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Religion Library: Hinduism

Modern Age

Written by: Jacob N. Kinnard

One way to understand modern Hinduism is to begin with what is typically called the "Hindu Renaissance," or "Reformation," which formally begins with the founding of the Brahmo Samaj in Calcutta in 1828. Tensions had been brewing for many decades among Calcutta's highly educated Hindus; they felt that their religious beliefs and practices were disrespected and in some cases prohibited by the British. But these Hindus also felt that many Hindus in India had moved far away from what they regarded as the core of Hinduism. So, as much as the Brahmo Samaj and the larger "Hindu Renaissance" that it started is, first of all, a reaction to colonialism and Christian missionary efforts, it was also very much an internal reform.

Title: Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833)The Brahmo Samaj was founded by Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833). Roy's basic principles have come to be an extremely important element in modern Hinduism. Among the important positions adopted by the organization was that Hinduism should not be based on superstitious belief in gods and goddesses, but instead on the rationality of the Upanishads. They held that much of what Hindus do as Hindus—venerate the gods, perform rituals, observe caste distinctions—was simply not Hinduism. They argued that the Upanishads contained the true essence of Hindusim.

Other important figures in the Title: Rabindranath Tagore with Einstein, 1930Hindu Renaissance include Debendranath Tagore, who furthered Ram Mohan Roy's cause, putting special emphasis on the Upanishads and the importance of Hindu education. Tagore's eldest son, Dwijendranath, set up an important Hindu school at the family estate, Santineketan; his youngest son, Rabindranath, became India's (and Asia's) first Nobel Laureate in 1913 when he was awarded the Title: Keshab Chandra SenNobel Prize in Literature. Keshub Candra Sen (1838-84) was particularly important in this movement, criticizing the ways Brahmins denigrated other Hindus and, at the same time, attacking Christian missionary activities in India.

The movement splintered somewhat with Swami Dayandra Sarasvati (1824-83) who, in contrast to the Brahmo Samaj's emphasis on the Upanishads, argued the Vedas are the essence of Hinduism.

Title: Swami Vivekananda, 1893Swami Vivekenanda (1863-1902) is also very important here. Unlike the other Hindu reformers, Vivekenanda did not dedicate most of his efforts to combating the British and Christian presence in India; rather, he became a kind of Hindu missionary to the West. He went to the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893 and impressed many with his eloquent presentation of Hinduism. His presence in the West led to the founding of Vedanta Societies throughout America and Europe. He also founded the influential Ramakrishna Mission in Calcutta.


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