Raja Rammohun Roy Library Foundation
Ministry of Culture, Government of India
  Raja Rammohun Roy
              ..a biographical sketch
 
     
  The following brief Memoir, which was prepared by Rev. Dr. CARPENTER shortly after the Rajah’s death, from authentic sources of information [chiefly found in the Monthly Repository of Theology and General Literature, Vols. XIII. to XX.] ; from the Memoir prefixed to the Precepts of Jesus, by Rev. Dr. T. REES ; from communications received from the family with whom the Rajah resided in London, and from the Rajah personally.  
       RAMMOHUN ROY was the son of RAM KHANT ROY. His grandfather resided at Moorshedabad, and filled some important offices under the Moguls; but being ill-treated by them towards the end of his life, the son took up his abode in the district of Bordwan, where he had landed property. There RAMMOHUN ROY was born, most probably about 1774. Under his father’s roof he received the elements of native education, and also acquired the Persian language. He was afterwards sent to Patna to learn Arabic; and lastly to Benares to obtain a knowledge of Sanscrit, the sacred language of the Hindoos. His masters at Patna set him to study Arabic translations of some of the writing of Aristotle and Euclid ; it is probable that the training thus given strengthened his mind in acuteness and close reasoning, while the knowledge which he acquired of the Mahommedan religion from Mussulmen whom he esteemed, contributed to cause that searching examination of the faith in which he was educated, which led him eventually to the important efforts he made to restore it to its early simplicity.  
       His family was Brahminical, of high respectability; and, of course, he was a Brahmin by birth. After his death the thread of his caste was seen round him, passing over his left shoulder and under his right. His father trained him in the doctrines of his sect ; but he very early observed the diversities osme exalted Bra[h]ma, the Creator, others gave the ascendancy to Vishnu, the Preserver ; and others again to Siva, the Destroyer. It is scarcely possible, too, but that his mind must have been struck by the simplicity of the Mahommedan faith and worship; and at any rate it early revolted from the frivolous or disgusting rites and ceremonies of Hindoo idolatry. Without disputing the authority of his father, he often sought from his information as to the reasons of his faith. He obtained no satisfaction; and he at last determined, at the early age of fifteen, to leave the paternal home, and to sojourn for a time in Thibet, that he might see another form of religious faith. He spent two or three years in that country, and often excited the anger of the worshippers of the Lama by his rejection of their doctrine that this pretended deity – a living man – was the creator and preserver of the world. In these circumstances he experienced the soothing kindness of the female part of the family; and his gently, feeling heart dwelt, with deep interest, at the distance of more than forty years, on the recollections of that period ; these, he said, had made him always feel respect and gratitude towards the female sex, and they doubtless contributed to that unvarying and refined courtesy which marked his intercourse with them in this country.  
       When he returned to Hindostan, he was met by a deputation from his father, and received by him with great consideration. He appears, from that time, to have devoted himself to the study of Sanscrit and other languages, and of the ancient books of the Hindoos. He had frequent discussions with his father: through awe of him, however, he never avowed the scepticism which he entertained as to the present forms of their religion ; but from some indirect reproaches suspicions. His father had given him, for that country, a very superior education ; but having been brought up himself in the midst of the Mussulman Court, he appears to have thought principally of those qualifications which would recommend his son to the ancient conquerors of India. Till manhood, RAMMOHUN ROY knew very little of the English language, and that little he taught himself.  
       “At the age of twenty-two”, says the Editor of the English Edition of the Abridgment of the Vedant and the CenaUpanishad, “he commenced the study of the English language, which not pursing with application, he five years afterwards. When I became acquainted with him, could merely speak it well enough to be understood upon the most common topics of discourse; but could not write it with any degree of correctness. He was afterwards employed as Dewan, or principal native officer, in the collection of the revenues, in the district of which I was for five years Collector in the East India Company’s civil service. By perusing all my public correspondence with diligence and attention, as well as, by corresponding and conversing with European gentlemen he acquired so correct a knowledge of the English language as to be enabled to write and speak in with considerable accuracy.”  
       The father, RAM KHANT ROY died about 1804 or 1805, having two years previously divided his property among his three sons. It was not long before RAMMOUN ROY became the only survivor; and he thereby possessed considerable property. From this period he appears to have commenced his plans of reforming the religion of his countrymen; and in the progress of his efforts to enlighten the, he must have expended large sums of money for he gratuitously distributed most of the works which he published for the purpose. He now quitted Bordwan and removed to Moorshidabad, where he published in Persian, with an Arabic preface, a work entitled Against the Idolatry of all Religions. No one undertook to refute this book, but it raised up against his a host of enemies, and in 1814 he retired to Calcutta, where he applied himself to the study of the English language both by reading and by conversation ; he also acquired some knowledge of Latin, and paid much attention to the mathematics. At this time he purchased a garden with a house constructed in the European style, in the Circular Road, at the eastern extremity of the city; and he gradually gathered round him inquiring intelligent Hindoos of rank and opulence, some of whom united as early as 1818 in a species of monotheistic worship.  
       The body of Hindoo theology is comprised in the Veds, which are writings of very high antiquity, very copious, but obscure in style ; and about two thousand years ago, VYAS drew up to compendious abstract of the whole, accompanied with explanations of the more difficult passages. This digest VYAS called the Vedant, or the Resolution of all the Veds. One portion of this respects the ritual, and another the principles, of religion. It is written in the Sanscrit language. RAMMOUHN ROY translated it into the Bengalee and Hindoostanee languages, for the benefit of his countrymen; and afterwards published an abridgment of it, for gratuitous and extensive distribution. Of this abridgment he published and English translation in 1816, the title of which represents the Vedant as “the most celebrated and revered work of Brahminical theology, establishing the unity of the Supreme Being, and that he alone is the object of propitiation and worship. “Towards the close of his preface he thus writes –“My constant reflections on the inconvenient, or, rather injurious rites introduced by the peculiar practice of Hindoo idolatry, which more than any other Pagan worship destroys the texture of society- any together with compassion for my countrymen – have compelled me to use every possible effort to awaken them from their dream of error; and by making them acquainted with the [their] scriptures, enable them to contemplate, with true devotion, the unity and omnipresence of nature’s God. By taking the path which conscience and sincerity direct, I, born a Brahmin, have exposed myself to the complaining and reproaches even of some of my relations, whose prejudices are strong, and whose temporal advantage depends on the present system. But these, however accumulated, I can tranquilly bear; trusting that a day will arrive when my humble endeavours will be viewed with justice – perhaps acknowledged with gratitude. At any rate, whatever men may say, I cannot be deprived of this consolation – my motives are acceptable to that Being who beholds in secret and compensates openly.”  
       After the publication of the Vedant, RAMMOHUN ROY printed, in Bengalee and in English, some of the principal chapters of the Veds. The first of the series was published in 1816, and is entitled A Translation of the Cena Upanishad, one of the Chapters of the Sama Veda, according to the gloss of the celebrated Shancaracharya; establishing the Unity and Sole Omnipotence of the Supreme Being, and that He alone is the object of Worship." This was prefixed to a reprint of the Abridgment of the Vedant, published in London, in 1817, by some one who had enjoyed personal intimacy with him. The English preface contains a letter from RAMMOHUN ROY to this gentleman, which shows how well he had, even at that time, overcome the difficulties of the English language. "The consequence of my long and uninterrupted researches into religious truth (he says in this letter ) has been, that I have found the doctrines of Christ more conducive to moral principles, and better adapted for the use of rational beings, than any other which have come to my knowledge ; and have also found Hindoos in general more superstitious and miserable, both in performance of their religious rites and in their domestic concerns, than the rest of the known nations of the earth." He then proceeds to state what he had done in order to render them "more happy and comfortable both here and hereafter;" and adds, "I, however, in the beginning of my pursuits, met with the greatest opposition from their self-interested leaders, the Brahmins, and was deserted by my nearest relations; and I consequently felt extremely melancholy. In that critical situation, the only comfort that I had was the consoling and rational conversation of my European friends, especially those of Scotland and England." In that same letter he expresses his full expectation of speedily setting off for England; but says that he had been prevented from proceeding so soon as he could wish, by the spread of his views, and the inclination manifested by many to seek for truth.  
       It is not surprising that the interested advocates for heathen worship should endeavour to uphold it by imputations on the character of the Reformer; and someone did publicly charge him with "rashness, self-conceit, arrogance, and impiety." Every member of his own family opposed him; and he experienced even the bitter alienation of his mother, through the influence of the interested persons around her. In his early days, his mother was a woman of fine understanding; but, through the influence of superstitious bigotry, she had been among his most bitter opponents. He, however, manifested a warm and affectionate attachment towards her; and it was with a glistening eye that he told us she had "repented" of her conduct towards him. Though convinced that his doctrines were true, she could not throw off the shackles of idolatrous customs. "RAMMOHUN" she said to him, before she set out on her last pilgrimage to Juggernaut, where she died, "you are right ; but I am a weak woman, and am grown too old to give up these observances, which , are a comfort to me." She maintained them with the most self-denying devotion. She would not allow a female servant to accompany her ; or any other provi-sion to be made for her comfort or even support on her journey ; and when at Juggernaut, she engaged in sweeping the temple of the idol. There she spent the remainder of her life - nearly a year if not more; and there she died. He recently stated, however, that before her death she expressed her great sorrow for what had passed, and declared her conviction in the unity of God, and the futility of Hindoo superstition.  
       D'ACOSTA, the editor of a journal at Calcutta, transmitted to the Abbe GREGOIRE, in 1818, the various publications of this extraordinary man, with some account of his history; and through GREGOIRE, RAMMOHUN ROY became extensively known and highly appreciated in France. D'ACOSTA says, that he carefully avoided everything that could afford a pretext for excluding him from his caste, since, as a Brahmin, it was his acknowledged duty to instruct his countrymen in the sense and real commands of their sacred books. He speaks of him as distinguished in his controversy more by his logical mode of reasoning as by his general views, though far from deficient in philosophy or information. He says that all his conversation, his actions, and his manners evince a powerful sentiment of individual dignity ; while, in general, meanness and feebleness of mind are characteristic of the Hindoo : and that his ingenious conversation often shows, in a strain half serious and half sportive, all that he wished to be able to do for his country. As to his personal exterior at that period, D'ACOSTA says, —"He is tall and robust; his regular features, and habitually grave countenance assume a most pleasing appearance when he is animated; he appears to have a slight disposition to melancholy." "The moderation," adds Abbe GREGOIRE, "with which he repels the attacks on his writings, the force of his arguments, and his profound knowledge of the sacred books of the Hindoos, are proofs of his fitness for the work he has undertaken; and the pecuniary sacrifices he has made, show a disinterestedness which cannot be encouraged or admired too warmly."  
       It was about this period that Lieut-Col. FITZCLARENCE now the Earl of MUNSTER, became acquainted with RAMMOHUN ROY. He speaks highly of this "most extraordinary" Brahmin, of his talents and learning, his intimate knowledge of our language and eloquence in the use of it, his extensive acquaintance with our literature as well as with the Arabic and Sanscrit, his clear intelligence of the politics of Europe, and especially of England, of his fine person, and most courtly manners. The representations of the Earl indicate the amazing extent, tenaciousness, and accuracy of his memory ; and in this and other respects fully accord with what we learn of him from other sources ; the Author was, however, mistaken in supposing that he had been "declared to have lost caste." RAMMOHUN ROY recently stated that every effort had been made for the purpose, and that he had had, at an enormous expense, to defend himself against a series of legal proceedings instituted for the purpose of depriving him of caste, and thereby of his patrimonial inheritance. Through his profound aquaintance, however, with the Hindoo law, he baffled the efforts of his interested enemies, and proved in the Courts of justice that he had not forfeited his rights. These legal proceedings must have continued, in different ways, for several years. They appear to have terminated in the Provincial Court no long time before RAMMOITUN ROY set out for England. On leaving Calcutta, he charged his two sons to forget the conduct of their cousins in connection with them.  
       Besides essentially contributing to the establishment and maintenance of native schools, RAMMORITN ROY directed his efforts, and with great success, towards the extinction of the practice of burning widows. One of his tracts on this subject he dedicated to the Marchioness of HASTINGS, when the Marquis was Governor-General.  
       It has already been shown that as early as 1817 he had directed his attention to the Christian religion ; but he found himself greatly perplexed by the various doctrines which he saw insisted upon as essential to Christianity, in the writings of Christian authors, and in conversation with those Christian teachers with whom he had communication : he resolved, therefore, to study the original Scriptures for himself ; and for this purpose he acquired the knowledge of the Hebrew and Greek languages. Becoming strongly impressed with the excellence and importance of the Christian system of morality, he published, in 1820, in English, Sanscrit, and Bengalee, a series of selections, principally from the first three Gospels, which he entitled, The Precepts of Jesus, the Guide to Peace and Happiness. He passed by those portions of the Evangelists which have been made the basis of distinctive doctrines ; and also (except where closely interwoven with the discourses of Christ) the narratives of miracles — believing these to be less fitted to affect the convictions of his countrymen, while the preceptive part he deemed most likely "to produce the desirable effect of improving the hearts and minds of men of different persuasions and degrees of under-standing." "This simple code of religion and morality," he says, at the close of his preface, "is so admirably calculated to elevate men's ideas to high and liberal notions of one God, who has equally subjected all living creatures, without distinction of caste, rank or wealth, to change, disappointment, pain and death, and has equally admitted all to be partakers of the bountiful mercies which he has lavished over nature ; and is also so well fitted to regulate the conduct of the human race in the discharge of their various duties to God, to themselves, and to society ; that I cannot but hope the best effects from its promulgation in the present form."  
       This work was published anonymously, but without concealment of the source. It brought upon him some severe and unexpected animadversions in The Frind of India; the writer of which uncourteously, as well as most unjustly, spoke of the Compiler as a heathen. Under the designation of "A Friend to Truth," RAMMOHUN ROY published an appeal to the Christian public in defence of the Precepts of Jesus ; in which he declares, that the expressions employed in the preface should have shown the opponent "that the Compiler believed, not only in one God, whose nature and essence is beyond human comprehension, but in the truths revealed in the Christian system." He further maintains that the Precepts of Jesus contain not only the essence of all that is necessary to instruct mankind in their civil duties, but also the best and only means of obtaining the forgiveness of our sins, the favour of God, and strength to overcome our passions and to keep his commandments." He defends the system which the Compiler had adopted to introduce Christianity to the native inhabitants, by appealing to the fact that nearly three-fifths are Hindoos and two—fifths Mussulmans, the latter devoted from their infancy to the belief in one God ; and declares that, from his own experience in religious controversy with them, he is satisfied that he was rendering them most service by making them acquainted with those precepts ( by which he appears to have meant, more generally, instructions) "the obedience to which he believed most peculiarly required of a Christian, and such as could by no means tend in doctrine to excite the religious horror of the Mahommedans, or the scoffs of the Hindoos." "Such dogmas or doctrinal and other passages," he afterwards says, "as are not exposed to those objections, and are not unfamiliar to the minds of those for whose benefit the compilation was intended, are generally included, in conformity with the avowed plan of the work ; particularly such as seem calculated to direct our love and obedience to the beneficent Author of the universe, and to him whom he graciously sent to deliver those precepts of religion and morality whose tendency is to promote universal peace and harmony." When replying to the objections of the Reviewer, that the precepts of Christ do not shew how to obtain the forgiveness of sins and the favour of God, the Friend of Truth extracts from the compilation "a few passages of that greatest of all prophets who was sent to call sinners to repentance ;" and adds, "Numerous passages of the Old and New Testaments to the same effect, which might fill a volume, distinctly promise us that the forgiveness of God and the favor of his Divine Majesty may be obtained by sincere repentance, as required of sinners by the Redeemer."  
       On these anonymous publications, Dr. MARSHMAN, of Serampore College, published a series of animadversions which led to a very remarkable reply from RAMMOHUN ROY - the Second Appeal — with his name prefixed, which is distinguished by the closeness of his reasonings, the extent and critical accuracy of his scriptural knowledge, the comprehensiveness of his investigations, the judiciousness of his arrangement, the lucid statement of his own opinions, and the acute-ness and skill with which he controverts the positions of his opponents. All the publications of this controversy were soon reprinted in London ; and those who wish to become acquainted with the sentiments of this remarkable man, as to his Christian belief generally, and his own opinions respecting God and Christ, may be referred with confidence, and in an 'especial manner, to this Second Appeal to the Christian Public in Defence of the "Precepts of Jesus." The doctrine maintained in it respecting God, is thus stated by himself : — "That the Omnipotent God, who is the only proper object of religious veneration, is one and undivided in person ;" that "in reliance on numerous promises found in the sacred writings, we ought to entertain every hope of enjoying the blessings of pardon from the merciful Father, through repentance, which is declared the only means of procuring forgiveness for our failures ;" and that he leads "such as worship him in spirit to righteous conduct, and ultimately to salvation, through his guiding influence which is called the Holy Spirit," "given as the consequence of their sincere prayer and supplication." And respecting "Jesus of Nazareth" he speaks as the "Christ of God" : he says he places "implicit confidence" in his "veracity, candour, and perfection :" he represents him as "a Being in whom dwelt all truth, and who was sent with a divine law to guide mankind by his preaching and example ;" as receiving from the Father, "the commission to come into the world for the salvation of mankind ;" as judging the world by the wisdom of God ; as being "empowered to perform wonderful works ;" he speaks of his subordinate nature and receiving all the powers which he manifested from the Father ; but also of his being "superior even to the angels in heaven, living from the beginning of the world to eternity;" and of the Father's creating "all things by him and for him ;" and he dwells with great satis-faction ( pp. 162-167 ) on the conclusion to which the instructions of Christ had led him, that the "unity existing between the Father and himself," is "a subsisting concord of will and design, such as existed among his Apostles, and not identity of being." "Had not experience ( he concludes ) too clarely proved that such metaphorical expressions, when taken singly and without attention to their contexts, may be made the foundation of doctrines quite at variance with the tenor of the rest of the Scriptures, I should have had no hesitation in submitting indiscriminately the hole of the doctrines of the New Testament to my countrymen ; as I should have felt no apprehension that even the most ignorant of them, if left to the guidance of their own unprejudiced views of the matter, could misconceive the clear and distinct assertions they every where contain, of the unity of God and the subordinate nature of his messenger Jesus Christ."  
       The Second Appeal called forth another work from Dr. MARSHMAN; to which RAMMOHUN ROY published a reply in 1823, under the title of the Final Appeal. His preceding works had been printed at the Baptist Missionary Press ; but the acting proprietor declined, "although in the politest manner possible," to print the Final Appeal ; and RAMMOHUN ROY purchased type, and commenced an independent printing press for this and other similar publications. The imprint is "Calcutta: printed at the Unitarian Press, Dhurmtollah." He depended chiefly on native aid ; and in consequence the original work has many errata. In the Preface he states that this controversy had prevented other publications which he had projected for his countrymen, as well as drawn him for three years from other literary pursuits ; and that it had caused much coolness towards him in the demeanour of some whose friendship he held very dear ; nevertheless, that he did not wish he had pursued a different course, since, he says,  
  "whatever may be the opinion of the world, my own conscience fully approves of my past endeavours to defend what I esteem the cause of truth."  
       The Editor of the Indian Gazette in adverting to this discussion, and to the other labours of this distinguished native, thus writes —"We say distinguished, because he is so among his own people, by caste, rank, and respectability ; and among all men he must ever be distinguished for his philan-thropy, his great learning, and his intellectual ascendancy in general." As to the controversy arising from the Precepts of Jesus, the Editor says that whatever other effects it may have caused, "it still further exhibited the acuteness of his mind, the logical power of his intellect, and the unrivalled good temper with which he could argue:" it roused up "a most gigantic combatant in the theological field — a combatant who, we are constrained to say, has not yet met with his match here."  
       To the public testimonies already adduced, may be added that of the celebrated SISMONDI, who, in an article in the Revue Encyclopedique for 1824, after some important observations respecting the institution of castes and the sacrifice of widows, thus proceeds: "A glorious reform has, however, begun to spread among the Hindoos. A Brahmin, whom those who know India agree in representing as one of the most virtuous and enlightened of men, RAMMOHUN ROY, is exerting himself to restore his countrymen to the worship of the true God and to the union of morality and religion. His flock is small, but increases continually. He communicates to the Hindoos all the progress that thought has made among the Europeans. He is among them, by a much juster title than the Missionaries, the Apostle of Christianity."