Friday, October 24, 2008

Prarthana Samaj.

233 Khetwadi Main Road was within 5 minutes' walk from Prarthana Samaj. I had been told in my childhood that the "prarthana" (prayer) meetings of the Samaj (society/institution) used to be held in the Rammohan High School. It was situated at the eponymous landmark at the corner of Raja Rammohan Marg (then New Charni Road) and VP Road. However, I did not then know who Raja Rammohan Roy, the "father" of Brahmo Samaj (Society of the Worshipers of the Absolute), was. History has portrayed him as the initiator of Hinduism's renaissance in Bengal. This is bolstered by the Daniele Hervieu-Leger's view of religion as "a social and ideological mechanism for creating and sustaining both an individual and a communal sense of belonging ... [in brief] the mobilization of collective memory.". The weekly discourse-and-prayer meeting of the Brahmos was modelled on the Unitarian Church's sermon-and-prayer meeting. Roy and his close associates, Tarachand Chakravarti and Chandrasekhar Deb, were familiar with the Unitarian practices. Roy's monotheism had a rational as well a moral foundation from his retrieval of the Upnishadas, Brahma Sutras and other ancient Hindu texts (what he referred to as "Vedanta" = end or culmination of all knowledge as a body of work collectively). Roy's Brahmo Samaj was a living monument to his “religious innovativeness”. This spirit spurred him "to reinvent the chain" to fill up the new spaces of belief left bereft by "the decomposition of tradition". ("Traditions are forgotten, but they are also reenvisioned," explains Brian A. Hatcher in Remembering Rammohan: An Essay on the [Re-]emergence of Hinduism.) In our own times, television, the Internet, the cellphone and other modern tools are being used to help this process.