Modern Movements in Hinduism

A look at various movements that constitute a challenge to our mission­aries who are commissioned to carry the ever­lasting gospel to the ancient land of Hindustan.

By W. B. VOTAW, Director of the Patna Station, India

It is a notorious fact among mission so­cieties that India is a hard field for mis­sionary endeavor. How many missionaries have shed tears over it, and how many have become discouraged and returned home, be­cause they could see so little fruit for their labors ! And still more tears need to be shed, more prayers ascend, and more hearts must ache for the salvation of India's lost millions. From the hearts of Seventh-day Adventists all over the world, an earnest cry should go up to God for the success of the gospel against this stronghold of heathenism.

Although the results of Christian missionary effort over a long period of years in India have been small in the number of souls won, yet the effect of Christianity's impact upon India is almost beyond measure. This effect is mark­edly manifest in some of the movements which have taken place in Hinduism in modern times. And even though these movements have risen in opposition to Christianity, they give a good index to the weight of influence that Chris­tian teaching and practice have had upon the Hindu population of the country. It would be well to keep in mind that what is said here does not apply to the Muslim section of India's population, as Islam is entirely another world from Hinduism.

Of the reform movements which have arisen in Hinduism in modern times, three are worthy of attention. The first of these reforms—the Brahmo Samaj—was started in 1830 by Ram Mohun Roy, one of the most capable and cultured Hindus of his time. Another was set in motion by a Bengali ascetic known as Ramakrishna. The Ramakrishna Mission was not organized as such until after the death of Ramakrishna in 1886. The third, known as the Arya Samaj, was started in 1875 by an ascetic from northwestern India, who went by the name of Dayanand.

The Brahmo Samaj is a Hindu unitarian society, which in outward forms of worship is modeled largely after Christian practices. They have a weekly church service, with singing, prayer, and preaching, and stand for the abolition of caste, idol worship, and child marriage, and advocate temperance and other social reforms. It was the influence of Ram Mohun Roy, with his crusade against suttee (widow burning), which opened the way for the government of British India to enact a law against that barbarous practice.

During the early part of the nineteenth cen­tury, many cultured Hindus were converted to Christianity. These converts not only changed their religion, but also adopted the European style of dress and manner of living. In the eyes of Roy and other educated Hindus it was bad enough to see their high-caste countrymen turning to Christianity, but when they com­pletely abandoned Indian culture in favor of that of the West, it was unbearable. Whether rightly or wrongly, he and his followers felt that those who became Christians were no longer in sympathy with anything Indian; that they were lost to Indian manners and cul­ture; that their interests were really outside India; and that they could not be counted upon to help in building India into a strong nation. In other words, they felt that those who be­came Christians had become the allies of the foreign rulers of the country, and would be a drag on the country's efforts to prepare itself for Swaraj (home rule). Throughout north­ern India that feeling toward the Indian Chris­tian persists up to the present time, though there is little if any ground remaining for it.

The Brahmo Samaj was founded to give those who wanted to escape the grosser evils of orthodox Hinduism something to turn to without becoming Christians. It has never gained much strength, because many have thought it to be too much of a compromise with Christianity. However, it numbers among its adherents some prominent and important Hindus. Most of its members are drawn from the cultured classes, many of whom have come into very close contact with Western influence. The famous Tagore family of Calcutta have been prominent in the movement from its very beginning. Ram Mohun Roy and the Tagores hoped that the Samaj would be the means of uniting the educated among Hindus, Chris­tians, and Muslims. But in this they were disappointed, for but very few Christians or Mohammedans ever joined it.

It may not be strictly correct to call the Ramakrishna Mission a reform movement, but in one sense it is such. Ramakrishna had no intention of founding a new sect, and his followers do not count themselves a sect in Hinduism, but just plain Hindus. Before the founding of this mission, Hindus were making no organized effort to relieve the sufferings of the unfortunates in their midst, or to up­lift them by education.

Ramakrishna himself did not start doing philanthropic work, but taught his disciples, and admonished them to do it. So, after his death in 1886, his disciples organized the Ramakrishna Mission for the purpose of carrying on regular organized mission work, including preaching and teaching as well as charitable work. Since that time, other "mis­sions" have been organized to carry on philan­thropic work of various kinds. Thus Christian missions are no longer able to claim a mo­nopoly on such efforts, and this reproach has been at least partially removed from the Hindu community. However, the efforts of these Hindu "missions" does not come anywhere near up to the standard of uplift work being done by the Christian bodies.


The Arya Samaj has been, from its very inception, an out-and-out enemy of Chris­tianity. Its founder, Dayanand, was a fiery, fanatical sort of person, so obsessed by the idea that anything Western was inimical to the welfare of India, that he could scarcely see anything in its proper proportion. Many missionaries were constantly jibing the Hindus about caste, idol worship, and other evils of their system, and at the same time holding up Western progress in education, invention, industry, and standards of living as being evidence of the superiority of Christianity over all other religions. This method of work had its adverse effect. It brought only a few into the Christian fold, and greatly intensified the inferiority complex present in Hinduism because of the country's domination by a so-called Christian power. All this caused a smoldering resentment to rise in the hearts of many Hindus, which burst forth and found expression in Dayanand's thunderous denun­ciations of Christianity and Western culture.

When this stalwart champion of the Vedas set forth in the spirit of a crusader to drive out invading Christianity, and to restore In­dia and its ancient religion to what he thought to be their rightful places in the world, he im­mediately found a substantial following. He wished to rid Hinduism of idolatry, caste, and other glaring evils, and to restore the ancient worship of Vedic times. He went all over northern India, preaching and debating with the learned pundits of orthodox Hinduism, beating them down by argument and by sheer force of personality. Even at Benares, center of Hindu philosophy and learning, the learned doctors of orthodoxy had to own defeat.

In order to bolster up the morale of Hindus for their fight against Christianity, Dayanand wrote a panorama of Indian history, in which he endeavored to show that India had at one time ruled the whole world, including the Americas and the islands of the sea, and would be still ruling it but for her folly in engaging in the long period of wars depicted in the "Mahabharata." He claimed that these wars destroyed the true spirit of the Vedas, which was the source of India's strength, and thus brought ruin to the country. He contended that there is nothing in modern discovery and invention which was not well known in an­cient India. He pictured India making use of airplanes more efficient than any thus tar developed in modern times, going under the sea in submarines, in fact, employing every­thing known to modern science and invention.

All these claims are based on the miracu­lous feats of the heroes of Hindu mythology. Of course the whole thing is absurd, but Dayanand was blind to every fact which did not fit his theory and purpose. And it is amazing to see how many of the educated Hindus of today, whether inside the Arya Samaj or out of it, firmly believe that his theory is correct. It is said that he read the Bible but once, in a Hindu version, and in a hurry. Dayanand's attitude toward Chris­tianity is well summed up in a recent work of a French writer, Romain Rolland, in his "Life of Ramakrishna."

"Dayanand declared war on Christianity, and his heavy, massive sword cleft it asunder with scant ref­erence to the scope or exactitude of his blows. He put it to the test of a vengeful, unjust, and injurious criticism, which fastened upon each separate verse of the Bible, and was blind and deaf to its real, its religious, and even its literal meaning. . . . His slashing commentaries . . . have unfortunately re­mained the arsenal for the spiteful anti-Christianity of certain modern Hindus."—Page 158.

The Arya Samaj has from its beginning been imbued with the spirit of its founder, and is today carrying on a spiteful propaganda against Christianity. Of late years it has been sending preachers throughout northern India, who inveigh against Christianity and grossly misrepresent the missionaries and their work. Their object is to bring their propaganda be­fore the masses, ata' enlist their support. While I was working in the Ranchi district among the aborigines, a pamphlet put out by the Sarnaj fell into my hands, written in the form of a dialogue between a missionary and an Oraon villager. In this, the missionary is; represented as an ignorant person and a will­ful deceiver, working for his own personal in­terests. But the villager is too wise for him, and as the missionary begins to preach to an assembled company of people, the unlettered hero of the pamphlet asks a series of ques­tions which makes him appear ridiculous.

In many parts of India, the Arya Samaj people will cause a disturbance if there is public preaching by Christians, and will do everything in their power to dissuade Hindus from being converted. If argument and per­suasion fail, they will often persecute the interested ones, and threaten their lives and property. In some localities missionaries have found it necessary to leave off public preach­ing, except to their own Christian congrega­tions. This society has had a phenomenal growth of late years. The rise of the Swaraj movement, together with the increasing de­mand for social reforms, has given added im­petus to its growth. And without doubt, this movement has in its turn aided the Swaraj movement, and strengthened the desire for reform. Its membership must run into mil­lions at the present time, and it is still growing. It is a remarkably significant fact that the Arya Samaj, which is an open and avowed enemy of Christianity, is far outstripping the other reform movements in membership and influ­ence.


These three bodies are very much alike in some respects, but quite different in others. They all teach that the Vedas are the only authoritative source of Hindu belief. But while the two samaj es condemn caste and idolatry, the Ramakrishna Mission contends that both have their place in religion, and are not to be condemned as a means of serving God and increasing one's knowledge of Him. Vivekananda, one of the leading lights of this mission from its foundation until his death, states this position thus :

"If a man can realize his divine nature with the help of an image, would it be right to call that a sin? Nor, even when he has passed that stage, should he call it an error ? To the Hindu, man is not traveling from error to truth, but from truth to truth, from lower to higher truth. To him all the religions, from the lowest fetishism to the high­est absolutism, mean so many attempts of the human soul to grasp and realize the Infinite."—"Viveka­nanda's Works," Vol. 1, p. 15.

All three movements teach the easy doctrine that all religions are true, and that religion has developed along different lines in various places, to suit the varying needs of the diverse peoples and races. When one understands the underlying principle of the Hindu doctrine of parallel spiritual and physical evolution, which embodies the theory of transmigration of the soul, it is easy to understand how they can hold such liberal but erroneous views about religion. But with all this, each group bolds rigidly to the belief that Hinduism is the only religion for India, and that the en­trance of other religions simply causes con­fusion and spiritual decay.

These movements, and especially the Arya Samaj, constitute a challenge to our mission­aries who are commissioned to carry the ever­lasting gospel to the ancient land of Hindustan. But they also open to us doors of opportunity. It is a good sign that the minds of people are being stirred and agitated, and that the old lethargy and inertia are rapidly' dropping away. We are justified in looking forward to a much larger increase of souls than we have yet seen, springing forth from the seeds of truth.

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

comments powered by Disqus

By W. B. VOTAW, Director of the Patna Station, India

January 1940

Download PDF
Ministry Cover

More Articles In This Issue

Our Task in Time of War

In the crisis hour many are asking, What is our task? What can we do to help a world in distress?

Native Evangelism in Africa

Ways and means of native evangelism.

Our Stupendous Responsibility

The progress, prosperity, and success of the cause of God on earth will be in direct proportion to the faithfulness, devotion, and effectiveness of His ministry.

Advertising the Evangelistic Effort

Advertising is a great means to the end of moving our Eastern cities, or any city, to accept of this the greatest message ever given to man.

Value of Films and Slides

Why do we not make use of more slides?

Winning and Holding Our Youth

The winning of our youth is a problem for every worker in the conference.

The Necessity of Organized Study

Our multiplied duties tend to reduce study to the barest minimum.

Make the Bible Foremost

In these days of Modernistic views, higher criticism, and doubt, we as Seventh-day Adventist ministers consider it a profound privi­lege to uphold the Book of books as the inspired word of God, as a harmonious unit in both the Old and the New Testament, as the infallible guide to mankind on his journey heavenward.

Religious Trends of Today

Christian doctrine and belief was greatly affected by the growing emphasis upon the external which developed with recent scientific progress.

Leading Your Own Song Service

Many conferences cannot afford to send out a song leader with every effort; so the evangelist must lead his own music. What, then, must a minister do to make the song service attractive?

View All Issue Contents

Digital delivery

If you're a print subscriber, we'll complement your print copy of Ministry with an electronic version.

Sign up
Advertisement - RevivalandReformation 300x250

Recent issues

See All
Advertisement - IIW-VBS 2024 (160x600)