Social And Cultural Awakening
Impact of modern Western culture soon gave birth to a new awakening in India. Western conquest exposed the weaknesses and decay of Indian society. Thoughtful Indians began to understand the defects in their society and for ways and means of removing them. They were impressed in particular by modern science and the doctrines of reason and humanism.
The main factors responsible for the rise of these socio-religious reform movements were the influences of western education, which exposed the weaknesses in Indian social institutions which led to a critical analysis of Indian society and religion by several enlightened individuals. The social groups who took to western education were the newly emerging middle class who demanded modernization of Indian society. The movements were also taken up in response to a challenge posed by colonial culture and ideology and the reformers wanted to defend Indian culture. The · movements could also be thought of as an emerging anti-colonial consciousness which was just rising after the revolt of 1857.
The objectives of the reformers could be divided into two groups-social objectives and religious objectives. The social objectives were emancipation of women, elimination of casteism and untouchability and to spread education to dispel ignorance. The religious objectives were removal of idolatry, superstitions, polytheism and exploitation by priests.
The underlying themes of the social religious reform movements were universalism and humanism in the social field and rationalism in the religious field. The socio religious reform movements could be divided into two categories – reformist movements like Brahmo Samaj, Prarthana Samaj, Aligarh School etc. and revivalist movements like Arya Samaj, Ramakrishna Mission, Deoband School etc. It is to be noted that both these types of movements depended on a varying degree on an appeal to the lost purity of the religion they sought to reform. The only difference between the two lay in the degree to which they relied on this appeal.
The socio religious reformers used various methods to reform Indian religion and society. Firstly, they made use of the religious idiom to effect changes in social institutions and practices eg. Monotheism from Upanishads. Secondly, they tried to create awareness among people by forming reform organisations and also through the press eg. Brahmo Samaj. Thirdly, they sought to reform the society with the support of state legislation eg. Abolition of Sati. Fourthly, they also set personal examples through non-conformist individual activity eg. Prof. D.K. Karve married a widow. Fifthly, the reformers used social work as a method of reform eg. Ramakrishna Mission. Lastly, they also set up educational institutions to spread their ideas eg. The Dayanand Anglo Vedic Schools (DAV) of Arya Samaj.”
The reform movements had certain common features. They were based on the twin principles of universalism and rationalism. They were mostly regional in character and each movement was predominantly confined to one region eg. Prarthana Samaj to Maharashtra and Arya Samaj to Punjab. They were confined to particular religions but never cut across them. They were multireligious in character eg. Brahmo. Samaj for Hindus, Aligarh School for Muslims and Rehnumai Mazdayasan Sabha for Parsis.