
a scholar of Advaitavad philosophy, the Hindu mystic Nrisinhacha- 
ryaji (1848-98), who founded the Sri Shreya Sadhak Adhikari Varga in 
Baroda, and Shriman Natthuram Sharma (1858-1930) of Bilkha in 
Kathiawar. Olcott visited Gujarat in 1880 and helped to organize the 
Prajahitvardhak Sabha of Surat. He also assisted in opening a girls’ 
school, a voluntary school-services organization, and a veterinary hos- 
pital. This Sabha later was affiliated with the Theosophical Society. 
Annie Besant visited Surat and Baroda in 1893 where she met the ruler, 
Sir Sayajirao. They discussed a variety of issues including questions of 
women’s rights, education, and public welfare.>! 

In Bombay proper, the Theosophical Society drew Hindu and Parsi 
members. The Parsis produced a stream of tracts arguing that Zoroaster 
was divine and greater than the masters of Theosophy. He had in- 
troduced the ancient wisdom of Theosophical doctrine and so Parsi 
beliefs were fitted into this new ideology with a position of superiority. 
The Parsis also explained and justified their rituals according to scien- 
tific concepts along lines already established by Colonel Olcott. Theo- 
sophical teachings remained strong enough among the Parsis that in 
1911 the Iranian Association was founded largely to curtail this influ- 
ence. Educated Hindus also joined.*2 The most famous of these was 
Gopal Krishna Gokhale who remained a member from 1890-1905. 

In Madras the Theosophists had their greatest impact on educated 
Hindus, largely among the Brahmans. They acted through their own 
societies and in alliance with other organizations. In 1880 A. Sankariah, 
Dewan-Peishkar of Trichur in Cochin State, established a Hindu 
Sabha based on ‘the support of pundits and priests of social standing’, 
that had as its goal the removal of ‘dogmas, schisms and practices 
opposed to the consolidation of the Hindu nation’. The Hindu Sabha as 
part of its overall programme allied itself with the Theosophical So- 
ciety.>3 Ragunatha Rao, president of the Madras Society, followed 
Olcott’s arguments on the need to revive Hindu learning by founding, 
in 1886, his own organization, the Association for Propagation of True 
Religion. Rao hoped to restore Hindu society to its proper form when 

51 Vijay Singh Chavda, ‘Social and religious reform movements in Gujarat in the nineteenth 
and twentieth centuries’ in S. P. Sen (ed.), Social and Religious Reform Movements (Calcutta, 
Institute of Historical Studies, 1979), pp. 219-21. 

82 Mary Boyce, Zoroastrians, Their Religious Beliefs and Practices (London, Routledge & 
Kegan Paul, 1979), pp. 204-5; Farquhar, Modern Religious Movements, pp. 90, 345. 

53 Suntharalingam, Politics and Nationalism, p. 304. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


all conduct was determined by the Shastras. Similarly, Sivasankara 
Pandiah, a Gujarati Brahman, through his involvement with the Theo- 
sophical Society, created the Hindu Tract Society in 1887 to defend 
Hinduism against all opponents. During the years 1887-9 branches 
were established in the smaller towns, tracts published, and Hindu 
preachers sent to tour throughout the South. He later organized the 
Hindu Theological College Fund with the help of educated Brahmans 
and the wealthy diamond merchant, Ramakrishnah Pantalu. In January 
1889, they succeeded in opening the Hindu Theosophical High School 
with Pandiah as its headmaster.™ 

Theosophical lodges were established in the Telugu-speaking dis- 
tricts at Machilipatam, Guntur, Nellore, and Madanapalle, where they 
attracted aristocrats, officials, and members of the educated middle 
class. New institutions were opened including the Besant Theosophical 
College, the Besant Theosophical High School, and a night school at 
Madanapalle. This area became one of the centres of devotion to Jiddu 
Krishnamurti during the 1920s.°> The influence of Theosophy was not 
limited to the western and southern regions of India, but reached as far 
north as Punjab. Here information points to a presence of Theosoph- 
ical leaders and local organizations from the early 1880s. In 1881 The 
Theosophist contained an article in praise of Pandit Shraddha Ram 
Phillauri, the orthodox leader of Punjab.** Through the 1880s and 
1890s, Theosophists lectured in Punjab and received considerable pub- 
licity. In 1895 Annie Besant drew the attention of educated Punjabis 
when she spoke at Lahore on “The means of India’s regeneration’. She 
argued for Sanskrit education and stated that it was imperative to teach 
children the meaning of Hindu symbols and rituals if they were to 
understand their own religion. This theme — the need and method of 
Hindu revival — ran through Theosophist writings and lectures wher- 
ever they appeared. 

In 1887, when the Bharat Dharma Mahamandala was founded in 
Hardwar, the list of ‘Gentlemen of special importance’ was headed by 
Colonel Olcott. Through its history into the twentieth century, Theo- 
sophy appeared repeatedly in connection with the Mahamandala (see 
pp. 77-82). When Pandit Din Dayalu Sharma travelled to Hyderabad 

4 Ibid., pp. 305, 309-10. 

88 V. Yasoda Devi, ‘Social and religious reform movements in Andhra Pradesh in the 
nineteenth and twentieth centuries’ in Sen, Social and Religious Reform Movements, pp. 

56 Lahore, Tribune (13 August 1881), p. 10. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


in 1897, he met with Shri Darabji Dosabai, president of the local 
Theosophical Society. This connection between the two organizations 
was publicly recognized in the Delhi meeting of 1900, when the Maha- 
mandala passed a resolution in praise of the Theosophists’ work for 
Sanatana Dharma.*” Theosophist involvement reappeared again in 
1g01—2, as control shifted to Swami Gyanananda. The Swami was allied 
with Theosophists one of whom, Dr Bal Krishna, led in attacking Din 
Dayalu. They were angered by Din Dayalu Sharma’s criticisms of 
Annie Besant. Theosophical societies also existed in the North in 
Allahabad, Meerut, Benares, and Kanpur.°8 

A comprehensive picture of the Theosophical movement demands 
extensive research before it can be completed. However, there is 
enough information to indicate that this imported ideology attracted 
adherents in various regions of South Asia. Hindus responded to its 
criticisms of Christianity and western civilization, as well as to its praise 
of their own religion and culture. It strengthened Hindu conservatives 
and their attempts to revive orthodox Hinduism. In the nineteenth 
century, colonialism and new forms of travel made it possible for the 
Theosophists to trace the ideas they appropriated to their source, in this 
case India. Hindu-Buddhist concepts represented part of the legiti- 
mization necessary for their programme of social dissent within west- 
ern civilization. In turn they were compelled to defend orthodoxy and 
to refrain from social criticism in India. In this case the tradition of 
dissent and protest of one civilization, when transferred to the realm of 
another, lost its critical function and became a movement that defended 
religious and social orthodoxy. The Theosophists were thus a socio- 
religious movement of reverse acculturation, foreigners who adjusted 
to the realities of South Asia, and in the process reoriented belief, 
behaviour, and social goals. Other movements in the South developed 
opposing ideologies that struck against the socio-religious system then 
in existence. 

Swami Narayana Guru and the untouchables of Kerala 

This socio-religious movement originated from the position of the 
Izhavas in the caste system of Kerala. The Izhavas, like the Nadars, 
were considered untouchables, but had higher status than the lowest 

5” Pandit Harihar Swarup Sharma, an untitled, unfinished and unpublished Hindi biog- 
raphy of Pandit Din Dayalu Sharma, pp. 32, 104, 117. 
58 [bid., pp. 186-90. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


castes, the Nayadis, Puluyas, and Cherumas. The Izhavas controlled 
coconut cultivation and toddy-tapping. Many were tenant-farmers to 
Nayar landlords, but some had served the military and had been 
rewarded by gifts of land. There was a small number of educated 
Izhavas trained in Sanskrit, and the traditional Hindu medical system 
of Ayurveda. As an untouchable caste they faced numerous restrictions 
on their dress, customs, and religious practices, not unlike those placed 
on the Nadars. They could not attend schools with high-caste children, 
take jobs in government service, enter Hindu temples or have idols of 
the higher gods in their own temples. Yet they were the largest caste in 
Kerala, accounting for 26 per cent of the population. 

By the mid-nineteenth century attempts to improve the status of the 
Izhavas made their appearance. The Izhavas had their own temples 
where priests, Izhavattis, conducted the necessary rituals. In 1852, 
Velayudha Panicker travelled to Goa where he learned the Brahmanical 
rites used in high-caste worship. In 1854 he established the first Izhava 
temple for the worship of Lord Shiva, a type of worship hitherto 
forbidden to the Izhavas. This form of agitation for change was trans- 
formed by Swami Narayana Guru into a socio-religious movement.®! 

Swami Narayana was born into an Izhava family on 20 August 1854 
in the village of Chembazhanti near Trivandrum. His father, Matan 
Asan, conducted a traditional school. The young Narayana studied 
Sanskrit, Malayalam, Tamil, and astrology with his father. He learned 
Ayurveda from an uncle and received a more advanced education from 
a well-known scholar, Kumanpalli Raman Pillai. After completing his 
education he returned to Chembazhanti to direct his own school. The 
young Swami did not stay with this for long, but left for periods of 
meditation and penance. He was married, but refused to settle into a 
householder’s life. Sometime in the mid- 1880s, Swami Narayana began 
to preach his own doctrine of socio-religious change, primarily to the 
Izhavas and then to the broader community. 

In 1887-8, Swami Narayana founded a temple and monastery at 
Aruvipuram. By consecrating this temple to Lord Shiva in 1888, he 
defied the religious restrictions traditionally placed on the Izhava com- 
munity. In order to maintain and manage these institutions, Swami 

59 Rao, Social Movements and Social Transformation, pp. 22-4, 27. 

6° Valiyaveetil Thomas Samuel, ‘One caste, one religion and one God for man: a study of 
Sri Narayana Guru (1854-1938) of Kerala, India’, thesis submitted to the Hartford Seminary 

Foundation (1973), p. 46. 
61 Rao, Social Movements and Social Transformation, pp. 45-6. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Narayana created the core of an organization that later became known 
as the Sri Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (the Society for 
the Propagation of the Religion of Sri Narayana Guru). By 1890 
Swami Narayana had acquired an extensive following among the Iz- 
havas, and by 1901 a general acceptance by the Hindus of his scholarly 

Swami Narayana Guru succeeded in articulating a doctrine aimed at 
improving the social position of the Izhavas. He urged them to aban- 
don the occupation of toddy-tapping and to abstain from drinking 
liquor. In a single slogan he linked status, custom, and occupation: 
‘Drink not, serve not, and produce not liquor!’ He admonished them, 
instead, to enter into trade and commerce as more acceptable occu- 
pations. Swami Narayana also condemned all forms of animal sacrifice, 
the worship of the goddess, the use of obscene songs, all marks 
of low-caste status and forms of behaviour unacceptable to the 
clean castes. Swami Narayana developed simplified and less expensive 
ceremonies to replace the traditional ones. He advocated a marriage 
ceremony to be performed at an Izhava temple using hymns in Sanskrit 
and Malayalam.® His message of social change was carried by groups 
of volunteers who travelled from village to village and town to 
town, asking their caste fellows to abandon the old unacceptable 

Initially, Swami Narayana acted to make Izhava behaviour compat- 
ible with the norms of Brahmanical and Sanskritic society. As this 
movement passed into the twentieth century, it began to condemn the 
caste system as the basis of Hindu social structure. The broadening of 
this movement came as two new leaders, Dr Palpu and Kumaran Asan, 
the writer and poet, joined Swami Narayana. Dr Palpu was the first 
Izhava to receive an education in western medicine. He achieved this by 
attending the University of Madras, but, after acquiring an MD degree, 
he was refused a position with the Travancore government. Afterwards 
he became active in agitating against the restriction on Izhavas in the 
educational and administrative systems. In 1885 he organized a mem- 
orial to the Diwan of Travancore that condemned the present caste 
system, but he received no response from the government. In 1892, he 
tried again with the Malayalee memorial signed by 10,000 Izhavas, 
Christians, and Muslims. In 1896 he made a third attempt, this time 

8 [bid., p. 40. ®% Ibid., pp. 38-9, 55. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


with 13,000 Izhava signatures.** All three memorials made the same 
demands and all three failed. Dr Palpu’s efforts tended to be limited to 
the elite and had no roots in the mass of the Izhava society. He 
discussed this with Swami Narayana Guru and Kumaran Asan, with 
the result that all three joined together under the banner of Swami 
Narayana’s ideology. It was a fusion of these separate streams — one an 
evolving, socio-religious stream with growing acceptance within the 
Izhava caste, and a second more elitist, secular and political movement 
led by educated Izhavas and appealing to that community ~ which 
constituted the Swami Narayana movement of the twentieth century. 


The peninsular South was predominantly a Hindu world with the one 
exception of a significant Christian community on the west coast. The 
Muslims, by contrast, were limited to 10 per cent or less of the popu- 
lation, with one compact community, again on the west coast. The 
Hindus dominated non-Hindus in nearly all aspects of life and the 
Brahmans dominated the Hindus. As in Maharashtra, this led to ten- 
sions between Brahmans and non-Brahmans, as well as to socio-re- 
ligious movements, one transitional and one acculturative, among the 
most depressed members of society, the untouchables. 

Christianity’s long presence in the South and its encouragement by 
missionaries, even prior to the establishment of the colonial milieu, 
produced sharp religious tensions. The Nadars found Christianity an 
attractive ideology that provided them with an avenue of social mobil- 
ity through the rejection of Hinduism and the caste system that it 
supported. Three areas of Christian-Hindu strife emerged. First, 
among the Nadars of Tinnevelly within British-controlled territory, 
then with members of the same caste in the Princely State of Tra- 
vancore, and finally in the latter half of the nineteenth century in 
Telugu-speaking districts north of Madras, where Protestant mission- 
aries achieved considerable success. In each of these areas Hindu ortho- 
doxy reacted sharply to Christian challenges. Within this region the 
most widespread form of communal conflict arose between the Chris- 
tian and Hindu communities. Unlike the northern regions, accultur- 

& P, M. Mammen, Communalism Versus Communism: A Study of the Socio-Religious 
Communities and Political Parties in Kerala, 1892-1970 (Columbia, Missouri, South Asia 
Books, 1981), pp. 34, 53. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


ative movements such as the Brahmo Samaj or the Arya Samaj did not 
lead in this struggle with the missionaries. 

The ideologies and organizational structures of acculturative move- 
ments, the Brahmo Samaj, the Arya Samaj, and the Prarthana Samaj, 
reached the South, but neither they nor the Veda Samaj, managed to 
construct and maintain significant organizational activity. This type of 
socio-religious movement appeared and disappeared sporadically. It 
was dependent on individual leadership that in turn often proved 
unstable. Social critics could not openly oppose orthodoxy on issues of 
belief, custom or ritual. What religious organizations appeared and 
survived were largely orthodox and dedicated to reviving elements of 
existing Hindu religion. The most dramatic and unusual of the religious 
movements found in the South during the nineteenth century, 
Theosophy, came from the West rather than from a region of South 

The Theosophists drew on centuries of socio-religious dissent and 
protest within western civilization. They borrowed non-western sym- 
bols and ideas as part of their ideology and followed them back to their 
sources in Egypt and South Asia. The Hindu-Buddhist symbols that 
they employed were needed to legitimize their doctrine of protest in the 
West and thus could not be criticized in South Asia. There, the Theo- 
sophists found it necessary to argue for the superiority of contempo- 
rary Hinduism and Buddhism. The transformation from one 
civilization to another brought the Theosophists from a position of 
critics and dissenters to one of champions of orthodoxy and the status 
quo. In this, they were at opposite poles from Swami Narayana Guru of 
Kerala with his socio-religious movement of uplift for the Izhavas that 
sought initially to incorporate within this untouchable community the 
values and practices of Brahmanical Hindus. In the twentieth century, 
Sri Narayana Guru and his followers rejected that system. With the 
new century, the socio-religious movements of South Asia existed 
within an increasingly politicized world that contained dimensions of 
competing nationalism and heightened religious conflict. Five move- 
ments that survived and prospered in the new century will provide 
examples of religious action within a changed context. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 




The twentieth century brought a number of crucial alterations to the 
context within which socio-religious movements functioned, suc- 
ceeded, or failed. The most important of these changes was the rise to 
prominence of secular nationalism expressed by the Indian National 
Congress. Nationalist fervour peaked four times before 1947: first in 
the years 1905-7, then during the three Gandhian campaigns of 
1919-22, 1930-4, and 1942. This wave-like pattern was contrasted by 
periods of severe religious conflict that emerged in a counter-design 
following the nationalist peaks. Both waves, nationalist and commu- 
nalist, produced political action, but with conflicting goals and oppos- 
ing organizations. 

A third pattern of modifications arose from the constitutional 
reforms. The most significant came in 1909 when separate electorates 
were granted to the Muslims of British India. This method of reserving 
seats in the regional and central legislative bodies was basic to the 
concept of religion as a community, that is, a collection of individuals 
defined through their adherence to a particular set of doctrines. The 
concept of religion as a community grew from the introduction of a 
decennial census in 1871. The census defined religious communities, 
counted them, and examined their characteristics as social and econ- 
omic units. The granting of separate electorates linked religion, the 
census reports, political power, and political patronage. The later con- 
stitutional reforms of 1919 and 1935 extended the number of religious 
and social groups who were given a share of political power.! In turn, 
these ‘reforms’ stimulated and reinforced a new form of political 

' Kenneth W. Jones, ‘Religious identity and the Indian census’ in N. Gerald Barrier (ed.), 
The Census of British India: New Perspectives (Delhi, Manohar Publications, 1981), pp. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Within three religious communities — the Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh— 
an organization emerged that attempted to speak for the interests of 
each. The first of these was the Muslim League founded in 1906 by 
politicized Muslims, many of whom were active in the Muhammadan 
Educational Conference established by Sayyid Ahmad Khan (see 
pp. 63-70). The Muslim League saw itself as the spokesman for all 
Muslims of British India. By the 1930s, it began to articulate a Muslim 
nationalism expressed through the concept of Pakistan, a separate 
Muslim state. A similar line of development among politically con- 
scious Hindus began with the founding of the Punjab Hindu Confer- 
ence in 1909. In 1915 this annual meeting was reorganized into the 
Sarvadeshik Hindu Sabha, and in 1921 it was renamed the Akhil Bharat 
Hindu Mahasabha. By the mid-1930s, the Mahasabha, under the 
leadership of Vinayal Dhananjay Savarkar, began to expound a Hindu 
nationalism opposed both to the secular nationalism of the Indian 
National Congress and the religious nationalism of the Muslim League. 
A third such organization arose out of the struggles over control of Sikh 
shrines and gurdwaras. On 15 November 1920, 175 Sikhs established 
the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee. By 1925 they had 
succeeded in gaining control over all Sikh gurdwaras and the revenue 
they generated. The Shiromani Prabhandhak Committee became a 
semi-parliamentary body for the Sikhs. Associated with it was the 
Akali Dal (Army of the Immortals), an activist wing of the same 
movement. By the 1940s, radicals among the two groups talked of a 
separate state for Sikhs as they too moved toward religious nationalism. 
Socio-religious movements continued to develop within this politic- 
ized world, but were less visible than in the nineteenth century and 
were challenged by new secular types of dissent and protest. 

As the twentieth century wore on, new ideologies reached India 
from the West, particularly in the years after World War I. Democratic 
socialism from England and various types of Marxist-Leninist thought 
gained adherents among young, educated Indians, and by the 1930s 
so did the fascism of Italy and Germany. This rapidly expanding 
pool of ideas and symbols provided a variety of non-religious 
vehicles for dissent that in the nineteenth century would have 
turned to one or another form of religion. Within this increasingly 
complex world we shall examine the fate of five socio-religious 
movements that extended from the nineteenth into the twentieth 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


The Ramakrishna Math and Mission 

In the first decade following the death of Vivekananda (see pp. 41-6), 
the Ramakrishna movement expanded its activities both in India and 
the United States. Theoretically it was unified under the presidency of 
Swami Brahmananda and the Board of Trustees of the Belur Math. In 
fact, it was rather decentralized and chaotic because it was led by both 
monks and members of the laity. Supposedly, there was a clear differ- 
entiation between the functions of the maths and the missions, but in 
reality math and mission engaged in various overlapping activities. 
Projects were founded often on local initiative without either the 
approval or supervision of the centre. One example of unplanned 
growth can be seen in the monastery built at Puri. This began with the 
acquisition of a small piece of land in 1911. It was used as a retreat for 
monks, but in 1920-1, due to a local fire, the monks entered into relief 
work and added a small dispensary. By 1932, when a permanent 
monastery was built medical relief work had become a permanent 
function of the math.2 The mission centres suffered from less of a 
contradiction of purpose, but still evolved in various directions without 
any overall planning. 

The first General Report, issued in 1912, recorded the growth of this 
movement. It listed seven monasteries, and six mission centres. These 
were all affiliated with the Belur headquarters and came under the 
Board of Trustees. In addition there were many experimental pro- 
grammes, centres, and schools, effectively outside control of the head- 
quarters. Beyond India existed chapters of the Vedanta Society in the 
United States founded by Vivekananda and led by monks dispatched 
from Belur. Various societies were opened only to disappear later. The 
most successful ones were in New York, Boston, Washington, DC and 
San Francisco, plus a retreat in the Berkshire mountains. By the 1930s, 
others performed well in Chicago and Los Angeles. The role of the 
Ramakrishna Math and Missions in the United States was more limited 
than in India, since there was no dimension of social service. They 
concentrated on teaching Vedanta doctrine through lectures and publi- 
cations. Vedanta societies maintained temples, quarters for their monks 
and retreats for both clergy and laity. 

The Indian mixture of religion and social service was exported to a 

2 Swami Gambirananda, A History of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission (Calcutta, 
Advaita Ashram, 1957), p. 242. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


number of other countries, primarily those with Hindu immigrants. 
The Ramakrishna movement organized institutions in Malaya (1903), 
Burma (1910), and Ceylon (1924). By the 1930s they either had, or were 
about to have, permanent centres in Argentina, England, the Fiji 
Islands, France, Germany, Singapore, and South Africa. Through the 
1920s and 1930s, however, this expanding movement was beset with 
internal tensions. In 1920, Brahmachari Ganendranath took over the 
management of the Sister Navedita School in Benares. He soon came 
into conflict with the officials at Belur by defying their authority. 
Through the 1920s Brahmachari Ganendranath acquired a following 
among the monks and laity as a struggle developed between his faction 
and the Board of Trustees over who had legal rights to the property and 
institutions. It was partially settled in 1929 when Belur officials called 
upon the police for help. The Brahmachari and a number of his disciples 
then left the Ramakrishna order. Next tensions shifted to the South 
where Swami Nirmalanda claimed that the Belur Math had no legal 
authority over maths and missions in the South. This controversy was 
finally brought to an end when the courts ruled in a civil suit that the 
Bangalore centre and all other property in the South were legally in the 
hands of the Belur group. Swami Nirmalanda and his disciples then left 
the order. 

Another controversy broke out following the death of Swami Brah- 
mananda on 10 April 1922. Ata Trustees’ meeting held on 2 May 1922, 
Swami Shivananda was chosen as president. He was then the oldest 
member of the organization, a deeply religious man, but not interested 
in administration. This choice met with disapproval among many of the 
younger monks. As tensions rose, an extraordinary general meeting of 
the Ramakrishna Mission was held on 2 June 1925. It in turn decided to 
call a convention of all members to bring order and, it was hoped, a 
degree of tranquillity to the movement. The young reformers, led by 
Swami Bhumananda, demanded that the older monks who held the 
position of Trustees or officers should resign, including Swami 
Shivananda, and that henceforth all Trustees would be within the ages 
of thirty-five to forty-five. They contended that many of the monks 
were too old to hold power and should turn it over to the next 

The convention met from 1-8 April 1926. Over 100 institutions were 
represented by 350 monks and guests. They passed a number of resol- 
utions in roughly three categories. First, there were declarations of 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


goals for the organization and here educational work received particu- 
lar emphasis. A second set of resolutions attempted to meet some of the 
criticisms of the younger monks, by discussing ways of improving 
communications between officers and members of the movement. The 
main thrust of this conference, however, was embedded in a series of 
steps taken to ensure greater central control. New centres would only 
be opened when approved by the Trustees and were to be inspected 
annually. All monastic preachers would be properly trained and the 
heads of each monastery limited to tenures of four to six years. Centres 
could not be directed by a local, monastic worker. The duties of the two 
leading centre officials, the chief supervisor and secretary, were to be 
defined by bye-laws written at the Belur headquarters. These resolu- 
tions were not given constitutional sanction, but remained guidelines 
for greater centralization and professionalization of the movement. 

As expansion continued, so did efforts to strengthen the power of the 
Belur headquarters. Difficulties with Brahmachari Ganendranath con- 
tinued until the Convention of 1926 and spurred the meeting of 29 
March 1929, when the Board of Trustees further amended its regu- 
lations and procedures. They limited the total number of members in 
the Mission to 700. New monks were required to have recommen- 
dations from two members of the Governing Board and to declare their 
allegiance to the movement. All meetings needed a quorum of fifty and 
had to be announced at least fifteen days in advance. Further, all 
decisions or resolutions could only be passed with a two-thirds ma- 
jority. Additional steps were taken in a conference held at Belur in 
April 1935, and at a monks’ conference convened in March 1937. At 
this latter meeting all monastery rules were standardized. The struggles 
of the 1920s and 1930s led to a much more uniformly governed move- 
ment, one that continued to expand as new institutions and pro- 
grammes were added. 

The report of 1946-7 gives a picture of the Ramakrishna movement 
just prior to Independence. At that time there were ninety-one perma- 
nent centres in India, forty missions, thirty-one monasteries, and 
twenty combined mission—monastery programmes. In addition, a 
number of sub-centres existed with a variety of different goals and 
purposes. Beyond India, the Ramakrishna movement was strongest in 
the United States with twelve centres; Burma contained two and the 
others, Argentina, Ceylon, England, the Fiji Islands, France, Mauritius, 
and the Straits Settlements (Malaya), had one centre each. This 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


collection of religious and service institutions embarked on a variety of 
relief campaigns, including responses to natural disasters: earthquakes, 
floods, cyclones, plague, and famines. They also aided refugees and fire 

By 1947 the pieces of an acculturative socio-religious movement left 
by Vivekananda at his death had been fashioned into an effective 
blending of the Hindu monastic tradition, and contemporary pro- 
fessionalism that managed a wide range of institutions. Vivekananda’s 
concepts of karma yoga and self-help generated a combination of 
religion and social service new to Hinduism while defending many of 
the rituals and beliefs of orthodoxy. In the process Vivekananda 
himself became one of the most popular figures in the Hindu world. 
To many he represented a revived Hinduism that met the challenges of 
western critics and succeeded against them in their own home territory. 
The figure of Ramakrishna, as seen through the writings of Swami 
Vivekananda, attracted young men whose abilities created this system 
of maths and missions that spread throughout South Asia and then to 
various regions of the world. Theirs was a doctrine of religious piety 
and social service that is the most dramatic expression of a Hindu social 
gospel. Other movements added a dimension of social service to their 
religious activity, but no group made it as central to their doctrines as 
did the Ramakrishna disciples. Thus this acculturative movement 
brought to Hinduism organizational skills, concepts of social action, 
and western science, that gave them an effective role in the colonial 
milieu and beyond to the West that created that milieu. A more re- 
stricted impact can be found in the Radhasoami Satsang of the United 
Provinces and Punjab. 

The Radhasoami Satsang 

In the twentieth century the divided Radhasoami Satsangis (see pp. 
72-7) became focused around three associations, one in Punjab and 
two in Agra. The Beas Satsang rested on the foundation laid by Jaimal 
Singh who in the twelve years before his death on 29 December 1903 
had initiated 2,345 individuals.> He was succeeded by Baba Sawan 
Singh Grewal, who remained head of the Beas Satsang until his death in 
1948. Grewal was an effective leader on both the level of religious 

3 Om Parkash, ‘Origins and growth of the Radha Soami movement in the Punjab under 
Baba Jaimal Singhji Maharaj, Beas, (1884-1903)’, Punjab History Conference: 12th Proceed- 
ings (1978), 227-8. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


thought and of practical daily life. As with Jaimal Singh, he served in the 
military, specifically as a senior engineer in the Military Engineering 
Service. Grewal too attracted former soldiers to the movement and 
during his career initiated 124,000 devotees into the Satsang. Under his 
guidance, the ashram on the Beas was transformed into a modern town 
called ‘Dera Baba Jaimal Singh’. He designed many of its buildings, 
including the satsang ghar, a community meeting house. Dera Beas 
became the organizational headquarters for the Beas Radhasoamis. 
Outside this town the Satsang held considerable agricultural land used 
to assist in maintaining their community.‘ 

The teachings of the Beas Satsang were based on the belief that Shiv 
Dayal passed gnostic knowledge to his disciple, Jaimal Singh.’ There 
were, however, few theological differences between the doctrines of the 
Beas group and those taught by the two other Radhasoami branches. 
The Beas Satsangis were given five sacred names upon initiation instead 
of the single name used by the Agra societies. The Beas vision of Shiv 
Dayal was somewhat more limited, for they saw him as one of a long 
line of religious saints, while the Agra branches claimed that Shiv Dayal 
was a paramdtma satguru (supreme saint), unique in human history. 
Personality and devotion to a particular guru accounted for this div- 
ision within the Radhasoami movement, as it would in another schism. 

A major crisis evolved following the death of Brahm Shankar Misra 
in 1907, since there was no immediate successor to him in the Soamji 
Bagh line of gurus. Brahm Shankar had named his sister, Buaji Saheba, 
as the next in line; however, since she was a pardah nishin woman (one 
who followed the institution of female seclusion), her effective lead- 
ership was limited to an inner circle of spiritually advanced disciples.® 
During this period two new contenders for leadership emerged; one 
was Sri Kamta Prasad Sinha, later known as Sarkar Sahib. He gathered a 
group of disciples who met together at his Satsang held in Ghazipur. 
Tensions developed between the Ghazipur Satsang and the Central 
Administrative Council. On 26 March 1910, Kamta Prasad declared his 

‘ Mark Jurgensmeyer, ‘The Radhasoami revival of the Sant tradition’, an unpublished 
manuscript, pp. 4-5. Also see Jurgensmeyer, Religion as Social Vision: The Movement Against 
Untouchability in zoth-Century Punjab (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1982), pp. 

> Philip M. Ashby, Modern Trends in Hinduism (New York, Columbia University Press, 
1974); P- 77- 

6 S. D. Maheshwari, Radhasoami Faith, History and Tenets (Agra, Radhasoami Satsang, 
19§4), p. 67. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Satsang independent of the Council.” He remained a contestant for 
leadership of the Radhasoami movement along with Madhava Prasad 
Sahib, later known as Babuji Maharaj. Madhava Prasad was employed 
as chief superintendent in the Accountant-General’s office at Allaha- 
bad. He was an associate of Brahm Shankar and a long-time devotee of 
the Radhasoami movement. He often visited Agra and assisted Buaji 
Saheba in her efforts to administer the Radhasoami organization. 
Through these efforts he won considerable support among the Sat- 
sangis. In 1913 the stalemate broke. First Buaji Saheba died on 21 May, 
and then in December, Sri Kamta Prasad Sinha passed away. The result 
of these deaths was not a reunion of the Radhasoamis, but an immediate 
crisis among the Ghazipur Satsang. They had shifted their headquarters 
to the town of Morar and there a struggle erupted between Sri Anand 
Swarup, ‘Sahibji Maharaj’, who became the new head of this faction, 
and the relatives of the late guru, Kamta Prasad Sinha. Anand Swarup 
moved his Satsang to Ambala and established its permanent head- 
quarters at Dayal Bagh, outside Agra. 

While the Ghazipur faction was being transformed into the Dayal 
Bagh Satsang, Madhava Prasad became the next guru of the Soamji 
Bagh Radhasoamis and took the title of ‘Babuji Maharaj’. He held this 
office until his death in October 1949. The creation of two rival 
satsangs, located next to each other in Agra, led to a lengthy battle of 
lawsuits, and occasional violence that lasted into the decade of the 
1940s. This was primarily a struggle over control of property and access 
to certain sacred shrines in and around Soamji Bagh. During the years 
of conflict, Dayal Bagh was transformed into a religious community, 
the headquarters of an expanding movement and a thriving colony. In 
1937, Gursarandas Mehta succeeded to the guruship of the Dayal Bagh 
Satsang following the death of Anand Swarup. As for Sawan Singh of 
Beas, this new leader was a trained engineer. His training helped to 
expand Dayal Bagh into an economically successful community with 
an emphasis on the development of small industries.’ By 1947, the 
Radhasoamis of Dayal Bagh had created a self-contained community 
with industries, schools, and modern farms, all held collectively by the 

The central role of the guru in this acculturative movement provided 
flexibility and religious authority, but also schisms from competing 
religious leaders. The Radhasoamis were unable to create a structure 

? Ibid., pp. 379-80. 5 Jurgensmeyer, ‘Radhasoami revival’, p. 5. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


strong enough to retain unity in the movement. Attempts to adopt 
imported organizational forms only partially succeeded and were 
repeatedly defeated as one group after another followed its own spiri- 
tual master and created new Satsangs. The major subdivisions, how- 
ever, prospered as they moved along different social and cultural lines. 
The Beas Satsang drew much of its support from Punjabi Sikhs, while 
the Dayal Singh wing retained the original base among upper-caste 
Hindus from the western third of the Gangetic basin. The composition 
of their membership was not rigid and individuals joined from both the 
Hindu and Sikh religions. Leadership, however, was more clearly 
divided between the Sikhs of the Beas Satsang and the Hindu Brahmans 
of the Dayal and Soami Satsangs. All three wings appealed to English 
and vernacular literates, who comprised the majority of their members, 
and all drew upon the religious traditions of Hinduism and Sikhism. 
Theirs was a successful and inwardly focused religious movement. 
Both the Dayal Bagh and Beas communities had blended the tradition 
of the sants with contemporary technology and science. The Rad- 
hasoamis survived and prospered in the twentieth century by remain- 
ing aloof from many of the controversies of that period; a somewhat 
different path was followed by the Arya Samaj. 

The Arya Samaj 

The twentieth century began as the Arya Samaj (see pp. 95-103) was 
demonstrating sustained growth. During the years 1891-1901, the 
Samaj increased by 131 per cent from 39,952 to 92,419. This expansion 
took place primarily in two states, the Punjab with 25,000 Aryas, and 
the United Provinces with 65,268.9 As the Samaj entered new terri- 
tories, the need for a central organization became increasingly appar- 
ent. After several years of discussion, a subcommittee was selected, at 
the 1908 anniversary celebration of the Gurukula Kangri, with the task 
of drafting a set of regulations and a proposed structure for a Sarva- 
deshik Sabha, an all-India representative association. The Sarvadeshik 
Arya Pratinidhi Sabha held its first meeting in Delhi on 31 August 1909. 
Twenty-seven delegates were elected to this body from six provincial 
Pratinidhi Sabhas. All provincial sabhas were represented, save one, the 
Arya Pradeshik Pratinidhi Sabha of Punjab, the organizational spokes- 

9 Kenneth W. Jones, ‘The Arya Samaj in British India, 1875-1947’ in Robert D. Baird (ed.), 
Religion in Modern India (Delhi, Manohar Publications, 1981), pp. 27-54. This is the basic 
source for the Arya Samaj in the twentieth century and if others are used they will be cited. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


man for the moderate ‘College’ Aryas. In spite of their formal separ- 
ation, the Punjabi moderates cooperated with the Sarvadeshik Sabha on 
numerous occasions. 

The new Sarvadeshik Sabha presided over a steadily expanding 
movement. The Arya Samaj had already followed the flow of Hindu 
immigrants abroad. In 1896 the Satyarth Prakash (see p. 96) was 
carried to Mauritius by members of the Bengal Infantry. Within the 
next two decades Arya Samaj branches were established there in what 
became the first major centre of the Samaj outside British India. The 
Samaj travelled further west in 1904, when Pandit Purnanandyji, an Arya 
Samaj missionary, visited Nairobi. In the next year Bhai Parmanand, 
another missionary, reached Durban and then went on an extensive 
tour of South Africa. Diffusion abroad moved in waves, as the Samaj 
entered areas settled by Indian immigrants. During the 1920s and 1930s 
overseas Aryas organized their own representative sabhas and affiliated 
them with the Sarvadeshik Sabha: British East Africa (1922), South 
Africa (1927), Fiji (1928), Mauritius (1930), and Dutch Guyana (1937). 
Expansion within India brought additional representative sabhas into 
the central organization. Bihar joined as a separate body in 1930 and in 
1935 a provincial sabha was established for the Princely State of 

The decennial census reported continued growth for the Samaj in 
British India. In 1931, they reached the total of 990,233. By 1947 the 
Samaj should have had between one and a half to two million members. 
The Arya Directory of 1941 indicated 2,000 Arya Samajes affiliated 
with the provincial sabhas. In the 1940s the educational world of the 
Samaj stretched as far south as Sholapur in Maharashtra, and Hyder- 
abad in the Deccan. There were 179 schools and ten colleges in India 
and Burma. These included regular arts schools, industrial training 
institutions, girls’ schools, Sanskrit schools and religious training 
centres. In addition, the Gurukula Kangri had become the model for an 
alternative system of education, different from the Dayananda Anglo- 
Vedic schools and their imitators. A number of Gurukula-style insti- 
tutions were founded, some affiliated with the Arya Pratinidhi Sabha, 
Punjab, and others administered locally. In 1921 the original Gurukula 
became a university, and by the 1940s there were seven major insti- 
tutions in the Gurukula system. The Arya Directory listed a total of 
thirty-three institutions labelled as ‘Gurukulas’. 

By 1947 the Arya Samaj had grown into a complex world of associ- 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


ations at the local, provincial and central levels. They maintained 
numerous institutions — schools, orphanages, student hostels, widows’ 
homes, reading rooms, libraries, publishing houses that issued tracts, 
newspapers, and journals, missionary societies, and various organiza- 
tions dedicated to social reform. Clearly the most fundamental task of 
the Samaj lay in administering and funding these organizations. Insti- 
tutional maintenance led the Samaj to declare itself as non-political, and 
to refrain from direct participation in the nationalist campaigns. During 
the years 1905-10, they were, however, labelled as seditious, particu- 
larly the College Aryas, and suspicions remained in the minds of many 
English officials until Independence, and not without reason. 

Many Aryas supported Mahatma Gandhi’s first non-cooperation 
campaign. At its height, in August 1921, the Mopillas of Kerala rose 
against the British and their Hindu neighbours. The Aryas were 
shocked and horrified, since the Mopillas not only attacked Hindus and 
their property, but also conducted forced conversions to Islam. At a 
meeting of the Arya Pradeshik Pratinidhi Sabha in Lahore it was 
decided to send assistance to the Hindus of Kerala. The primary aid 
they provided was the institution of shuddhi, used by Arya mis- 
sionaries to reconvert Hindus to their religion and to readmit them into 
Hindu society. The Samaj also sent financial aid and assisted in rebuild- 
ing damaged Hindu temples. The Mopilla uprising led to the in- 
troduction into the South of ideas and tactics developed in the northern 
areas of acute religious competition. 

After the cessation of the non-cooperation campaign in February 
1922, north India sank into a morass of religious strife. Within this 
context the Malkana Rajputs appealed to the All-India Kshatriya Ma- 
hasabha, a caste association, to be readmitted into Hindu society. The 
Kshatriya Mahasabha accepted their proposal at their annual meeting 
on 31 December 1923. At the same time approximately eighty repre- 
sentatives from Hindu, Jain, and Sikh caste associations agreed to form 
a new organization, the Bharatiya Hindu Shuddhi Sabha. It had as its 
goal a reconversion campaign among the Malkanas. The Sabha was 
headed by two Aryas, Swami Shraddhanand, president, and Lala Hans 
Raj, vice-president. The Shuddhi Sabha raised funds, supported mis- 
sionaries, and conducted an extensive campaign among the Malkana. 
Both wings of the Samaj joined in this programme providing lead- 
ership, resources, and manpower. Muslims of north India responded 
almost immediately with a counter movement that sent missionaries to 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


persuade the Malkanas to remain within Islam. In turn the Arya 
Samaj was encouraged to further its own programmes of communal 

The section of the Hindu community most subject to conversion 
were untouchables. At the Lahore anniversary celebration of 1922, 
Bhai Parmanand presented a vigorous condemnation of the caste 
system, particularly its persistence among members of the Samaj. 
Shortly afterwards came the founding of the Jat Pat Todak Mandal (the 
Society for the Abolition of Caste). The Mandal decided to work first 
among Aryas, since it was necessary to remove caste distinctions within 
the Samaj in order to facilitate the incorporation of new members 
brought in through shuddhi. Samaj efforts to remove caste distinctions, 
as well as its earlier attempts to transform untouchables into clean-caste 
Hindus through shuddh1, stimulated a new movement within the Cha- 
mars of Punjab. 

In 1925 Mangoo Ram, an Arya school teacher who had travelled 
abroad, became the outspoken leader of the Ad Dharm (original re- 
ligion) society. The organization sought to establish a separate religious 
identity among Punjabi untouchables, who, according to Mangoo 
Ram, comprised their own qaum or religiously defined community, 
neither Muslim, Hindu, nor Sikh. The Ad Dharmis modelled their own 
organization after the Samaj. Many of the untouchable leaders had been 
educated at Arya schools and were once adherents of the Samaj. Man- 
goo Ram called upon his followers to list themselves in the 1931 census 
as members of a separate religion. In so doing they were withdrawing 
from the Hindu community and also entering into competition with 
the Arya Samaj. The Ad Dharm movement lost strength during the 
1940S, and in June 1946, Mangoo Ram closed the Jullundur office of the 
Ad Dharm. The Ad Dharmis reappeared in the 1960s and 1970s, this 
time in the context of an independent India.'° 

Within an environment of communal conflict and untouchable up- 
lift, a new samaj institution began to evolve. Plans were made to 
celebrate the centenary of Dayananda’s birth and a grand conference 
resulted. It met from 15~21 February 1925, in Mathura, and was 
attended by representatives of all Arya Samajes. The two wings of the 
Samaj had cooperated on the Mopilla and Malkana shuddhi campaigns 
and once again they worked together. This meeting offered a new 
method for assessing the opinions of leading Aryas and expressing 

1° Jurgensmeyer, Religion as Social Vision, pp. 35-80. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


them in a series of statements, but while this conference articulated 
various ideas and demands it lacked an organizational structure to 
transform these suggestions into concrete programmes. The 1925 gath- 
ering set a precedent that was followed in 1927, although this next 
conference was stimulated by a set of different causes. 

Religious violence grew bitter in 1926 and 1927. The murder of 
Swami Shraddhanand at the close of 1926 was followed in early 1927, 
by riots in the Bareilly area on the occasion of Muharram. Arya Samaj 
individuals and buildings were attacked with the alleged assistance of 
the local police. On 24 July 1927, the Sarvadeshik Sabha called for a 
series of meetings to take place in north India on 7 August 1927. At 
these assemblies, Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, and Jains, as well as Aryas, 
were asked to pass resolutions expressing their anger over the apparent 
police hostility toward Hindus and the violence that resulted. They 
were then requested to send copies of these resolutions to all levels of 
government. In September, a managing committee was appointed to 
organize the first Arya Mahasammelan (great conference), scheduled 
for early in November in Delhi. Unlike the centenary conference, this 
gathering was called specifically to deal with the question of religious 
violence. The Delhi Mahasammelan became the first of four such 
conferences held prior to Independence. 

The Delhi Mahasammelan followed in organization and function the 
model of the 1925 centenary celebration. It passed a series of eighteen 
resolutions, beginning with a tribute to Swami Shraddhanand. The 
conference then went on to elaborate statements that accused the 
government of failing to protect the Hindu community, condemned 
Muslim violence, called for more extensive shuddhi campaigns, con- 
tinued work among the depressed castes, and asked for an end to caste 
distinctions among all Aryas. These resolutions had a common theme 
of communal defence and solidarity. Two new institutions were 
created, the Arya Raksha (Defences) Committee and the Arya Vir Dal 
(the Aryan Army). Branches of the Vir Dal were founded, funds raised, 
and volunteers recruited. This militant arm of the Samaj served on a 
variety of occasions from the satyagraha struggle in Hyderabad to the 
upheavals of Partition in Punjab. 

The Bareilly Mahasammelan of 1931 considered a wide range of 
issues centring on the need of the community for self-protection. The 
Arya Vir Dal was praised, and all Aryas urged to support it, to found 
local branches, and to raise both funds and recruits for the Dal. The 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


main task of the Dal was to protect Aryan culture, assist the oppressed, 
and provide social service. Educational developments, the system of 
Arya preachers, and internal social reform among members, drew 
attention and resolutions. By now the Samaj saw satyagraha as an 
important tool for itself. The Mahasammelan also turned its attention 
to restrictions on various Arya Samaj activities in the major Muslim 
states, specifically Hyderabad, Bhopal, Bahawalpur, and Rampur. This 
last concern grew rapidly during the 1930s, and finally culminated in 
the Arya Samaj’s first satyagraha campaign. Unlike the Delhi and 
Bareilly Mahasammelans, the third one was focused on the fifty-year 
anniversary of Swami Dayananda’s death, planned for 14-20 October 
1933, and held in Ajmer. The lack of a major overriding problem 
behind this conference meant that resolutions, nine in all, tended to be 
relatively general, covering major themes of the movement. Meanwhile 
religious conflict in the North had abated somewhat and Arya Samaj 
attention began to be increasingly focused on the Muslim-dominated 
state of Hyderabad. 

The Arya Samaj had been in the Hyderabad state since the nineteenth 
century, but only in the late 1920s and early 1930s did the Samaj begin 
an active expansion of its role. In response the Nizam of Hyderabad’s 
government grew steadily more suspicious of the Samaj. Both sides 
distrusted each other and saw the other as motivated primarily by 
religious fanaticism. A struggle between the two proved inevitable. The 
Samajists started a satyagraha campaign with the state in October 
1938, but the formal Arya Samaj satyagraha did not begin until 31 
January 1939. With the backing of the Sarvadeshik Sabha other Arya 
groups, such as the Arya Vir Dal, joined this campaign as did students 
from the Gurukulas and Arya leaders throughout British India. The 
Hindu Mahasabha also sent parties of its members to perform 
satyagraha. This struggle ended when the Nizam’s government an- 
nounced a set of political reforms on 17 July 1939. By this time 
approximately 8,000 Hindus had been jailed. On 17 August all political 
prisoners were released and the sat yagraha campaign was discontinued. 
This marked the first successful satyagraha campaign for the Arya 
Samaj and the Hindu Mahasabha. Only in areas of communal conflict 
did the Arya Samaj find an acceptance of their ideology and techniques 
below the Vindhya mountains. In the rest of south India barriers of 
language and culture made it extremely difficult for the Samaj to gain 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


After the Hyderabad satyagraha, the Arya Samaj again became 
involved in Hindu—Muslim conflicts in the North. As in the Muslim 
Princely States, tensions developed between Muslim-dominated 
governments and the Arya Samaj. In Sind, the Hindus were a small 
minority located primarily in the cities and towns. By 1943 the Sind 
provincial government found itself under pressure by various Islamic 
groups to ban the Satyarth Prakash of Swami Dayananda Saraswati. 
Muslims objected to chapter fourteen in which Dayananda attacked 
Islam. In 1946, after months of indecision the Sind government re- 
stored an earlier, unenforced ban. 

The Aryas responded with a satyagraha campaign on 14 January 
1947, and it was over by 20 January. The Sind government simply 
ignored the satyagrahis and refused to arrest them even when they 
publicly defied the ban. The Aryas interpreted this as a capitulation by 
the Sind government and so terminated their campaign as another 
‘victory’ in the struggle to protect their rights. Following the Sind 
campaign, the Arya Samaj was soon engulfed by the Partition and 
Independence. The Samaj was driven from the newly created state of 
Pakistan and, in the aftermath, it went through a period of re-establish- 
ing lost institutions and reorganizing itself. 

An aggressive acculturative movement, the Arya Samaj expanded 
from its base in the North-West to as far south as southern Mah- 
arashtra, and carried its own form of communal competition to Kerala 
and Hyderabad. Nonetheless, the Samaj failed to strike deep roots in 
the territory below the Vindhya mountains. With the twentieth cen- 
tury, it spread across the seas following the path of Indian emigration. 
The Samaj institutions carried by them included social programmes of 
education, untouchable uplift, orphanages, as well as a network of 
temples, reading rooms and meeting halls, all supported by an elaborate 
system of fundraising. Samaj publications aided both missionary work 
and the devotion of its adherents. The Arya Samaj was not, however, 
primarily focused on social service, but on the propagation of their own 
religious truth and its defence against all who did not accept it. The 
addition to Hinduism of a conversion ritual backed by paid mis- 
sionaries propelled the Samaj into religious conflict. In the twentieth 
century Aryas continued to oppose Christian missionaries and the 
proponents of Islam. In the latter case Samaj efforts paralleled the rising 
clash between Hindu and secular nationalism with those who 
demanded a political expression of Muslims’ religious consciousness. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


The aggressive defence of Aryan doctrine also brought them under 
suspicion of the British-Indian government and to near clashes with 
that power. In independent India the Arya Samaj prospered; it also 
entered into new religious struggles, this time with the Sikh com- 
munity. For the Ahmadiyahs, Independence meant a sharply different 
fate than its old opponents in the Arya Samaj. 

The Ahmadiyahs 

The fourteen years from 1900 until the outbreak of World War I were 
marked by a series of important developments within the Ahmadiyah 
movement (see pp. 115—19). The century began with new leaders 
gaining prominence around the central figure of an aging Mirza 
Ghulam Ahmad. Two young Ahmadis, Muhammad ‘Ali and Khawaja 
Kamal ud-Din, founded and edited the Review of Religions published 
simultaneously in Urdu and English." Both men would later play a role 
in the development of a separate Ahmadiyah branch in Lahore. Mirza 
Ghulam apparently was aware of a contest for leadership that might 
arise upon his death. In 1906 he organized the Sadr Anjuman-i- 
Ahmadiyah (Central Ahmadiyah Association), to serve as an executive 
body until his death when it would choose his successor. Mawlawi Nur 
ud-Din was appointed president of the new council and through this 
office became the leading figure in an inner circle of Ahmadis.!? 
Mirza Ghulam Ahmad died on 26 May 1908. He was replaced by 
Nur ud-Din, who became Khalifah Masih I. He retained the office of 
president of the Sadr Anjuman as well. Quarrels arose over this dual 
role and confusion as to the powers of each officer. Khawaja Kamal 
ud-Din claimed that supremacy lay with the Sadr Anjuman, while 
others maintained that it rested with the Khalifah. Debates over this 
issue and challenges to the leadership of Nur ud-Din led him to resign 
from the Sadr Anjuman in 1910. Mirza Ghulam’s son, Mahmud 
Ahmad, replaced him, but the internal tensions did not disappear. The 
situation was further complicated in November 1911 when Nur ud- 
Din was injured by a fall from his horse.'3 He continued as Khalifah, 

4 Spencer Lavan, The Ahmadiyah Movement, A History and Perspective (Delhi, Manohar 
Book Service, 1974), p. 96. 

2 [bid., pp. 97, 99; Muhammad Zafarulla Khan, Abmadiyyat, The Renaissance of Islam 
(London, Tabshir Publications, 1978), p. 195. 

'S Khan, Abmadiyyat, pp. 195-202. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


but physically weakened was even less effective than he had been before 
this accident. Once more the issue of a new leader surfaced. Mahmud 
Ahmad appeared the most logical choice and discussion between the 
Qadiyani Ahmadiyahs and a new faction formed at Lahore seemed to 
agree, but Nur ud-Din did not die so that the question remained 
unanswered.'* During this period of uncertainty the Ahmadiyahs took 
an important step. In April 1911, Mahmud Ahmad published an article 
in which he declared that all Muslims outside their movement should be 
considered kafirs, that is, heathens beyond the borders of Islam. This 
statement led to intense friction between the Ahmadis and various 
Islamic leaders.'> 

By 1913 the Lahore Ahmadis led by Muhammad ‘Ali and Khawaja 
Kamal ud-Din began to compete openly with the Qadiyanis. On 19 
June 1913 the first issue of the paper, al-Fazl (The Grace of God), was 
published in Qadiyan. On 10 July, its rival, Paigham-i-Sulh (Message 
of Peace), was issued in Lahore.'* Tracts appeared criticizing the lead- 
ership of Mahmud Ahmad as the Lahoris articulated their own in- 
terpretation of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and his teachings. The Ahmadis 
of Lahore considered Mirza Ghulam as a mujaddid, a renewer of Islam 
rather than a prophet. They stressed unity of all Muslims and even 
criticized the government for its handling of the Kanpur mosque 
controversy of 1913. The Qadiyanis stayed with their interpretation of 
the Mirza as a nabi (prophet), and continued to maintain their loyalty 
to the British government.!” 

The final split came after the death of Nur ud-Din on 13 March i914. 
Mahmud Ahmad was chosen to become Khalifah Masih II and in 
response Maulawi Muhammad ‘Ali, who had been in Qadiyan, left 
permanently for Lahore. The movement divided into two centres, as 
the Lahoris held reformist doctrines that led them back in the direction 
of the broader Islamic community. They turned their attention to 
missionary work, inspired by Khawaja Kamal ud-Din’s trip to England 
in 1912~13. In 1914 they founded the Ahmadiyah Anjuman Isha- 
‘at-i-Islam (Ahmadiyah Association for the Propagation of Islam) as 
the vehicle for proselytism abroad.'8 

Mahmud Ahmad, the new Khalifah Masih, solidified his hold over 
the Ahmadis loyal to him. At a meeting held on 12 April 1914, a 

4 Lavan, Abmadiyah Movement, p. 106. 5 Ibid, p. 176. 
Khan, Abmadtyyat, p. 209. 7 Lavan, Abmadiyah Movement, pp. 57, 122-3. 
8 Khan, Abmadiyyat, p. 228. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


resolution was passed that gave all power within the organization to the 
Khalifah who stood supreme in relation to the Sadr Anjuman.! In 1915 
he established the Anjuman-i-Taraqqi-Islam (the Committee for the 
Propagation of Islam) in which he outlined a plan of action whose goals 
were to: (1) found primary schools in the Punjab; (2) establish a 
training college for Muslim missionaries and (3) translate the Qur’an 
with explanatory notes in Urdu and English. In addition they expected 
to publish tracts and perform social service among the criminal tribes of 
the province.” In May of the same year, they published the Conditions 
of Bai‘at, a basic creed for the Ahmadiyah. In it the lines dividing 
Ahmadis from other Muslims were clearly drawn: Ahmadis were to 
pray only when led by an Ahmadi imam and, if none was available, they 
should pray alone; they were forbidden to marry their daughters to 
non-Ahmadis or to attend a non-Ahmadi funeral. This statement of 
Ahmadi separateness created another wave of struggles between them 
and other Muslims. Persecution of Ahmadis by Muslims continued 
from 1916 onwards. In 1917 conflict with the Ahl-i-Hadith erupted 
once again and lasted until the communal strife of the 1920s reversed 
Ahmadi policy toward the Islamic community.?! The shift towards a 
pro-Islamic stance was paralleled with a growing willingness to crit- 
icize the British-Indian government. 

This new Ahmadiyah orientation was clearly demonstrated in the 
early 1930s. A series of riots broke out in 1930 as Kashmiri Muslims 
came into open conflict with the Hindu Maharaja and his government. 
Muhammad Ahmad supported the Kashmiri Muslims. His views were 
articulated in several articles that appeared in the April, June, and July 
issues of al-Fazl. As tensions in Kashmir continued, an All-India 
Kashmir Committee was formed with Muhammad Ahmad as its presi- 
dent. This shift of Ahmadi policy was challenged by the Majlis-i- 
Ahrar-i-Islam, an organization of Muslims who were allied with the 
Indian National Congress. During the years 1934-6, a bitter struggle 
ensued between the Ahmadiyahs and the Ahrars, one which finally 
forced the Ahmadis to withdraw from the political clash in Kashmir. 
With the failure of this political venture, they returned once again to 
missionary activities and to further restructuring of the community.” 

In three addresses, delivered on 23, 30 November and 7 December 

'9 Lavan, Abmadiyah Movement, pp. 112-3. 20 Ibid., p. 113. 
4 [bid., pp. 113-14, 125. 22 Ibid., pp. 145-82; Khan, Ahmadiyyat, pp. 159-275. 

Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


1934, Mahmud Ahmad introduced a programme called Tahrik-i-Jadid 
(New Scheme). He listed nineteen rules for living a simple, austere 
and moral life. A wide variety of topics were covered on such subjects 
as food, dress, and housing. Mahmud Ahmad prohibited his followers 
from attending the cinema, theatre, circuses, and most places of 
amusement. Instead he extolled manual labour and requested 
volunteers for service and missionary work. This initial statement of 
nineteen rules was expanded to twenty-four. Also the voluntary 
aspect of the programme was changed to a compulsory demand. Much 
of the manpower and financial resources generated by the Tahrik-i- 
Jadid went to aid Ahmadi missionary programmes, as this Punjabi 
movement became truly international. By 1970, the Ahmadiyahs had 
constructed 352 mosques outside South Asia. The distribution was as 

West Africa 235 Europe 5 
Far East 72 United States 4 
East Africa 24 England 2 
Indian Ocean 8 Israel I 

South America I 

Four major centres were Ghana (166 mosques), Sierra Leone (43), 
Nigeria (22), and Indonesia (70). The Ahmadis also maintained 135 
missions in forty different countries with 143 professional missionaries 
and thirty-five others who staffed schools and dispensaries. They pub- 
lished nineteen newspapers and staffed seventy-one educational insti- 
tutions outside South Asia, as well as conducting an active programme 
of translation. The Ahmadis had published the Qur’an in eleven 
foreign languages.** Qadiyan remained the headquarters of this ex- 
panding network of institutions until the partition of British India. 
With the creation of India and Pakistan, the Ahmadis resident in 
India left and resettled in Pakistan. Mahmud Ahmad decided, however, 
that 313 Ahmadis should stay in Qadiyan to act as caretakers of the 
shrines and sacred places of that town. This group survived and pros- 
pered in India, while on 19 September 1949 a new headquarters was 

2 Khan, Abmadtyyat, p. 48. 
24 Bharakat Ahmad Rajeke, Ahmadiyya Movement in India (Qadiyan, Mirza Wasim 
Ahmad, 1968), pp. 54-6. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


established in Pakistan at Rabwah.25 The Ahmadis carried with them all 
the conflicts and ambiguities of their relationship with other Muslims, 
as well as their own strengths as a religious movement that opened the 
way for social mobility to many members of the lower and middle 
classes. Their position in Pakistan was made ambiguous when, on 7 
September 1974, the Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims, even as 
sixty-three years earlier they had declared all non-Ahmadis kafirs. 

This acculturative Muslim movement was beset by struggles for 
leadership that produced a division over its relation to the broader 
community of Islam expressed by the organizations centred on Qa- 
diyan and Lahore. The Qadiyanis were more openly opposed to Is- 
lamic orthodoxy than the more moderate Lahori faction. After a brief 
period during the 1930s when they were involved in political conflict, 
the Qadiyanis turned their energies to proselytism in South Asia and 
increasingly outside the subcontinent. In this they were highly success- 
ful, particularly in Africa and south-east Asia. By 1947 the Ahmadis 
had built an impressive network of mosques, schools, and organiz- 
ations that reached throughout the world with the exception of the 
communist countries. They were not, however, as successful in 
Pakistan where they clashed with the government and, as a result, lost 
their recognized status as Muslims. Thus, the Ahmadiyah movement 
appears to have a more assured future beyond South Asia than within 
the subcontinent. Swami Narayana Guru’s socio-religious movement 
evolved quite differently as it entered the new century. 

Swami Narayana Guru of Kerala 

On 15 May 1903, the combined efforts of Swami Narayana (see pp. 
179-82), Dr Palpu, and Kumaran Asan led to the founding of the Sri 
Narayana Dharma Paripala Yogam (the Union for the Protection of the 
Way of Life of Sri Narayana). This organization was informally 
founded in 1888, but now it was registered with the government. The 
Yogam linked socio-religious concerns with socio-political issues. 
Swami Narayana Guru appealed to the mass of the Izhava community, 
while Palpu and Asan found greater acceptance among the educated 
and intellectual elite. In the years after the establishment of the Yogam, 
Swami Narayana continued his emphasis on religion. In 1904 he 
opened a new headquarters, the Sivagiri Math at Varkala in southern 

2 Khan, Ahbmadiyyat, pp. 318-22. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Travancore.”6 In 1912, two more temples were consecrated at Sivagiri 
where Swami Narayana was eventually buried. Gradually the Swami 
created a network of temples and monasteries. He built another temple 
at Palghat in 1907, and in 1913 founded an association, the Vijnanodaya 
Sabha, to manage it. In 1914 he established the monastery at Alwaye, 
and later added a Sanskrit school. New institutions were also located 
in Cochin, Malabar, Madras, Kanchi, Madurai, and in Ceylon. 
Numerous associations appeared dedicated to the dissemination of 
Swami Narayana’s ideals and to various forms of improvement for the 

In the early twentieth century Swami Narayana broadened his vision 
into a general condemnation of Hindu society. He wrote Jati Mimamsa 
(Critique of Caste) that claimed the caste system was wrong and that it 
should be abolished. He urged his followers ‘not to ask another 
person’s caste and not to even think about caste’. He called upon the 
lower castes to end all barriers to interdining. In the schools and 
temples he founded, all members of the lower castes were welcome. 
The Swami also argued that the sacred books of Hinduism should be 
available to everyone regardless of their status.’8 In order to further 
demonstrate his determination to end caste discrimination, he hired 
Pulayas, who were considered untouchable by the Izhavas, as cooks for 
the monasteries under his control.?9 

The Swami’s uncompromising doctrines on caste ran into opposition 
from within the Izhava community. Still, he persisted using arguments 
from the sages, Vyasa and Parasara, on the irrelevance of birth and the 
importance of action. Swami Narayana asserted that ‘Caste degrades 
men and so is not wanted’.*° His judgment on caste, fused with his 
interpretation of religion in general, produced the slogan, ‘One God, 
one religion and one caste’. Swami Narayana articulated his ideas in 
hymns, philosophical works, and short essays. They were written 
mostly in Malayalam, a few in Sanskrit, and one in Tamil. He drew ona 

6 Valiyaveetil T. Samuel, ‘One caste, one religion and one God for man: a study of Sree 
Narayana Guru (1854-1928) of Kerala, India’, a doctoral dissertation submitted to Hartford 
Seminary Foundation (1973), p. 72. 

27 M.S. A. Rao, Social Movements and Social Transformation, A Study of Two Backward 
Caste Movements in India (Delhi, Macmillan Company, 1979), pp. 46-7. 

28 Samuel, ‘One caste, one religion, one God’, p. 94. 

29 Rao, Social Movements, p. 212. 

30 Samuel, ‘One caste, one religion, one God’, p. 150. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


combination of sources to justify and explain his teachings. These 
included Advaitavedanta, drawn from the bhakti saints, Tamil Shai- 
vites, and the Tirukural. He may also have been influenced by Buddh- 
ist, Jain and even Christian thought.*! 

In addition Swami Narayana attempted to remove a series of what he 
considered were ‘bad customs’. These included festivals at the time of a 
girl’s marriage, another when a daughter reached puberty, and one 
when women became pregnant for the first time. He felt these were 
expensive and unnecessary.*? Through Swami Narayana’s restructur- 
ing of religion, his changes in social behaviour and his strong emphasis 
on education, he wished to create a new Izhava community. He also 
began to move beyond the limits of a single caste through his religious 
reinterpretations. During the first two decades of the twentieth cen- 
tury, Kumaran Asan, and Dr Palpu continued their struggle to gain 
admission for Izhavas into government schools and the ranks of 
government employees. To this they added a search for political rep- 
resentation and for access to all public roads and public buildings. 
Pressure from the Izhavas created opposition within the Nayar com- 
munity that resented what they saw as Izhava pretentiousness. In 1919, 
under the leadership of a young Izhava, T. K. Madhavan (b. 1886), 
untouchables and non-Hindus (both Muslim and Christian) demanded 
paura samatwam (complete citizenship rights). By 1920, they had 
achieved a few minor victories, but frustration and expectation far 
outstripped achievements. 

In February 1924, Swami Narayana held a two-day conference of all 
religions at Alwaye. Representatives from Christianity, Buddhism, 
Islam, the Brahmo Samaj, and the Arya Samaj attended as the Izhavas 
turned to a discussion of possible conversion to another religion as 
one way to escape their untouchable status. Swami Narayana and 
Madhavan argued against conversion. They were aided by the Vykom 
satyagraha, since this struggle drew away the attention and enthusiasm 
of many Izhavas. Mahatma Gandhi also joined in this campaign. At 
issue here was the use by untouchables of the main village road that 
passed a local Hindu temple. The Vykom satyagraha campaign was 
followed by the removal of restrictions in 1928 on use of such roads. 
With this success, talk of conversion ceased and the Izhavas looked for 

31 [bid., pp. 100, 157, 193. 32 Ibid., p. 91. 3 Rao, Soctal Movements, pp. 49, 52. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


relief within the boundaries of Hinduism.** Under the leadership of 
Madhavan, the Izhavas were granted access to educational institutions 
and the reservation of certain government positions. 

These victories drew the Yogam into political action as an organiz- 
ation of Izhava advancement. Swami Narayana was disturbed by the 
emphasis on politics and withdrew from the Yogam. He founded a 
purely religious organization, the Narayana Dharma Sangha Trust, in 
January 1928. The Sangha was an order of monks, priests, and lay 
disciples. In his will, Swami Narayana left all property, ‘temples, mutts, 
schools and factories’, to the Trust.>> After Swami Narayana’s death on 
20 September 1928, the Sangha and the Yogam entered a lengthy and 
bitter fight over control of this property. The Yogam retained its earlier 
developmental pattern, becoming a largely political movement 
grounded in the Izhava caste. Religion played a declining role, although 
the question of conversion was once more seriously debated in the 
mid-1930s, but the issue died as the Izhavas again achieved some of 
their goals. Afterwards, members of the Yogam were attracted to new 
secular ideas of socialism and Marxism, in their continuing campaign 
for equality.>¢ 

The teachings of Swami Narayana were maintained by the Sangha, 
which remained an essentially religious organization. It trained monks 
at the Brahma Vidyalaya at Sivagiri, published literature on the Swami’s 
ideals and republished his writings, managed educational institutions, 
and officiated at numerous religious rituals. The Sangha also operated 
medical centres and homes for the destitute. Annual conferences that 
brought together representatives of all religions were held at Alwaye, 
which had also become a centre of pilgrimage. The two organizations, 
the Yogam and Sangha, differed, undoing the political and religious 
union created in 1903. 

A third organization, the Sri Narayana Gurukula, carried on the 
concept of personal spiritual leadership begun by Swami Narayana. Sri 
Nataraja Guru, the son of Dr Palpu and a leading disciple of Swami 
Narayana, founded this organization in 1923. Little was done with it 
until Nataraja Guru returned from Europe after earning his doctorate 
in philosophy. He considered himself, as did others, to be Swami 
Narayana’s ‘true’ successor. Nataraja Guru soon discovered, however, 

4 Ibid., pp. 58, 66-7. 35 Samuel, ‘One caste, one religion, one God’, p. 140. 

36 Rao, Social Movements, pp. 75-6, 225-6. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


that both the Yogam and Sangha were firmly in the hands of other 
leaders unwilling to relinquish their authority. He then turned his 
attention to the Gurukula, a separate organization with its own 
temples, ashrams, and overseas branches in the United States, Europe, 
and the Middle East.37 The three organizations — the Yogam, the 
Sangha, and the Gurukula — followed different paths in the post- 
Independence period, each drawing on the career of Swami Narayana 

As it entered the twentieth century, Swami Narayana Guru’s move- 
ment expanded its institutions to include numerous new temples, mon- 
asteries, schools, and a supporting structure to finance and manage 
them. He also led his followers from efforts to uplift the Izahavas 
towards a general condemnation of the caste system and to clashes with 
Hindu orthodoxy defended by the Brahmans and Nayars of Kerala. 
Following the death of Swami Narayana Guru his followers split in 
three groups: a political wing, the Yogam, that accepted secular ideas in 
its search for an end to the discrimination suffered by the Izhavas; a 
society, the Sangha, that followed the original teachings of Swami 
Narayana Guru; and the Gurukula that centred on a ‘legitimate’ suc- 
cessor of Sri Narayana. All three movements were led by educated 
Izhavas and largely supported by members of that caste, with the 
exception of the Gurukula that gained a broader following, including 
foreigners from outside the subcontinent. 


The Hindu movements that survived and prospered in the new century 
expanded both within South Asia and beyond, with the result that 
Hinduism became an international religion for the first time in modern 
history. This new dimension of Hinduism came through the emigra- 
tion of Hindus throughout the British Empire and eventually to coun- 
tries beyond it. Socio-religious movements travelled with these 
emigrants. Among Hindus, the Arya Samaj demonstrated this type of 
expansion to its widest extent, while the Swami Narayana Guru so- 
ciety, and the Radhasoami Satsang were more limited in their overseas 
expansion, at least within the years before Independence. Two socio- 
religious movements, one Hindu, the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, 

37 [bid., pp. 97-8, 228. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


and the other Islamic, the Ahmadiyahs, expanded both through emi- 
gration and the conversion of individuals from outside South Asia. For 
the Ahmadiyahs this was a successful continuation of Islamic proselyt- 
ism. For the Ramakrishna monks it marked a new dimension of Hindu- 
ism. They and the Aryas grafted an institution of conversion on to the 
Hindu religion. 

The socio-religious movements of the nineteenth century added a 
dimension of social service to Hinduism that had not been present 
previously. The Ramakrishna movement had created a permanent 
system of social service through its monks who practised medicine, 
taught in schools, and administered a variety of relief measures. For the 
Ramakrishna monks and nuns, this type of action was the main ex- 
pression of their religious convictions. Other societies, however, con- 
ducted similar types of social service as an adjunct to their overall 
religious programme. During the twentieth century, religious move- 
ments continued to conduct and expand their social service, as new 
secular organizations entered this field, including the various sections 
of national, state and local government. 

Each of these movements faced difficulties and strains from their 
growth, and each suffered from schisms as a result. The Aryas came 
first with the division of the 1890s, and the others followed during the 
first two decades of the twentieth century. Growth led to tensions 
within each, as internal debates erupted over the nature of religious 
authority, the meaning of ideology, the degree of local control that 
would be permitted, the fields of action to be undertaken, and from 
personal rivalry between strong leaders. Socio-religious movements 
also needed to adjust to the emergence of communal conflict and the 
clash of competing nationalisms. 

Socio-religious movements did not openly identify with national- 
ism, but instead, maintained that they were strictly religious organiz- 
ations. Any other stance would have placed them in direct conflict with 
the British government and threatened the destruction of all they had 
built. The Ramakrishna monks remained largely outside politics as did 
the Radhasoami Satsangs, but the Arya Samaj found itself increasingly 
drawn into political action in defence of the Hindu community. Its 
shuddhi campaigns, anti-Muslim satyagrahas, and organizational de- 
velopments, such as the Arya Vir Dal, placed the Samaj along a path 
parallel, at times, to the Hindu Mahasabha and, at other times, to the 
Indian National Congress. The Ahmadiyahs, with their struggles 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


against the Ahrars and Ahl-i-Hadith, and later with the independent 
state of Pakistan, were drawn not so much into rival nationalisms, but 
into conflicts within the Islamic community. Politics in the twentieth 
century was not solely focused on nationalist competition, but encom- 
passed numerous forms of caste, communal, regional, and class 
struggles. The Swami Narayana Guru movement, for example, was 
divided between its religious aspect and its concern for untouchable 

By Independence, socio-religious movements inhabited a complex 
ideological world as secular motifs of nationalism, socialism, commu- 
nism, and fascism were available to justify social change. Secular ideol- 
ogies provided new forms of legitimization for dissent, even as religion 
added new dimensions to its own sphere of action. The overall impact 
of this change, however, was to weaken the role of religious move- 
ments. Once they had provided the only form of legitimization for 
protest, a situation that was permanently altered. Religious and secular 
movements competed for the attention of those who dissented from the 
norms of society. Yet, there also remained a powerful political appeal of 
religion as a basis for nationalism. South Asia contained a religious 
state, Sikh nationalists, and a body of Hindus who rejected the secular 
foundations of independent India. Within this world, socio-religious 
movements continued to appear and to demand new forms of social 
behaviour, customs, and belief. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 




Within nearly a century of British rule over the South Asian sub- 
continent, socio-religious movements reshaped much of the social, 
cultural, religious, and political life of this area. Three civilizations 
provided models for movements of dissent and protest that sought to 
‘purify’ and restructure contemporary society. New associations, tech- 
niques, and forms of group consciousness came into being during these 
years as religious change encountered increased politicization and com- 
peting nationalism. The historic process of internal dissent and cultural 
adjustment was dynamic as the traditions of the past flowed into the 
colonial milieu, and were increasingly altered by that environment. 
There was no clear point of beginning or end of the transitional move- 
ments of pre-British history, as they reached forward into the colonial 
milieu linking that era with what went before. 

Leadership of the transitional movements followed a pattern that 
extended back for many centuries. Professional religious practitioners, 
Brahmans, and the ‘ulama accounted for the largest percentage of 
leaders, but they also came from merchant, peasant, untouchable and 
tribal segments of society. This diversity of leadership was parallelled 
by support from differing social groups as was illustrated by the 
Namdharis, who found their adherents primarily among the non-Jats, 
and the Nirankaris, whose members were drawn mainly from Sikh Jats. 
The variation in groups to which these movements appealed also fol- 
lowed well-established paths. Islamic movements, with the ‘ulama as 
leaders, either attempted to reach all Muslims or focused almost exclus- 
ively on the ‘ulama class of the religiously educated. Some movements 
were concentrated on a specific level of society, such as those of the 
Christian Nadars or Satnamis; both aimed at Hindu untouchables. 
Similarly, Satya Mahima Dharma flourished among the lower castes 
and tribals of Orissa. 

All transitional movements advocated some degrees of change and 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


consequently generated discord in one or more areas of life. Often 
associated with this conflict was a clarifying and hardening of bound- 
aries between religious communities and the defining of sectarian pos- 
itions within a given religion. All but one of these movements declared 
their aims as a ‘return to past purity’. The Nadars, who converted to 
Christianity, abandoned Hinduism rather than attempt to restructure 
it. For them Christianity provided an alternate religion that would, 
they hoped, enable them to escape from their social classification as 
untouchables. This movement, however, set one section of the Nadar 
group against another. It also created conflict between Christians and 

The three traditions of protest present in South Asia manifested 
themselves in both transitional and acculturative movements. Among 
Hindus the power of Brahman priests, the rituals they conducted, idol 
worship, the limited and subordinate role of women, polytheism, and 
the caste system were condemned repeatedly as they had been over 
many centuries. Muslim leaders arose who called for a return to 
purity and the rejection of erroneous customs and innovations, much 4s 
the Khawarijites and the followers of al-Wahhab had done. Sikhs too 
sought to remove various ‘false’ customs and forms of worship as 
shown by the Nirankaris’ return to the Sikhism of Guru Nanak or the 
attempts of the Namdharis to revive the panth. Acculturative socio- 
religious movements in each religious community demanded such 
changes and, consequently, many elements of their programmes were 
in no way new or ‘modern’, nor were they the creation of interaction 
with Christianity and western civilization. Instead they were contem- 
porary expressions of centuries-old dissent. What was new, however, 
were different elements of the acculturative movements of the nine- 
teenth century. 


The emergence of acculturative movements within the colonial milieu 
was both a continuation of socio-religious dissent, and a modification 
of this tradition. The context was new as South Asians, who came into 
direct contact with the English, and their version of western civiliz- 
ation, adjusted to the realities of British dominance. Those, who could 
not ignore these new rulers but who depended on them for their 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


social and economic position, found ways to restructure their own 
cultural heritage in order to retain a place within that heritage. They 
could neither ignore the English nor could they join British society and 
find acceptance within it. 

The English brought a new civilization, but one that was itself 
undergoing rapid and escalating change. English culture contained 
tensions between older patterns of life and ‘new’ forms of social, 
political, and economic expression undergirded by developments in 
science and technology. Within western thought this new knowledge, 
and all that accompanied it, was understandable by the concept of 
‘progress’, an idea foreign to South Asia. Members of the educated elite 
accepted this concept readily as they strove to possess the ‘progress’ 
and ‘modernity’ owned by the British. These movements supplied a 
way in which ‘progress’ could be achieved and legitimized. The path to 
a better future lay in a return to a pure and proper past; to the 
‘fundamentals’ of religion as presented in ancient texts once those texts 
were properly understood and comprehended. Individuals needed the 
guidance of inspired men and their disciples, but once the path was 
given and the signposts erected, then a new and better world could be 
achieved by turning back to the righteous past. 

Science and technology posed few problems for South Asian re- 
ligious thinkers. If all truth rested in the scriptures or in the teachings of 
an inspired master, and if science was itself true, then no contradiction 
could possibly exist. Unlike in the West, science was not perceived as 
possessing an alternative authority to religion; thus it was simply 
incorporated into the greater religious truth. It was more difficult to 
answer the challenges of western superiority and the allied threat of 
Christian conversion. Military and technological dominance were 
linked in British imperialist ideology to claims of racial and religious 
superiority. By the second half of the nineteenth century, Christianity 
was fused with the Raj and had become an integral part of the imperial 
English culture. 

South Asian religious leaders articulated three different positions in 
response to Christian insistence that they alone possessed religious 
truth, and were compelled to convert all non-Christians to that truth. 
Rammohun Roy argued for an equivalence between Christianity and 
Hinduism based on the ethical core of each religion. Both were en- 
crusted with superstition, error, and mistaken forms of ritual, but once 
these were removed, the two religions stood on an equal footing. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Others, such as Ramakrishna, Keshab Chandra Sen, and Swami Vive- 
kananda, insisted that all religions were true and, like the spokes of a 
wheel, led by different paths to the same ultimate reality. This doctrine 
justified remaining in the religion of one’s birth and made conversion 
unnecessary. Both arguments denied the superiority of Christianity. 
By far the largest group of religious leaders — Muslim, Hindu, Parsi, and 
Sikh — maintained that their particular brand of religion was superior to 
Christianity. This they could ‘prove’ by using their own set of religious 
beliefs as the normative measure for all religions. The controversies 
generated by opposing religious groups took new forms and intensity 
when South Asian religions successfully adopted the technology of 


The printing press arrived in South Asia as part of a mature technology 
and thus did not take centuries to develop, as it had in Europe. The one 
necessary addition, the casting of type fonts for South Asian languages, 
was accomplished in the late eighteenth century, along with the first 
dictionaries and grammars needed to standardize languages for the 
process of setting them in type. The production of inexpensive printed 
texts accelerated the translation of scriptures and commentaries into the 
vernacular languages to make them available to a wider audience than 
could respond to material written in Sanskrit, Arabic, or Persian. 
English was also used, but this could only reach a small elite of English 
literates. The vernaculars offered a wider audience, but still an audience 
limited to those who were literate. Consequently, education became an 
increasing necessity driven by a dependence on the printed word. 
Socio-religious movements, both transitional and acculturative, uti- 
lized printing and translation. They also produced a stream of didactic 
and polemical literature that explained the newly translated texts, elab- 
orated on their ideologies, and defended them from critics within and 
without their own religious community. Members of these movements 
learned proper behaviour, customs, and beliefs through oral instruc- 
tion and, for many, through reading. The availability of a printed text 
encouraged the creation of creeds that summarized a complex set of 
teachings, and furnished a basic statement of belief for the disciples of a 
particular movement. 

The patterns of religious authority were modified by printing since 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


texts became available to anyone who was literate, as did the ‘right’ to 
speak out on religious issues through inexpensive pamphlets and tracts. 
Neither Brahmans, Parsi priests, nor the ‘ulama had a monopoly of 
religious authority. Challenges to these groups had appeared in cen- 
turies past, but with printing those who acted in opposition could do so 
far more effectively. Printing, translation, and literacy combined to 
create a framework, in many ways parallel to the Protestant Refor- 
mation in Europe with its abandonment of classical Latin, its prolifer- 
ation of translations and religious writings, and its insistence that the 
devout read scriptures as an essential part of their search for salvation. 
As in Protestantism, many of the socio-religious movements of South 
Asia taught that truth lay in the text, and that it was the duty of their 
adherents to study these writings in order to find within them a key toa 
proper, moral and spiritual life. 

The leaders of acculturative movements lived and worked within the 
new context of colonial domination, of intrusive western civilization, 
and of technological change. Several of the founders of these move- 
ments showed limited influence from the colonial milieu. Swami Daya- 
nanda, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, and Ramakrishna Paramahansa were 
not educated in English schools or employed in jobs that brought them 
into contact with the British elite. However, they were aware of Chris- 
tian missionary activities and thus of a new historical situation that 
surrounded them. Those who came to follow such leaders and became, 
in the process, leaders themselves, were drawn almost exclusively from 
the English-speaking elite. They were individuals caught between their 
heritage and British colonial society. The socio-religious movements 
they led created a cultural and psychological world in which they could 
find a place for themselves, one that was acceptable to them and one 
they could defend against the attacks of western critics, both secular 
and religious. Those who acted to defend their own religion also 
entered into a struggle with orthodox leaders who found enemies more 
unacceptable than the Christians. Many members of the pre-British, 
indigenous elite sided with orthodoxy, and were opposed by new elites 
among the English literates and also regional vernacular elites. This 
division into opposing groups was clearly demonstrated by the two 
Singh Sabhas; the Amritsar society with its establishment leadership, 
and the more radical Lahore Sabha with its aggressive educated elite 
drawn from various social strata. Similar divisions appeared in all 
religious communities. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 



Along with printing, the Christian missionaries introduced new forms 
of religious organization and action. Voluntary associations were not 
new to South Asia in that religious movements had for many centuries 
drawn individuals to them on the basis of belief rather than birth. The 
Christians, however, carried with them the concepts and forms of 
weekly congregational meetings held by structured societies with 
formal membership and sets of written rules. The British—Indian 
government also strengthened this type of organization through laws 
granting legal recognition to associations that registered with it, which, 
in turn, gave them legal rights to own property and to conduct business. 
Sabhas, anjumans, and samajes sprang up in all religious communities 
with officers, constitutions, bye-laws, and annual reports — in short the 
organizational structure adopted from the British. These societies pur- 
chased property, built places of worship, schools, orphanages, widows’ 
homes, reading rooms, homes for aged cows, dispensaries, hospitals, 
and their own mission stations. They bought printing presses and 
issued their own newspapers, journals, tracts, and books. These organ- 
izations also created impressive financial systems that enabled them to 
maintain and expand the variety of institutions they founded. They 
employed sophisticated forms of fundraising, such as triple receipting, 
publishing lists of donations and regular financial reports. Funds were 
collected on numerous occasions including gifts on long-established 
holy days, newly created holidays, at conferences, religious fairs, and 
festivals. Once money was obtained, organizations placed it in bank 
accounts and even invested it in government notes or through loans. 
Imported financial forms contributed to the vigour of these socio- 
religious movements and to their ability to engage in religious compe- 
tition as well as social service. 

Formal religious societies, patterned on Protestant associations and 
based on the technology of printing, became an established part of 
South Asian life and even during times of internal crises, they tended to 
struggle within the bounds of elections, parliamentary manoeuvres, 
and all the rituals of British organizational life. Even those movements 
that retained the authority of a spiritual master adopted many of the 
elements of imported, organizational and legal procedures. As a result, 
religion in South Asia began to flow into new forms of expression. The 
content, however, remained more South Asian than western. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 



The socio-religious movements of the British period added new dimen- 
sions to the existing religions of South Asia. All religions gained a 
greater degree of social service as movements undertook such tasks as 
forms of disaster relief, the construction of schools, orphanages, and 
hospitals. The Ramakrishna Math and Mission, with its system of 
hospitals and dispensaries, and its extensive relief projects, added to 
Hinduism a dogma of social service and a successful programme based 
on that dogma. The Arya Samaj brought to Hinduism not only a 
system of proselytism with professional missionaries, but a ritual of 
conversion by which anyone could become a Hindu. Thus their rede- 
fined Hinduism could compete openly with conversion religions. The 
Ahmadiyahs and Radhasoami Satsangis transformed the traditional 
religious centres into model religious cities at Beas, Agra, and Qadiyan 
with industrialization and commerce as well as religious teachings. 

Socio-religious movements among untouchables, whether tran- 
sitional or acculturative, followed a pattern that began with attempts to 
improve the status of a particular caste, went through a period of 
aggressive attacks on the overall structure of society, and then, having 
failed to change the world around them, sank back to the more limited 
goals of caste improvement. The Satnamis demonstrated this ending as 
a permanent, low-caste, sectarian division of Hinduism. The Sri Nar- 
ayana Guru movement went through a similar cycle, but then divided 
into three streams, one a political caste association, another a sectarian 
society largely among the Izhavas, and the third a religious society 
centred on one leader with branches in Kerala and abroad. The Nadars 
demonstrated a more radical pattern by breaking off from Hinduism in 
favour of conversion to Christianity. In the post-Independence period, 
the Mahars choose the same strategy when they converted to Buddh- 
ism. Untouchable movements by and large failed to change the social 
system or to alter dramatically the status of their supporters. At the 
opposite end of the spectrum stood orthodox attempts to defend the 
status quo. 

Orthodox movements attempted to maintain existing religion and 
drew their support mainly from pre-British elites. They might have 
called for limited change, and a few adjustments to British culture, but 
largely acted to protect contemporary religion. They tended to appear 
in reaction to challenges by religious leaders, who demanded radical 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


change and who directly attacked the content of existent religion, as 
well as those who were within the religious establishment. Orthodox 
societies often proved transitory and ineffective, as was demonstrated 
by the Hindu Dharma Sabha of Bengal or the Sanatana Dharma Sabhas 
of the Punjab. The Bharat Dharma Mahamandala, by contrast, con- 
structed an effective subcontinental organization that successfully 
functioned into the post-Independence period. The Barelwi ‘ulama 
among Muslims also had a lasting impact. On occasion, societies 
emerged through specific struggles, such as the Hindu defence Vibuthi 
Sangam Sabha and the Sadhu Siddhanta Sabha that attempted to meet 
the challenge of Christian conversion in Tamilnadu. Nevertheless, 
orthodox defence movements were rarely able to build sustained or- 
ganizational and institutional structures as effectively as many of the 
acculturative socio-religious movements with their more radical at- 
tempts to reshape religion and society. 

All socio-religious movements, transitional, acculturative or ortho- 
dox—defensive, were fundamentalist, i.e. they sought a return to what 
each considered the ‘fundamentals’ of their religion. This process can 
be envisioned as one with a series of concentric circles. The outermost 
circle contains various rituals and customs that, while practised, were 
not basic to religious belief. The greater degree of radical criticism 
plunged religious leaders from the outer circles towards the core of 
belief and practice. Often these were relatively technical issues of 
modes of prayer, rituals of cleansing, and various types of religious 
authority based on saints either living or dead. The Muslim movements 
of return demonstrated this process of searching for fundamentals. The 
Barelwi ‘ulama accepted a wide range of rituals and authority figures 
such as pirs and saints. Others rejected these as erroneous innovations. 
The Ta‘ayunis found them unacceptable, but did not condemn Shi‘iahs 
and their concept of an imam. The Tariqah-i-Muhammadiyah, and 
most of the groups that followed afterwards, rejected elements of 
popular Islam and debated just what was acceptable. The more radical 
moved steadily inwards turning away from a greater percent of con- 
temporary Islamic practice. The most extreme, the Ahl-i-Qur’an, 
maintained that only the sacred Qur’an was valid as a religious auth- 
ority and all else was to be rejected, thus reaching the core of Islam. 
Similarly, in Hinduism the Brahmos rejected much of Hinduism and 
saw the Upanishads as the legitimate source of religious authority. The 
Aryas went one step further to the Vedas as their ultimate container of 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


religious truth and, in the process, condemned almost the whole of 
popular Hinduism. Fundamentalism then referred to a process of 
winnowing down religious authority and practice as group after group 
defined what was true and used those authorities to justify their doc- 
trines of return to the ‘truth’. Within South Asia the function of 
religions changed, the forms of Jegitimization were altered, and during 
this process these religions moved overseas. 


From the late nineteenth century to the twentieth, there was an in- 
creased internationalization of South Asian socio-religious move- 
ments. Emigration and the conversion of individuals outside the 
subcontinent accounted for the extension of South Asian socio-re- 
ligious movements into the rest of the world. For Islamic groups, such 
as the Ahmadiyahs, success abroad did not add a new dimension to the 
parent religion since Islam was already present throughout much of the 
world. Hinduism, by contrast, was limited by its lack of proselytism 
and conversion to the subcontinent. The conversion of non-Hindus 
brought new opportunities and problems to Hinduism, especially 
when it came to integrating converts into the Hindu social structure. 
Emigration rather than conversion accounted for the majority of 
Hindus who resided outside the subcontinent. Theosophy with its 
blend of European dissent and Hindu orthodoxy added a transitory 
fusion of the two civilizations, but little in the way of a lasting change to 
either. The post-Independence period has seen a continuation of this 
internationalizing of religions as emigration has carried orthodox Hin- 
duism, Islam, and Sikhism abroad, as well as socio-religious move- 
ments from all three communities. 


The British-Indian government exacerbated religious conflict through 
various actions of its own, although in numerous instances it is doubt- 
ful that they had any idea what might result from those actions. The 
initiation of the decennial census in 1871 set about a process that 
redefined religion. It became in the minds of the census officials a 
formally defined group of people with quantified characteristics, the 
most important of which was their numerical size and rate of growth. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Each census defined, counted, and described the major religious com- 
munities, and the ‘recognized’ socio-religious movements, that is, 
those important enough to have been listed in the census. To be 
discussed in the census reports gave an official recognition of a move- 
ment’s existence and importance; but, above all else, the comparative 
rates of growth measures whether or not a religion was succeeding or 

Administrative and political acts by the government often height- 
ened religious competition and the identification of individuals with a 
particular set of religious beliefs. For instance, in 1882-3 the Hunter 
Commission travelled throughout India holding hearings on which 
language should be used in education. It is open to question whether 
the British officials cared deeply as to which of the languages were 
finally used in the schools. For them, this was primarily an adminis- 
trative problem, but the Commission, by its presence and the question 
that it was investigating, invited agitation by leaders of various religious 

The creation of municipal councils during this same period brought 
into existence a new arena of religious competition as individuals on 
these bodies acted as representatives of their respective religious com- 
munities, rather than of themselves or of secular interests. It was, 
however, the constitutional reforms of 1909 that fused, once and for all, 
religion, the census, and political patronage into a single system. The 
granting of separate electorates to Muslims necessitated the definition 
of that religious community and its enumeration, an act that could only 
be done by the Indian census. The extension of these separate elector- 
ates in 1919 and 1935 to religious, social, racial, and various interest 
groups further tied religion to the political system. 

The religious upheavals of the nineteenth century, with their debates, 
creeds, and various forms of competition, led to a growing sense of 
belonging to a particular sectarian movement and, beyond that, to 
membership in a broader religious community. This sense of commu- 
nal identity grew in intensity and came from a variety of sources as the 
century progressed. Most fundamentally the desire to find and resur- 
rect a past purity, when conducted in a multi-religious society, meant 
that, inevitably, the practices and beliefs of other religions were seen as 
intrusive influences responsible for contemporary decadence and error. 
Ideologies that gave psychological satisfaction to one movement had to 
be protected from others, both within and without the community. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Public debates and printed tracts, pamphlets, journals, and books all 
added fuel to controversies and provided a form of entertainment to 
those who attended these verbal and literary contests. Proselytism with 
missionaries, street preachers, and public meetings added further impe- 
tus as South Asia entered an era of religious competition greater than 
any in previous centuries. A form of group identity, communalism, 
that rested on a primary loyalty to the religiously defined community, 
became a force within South Asian society. Communalism, a base for 
religious nationalism, was the product of existing divisions within 
South Asia, exacerbated and given institutional form through the dy- 
namics of socio-religious movements and British colonial policy. 

The years of British domination in South Asia were particularly 
dynamic and entailed a multiplicity of changes as the existing cultures 
of the subcontinent interacted with the new, imported culture. This 
period can only be understood in terms of a continuum of action and 
change. South Asian civilizations were never static, never without 
motion in all spheres, and especially in the area of religion for it 
repeatedly acted as a motive and vehicle for change. The role played by 
religion can only be comprehended by viewing it in terms of time and 
place, and in terms of its function within an historical context. The 
socio-religious movements examined in this study acted as vehicles of 
protest and dissent that expressed tensions within the pre-British world 
and within the colonial milieu. Once founded, they evolved along lines 
of their own dynamics as each movement drew together human ener- 
gies and, through their ideology, focused them in particular directions. 
Although expressed in religious terms the motivation behind a move- 
ment often contained a variety of sources — social, economic, and 
cultural. Regardless of the non-religious origins that lay beneath the 
surface, it was forms of religions that gave concrete reality to these 
subsurface tensions. Religion then, like society and culture, was in a 
continual motion, only the speed changed, at times increasing and at 
times decreasing due to the variations in the situation of a particular 
time and place, that is, the historical context. 

With the fusion of religion and politics, each of the major communi- 
ties developed their own political organizations that spoke for the 
religious group and competed with other political bodies. Feeding into 
this process of the politicization of religion was the intensification of 
religious identity and loyalty to the religious group. This consciousness 
rested on a sense of belonging to one body of people and of being 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


different from all others. In it existed a potential for nationalism, that 1s 
a political expression of separate identity. Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh 
communities did generate such religious nationalism. With the coining 
of the word Pakistan, and the adoption of the Lahore Resolution of 
1940 that made a separate Muslim state the goal of the Muslim League, 
Islamic nationalism matured as did Hindu nationalism in the 1930s 
with the writing of Bhai Parmananda and Vinayak Dhananjay Sar- 
varkar. A few Sikhs spoke of a Sikhistan in the period just before 
Partition, and this has since resurfaced again during the third decade of 
India’s Independence. Politicized religion developed as one dimension 
of the greater world of religion and involved only a small part of that 
world, except for times of communal violence. 

Within the context of nation states, technological development, 
urbanization, and a vast variety of changes in many elements of daily 
life, the tradition of protest and dissent persists. Those who seek to 
restructure society now do so in terms of religious symbols and auth- 
ority, as they have done for centuries. Religious dissent has been 
modified and at times blended with various secular ideas to produce 
new ideologies of protest. Yet religion in itself remains a powerful 
vehicle for the mobilization of human resources. It is within this 
increasingly complex world that the many forms of religious protest, 
drawn from three different civilizations, will continue to make them- 
selves felt within the South Asian subcontinent. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


acharya: a Hindu religious preceptor. 

Adi Granth: see the Granth Sahib. 

Advaitavad: monism, the Hindu belief that all things are made of one thing, 
namely Brahma; the ultimate reality and cosmic deity. 

Advaitavedanta: end of the Vedas, the doctrine of philosophical monism 
expounded by the Hindu sage, Shankara (aD 788-820), that has become the 
basis of orthodox Hinduism in much of South Asia. 

anjuman: a society or assembly. 

ardas: a Sikh prayer. 

arsha: derived from divinely inspired sages, thus an authoritative Hindu text. 

arya: noble, of descent from the ancient Aryans, associated with the rishis and 
the Vedas. 

ashraf: respectable gentlemen of good birth in Islamic society. 

ashram: (1) a Hindu religious retreat; (2) the four stages of Hindu life. 

bai‘at: initiation as a disciple of a Muslim pir or shaikh. 

bhairagi: Hindu recluse, mendicant. 

bbakti: devotionalism, with a highly emotional and personal focus on a Hindu 

bid'ah: innovations to Islamic doctrine or practice, thus errors or sinful 

bira: a Sikh congregation. 

biredar: leader of a Sikh congregation. 

brahmachari: a student; a Hindu in the first, the brahmacharya stage, of four 
stages of the Hindu life cycle, a celibate. 

Brahman: priestly class, first in the varna system. 

caste: an endogamous social unit that is ranked hierarchically and associated 
with a particular occupation or occupations; membership is by birth, for life, 
and according to an individual’s karma; violations of caste customs are 
punished by a caste council, panchayat; the most severe punishment is 
outcasting, in which a person is totally expelled from his or her caste. 

dakshina: a financial gift given to a Brahman priest for his support, generally 
donated by Hindu kings. 

dar ul-harb: the house of war, that area of the world ruled by non-Muslims. 

dar ul-Islam: the House of Islam, that area of the world ruled by Muslims. 

dar ul-‘ulum: schools of advanced training for Islamic scholars and theologians. 

Dassam Granth: a collection of writings attributed to Guru Gobind Singh. 

dharma: duty in the broadest sense, includes a Hindu’s religious, social and 
occupational obligations as defined by his place in the social system. The term is 
also used to mean ‘religion’. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


dharmshala: free lodging for Hindu pilgrims located at temples and places of 

Divali: the ‘Festival of Lights’, marks the New Year according to the Hindu 
Vikrami era, also the return of Lord Rama to his capital of Ayodhiya and his 

dokmas: towers of silence, used by the Parsis for the exposure of the dead. 

durbar: royal audience, holding a court, occasionally used as an organizational 

fara‘iz: the obligatory duties of all Muslims. 

fatwa (sing.), fatwa (pl.): ruling of a mufti on Islamic doctrine and law. 

figh: jurisprudence, Islamic law as interpreted by generations of scholars. 

Ganga: the Ganges River, sacred to Hindus. 

Gathas: a collection of ancient poems attributed by Parsis to Zoroaster, the 
founder of Zoroastrianism. 

gayatri mantra: a sacred verse and short Hindu prayer addressed to the Sun 

giani: one possessing knowledge, wisdom, intelligence; a Sikh theologian. 

gopi: milkmaid, companion of Lord Krishna. 

goshala: cowshed, a home for cattle, often built by pious Hindus or Hindu 

Granth Sahib: the collected works of the first five Sikh gurus, also referred to as 
the Adi Granth. 

granthi: one who reads the Granth; a Sikh priest. 

grihastha: householder, one who has an occupation and family; the second 
stage of life in the Hindu ashram system. 

gurbani: hymns from the Granth Sahib. 

gurdwara: a Sikh centre of worship. 

guru: a spiritual preceptor, the title used primarily by Hindus and Sikhs. 

gurukula: residential teaching institution conducted by one or more religious 

hadith: the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad validated through chains of 

hajj: annual pilgrimage to Mecca, a duty of all Muslims. 

Holi: a spring festival of the Hindus. 

hukamnama: a Sikh ruling on religious doctrine or practice. 

ijma: practice or doctrine validated by a consensus of the Muslim community. 

ytihad: the concept of individual inquiry and reasoning within Islamic the- 
ology, to be conducted only by those who have a religious education and are 
thus qualified. 

imam: (1) religious leaders who possess authority as successors to the Prophet 
Muhammad, a Shi‘ite doctrine; (2) the leader of prayer or of a Muslim 

in‘am: gift of rent-free land. 

jthad: (1) a holy war against non-Muslims; (2) the internal struggle for religious 

kafir: a heathen, those who do not believe in Islam. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


kalam: Muslim theology. 

Kali: female deity, one of the wives of Shiva, a goddess of birth, destruction, 
death, and salvation; an embodiment of shakti. 

kalimah: the Islamic profession of the faith. 

karma: the totality of one’s past actions determines the place into which one is 
born in the Hindu social structure. 

karma yoga: the Hindu doctrine of selfless action for the fulfilment of dharma. 

keshadhari: a Sikh who has not had his hair cut or shaven, thus a follower of 
Guru Gobind Singh’s concept of Sikhism. 

khalifah: a successor to the Prophet Muhammad as head of the Islamic 

khalsa: the society of the pure, founded by Guru Gobind Singh. 

kirpan: a short sword or dagger worn by orthodox Sikhs who follow Guru 
Gobind Singh’s teachings. 

Krishna: a manifestation of Lord Vishnu on earth, one of the most popular 
deities of Hinduism. 

Kshatriya: a warrior class, second in the varna system. 

lathi: a wooden stave, the traditional weapon of the peasants. 

madbhi: the rightly guided one who descends to earth to destroy those who hold 
erroneous beliefs and to establish a period of religious perfection. 

madrassah: a school that prepares ‘ulama. 

mahant: a Sikh who administers the gurdwara. 

mahima: exaltations, greatness, dignity, majesty. 

majlis: an assembly. 

maktab: a primary school. 

manav: of men, humanity, mankind. 

mandala: a circle, zone, territory, subdivision. 

mandali: a circle, party, team, band. 

mandap: an assembly hall. 

mantra: a verbal formula that possesses sacred power. 

masih mau‘uad: Christ returned, messiah. 

masjid: a Muslim place of worship. 

math: a Hindu monastery. 

maulawi: a learned man, a scholar. 

mufti: a scholar of Islamic law, of the shariat. 

mujaddid: a renewer of Islamic law who turns Muslims back to the true 
revelations of God. 

mujahidin: Islamic warriors fighting for the faith. 

muridi: a disciple of either a pir or shaikh. 

murti puja: idol worship. 

namaz: five daily prayers, a duty of all Muslims. 

nechari: a version of the word ‘nature’ used as a negative name for the followers 
of Sayyid Ahmad Khan. 

nirguna: without form, attributes or qualities, an epithet of God used by some 
Hindus and Sikhs. 

niyog: an ancient Hindu custom that permitted a widow to bear children. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


pala: a Hindu ascetic, an order of the Swami Narayana Sampradaya. 

panchayat: a council of five, a village court used to judge crimes and disputes, 
and to give the appropriate punishment. 

pandit: a Hindu priest, a learned man. 

pandita: female pandit. 

panth: the religious path, term primarily used by Sikhs and Hindus, can refer to 
the Sikh community; a subdivision of the Parsi community. 

paramahansa: the most advanced stage of achievement by Hindu ascetics in 
search of perfection and liberation from the cycle of rebirth. 

pardah: seclusion of women, primarily Muslim, adopted by some 

patrika: newspaper, journal, magazine. 

pir: the religious preceptor who leads a Sufi order, same as shaikh. 

pir-muridi: a disciple-master system used in Islam, mainly by the Sufis. 

prabandhak: manager, director, executive. 

prachar: preaching. 

prarthana: prayer. 

pratinidhi: representative, delegate. 

pujari: a Brahman priest who conducts rituals. 

qaum: a tribe, community, people. 

qazi: a judge who administers Islamic law. 

qiyas: analogical reasoning and consensus in Islamic law. 

Qur’an: the sacred text of Muslims as revealed by God to the Prophet 

Ram Navami: the birthday of Lord Rama. 

Ras Dhari: a participant in a circle of dance of the gopis that honours Lord 
Krishna; a custom among many of Krishna’s Hindu devotees. 

rishi: a divinely inspired Hindu sage. 

sabbd: a society or association. 

sadhu: a Hindu religious mendicant. 

sahajdhari: name for those Sikhs who did not accept the teachings of Guru 
Gobind Singh. 

sahib, sahab: master, lord, a term of respect for males. 

samadhi: trance, meditation, a tomb. 

Samaj: society, association. 

sampradaya: community, sect, religious movement. 

sanatana dharma: the eternal religion, in the nineteenth century this term came 
to stand for orthodox Hindus. 

sandhya: morning and evening prayers using hymns from the Vedas. 

sank yayogini: a female Hindu ascetic. 

sant: a Hindu saint, one who controls all emotions. 

sanyas: (1) the formal stage of renunciation; (2) the last of the four stages of the 
Hindu life cycle. 

sanyasi: a Hindu who has entered the stage of renunciation, an ascetic. 

sanyasini: a female Hindu ascetic. 

sat: truth, essence, life. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


sati: the Hindu custom of burning a widow on the funeral pyre of her husband. 

satsang: group, community, fellowship of true believers. 

satya: truth, veracity. 

satyagraha: grasping or holding truth, term used by Mahatma Gandhi for his 
ideology of non-violence. 

satyagrahi: a follower of satyagraha. 

sayyid: a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. 

shabad: ‘word’ in Punjabi, can refer to divine revelation or divine 

shabd: ‘word’ in Hindi, can refer to divine revelation or divine communication. 

shaikh: (1) when used by Sufis this is a religious preceptor who leads a Sufi 
order; (2) used by individuals who claim descent from the Companions of 
the Prophet Muhammad. 

shakti: female power. 

shaktism: the worship of female deities. 

shari ‘at: the law based on Islamic scriptures and religious knowledge. 

shastra: a Hindu religious or secular treatise. 

shastri: Hindu scholar learned in the Shastras. 

Shi‘ah: Muslims who believe that religious authority was passed to Muham- 
mad’s son-in-law, ‘Ali, and then through his descendants; such authority is 
later held by imams, living religious leaders. 

shirk: polytheistic religious beliefs. 

shuddhi: a Hindu purification ritual used by the Arya Samaj as a ritual of 
conversion for Hindus who joined other religions, then as an uplift cer- 
emony for untouchables, and later as a conversion ritual for non-Hindus. 

Shudra: peasant class, fourth in the varna system. 

siddhi: an enlightened religious teacher, primarily Hindu. 

silsilah: a chain of authority descending from a Sufi pir or shaikh. 

Sufi: Islamic mystics who seek God directly. 

sunnah: customs and traditions associated with the Prophet Muhammad. 

Sunni: followers of sunnah, the majority of Muslims who do not accept the 
passage of authority through ‘Ali. 

sutra: manual on the teachings and practices in any one of a wide range of 

tafsir: commentaries on the Qur’an. 

taluqdar: holder of a landed estate. 

Tantras: texts of the Tantric cults that worship through magical, esoteric, and 
mystical rituals many of which use erotic and forbidden practices. They are 
thus often considered as heterodox Hindu sects. 

tariqah: path, way, a Sufi order headed by a pir or shaikh. 

tawhid: monotheism, expresses the unity of God in Islamic thought. 

Tulsi beads: a Hindu rosary made of seed from the holy tulsi (basil) plant. 

‘ulama: Islamic theologians, learned men. 

untouchable: member of a caste whose very presence pollutes, usually because 
of their occupation. 

updeshak: a Hindu preacher or missionary. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


‘urs: festivals commemorating the death of an Islamic saint. 

ustad: master, teacher, preceptor. 

Vaishnavism: a major division of Hinduism that centres on Lord Vishnu and 
deities associated with him, especially his ten manifestations on earth. Two 
of the most popular of these manifestations are Lord Rama and Lord 

Vaishnavite: a follower of Vaishnavism. 

Vaishya: the merchant class, third in the varna system. 

varna: an ancient Aryan class system, with four levels: Brahman, Kshatriya, 
Vaishya and Shudra. 

varnashramadhbarma: a combination of three words, varna, ashram, and 
dharma. The entire term expresses the ideal Hindu religious order; in the 
nineteenth century this word came to stand for orthodox Hinduism. 

Ved prachar: preaching the Vedas. 

Vedas: most ancient and sacred of the Hindu texts, four collections of hymns, 
prayers, and magic formulae: the Rig, Sama, Yajur, and Atharva Veda. 

vidyarthi: student, learner, scholar. 

yoga: religious disciplines for achieving unity of mind and body, for gaining 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


The sources used in this study were diverse and scattered through a variety of 
forms: monographs, articles in edited volumes, scholarly journals, unpub- 
lished manuscripts, dissertations, encyclopaedias, and government documents 
that included census reports, district gazetteers, and various reports. This 
diversity grew partly from the attempt to place socio-religious movements in 
their historic context, and partly from the fragmented nature of scholarly 
writing on religious subjects. Individuals who write about religion do so from 
various points of perspective, as scholars of diverse disciplines, as members of 
particular movements, 2s casual observers, and ardent missionaries. Conse- 
quently, the literature varies in its sophistication, biases, factual reliability, 
styles of writing, and in technical issues such as the transliterations of non- 
English words. 

Of all the literature utilized here, the one volume that proved the most 
comprehensive and that entailed the most similar aims to my own was J. N. 
Farquhar’s Modern Religious Movements in India (New York, 1919). This 
study viewed religious movements from a sympathetic Christian perspective 
that judged all groups in terms of whether or not they appeared to be moving 
towards English Protestant Christianity, or away from it. Nevertheless, Far- 
quhar’s book contains a vast amount of reliable data and has thus stood as the 
single authoritative source on socio-religious movements since its publication. 
Material from Farquhar’s study was cited in numerous places throughout this 
volume. Beyond Farquhar, however, exists a vast pool of data. Information on 
Christian dissent and its accompanying socio-religious movements came from 
two studies: Pursuit of the Millennium by Norman Cohn (Fairlawn, New 
Jersey, 1957), and Jeffrey B. Russell, Dissent and Reform in the Early Middle 
Ages (Berkeley, 1965). For the background on Islam and its development, two 
studies provided effective reference: Philip K. Hitti, The Near East in History: 
A 5000 Year Story (Princeton, New Jersey, 1961), and Fazlur Rahman, Islam, 
2nd edn (Chicago, 1979). 

To construct the framework for the two major religions of South Asia — 
Islam and Hinduism — a number of books furnished an overall view of histori- 
cal developments. Those dealing with Islam since its arrival in South Asia 
included Aziz Ahmad, Studies in Islamic Culture in the Indian Environment 
(Oxford, 1964), M. Mujeeb, The Indian Muslims (London, 1967), and Ishtiaq 
H. Qureshi, The Muslim Community of the Indo-Pakistani Subcontinent 
(New York, 1960). Among the studies that focused on the more recent past 
were Aziz Ahmad, Islamic Modernism in India and Pakistan, 1857-1964 
(London, 1967), M. A. Kharandikar, /slam in India’s Transition to Modernity 
(Bombay, 1968), and Tauriq Ahmad Nizami, Muslim Political Thought and 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Activity in India during the First Half of the 19th Century (Aligarh, 1969). 
General studies of Hinduism are many, but only two were used here: Thomas 
J. Hopkins, The Hindu Religious Tradition (North Scituate, Massachusetts, 
1971), and the collection of translated materials, William Theodore DeBary 
(ed.), Sources of Indian Tradition (New York, 1959). Also useful were three 
encyclopaedias: James Hastings (ed.), Encyclopedia of Religions (New York, 
1908-27) — twelve volumes that covered a large number of religions ~ Benjamin 
Walker, The Hindu World, an Encyclopedic Survey of Hinduism (New York, 
1968), and Margaret and James Stutley, Harper’s Dictionary of Hinduism, Its 
Mythology, Folklore, Philosophy, and History (San Francisco, 1977). Maureen 
Patterson aided this project by making available her card files that were later 
published in South Asia Civilization: A Bibliographic Synthesis (Chicago, 
1981). Finally, a valuable source was Barron Holland, Popular Hinduism and 
Hindu Mythology: An Annotated Bibliography (Westport, Connecticut, 

In constructing the historical context of the different regions, Anil Seal, The 
Emergence of Indian Nationalism: Competition and Collaboration in the Later 
Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, 1968) proved valuable. Charles H. Heim- 
sath, Indian Nationalism and Hindu Social Reform (Princeton, 1964), also 
supplied data for more than a single chapter. A variety of government docu- 
ments including decennial census reports, district gazetteers, and reports on 
the development of printing and publication, contributed significantly to each 
chapter. The census report volumes are one of the richest pools of data on 
socio-religious movements of the late nineteenth and twentiety centuries. They 
often provided a starting point of research as to a particular movement and also 
supplied data on the social and cultural environment from which movements 

Much of the material was found in edited collections on a variety of different 
topics, some religious and others not. The more general collections included: 
Robert I. Crane and Bradford Spagenberg (eds.), Language and Society in 
Modern India (Columbia, Missouri, 1981), Michael J. Mahar (ed.), The Un- 
touchables in Contemporary India (Tucson, 1978), C. H. Philips and Mary 
Doreen Wainwright (eds.), Indian Society and the Beginnings of Moderniz- 
ation, c. 1830-1850 (London, 1976), S. G. Malik (ed.), Dissent, Protest, and 
Reform in Indian Civilization (Simla, 1977). Volumes that focused on religion 
were: Robert D. Baird, Religion in Modern India (Delhi, 1981), G. A. Oddie 
(ed.), Religion in South Asia (New Delhi, 1977), S. P. Sen (ed.), Social and 
Religious Reform Movements (Calcutta, 1979), Bardwell Smith (ed.), Religion 
and Social Conflict in South Asia (Leiden, 1979), and his Hinduism, New Essays 
in the History of Religions (Leiden, 1982). Information for specific regions was 
drawn from studies that either examined the region or specific movements 
within it. 

The discussion of Bengal and the North-East rested on Sufia Ahmad, 
Muslim Community in Bengal, 1884-1912 (Dacca, 1974), Salahuddin A. F, 
Ahmed, Social Ideas and Social Change in Bengal, 1818-1835 (Leiden, 1965), 
David Kopf, British Orientalism and the Bengal Renaissance, The Dynamics of 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Indian Modernization, 1773-1835 (Berkeley, 1969), and Pradip Sinha, Nine- 
teenth-Century Bengal, Aspects of Social History (Calcutta, 1965). These stud- 
ies examined various aspects of Bengal society and the cultural impact of the 
British as seen from divergent perspectives. For the discussion of the Fara‘izi 
movement there was one main publication, Mu‘in-ud-din Ahmad Khan, 
History of the Fara‘idi Movement in Bengal, 1818-1906 (Karachi, 1965). Other 
sources helped to complete the picture of this group: Blair B. Kling, The Blue 
Mutiny, The Indigo Disturbance of 1859-1862 (Philadelphia, 1966), Kalyan 
Kumar Sengupta, ‘Agrarian disturbances in 19th century rural Bengal’ in the 
Indian Economic and Social History Review (June 1971), Rafiuddin Ahmed, 
‘Islamization in Nineteenth century Bengal’ in Gopal Krishna (ed.), Contri- 
butions to South Asian Studies, no. 1 (Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1979), 
and Abdus Subhan, ‘Social and religious reform movements in the nineteenth 
century among the Muslims — a Bengali reaction to the Wahhabi movement’ in 
Sen, Social and Religious Reform Movements. 

The amount of material on each socio-religious movement varied dra- 
matically depending on scholarly production and interest. For the Brahmo 
Samaj, the scholarly literature included two histories of the movement, Siva- 
natha Sastri, History of the Brahmo Samaj (Calcutta, 1911), vols. 1, 2, and 
David Kopf, The Brahmo Samaj and the Shaping of the Modern Indian Mind 
(Princeton, 1979). In addition the articles by John Morearty, “The two-edged 
word: the treacherousness of symbolic trnsformation: Rammohun Roy, 
Debendranath, Vivekananda and “‘the Indian golden age”’ in Warren Gun- 
derson (ed.), Studies on Bengal (East Lansing, Michigan, 1976), Warren M. 
Gunderson, ‘The fate of religion in Modern India: the cases of Rammohun Ray 
and Debendranath Tagore’ in the same volume, James N. Pankratz, ‘Rammo- 
hun Roy’ in Baird, Modern Religion, D. H. Killingley, ‘Vedanta and mod- 
ernity’ in Philips and Wainwright, Indian Society, and Alalendu Guha, ‘Impact 
of Bengal renaissance on Assam: 1825-1875’ in Indian Economic and Social 
History Review (Sept. 1972), supplied a number of interpretations and data. 

The section on the Vaishnava revival was constructed from two articles by 
Alexander Lipski, ‘Vijay Krsna Goswami: reformer and traditionalist’ in the 
Journal of Indian History (University of Kerala, 1974), and ‘Bipanchandra Pal 
and reform Hinduism’ in History and Politics (Nov. 1971). For the Rama- 
krishna Math and Mission a single organizational history by Swami Gambh- 
irananda, History of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission (Calcutta, 1957), 
covered events within this movement, particularly in the post-Vivekananda 
period. It was also the only extensive source on the organizational aspects of 
this movement in contrast to the numerous articles that examined Vivekananda 
as a religious leader. Excerpts of Vivekananda’s writings and speeches came 
from Eknath Ranade (compiler), Swami Vivekananda’s Rousing Call to the 
Hindu Nation (Calcutta, 1963). Articles on Vivekananda included Cyrus R. 
Pangborn, ‘The Ramakrishna Math and Mission: a case study of a revitalization 
movement’ in Smith, Hinduism, New Essays, Leo Schneiderman, ‘Rama- 
krishna: personality and social factors in the growth of a religious movement’ in 
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (Washington DC, Spring 1969), and 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


Prabha Dixit, ‘The political and social dimensions of Vivekananda’s ideology’ 
in Indian Economic and Social History Review (New Delhi, July—Sept. 1975). 
The literature on Bengali-Hindu movements was far more extensive than the 
existing sources on the Muslims of this region or on many other regions. 

A general background on the Gangetic core came from C. A. Bayly, The 
Local Roots of Indian Politics, Allahabad, 1880-1920 (Oxford, 1975), the in- 
troduction and first chapter of Paul R. Brass, Factional Politics in an Indian 
State, the Congress Party in Uttar Pradesh (Berkeley, 1965), Francis Robinson, 
‘Municipal government and Muslim separatism in the United Provinces, 1883 
to 1916’ in Modern Asian Studies pt. 3 (1973), A. A. Powell, ‘Muslim reactions 
to missionary activity in Agra’ in Philips and Wainwright, Indian Society, 
Jurgen Lutt, Hindu Nationalismus in Uttar Prades, 1867-1900 (Stuttgart, 1970), 
and G. R. Thursby, Hindu-Muslim Relations in British India, A Study of 
Controversy, Conflict, and Communal Movements in Northern India (Leiden, 
1975). The literature on Muslim movements in this region included Qeyamud- 
din Ahmad, The Wahabi Movement in India (Calcutta, 1966), Harlan Otto 
Pearson, ‘Islamic reform and revival in nineteenth century India: the Tariqah- 
i-Muhammadiyah’, a doctoral dissertation in History at Duke University 
(1979), Zia ul-Hasan Farugqi, The Deoband School and the Demand for Pakis- 
tan (Bombay, 1963), Barbara Daly Metcalf, Islamic Revival in British India 
(Princeton University Press, 1982), and David Lelyveld, Aligarh’s First Gener- 
ation, Muslim Solidarity in British India (Princeton, 1978). Metcalf’s work was 
particularly valuable for its extensive discussion of both the creation of the 
Deoband school and other Islamic socio-religious movements of the same 
period. Zia ul-Hasan Faruqi’s monograph was much more limited in its 

The sources for information on the Radhasoami Satsang varied significantly 
in their points of view. For instance, $. D. Maheshwari, Radhasoami Faith, 
History and Tenets (Agra, 1954) was an internal study that saw all events from 
the perspective of a single faction within the Satsang. More objective in their 
treatment were Philip A. Ashby, Modern Trends in Hinduism (New York, 
1974), the unpublished manuscript by Mark Juergensmeyer, ‘Radhasoami 
reality: the logic of a modern faith’, and the article by Om Parkash, ‘Origins 
and growth of the Radha Soami movement in the Punjab under Baba Jaimal 
Singh ji Maharaj, Beas (1884-1903)’ in the Punjab History Conference: 12th 
Proceedings (1978). The picture of the Bharat Dharma Mahamandala came 
primarily from a single source, the unpublished and unfinished Hindi bio- 
graphy of Pandit Din Dayalu Sharma, written by his eldest son, Pandit Hari 
Har Swarup Sharma, and an annual publication, the Sri Bharat Mahamandala 
Directory, 1930, published in Benares. 

The diversity of the sources for the Gangetic core, although extensive, was 
less than those for Punjab and the North-West, where socio-religious move- 
ments among Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims presented an even more complex 
picture of religious interaction. As with all regional chapters this one began 
with data drawn from the Census reports, and several overall studies of the 
region including G. S. Chhabra, Advanced History of the Punjab (Ludhiana, 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


1962), John C. B. Webster, The Christian Community and Change in 19th 
Century India (Delhi, 1976), and the two volumes of Khushwant Singh’s 
History of the Sikhs (Princeton, 1966). The prime source for the Nirankari 
movement was John C. B. Webster, The Nirankari Sikhs (Delhi, 1979), and the 
article by Man Singh Nirankari, ‘The Nirankaris’ in Punjab Past and Present 
(April 1973). Information on the Namdharis came primarily from Fauja Singh 
Bajwa, The Kuka Movement: An Important Phase in Punjab’s Role in India’s 
Struggle for Freedom (Delhi, 1965). Discussion of the Singh Sabhas rested on 
the introduction in N. Gerald Barrier, The Sikhs and Their Literature (A Guide 
to Tracts, Books, and Periodicals, 1849-1919) (Delhi, 1970), articles by Ganda 
Singh, Gurdarshan Singh, Harbans Singh, and Teja Singh in a special edition of 
Punjab Past and Present (April 1973), edited by Ganda Singh and titled, ‘The 
Singh Sabha and other socio-religious movements in the Punjab, 1850-1925’. 

Literature on the Arya Samaj is fairly extensive. Two books dealt with 
Swami Dayananda’s life: Har Bilas Sarda, Life of Dayananda Saraswati, World 
Teacher (Ajmer, 1946), and the excellent biography by J. T. F. Jordens, 
Dayananda Saraswati, His Life and Ideas (Delhi, 1978). Organizational activi- 
ties of the Samaj were drawn from Kenneth W. Jones, Arya Dharm, Hindu 
Consciousness in 19th Century Punjab (Berkeley, 1976), his articles, ‘The Arya 
Samaj in British India, 1875-1947’ in Baird, Religion in Modern India, ‘Ham 
Hindu Nahin: Arya-Sikh relations, 1877-1905’, Journal of Asian Studies (May 
1973), and ‘Religious identity and the Indian census’ in N. G. Barrier (ed.), The 
Census in British India: New Perspectives (Delhi, 1981). Movements related to 
or derived in part from the Arya Samaj were discussed in Mark Juergensmeyer, 
Religion as Social Vision: The Movement Against Untouchability in 20th- 
Century Punjab (Berkeley, 1982), in P. V. Kanal, Bhagwan Dev Atma 
(Lahore, 1942), a history of the Dev Samaj, and in Tulsi Deva, Shraddha 
Prakash, Pratham Bhag, Shri Pandit Shraddha Ram Ji Ka Jivan (Lahore, 
1896), the only available biography of the first Hindu orthodox leader in this 

Sources for the Ahmadiyahs of Punjab were two books, one by an American 
scholar, Spencer Lavan, The Abmadiyah Movement, a History and Perspective 
(Delhi, 1974), and a second by a prominent member of the movement, Muham- 
mad Zafarulla Khan, Abmadiyyat, The Renaissance of Islam (London, 1978). 
Three short tracts also contained valuable data: Barakat Ahmad Rajeke, Ah- 
madiyya Movement in India (Qadiyan, 1968), Muhammad Zafarulla Khan, 
The Message of Abmadiyyat (Qadiyan, 1970), and Mirza Mahmud Ahmad, 
What is Abmadiyyat? (Jullundur City, 1963). The literature related to de- 
velopments in Maharashtra and the Central Belt showed a similar diversity. 

A variety of studies aided in constructing the general picture of this region. 
The historic context was drawn from three books: Ravinder Kumar, Western 
India in the Nineteenth Century: A Study in Social History of Maharashtra 
(London, 1968), Christine Dobbin, Urban Leadership in Western India: Poli- 
tics and Communities in Bombay City, 1840-1885 (London, 1972), and Richard 
P. Tucker, Ranade and the Roots of Indian Nationalism (Bombay, 1977). 
Tucker’s articles, “Hindu traditionalism and nationalist ideologies in rgth 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


century Maharashtra’, Modern Asian Studies (July 1976), and ‘From Dharma- 
shatra to politics’, Indian Economic and Social History Review (New Delhi, 
Sept. 1970) along with Ellen McDonald, ‘City-hinterland relations and the 
development of a regional elite in nineteenth-century Bombay’, Journal of 
Asian Studies (Aug. 1974), and Eleanor Zelliot, ‘The Maharashtrian intellectual 
and social change: an historical view’ in Yogindra Malik, South Asian In- 
tellectuals and Social Change (New Delhi, Heritage Publishers, 1982), as well 
as an unpublished manuscript by Zelliot, also contributed to the general 
picture of this region. For data on the early years of the Swami Narayana Sect 
two articles were particularly relevant: M. J. Mehta, “The Swami Narayana sect 
(a case study of Hindu religious sects in modern times)’, Quarterly Review of 
Historical Studies (Calcutta, April 1978), and Vijay Singh Chavda, ‘Social and 
religious reform movements in Gujarat in the nineteenth and twentieth cen- 
turies’ in Sen, Social and Religious Reform Movements. This latter article also 
has information on other groups in Gujarat. A valuable scholarly study on the 
Swami Narayana sect is Raymond B. Williams, A New Face of Hinduism: The 
Swaminarayanan Religion (Cambridge, 1984). This is particularly useful for 
individuals interested in the post-Independence expansion of the Swami Na- 
rayana movement. 

Data on the early years of the Satnamis of Chhattisgarh was derived almost 
totally from one government publication: A. E. Nelson (ed.), Central Prov- 
inces District Gazetteers, Raipur, 1909, Vol. A., Descriptive. Information on 
later developments is available in Lawrence A. Babb, ‘The Satnamis — political 
involvement of a religious movement’ in Michael Mahar (ed.), The Untouch- 
ables of Contemporary India (Tucson, 1972), and his recent volume, The 
Divine Hierarchy, Popular Hinduism in Central India (New York, 1975). The 
account of the Satya Mahima Dharma was drawn from three sources: K. M. 
Patra, ‘Religious movement in modern Orissa “Satya Mahima Dharma”’, 
Journal of Indian History (University of Kerala, April-Aug. 1977), Binayak 
Misra, ‘Alekh religion in Orissa’, Modern Review (Calcutta, 1931), and a series 
of articles in Daiyatri Panda (ed.), Mahima Dharma O Darshana (Koraput, 
Orissa, 1972). Data on the little-known Manav Dharma Sabha and the Parama- 
hansa Sabha came almost solely from Vijay Singh Chavda, ‘Social and religious 
reform movements in Gujarat in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries’, and 
J. V. Naik, ‘Early anti-caste movement in Western India: the Paramahansa 
Sabha’, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bombay (1974-6). For background 
information on the Parsis of India as well as on Parsi reform societies two 
books, Ervad Sheriarji Dadabhai Bharucha, Zoroastrian Religion and Custom 
(Bombay, 1893), and Mary Boyce, Zoroastrians, Their Religious Beliefs and 
Practices (London, 1979), and one MA thesis in Anthropology, Joan L. Erd- 
man, ‘Parsi progress and Zoroastrian preservation’ (Chicago, 1975), supplied 
the necessary information. The discussion of the last region, the Dravidian 
South, was also crafted from diverse sources. 

A general historical context was derived from K. A. Nilakanta Shastri, 
Development of Religion in South India (Bombay, 1963), Burton Stein, ‘Circu- 
lation and the historical geography of Tamil country’, Journal of Asian Studies 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008 


(Nov. 1977), and Susan Bayly, ‘Hindu kingship and the origin of community: 
religion, state, and society in Kerala, 1750-1850’, Modern Asian Studies (April 
1984). For events of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, three books 
proved beneficial: R. Suntharalingam, Politics and Nationalist Awakening in 
South India (Tucson, 1974), History of Higher Education in South India: 
University of Madras, 1857-1957 (Associated Printers, Madras, 1957), and Eu- 
gene F. Irschick, Politics and Social Conflict in South India: The Non-Brahman 
Movement and Tamil Separatism, 1916-1929 (Berkeley, 1969). The examination 
of the Christian Nadars and the question of Christian conversions rested on 
Robert L. Hargrave, The Nadars of Tamilnad: The Political Culture of a 
Community in Change (Berkeley, 1969), Sundaraj Manickam, The Social 
Setting of Christian Conversion in South India, 1820-1947 (Wiesbaden, 1977), 
and Robert E. Frykenberg, ‘The impact of conversion and social reform upon 
society in south India’ in Philips and Wainwright, Indian Society. 

Information on the Hindu reform movements in the South, that is on the 
Brahmo Samaj, Veda Samaj and Prarthana Samajes, came from one important 
article, R. Srinivasan, ‘The Brahmo Samaj in Tamilnadu’, Journal of the Uni- 
versity of Bombay (1975-6), plus items from Frank F. Conlon, A Caste in a 
Changing World, The Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmans, 1700-1935 (Berkeley, 
1977), and Carolyn M. Elliot, ‘Decline of a patrimonial regime: the Telengana 
rebellion in India, 1946-1951’, Journal of Asian Studies (Nov. 1975). Even 
more diverse were the works that helped to construct a picture of the de- 
velopment of the Theosophical movement. Two volumes supplied the ma- 
jority of data, Bruce F. Campbell, Ancient Wisdom Revived, A History of the 
Theosophical Movement (Berkeley, 1980), and Anonymous, The Theosophical 
Movement, 1875-1925, A History and Survey (New York, 1925). Other bits and 
pieces on the Theosophists came from many of the sources already mentioned 
in this essay. Finally, the Guru Narayana movement of Kerala was described in 
Valiyaveetil Thomas Samuel, ‘One caste, one religion and one God for man: a 
study of Sree Narayana Guru (1854-1928) of Kerala, India’, a doctoral dis- 
sertation submitted to Hartford Seminary Foundation, 1973, M. S. A. Rao, 
Social Movements and Social Transformation: A Study of Two Backward Caste 
Movements in India (Delhi, 1979), and P. M. Mammen, Communalism Versus 
Communism: A Study of the Socio-Religions Communities and Political Parties 
in Kerala, 1892-1970 (Columbia, Missouri, 1981). 

The literature utilized in preparing this study demonstrates the diverse 
nature of scholarship on the religions of South Asia. No single discipline 
dominates as the various manifestations of religion and the religious experience 
have been examined by scholars in history, political science, anthropology, 
sociology, comparative religion, and the history of religion. Yet many of the 
sources used here were also drawn from the writings of government officials, 
adherents to various movements and missionaries of different religions. More 
often than not individuals wrote within the limits of a particular religion in 
spite of the fact that each religious movement existed within the context of 
different and competing religions. The material, therefore, is vast and invites 
extended scholarly endeavour to create a coherent vision of the past. This 
volume is only a step in that direction. 


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008