Brahmo Samaj


The Brahmo Samaj was a monotheistic sect of Hinduism. The movement began through meetings of Bengalis in Calcutta in 1828. One of the leading figures was Ram Mohun Roy. This group was known as the Brahmo Sabha. In 1831, Roy visited England as a reforming ambassador and died there in 1833. He was buried in Bristol and his funeral sermon was conducted by Lant Carpenter, a Unitarian minister.

Debendranath Tagore, the father of Rabindranath Tagore, was a key member of the Brahmo Sabha. In 1843 he was involved in the creation of the Brahmo Samaj. Keshub Chunder Sen, a disciple of Tagore, joined the Samaj in 1857 but broke away in a formal schism in 1866. This schism was called the Brahmo Samaj of India. In 1870, Sen visited Britain and met with Mary Carpenter, the daughter of Lant Carpenter. Together they founded the National Indian Association, an organization designed to promote social reform in India and provide a meeting place for Indians and British people in Britain. Sen returned to India and created a major schism in the reforming society of the Brahmo Samaj when he married his 14-year-old daughter to the Maharaja of Cooch Behar, violating the Brahmo Marriage Act.

However, the Brahmo Samaj (in its various guises) continued to flourish in India and particularly Bengal. Rabindranath Tagore's Visva Bharati University was founded in 1921 as an expression of Brahmo universalism. The influence of Ram Mohun Roy and Keshub Chunder Sen in Britain could also be seen into the twentieth century. The cemetery where Roy was buried became a pilgrimage spot for Brahmos visiting the UK and the National Indian Association convened annual remembrances on the anniversary of Sen's death.

Secondary works: 

Carpenter, Mary, The Last Days in England of Raja Rammohan Ray (London: Trubner, 1866)

Kopf, David, The Brahmo Samaj and the Shaping of the Modern Indian Mind (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979)

Sen, Keshub Chunder, Diary in England (Calcutta: Brahmo Tract Society, 1886)

Date began: 
01 Jan 1828
Precise date began unknown: 

Ram Mohun Roy, Debendranath Tagore (father of Rabindranath).

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Mary Carpenter


Mary Carpenter was the daughter of a Unitarian Minister, Lant Carpenter, whose family moved to Bristol in 1817. In 1833 the Brahmo Samaj Reformer, Raja Rammohun Ray, visited Bristol and was an important influence upon Mary Carpenter, encouraging an interest in India. Carpenter moved into Red House Lodge in Bristol in 1858 and entertained a number of Indian visitors to Britain, including Satyendranath Tagore, the elder brother of Rabindranath, who arrived in Britain in 1863 and was the first Indian to join the ICS through the competitive ranks, his companion Manomohun Ghose, Joguth Chunder Gangooly, an ordained minister from Boston, and Rakhal Das Haldar who visited Britain for education in the 1860s.

Mary Carpenter visited India four times, the first was in 1866 where she was accompanied by Manomohun Ghose, returning to India after having been called to the Bar, and the daughter of Dr Goodeve Chuckerbutty from Calcutta who had been sent to England for education. Her first port-of-call was to Satyendranath Tagore in Bombay, and on this trip she met Sasipada Banerji who was to return the visit in 1871.

During her third visit to India in 1870, Keshub Chunder Sen discussed with Carpenter the idea of forming an association in Britain. Sen visited her in Bristol in June 1870 and in September 1870, Mary Carpenter inaugurated the Bristol Indian Association. This Association was subsequently renamed the National Indian Association and was designed to promote social reform (particulary female education) in India and provide a meeting place for Indian visitors to Britain. In January 1871, Carpenter began producing the Journal of the National Indian Association. After her death in 1877, the headquarters of the Association were transferred to London.

Published works: 

The Last Days in England of Rajah Rammohun Roy (London, 1866) 

Six Months in India (London: Longmans, 1868)

Date of birth: 
03 Apr 1807
Contributions to periodicals: 

Journal of National Indian Association

Secondary works: 

Burton, Antoinette, 'Fearful Bodies into Disciplined Subjects: Pleasure, Romance, and the Family Drama of Colonial Reform in Mary Carpenter's "Six Months in India"', Signs 20.3 (Spring 1995), pp. 545-74

Carpenter, J. Estlin, The Life and Work of Mary Carpenter (London: Macmillan & Co., 1881 [1879])

Archive source: 

Mss Eur Photo Eur 280: "India, My Appointed Place": An Account of Mary Carpenter's Four Journeys to India, by Norman C. Sargant, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

Mss Eur F147, National Indian Association Minutes, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

Mss 12693 and pamphlets, Bristol Record Office, Bristol

City of birth: 
Country of birth: 
Date of death: 
14 Jun 1877
Location of death: 
Bristol, England
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