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Prarthana Samaj – Founder, Belief and Social Reforms

Prarthana Samaj was a movement for religious and social reform in Bombay, India, based on earlier reform movements, founded in 1863

Prarthana Samaj or “Prayer Society” in Sanskrit, was a movement for religious and social reform in Bombay, India, based on earlier reform movements. 

Prarthana Samaj was founded in 1863 by the Dadoba Pandurang and his brother Atmaram Pandurang when Keshub Chandra Sen visited Maharashtra. The motive behind it was to make people believe in one God and worship only one God. It became popular after Mahadev Govind Ranade joined. 

The main reformers were the intellectuals who supported reforms of the social system of the Hindus. Kandukuri Veeresalingam, a Telugu reformer and writer, helped it to spread in southern India.

How did Prarthana Samaj start?

The movement was started as a movement for religious and social reform in Maharashtra and much more like Brahmo Samaj. Paramahamsa Sabha was the forerunner of the Prarthana Samaj in Mumbai. Paramahamsa Sabha was a secret society for the promotion of liberal ideas by Ram Balkrishna Jaykar and others in Mumbai. It was secret to avoid the anger of the powerful and orthodox elements.

Comparison with Brahmo Samaj

By comparing with the parallel Brahmo Samaj of Bengal, and the ideals of intellectual or theistic belief and social reform, the Prarthana Samaj(ists) were followers of the great religious tradition of the Marathi Sant Mat like Namdev and Tukaram.

The Brahmo Samaj founders studied many world religions, including ancient Vedic texts, which subsequently were not accepted to be infallible or divine. 

Beliefs of Prarthana Samaj

Although the followers of Prarthana Samaj were devoted theists, they also did not regard the Vedas as divine or infallible. They drew their nourishment from the Hindu scriptures and used the hymns of the old Marathi “poet-saints” in their prayers.

Their ideas trace back to the devotional poems of the Vitthalas as part of the Vaishnava bhakti devotional movements of the thirteenth century in southern Maharashtra.

The Marathi poets had inspired a movement of opposition to the Mughals. But, beyond religious concerns, the primary focus of the Prarthana Samaj was on social and cultural reform.

Social reforms

Prarthana Samaj critically examined the relations between contemporary social and cultural systems and religious beliefs and gave priority to social reform. 

Their comprehensive reform movement has begun to many impressive projects of cultural change and social reform in Western India, such as the improvement of a lot of women and depressed classes, an end to the caste system, abolition of child marriages and infanticide, educational opportunities for women, and remarriage of widows. 

Its success was guided by R. G. Bhandarkar, a noted Sanskrit scholar, Atmaram Pandurang, Narayan Chandavarkar, and Mahadev Govind Ranade. Ranade emphasized that “the reformer must attempt to deal with the whole man and not to carry out reform on one side only”.

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