May 22nd is the 246th birth anniversary of father of Indian Renaissance, Raja Rammohan Roy. Here are a few things that you didn’t know about him
You might vaguely recollect Raja Rammohan Roy’s name from those boring history books—but he was more than just a historical figure. Today ‘jauhar’ has become a popular word (thanks to Padmaavat), but Raja Rammohan Roy was the one who worked towards getting its more brutal cousin ‘sati’ abolished in India.
If he were to be alive today, Raja Rammohan Roy would be tagged a polyglot—apart from English and Bengali, Roy acquired knowledge of Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic, as well as Hebrew, Latin and Greek. His study of various scriptures, including the Vedas and the Bible led to his modern thinking, and consequent reform activism.
The Vedic ‘Madarsa’ Man
He received his basic education in Sanskrit and Bengali in his village school in Hoogli, where he was born. He later went to a madrasa in Patna, where he learnt Persian and Arabic. He then moved to Banaras (Kashi in those days) to learn Sanskrit and Hindu scriptures such as the Vedas and the Upanishads. He learnt the English language only when he was 22 years old.
A Child Groom Himself
As was the custom in those days, Rammohan Roy was married when he was a child. When his child-bride died, he was married again—and had two sons with her. However, his second wife died in 1824. His third wife was Uma Devi, whom he married in the late 1820s.
Silent Witness to Social Evil
His vehement opposition for sati came about after he witnessed the immolation of his sister-in-law at the funeral of Roy’s older brother Jagmohan. This incident left a deep impact on his mind. It is said that Roy used to visit crematoriums to see if people were forcing womenfolk to commit sati at their husbands’ cremation.
A Man With One God
His varied education influenced his thinking about One God more. In his first book ‘Tuhfat-ul- Muwahhidin’ he argued for Monotheism. He interpreted religion with reason and opposed idol-worship and ritualism. He wanted to simplify and modernize the Hindu religion and preached the unity of God.
The Educationist Reformer
He was one of the first people who sought to integrate the Indian value system with the more modern outlook of the West. He was also the man behind popularisation of a modern education system in India. Presidency University in Kolkata, once called Hindu College, was set up in 1817 by Roy along with several other prominent personalities of his time. He also contributed in the setting up of Anglo-Hindu School, Vedanta College and what is today known as the Scottish Church College.
A Thorough Journalist
Rammohan Roy was a pioneer of Indian journalism. He published several journals in Bengali, Persian, Hindi and English to educate and propagate social reforms. Bangla weekly Samvad Kaumudi was the most important journal brought out by him. Atmiya Sabha (which became a model for the Brahmo Samaj) published an English weekly called Bengal Gazette and a Persian newspaper Miratul-Akbar.
For his advocacy of social reforms and work for abolishment of sati and child marriage, Roy ranked 10th—much ahead of Satyajit Ray and Amartya Sen—in the 2004 BBC poll of Greatest Bengali of All Time. Ray, who was the first Indian to win an Oscar and was the man who changed Indian cinema, ranks at 13 and the economics Nobel laureate ranks at 14.
The British Supporter
Raja Rammohan Roy was somewhat favourable of the British rule in India—he admired it for the progressive measures of social reform and establishing modern educational institutions. He even found a job in the East India Company, where he served for several years as Munshi of Registrar of the Appellate Court at Murshidabad.
Buried, But Not Here
The mortal remains of Raja Rammohan Roy are buried in England. He was originally buried in the grounds of Stapleton Grove where he had died of meningitis at the age of 60. About a decade later, he was reburied at the Arnos Vale Cemetery, in Brislington, East Bristol. He has a mausoleum to himself, which was designed by artist William Prinsep.
The Birthday Connection
Raja Rammohan Roy shares his birthday with several prominent people, including Sherlock Holme creator Arthur Conan Doyle, Tintin creator Hergé, and German classical composer Richard Wagner, who would have been around 20 years old when Roy died. Celebrities who share his birthday are late actor Laurence Olivier, tennis star Novak Djokovic, supermodel Naomi Campbell and actresses Maggie Q and Ginnifer Goodwin.