Source: P.K. Sen, “Raja Rammohan Roy: Founder of a Universal Religion”, Great Men of India, ed. L.F. Rushbrook Williams (The Home Library Club, 1939), 492
Rammohan Roy was born in 1772 of a respectable Brahman family. His education in Benares made him sing fervent praises of the monotheistic religion imparted in the Upanishads and shook his faith in popular Hindu religion. Upon his return, he lambasted the empty ceremonialism and priest-centred idolatry that abounded in the name of Hinduism. His work as an iconoclast eventually led to a falling-out with his father.
The demise of his father in 1803 led to his move from Benares to Murshidabad, where he published his first work ‘Tuhfat-ul-Muwahuddin’ or ‘A Gift to Monotheists’ which sought to establish that the true foundation of all religions is faith in one Supreme Being. In 1811, he witnessed an event that provided a strong impetus for him to call for the abolishment of Suttee. His elder brother’s wife, who had initially insisted on carrying out Suttee, had later attempted to escape from the flames of the funeral pyre. However, she had been forced down by her relatives who viewed her actions to be heretical and sacrilegious. The incident filled Roy with remorse and he actively called for its abolishment, lending his support to Lord William Bentinck’s proposed abolishment of Suttee. His work saw fruition with the passing of the Suttee Act in 1829.
In 1814, he settled down at Calcutta and began a prolific writing career. His works were aimed at opposing the prevailing idolatry and superstition and resuscitating the erstwhile Hindu monotheism. He further published works on Christian scriptures, which resulted in a controversy with Christian missionaries.
His work for religious reform culminated in the opening of the first Temple of Universal Worship of The One in 1830. This laid the foundation for the Brahmo Samaj.
He was also an avid social reformer, championing various causes such as education, the rights of women and equal treatment for all. The spark igniting an enthusiasm for education in India can be traced to him. He wrote textbooks on a range of subjects and gave his support to all movements and organisations that worked for the cause of education. He also founded and maintained out of his own coffers an English school. In the debate on the curriculum to be taken up in India, he advocated for Western methods of education. Yet, he was also aware that the Vendanta would succour his countrymen in leaving superstition and idolatry behind if properly applied. To that end, he established the Vedanta College.
Roy travelled extensively to Europe to discuss matters pertaining to India and contributed actively to the various ongoing political movements of the time. His political vistas, motivated by a passion for freedom, were not merely limited to those of India’s but also encompassed issues from the rest of the world. Yet, his heavy workload took a strain on him and he passed away of a sudden illness in 1833 while on retreat.
Source: P.K Sen, “Raja Rammohan Roy: Founder of a Universal Religion”, Great Men of India, ed. L.F. Rushbrook Williams (The Home Library Club, 1939), 492-501
The Precepts of Jesus: The Guide to Peace and Happiness, Extracted from the Books of the New Testament Ascribed to the Four Evangelists. To Which are Added, The First and Second Appeal to the Christian Public in Reply to the Observations of Dr. Marshman, of Serampore (Calcutta: London: Unitarian Society, 1823)
Exposition of the Practical Operation of the Judicial and Revenue Systems of India : and of the General Character and Condition of its Native Inhabitants, as Submitted in Evidence to the Authorities in England : with Notes and Illustrations : also a Brief Preliminary Sketch of the Ancient and Modern Boundaries, and of the History of that Country : Elucidated by a Map (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1832)
A Treatise on Christian Doctrine, Being the Second Appeal to the Christian Public, in Defence of the “Precepts of Jesus”, 2nd London edition (London: British and Foreign Unitarian Association, 1834)
The English Works of Raja Rammohun Roy: Vol I, ed. Jogendra Chunder Ghose (Calcutta: Srikanta Roy, 1901)
The English Works of Raja Rammohun Roy: Vol II, ed. Jogendra Chunder Ghose (Calcutta: Srikanta Roy, 1901)
The English Works of Raja Rammohun Roy: With an English Translation of “Tuhfatul Muwahhiddin” (Allahabad: The Panini Office, 1906)