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once animated the village communities, ancient institutions which have existed from time immemorial, and which centuries of alternating tyranny and anarchy have never been able entirely to extinguish. He preserved the influence of the village officers, for he knew that the task of really governing India down to the villages and the people is too great for a foreign Government, and can only be done through native agency and communal self-government. In this important matter of the administration of justice, Mr. Elphinstone refrained from any hasty introduction of English machinery and agency, for his knowledge of the people taught him that the state of society and civilisation which pervades the many millions of India calls for a simple, cheap, and expeditious administration of justice. Under native rule the main instrument of dispensing justice was the Panchayat or assembly of village elders. This ancient institution had its defects, but it also possessed many advantages. “The intimate acquaintance," wrote Elphinstone, “ of the members with the subject in dispute, and in many cases with the character of the parties, must have made their decisions frequently correct, and it was an advantage of incalculable value in that mode of trial that the judges being drawn from the body of the people could act on no principles that were not generally understood, a circumstance which by preventing uncertainty and obscurity in law struck at the very root of litigation." Mr. Elphinstone felt that the object of the conquerors ought not to be to destroy the native system, but to take means to remove its abuses and revive its energy. Source.-(iii) An Address presented by the Native inhabitants of the
Bombay Presidency on the departure of Mr. Elphinstone in 1829. “Official Writings of Mountstuart Elphinstone.” Edited by G. W. Forrest, pp. 69–70. (Bentley & Son.)
We, the native princes, chiefs, gentlemen and inhabitants of Bombay, its dependencies and allied territories, cannot contemplate your approaching departure from the country without endeavouring to express, however faintly, the most profound and lasting regret which has been occasioned in our minds by your resignation of the Government of this Presidency; for until you were Commissioner in the Deccan and Governor of Bombay never had we been able to appreciate correctly the invaluable benefit which the British dominion is calculated to diffuse throughout the whole of India. But having beheld with admiration for so long a period the affable and encouraging manners, the freedom from prejudice, the consideration at all times exercised for the interest and welfare of the people of this country, the regard shown to their ancient customs and laws, the constant endeavours to extend amongst them the inestimable advantages of intellectual and moral improvement, the commanding abilities applied to ensure permanent amelioration in the condition of all classes and to promote their prosperity on the soundest principles, by which your private and public conduct has been so pre-eminently distinguished, has led us to consider the influence of the British Government as the most important and desirable blessing which the Supreme Being could have bestowed on our native lands.
At a time when rulers such as Elphinstone were engaged in formulating a definite policy by which the traditions and customs of the past might be preserved and adapted gradually to new ways of life, it was of vital importance that Indians themselves should be willing to cooperate with their rulers in the development of that policy. Without their assistance such a policy, however nobly conceived, was doomed to failure. It so happened that there was then a group of noble-minded Indians, highly educated and conscious of the benefits that should accrue from contact with the West, but at the same time tenacious of the ancient traditions of their country. The leader was Raja Ram Mohan Roy, perhaps the greatest personality that has lived in India during the period of British rule.
Raja Ram Mohan Roy was born of an ancient and honourable Brahman family at Radhanagar in Bengal in 1774. He received a good education in the Persian and Arabic languages. At a very early age he showed himself possessed of an independent mind by publishing a pamphlet which called in question the idolatrous system of the Hindus. This, together with his known sentiments on the subject, caused a coolness between him and his father. He held a post under the Government of Bengal for a short time, where “his great proficiency in zamindari accounts and land surveying was of great value, but the improvement of the mental and moral condition of his countrymen appealed to the young reformer more than the dull routine of a Government office. He therefore decided to devote his whole energy to the service of his country.
Raja Ram Mohan Roy was primarily a great religious reformer. He had long noticed that there were many defects
in Hindu society as he found it. The overgrowth of formalism in religion, the mischievous effect of this on socia customs, the decay of learning, the poverty of the ryots, all arrested his attention. His great aim was to purify and elevate the faith of his countrymen.. He was opposed not so much to Brahmanism in itself as to its perversion, which was opposed to the principles laid down in the sacred books which all professed to revere and obey. He therefore encouraged Hindus to drink at the pure fount of the Upanishads and to adopt the monotheism of the Vedas. He also tried to save the youth of his day from the evils of atheism and from a complete denial of all moral tenets. “He deplored," writes Sanford Arnot, “the existence of a party which had sprung up in Calcutta composed of imprudent young men, some of them possessing talent, who had avowed themselves sceptics in the widest sense of the term. He described it as composed partly of East Indians and partly of Hindu youths who through their education had learnt to reject their own faith without substituting any other. These he thought more debased than the most bigoted Hindus, and their principles the bane of all morality.” In order to impress his views on the people more strongly, he translated into Bengali the principal chapters of the Vedas, an introduction to one of which is given below as the best means of expounding the views of this great reformer.
The Reform of Hinduism
Source.—“Introduction to a Translation of the Ishopanishad.” Raja
Ram Mohan Roy. (Panini Press.) The physical powers of man are limited, and when viewed comparatively, sink into insignificance; while in the same ratio his moral faculties rise in our estimation, as embracing a wide sphere of action, and possessing a capability of almost boundless improvement. If the short duration of human life be contrasted with the great age of the universe, and the limited extent of bodily strength with the many objects to which there is a necessity of applying it, we must necessarily be disposed to entertain but a very humble opinion of our own nature; and nothing perhaps is so well calculated to restore our self-complacency as the contemplation of our more extensive moral powers, together with the highly beneficial objects which the appropriate exercise of them may produce.
On the other hand, sorrow and remorse can scarcely fail, sooner or later, to be the portion of him who is conscious of having neglected opportunities of rendering benefit to his fellow-creatures. From considerations like these it has been that I (although born a Brahman, and instructed in my youth in all the principles of that sect), being thoroughly convinced of the lamentable errors of my countrymen, have been stimulated to employ every means in my power to improve their minds, and lead them to the knowledge of a purer system of morality. Living constantly among Hindus of different sects and professions, I have had ample opportunity of observing the superstitious puerilities into which they have been thrown by their self-interested guides, who, in defiance of the law as well as of common sense, have succeeded but too well in conducting them to the temple of idolatry; and while they hid from their view the true substance of morality, have infused into their simpler hearts a weak attachment to its mere shadow.
For the chief part of the theory and practice of Hinduism, I am sorry to say, is made to consist in the adoption of a peculiar mode of diet, the least aberration from which (even though the conduct of the offender may in other respects be pure and blameless) is not only visited with the severest censure, but actually punished by exclusion from the society of his family and friends. In a word, he is doomed to undergo what is commonly called loss of caste.
On the contrary, the rigid observance of this grand article of Hindu faith is considered in so high a light as to compensate for every moral defect. Even the most atrocious crimes weigh little or nothing in the balance against the supposed guilt of its violation.
Murder, theft, or perjury, though brought home to the party by judicial sentence, so far from inducing loss of caste, is visited in their society with no peculiar mark of infamy or disgrace.
A trifling present to a Brahman, commonly called Prayaschit, with the performance of a few idle ceremonies, are held as a sufficient atonement for all these crimes, and the delinquent is at once freed from all temporal inconvenience as well as all dread of future retribution.
My reflections upon these solemn truths have been most painful for many years. I have never ceased to contemplate with the strongest feelings of regret the obstinate adherence of my countrymen to their fatal system of idolatry, inducing for the sake of propitiating their supposed Deities the violation of every humane and social feeling. And this in various instances,
but more especially in the dreadful acts of self-destruction and the immolation of the nearest relations, under the delusion of conforming to sacred religious rites. I have never ceased, I repeat, to contemplate these practices with the strongest feelings of regret and to view in them the moral debasement of a race who, I cannot help thinking, are capable of better things, whose susceptibility, patience, and mildness of character render them worthy of a better destiny. Under these impressions, therefore, I have been impelled to lay before them genuine translations of parts of their scripture, which inculcates not only the enlightened worship of one God, but the purest principles of morality accompanied with such notices as I deemed requisite to oppose the arguments employed by the Brahmans in defence of their beloved system. Most earnestly do I pray that the whole may, sooner or later, prove efficient in producing on the minds of Hindus in general a conviction of the rationality of believing in and adoring the Supreme Being only; together with a complete perception and practice of that grand and comprehensive moral principle-Do unto others as ye would be done by.
It was natural that Ram Mohan Roy should have gathered round him a band of advanced young men who were groping for light out of the confusion and darkness into which their lives had fallen. On 28th August, 1828, he was able to start the Brahmo Sabha, which was soon transformed into the Brahmo Samaj. Two years later a building was set apart for the purposes of public worship. “This was the outward and visible sign,” writes Miss Collet, "that the
" movement of religious reform to which he had given his life had attained something like permanency. The Society he had founded was showing itself no evanescent group of atoms but a veritable Church. It had passed from the stage of dream and hope through a series of tentative and preliminary experiments into a solid materialised fact.”
Dwarkanath Tagore first assisted his old friend and master in the work of the new Church, which was continued after the death of the founder by Debendranath Tagore and by Keshab Chandra Sen. The Brahmo Samaj thus founded became one of the most potent influences for purity of faith and social reform in India. It staved off the danger of denationalisation resulting from allegiance to