Most modern Hindu reform movements advocate a return to the ancient, egalitarian forms of Hinduism, and view the aspects of modern Hinduism, such as social discrimination and the caste system, as being corrupt results from colonialism and foreign influence. Modern Hindu reform movements emerged in the 19th century India with the impact of the West on the East and the interaction between Christianity and Hinduism, and as a challenge and response to this impact and the inter-religious encounter.
India and the West: Cultural Interaction
Nordic Aryans were the first who came in India in about 1500 BC. If we see Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, we can say that even in that time India had developed a high standard of living with urban style of life and amenities. Already in 326 B.C., Alexander the Great entered India and subjugated Punjab and the kingdoms of Indus valley. From 622 A.D. the Arabs controlled the trade.
Today modern India represents all the major races of the world – Negrito, Austroloid, Mongoloid, Caucasoid, the dominant ones being Dravidian and Aryan. All these people and races who entered India never conquered it wholly. They either merged with the dominant culture or disappeared, thereby making India a mixture of races and cultures.
Impact of the West
In 1948, Vasco da Gama came to India at Calicut in South India. Many other travelers and Christian missionaries followed him and came to India. In 1602 the Dutch founded the Dutch East Indian Company and established bases on the East coast of India.
The British came primarily to trade with India and make it a colonial empire, their involvement contributed to improve the moral and intellectual condition of Indians. Above all their system of education in India paved the way for an intensive encounter of India with the West. William Bentick, the Governor General of India (1828- 1835) introduced into schools and colleges the western model of education and offered scope for the intellectual and social uplift of India. The renaissance in the 19th century India sprang from two sources. Firstly, western education and philosophy which were now introduced in the Indian colleges with its rationalistic and democratic ideals gave the Indians a broader and more liberal outlook. Secondly the discovery of the indigenous treasure of wisdom and Indian spirituality gave the Indian youth an impetus to make serious studies of their own scriptures.
The works of the Orientalists contributed to the renaissance of Hinduism in the 19th century. The most notable among them were Anquetil du Peron, Jones William, Charles Wilkins and Henry Colebrooke. They studied Sanskrit scriptures and began to translate them into English. Here lies the beginning of the so-called ‘Oriental Renaissance’. Sir William Jones, renowned for his linguistic talents (he knew about 28 languages) attempted a serious exploration of Indian scriptures and translated Hitopadesha, a collection of fables and stories of an ideal society. He translated Kalidas’s drama “Sakuntala” which became so popular in England that many compared it with Shakespeare’s works.
Another remarkable achievement of Jones was laying the foundation of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1784. It fostered studies on Indian culture and religion. Jones was followed by Colebrooke who later became known as the “greatest of the Orientalists”. He discovered the wealth of the Asiatic civilization and promoted the study of its culture. He discovered the wide gap between the caste system in practice and its theories found in the scriptures. He was the first to analyze the contents of the Vedas and to present them systematically. Above all he discovered the fact that the Vedas teach the unity of God. In 1840, he edited the “Essays”. H.H. Wilson wrote his “Religious Sects” in 1828 and on Vishnu Purana in 1840. Max Müller spent as long as thirty years on translating the Vedic hymns, especially the Rigveda. “The History of Sanskrit literature” and “The Sacred Books of the East” are the valuable contributions which he made to the Oriental Studies.
Christianity and Hinduism: Religious Interaction
The early Christianity in India found itself integrated in the society and developed as “indigenous religion”. However there was no significant encounter in depth between Hinduism and Christianity, but they lived in peaceful co-existence.
Missionary Encounter in the 19th century
The Church in India acquired new dimensions with the arrival of the Missionaries from the West. It was Vasco da Gama who sailed to India and opened the way for European Missionaries. Roberto de Nobili tt(1577-1656) initiated a new approach Reform Movement to evangelization of India and adapted the so-called “accommodation principle”. His theology took the dimension of the concept of Christ as guru. His apologetic method was aimed at refuting, but never condemning the values of Hinduism. Christian missionary activities also contributed to the intellectual awakening of India in the 19th century. William Carey, who arrived on 11th November 1793 in Calcutta initiated a meritorious work. Along with Ward and Joshua Marshmann known as the “Serampore Trio” he opened a centre at Serampore, in Bengal, for Christian and Western cultural exchange. This provided a further opportunity for an East-West encounter. Aware of the valuable services of the Missionaries, the Government made the best of the Missions “as a civilizing ally” which contributed positively for the Indian renaissance. A ‘western impact’ and an ‘Indian response’ could be traced in the renascent India. Hindu religion and society introduced a number of reforms and adaptations. Brahma Samaj, Arya Samja and Ramakrishna Mission were the notable religious reform movements of the Modern India.