RAMMOHAN ROY, ram-mo-han': Hindu theist; b. at Radhanagar in Bengal, May 22, 1772 or 1774; d. in Bristol, England, Sept. 27, 1833. His father Ramkhant Roy, a man respected for his wealth and character, was a Vishnuite; his mother, Tarini, was the daughter of a priest of the Shakta sect. After finishing his elementary studies in Bengali, he was taught Persian, then the court language; at the age of ten he was sent to Patna to learn Arabic, and later to Benares to learn Sanskrit, returning to his father's home at about the age of fifteen. During these five years of absence he had changed his religious beliefs, accepted monotheism, and become opposed to idolatry. His father was entirely out of sympathy with these monotheistic ideas, and this opposition led Rammohan to leave his home the next year and to travel through different parts of India and even into Tibet. After about five years of wandering he was recalled by his father, but again left his home to reside in Benares, where he gained an extensive knowledge of Sanskrit, and still later learned to use English with accuracy and fluency. His first literary effort was in Persian, with the Arabic title Tahfat-al-Muwahhiddin, "A Gift to Deists," teaching that all religions have in reality a common foundation, the oneness of God, but that they differ in their interpretation of him.
In 1814, the family took up its residence in Calcutta, and in 1815 Rammohan started the Atmiya Sabha (see INDIA, III., 1), a small association of kindred spirits, who, with him, engaged in the recitation of Vedic texts and theistic hymns. This association developed later into the Brahma Samaj (see INDIA, III., 1). His activity in favor of monotheism and against idolatry was intensified by opposition. Through publications and discussions he sought to prove that polytheism and idolatry were degraded forms of Hinduism and opposed to the higher teachings of the Vedas and Upanishads. He translated many Upanishads into Bengali, Hindi, and English in order to prove Hinduism to be essentially monotheistic. In 1811 he had witnessed the immolation of his brother's wife. At first he tried to persuade her from her terrible intention, but in vain. When, however, she felt the flames, her courage failed, and she attempted to escape, but her relations and the priests forced her to remain in the flames, her shrieks being drowned in the loud beating of drums. This horrible cruelty so impressed Rammohan Roy, that he resolved never to rest until the custom of Suttee should be no more. He saw his efforts, with those of Christian missionaries and others, succeed with the passing of the Government of India Act against Suttee, Dec. 4, 1829.
In Dec., 1821, he started the Sambad Kaumudi, a weekly paper, intended to advance the intellectual and moral welfare of the people, and later, in Persian, the Mirat-al-Akhbar. These early efforts have given him the title of founder of native journalism in India. He has also been called the father of Bengali prose, as up to that time few Bengali prose works had appeared, and they of little merit. His prose works are mostly controversial, showing that the Shastras in their higher teachings are on the side of monotheism and against idolatry. He also composed religious songs that hold even to-day a high place in Bengali hearts.
During this period of residence in Calcutta he came much in contact with Europeans, including missionaries, and became familiar with the Bible, studying both the Hebrew and Greek. The ethics of the teachings of Christ deeply influenced him, resulting in his publishing the Precepts of Jesus, the Guide to Peace and Happiness. This publication was followed by an unfortunate discussion on the doctrinal side of Christianity with the Baptist missionaries of Serampore. In 1828 the Atmiya Sabha, which he had founded, became the Brahma Sabha, later known as the Brahma Samaj, and under its enthusiastic leader many were drawn to a theistic belief. On Jan. 23, 1830, a building was consecrated for its use. In Nov., 1830, Rammohan Roy, now Raja Rammohan Roy, a title given him in 1829 by the Emperor of Delhi, set sail for England, where he died. He is entitled to the honor of being the first modern Brahman to cross the ocean.
JUSTIN E. ABBOTT.