Brahmo Samaj (Bengali: ব্রাহ্ম সমাজ, romanized: Brahmô Sômaj, Bengali pronunciation: [bram.ho ʃɔ.b̤a]) is the societal component of Brahmoism, which began as a monotheistic reformist movement of the Hindu religion that appeared during the Bengal Renaissance. It is practised today mainly as the Adi Dharm after its eclipse in Bengal consequent to the exit of the Tattwabodini Sabha from its ranks in 1839. The first Brahmo Samaj was founded in 1861 at Lahore by Pandit Nobin Chandra Roy.
It was one of the most influential religious movements in India and made a significant contribution to the making of modern India. It was started at Calcutta on 20 August 1828 by Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Dwarkanath Tagore as reformation of the prevailing Brahmanism of the time (specifically Kulin practices) and began the Bengal Renaissance of the 19th century pioneering all religious, social and educational advance of the Hindu community in the 19th century. Its Trust Deed was made in 1830 formalising its inception and it was duly and publicly inaugurated in January 1830 by the consecration of the first house of prayer, now known as the Adi Brahmo Samaj. From the Brahmo Samaj springs Brahmoism, the most recent of legally recognised religions in India and Bangladesh, reflecting its foundation on reformed spiritual Hinduism with vital elements of Judeo-Islamic faith and practice.
The Brahmo Samaj literally denotes community (Sanskrit: ‘samaj’) of men who worship Brahman the highest reality. In reality Brahmo Samaj does not discriminate between caste, creed or religion and is an assembly of all sorts and descriptions of people without distinction, meeting publicly for the sober, orderly, religious and devout adoration of “the (nameless) unsearchable Eternal, Immutable Being who is the Author and Preserver of the Universe.”
The following doctrines, as noted in Renaissance of Hinduism, are common to all varieties and offshoots of the Brahmo Samaj:
- Brahmo Samajists have no faith in any scripture as an authority.
- Brahmo Samajists have no faith in Avatars
- Brahmo Samajists denounce polytheism and idol-worship.
- Brahmo Samajists are against caste restrictions.
- Brahmo Samajists make faith in the doctrines of Karma and Rebirth optional.
To understand the differences between the two streams of Brahmo Samaj it is essential to understand that these implicit distinctions are based on caste. The Anusthanic Brahmos are exclusively either Brahmins or casteless, and exclusively adhere to Brahmoism and have no other faith. The Ananusthanic Brahmo Samajists, however, are from the remaining main caste divisions of Hinduism like Kayastha, Baidya etc. and hence within the Karmic / Rebirth wheel to eternally progress (i.e. Sanatana Dharm) to God by moving up caste hierarchies, unlike anusthanic Brahmos for whom the next step after death is reintegration and renewal with ‘God’.
On 20 August 1828 the first assembly of the Brahmo Sabha (progenitor of the Brahmo Samaj) was held at the North Calcutta house of Feringhee Kamal Bose. This day was celebrated by Brahmos as Bhadrotsab (ভাদ্রোৎসব Bhadrotshôb “Bhadro celebration”). These meetings were open to all Brahmins and there was no formal organisation or theology as such.
On 8 January 1830 influential progressive members of the closely related Kulin Brahmin clan scurrilously described as Pirali Brahminie. ostracised for service in the Mughal Nizaamat of Bengal) of Tagore (Thakur) and Roy (Vandopādhyāya) zumeendar family mutually executed the Trust deed of Brahmo Sabha for the first Adi Brahmo Samaj (place of worship) on Chitpore Road (now Rabindra Sarani), Kolkata, India with Ram Chandra Vidyabagish as first resident superintendent.
On 23 January 1830 or 11th Magh, the Adi Brahmo premises were publicly inaugurated (with about 500 Brahmins and 1 Englishman present). This day is celebrated by Brahmos as Maghotsab (মাঘোৎসব Maghotshôb “Magh celebration”).
In November 1830 Rammohun Roy left for England. Akbar II had conferred the title of ‘Raja’ to Rammohun Roy.