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Monday, 4 February 2013

The Brahmo Samaj and British Unitarians

Bust of Tagore in Gordon Square, Bloomsbury, London

The Brahmo Samaj have an honoured place in the history of British Unitarians. I was therefore intrigued to read about them in "The Guardian" in an article by Shreya Sen-Handley "On Republic day, consider that India's real split is between two Hinduisms". Her mother was a Brahmo and she highlighted the long line of educated women in her family, explaining:

"The Brahmos were 19th-century reforming crusaders, Hindus who sought inspiration from global liberal philosophies as well as the best traditions of Christianity and Islam to weed out the corruption that had crept into Hinduism. They were monotheistic and women were at the core of their crusade. Brahmo women were ordained as priests and became literary lights in Bengal. Together with their men, they agitated successfully for an end to the funeral practice of "sati" (the burning of the widow on her husband's funeral pyre). Like all reforming movements, there was a zeal about the movement that could, if resurrected in India now, combat the rise of the uglier face of Hinduism".

The Unitarian movement had a very close association with the founder of the Brahmo Samaj, Raja Rammohun Roy. He left for England in 1830 and was received at the annual meeting of the English Unitarians. It was on a visit to Bristol to meet with Miss Mary Carpenter, the social reformer and friend of India, that he died in 1833. His grave is in Arnos Vale cemetery and he has been honoured by a statute in the centre of the City. Each year the Brahmos and Bristol Unitarians gather for a memorial service at his mausoleum.

It was a great pleasure to attend a service at Golders Green Unitarian Church with participation of the Brahmos which again is an annual event. Rabindranath Tagore is, of course, the great modern Brahmo figure,  honoured with the Nobel Prize for literature. His bust stands immediately outside Dr Williams's Library in Gordon Square (above).

1 comment:

  1. Some time ago, I conducted research into the relationship between the Brahmo Samaj and Unitarians & UUs and showed that they have remained close throughout their shared history. It is also insufficiently appreciated that Rammuhn Roy's work profoundly influenced Unitarianism for the better, through dialogue with his Unitarian contemporaries, and also because Ralph Waldo Emerson read Rammohun Roy's translation of the Upanishads and that was where he borrowed a lot of ideas for Transcendentalism.