Source: G. Paramaswaran Pillai, Representative Indians (London: George Routledge & Cons, 1897)

Keshub Chunder Sen

Keshub Chunder Sen was born in 1838. Though he was unable to complete his college education, he devoted himself to studying Philosophy. His studies aided him greatly as a lecturer and teacher of religion. Among his early activities, his establishment of the “Goodwill Fraternity” prepared him for the Brahmo Samaj ministry that he later entered.

He joined the Brahmo Samaj in 1857 as he had not been able to find another church that could answer his purposes. There, he founded the Sangat Sabha, a society for spiritual culture that aimed to reduce theistic theories into practice. He shared a close friendship with Maharshi Devendranath Tagore, who ordained him as Acharya (Minister) of the Brahmo Samaj.

Following his ordination, Sen engaged in a fresh wave of activities. With the help of the Maharshi, he established the Indian Mirror as a fortnightly journal, which later became a daily paper, the first one of its kind to be founded by Indians. He also founded a ‘Society of Theistic Friends’ which encouraged Hindu ladies in the zenana to take up studying on top of promoting religious discussions. He also embarked on a mission tour which led to the founding of theistic congregations in Bombay and Madras. This first mission tour also introduced the inklings of a Brahmo Samaj for all India into his mind. During this period, he also actively promoted intercaste marriages.

Yet, the friendship between Sen and Tagore came to a virtual end with the eruption of the thread controversy. The Sangat Sabha had published a booklet on the ideal of Brahma and among its practices, had called for an renouncement of all caste distinctions and an elimination of the usage of the sacrificial thread. The group further called for Brahmo Samaj members who continued to use the sacrificial thread to be dismissed. This enraged older members of the Brahmo Samaj, who convinced Tagore that the disruptive actions of the Sangat Sabha had to be stopped – and thus the clash between Sen and Tagore began. Sen and Tagore also differed in their views on personal religion and social reform. While the former felt that both were connected, the latter thought that social reform had no vital relation to religion, being a case of personal choice. This led to estrangement between both groups.

In the two years leading to the actual schism, Sen gave several lectures on Jesus Christ. This drew the ire of the older Brahmas, whose apprehensions he tried to allay in vain in a lecture titled “Jesus Christ, Europe and Asia.” He further elaborated on Christian principles during his lecture on his doctrine of Dispensations which expounded that his Brahmaism was the New Dispensation through which all erstwhile dispensations for the salvation of men would be reconciled.

By 1866, a compromise between the parent Brahmo Samaj party and Sen’s group failed to be reached – thus, Sen went on to establish a new church: the “Brahma Samaj of India”. This organisation drew controversy when its some of its devotees began to see Sen as a source of divinity.

After his return from England in 1870, he set about putting some of his new ideas of “reform and practical work” into practice. He established the Indian Reform Association, which was involved in various sections of work ranging from a school for women to a charity offering relief to the poor. His most notable act was the passing of the Marriage Act known as Act III in 1872.

In 1878, the Kuch Behar Marriage incident led to the secession of a large part of Sen’s congregation, which formed a new group named the “Sadharan Brahma Samaj.” The incident had an adverse effect on his health and his unflagging efforts to keep up his section of the Brahmo Samaj hampered his recovery. He died in 1884.

Source: Leaders of the Brahmo Samaj, 1st ed. (Madras: G.A Natesan & Co., 1926), 103-145 

Works

The Future Church being the Substance of a Lecture Delivered on the Occasion of the Thirty-ninth Anniversary of the Bráhma Samáj in the Town Hall, Calcutta, on Saturday, 23rd January 1869 (Calcutta: the “Indian Mirror” Press, 1869)

Lectures and Tracts: First and Second Series, ed. Sophia Dobson Collet (London: Strahan & Co., 1870)

The Brahmo Samaj: Four Lectures (London: William H. Allen & Co., 1870)

The Living God in England and India: a Sermon Preached by Baboo Keshub Chunder Sen, in Mill-Hill Chapel, Leeds, on Sunday August 28th, 1870 (Leeds: [Printed by] Samuel Moxon, Queen’s Court, Briggate, 1870)

Keshub Chunder Sen’s English Visit, ed. Sophia Dobson Collet (London: Strahan & Co., 1871)

Handbook of Theistic Devotion (Calcutta: the “Indian Mirror” Press, 1878)

Asia’s Message to Europe: A Lecture Delivered on the Occasion of the Fifty- third Anniversary of the Brahmo Samaj at the Town Hall, Calcutta (Calcutta: Bidhan Press, 1883)

Keshub Chunder Sen’s Essays: Theological and Ethical (Part I), 3rd ed (Calcutta: Brahmo Tract Society, 1889)

The New Samhita: Or Sacred Laws of the Aryans of the New Dispensation, 2nd ed (Calcutta: Brahmo Tract Society, 1889)

Keshub Chunder Sen’s Essays: Theological and Ethical (Part II), 2nd ed (Calcutta: Brahmo Tract Society, 1892)

Keshub Chunder Sen’s Lectures, 2nd ed (Calcutta: Brahmo Tract Society, 1893)

The Minister’s Words: A Selection of Passages from the Writings and Speeches of Keshub Chunder Sen (Part I) (Calcutta: Brahmo Tract Society, 1893)

Diary in England (Calcutta: Brahmo Tract Society, 1894)

Keshub Chunder Sen’s Lectures in India (London: New York: Cassell and Co., 1901)

The New Dispensation: or, The Religion of Harmony. Compiled from Keshub Chunder Sen’s Writings (Calcutta: R.S Bhattacharji, 1903)

The Brahmo Samaj: Discourses and Writings (Calcutta: Brahmo Tract Society, 1904)

 

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