Raja Ram Mohan Roy was a popular social and educational reformer in India who paved the way for progress in India under British rule. Though born in an orthodox brahmin family, Rammohan Roy had shown great sympathy for Islam and Christianity. He had gone to Tibet in search of the Buddhist mysteries. He had extracted from Christianity its ethical system, but had rejected the divinity of Christ as he had denied the Hindu Incarnations. The religion of Islam influenced him, to a great extent, in the formulation of his monotheistic doctrines. But he always went back to the Vedas for his spiritual inspiration. The Brahmo Samaj which was launched into its eventful career on August 20, 1828, gave a concrete expression to Roy’s concept of universal worship. Weekly service was held originally, a practice which has been retained to this day at the Brahmamandir of Tagore’s Shantiniketan. It consisted of three successive parts, viz. recitation of the Vedas by Telegu Brahmins in the closed apartment exclusively before the Brahmin members of the congregation, reading and exposition of the Upanishads for the general audience, and singing of religious hymns. the only custodian of Vedic rituals in Calcutta at that moment was the orthodox Telegu Brahmin community and its members could not be persuaded to recite the Vedas before Brahmins and non-Brahmins alike.
The Brahmo Samaj is credited with being one of the most important reform movements in India which led to the foundation of modern India. The Brahmo Samaj was a community of people who worship the Brahman, which is referred to as “The unchanging reality amidst and beyond the world”, something which cannot be defined and is the highest reality. It was a reflection of the Bengal Renaissance and took active participation in social emancipation, which included the abolition of sati, the caste system, child marriage, dowry and the betterment of the status of women in society. Brahmosim as a tool to tackle the prevalent dowry system was addressed in noted Bengali writer Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s famous 1914 novel, Parineeta.
Alexander Duff was a young missionary inspired by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, who came to Kolkata (the then Imperial capital) to set up an English-medium institution. Apart from Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Duff was also helped by Lord William Bentink, the Governor-General of India. Roy helped Duff by organizing the venue for the college and bringing in the first batch of five students. Roy also went ahead to pacify the parents and guardians of the students that them reading the King James Bible was not an attempt to convert them to Christianity. Duff was unlike other missionaries and wanted to introduce his students to the best of European religion, science and literature. He was also very selective in hiring teachers for his new institute and made sure he had the right amalgamation of European and Indian teachers who would do justice to both Christian and secular understanding. Duff wanted his teachers to encourage in their students a questioning attitude and rational thinking. The Scottish Church College was one of the oldest colleges for liberal arts and sciences in India.
With the right vision, Duff established a strong education system in Bengal which succeeded in spreading progressive values across the state. Though Duff wanted to spread English education as far as he could, he realized that it would not be possible until the students mastered their vernacular language first, due to which a lot of emphasis was placed on learning the Bengali language. The Scottish Church College was also one of the earliest institutes to promote women’s education and was co-ed from the beginning. When Duff introduced political economy as a subject in the curricula, he faced his church’s criticism.
Till today, the Scottish Church College remains one of the most popular institutes for higher education in Kolkata and has famous alumni, such as Swami Vivekanand, Subhash Chandra Bose, Gopinath Bordoloi, Derek O’Brien, Mithun Chakraborty and Nirad C. Chaudhuri among others.