Keshub Chunder Sen



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Fast Facts
180px-Keshab_Chandra_Sen.png
Function: 
Religious Figure
Traditions: 
Christianity, Vaishnav Bhakti
Main Countries of Activity: 
India
Date of Birth: 
November 19, 1838
Place of Birth: 
Calcutta, India
In His/Her Body ("alive"): 
No
Date Left His/Her Body: 
January 8, 1884

Biography

Keshab Chandra Sen was a Bengali religious preacher and social reformer. Born a Hindu, he became a member of the Brahmo Samaj in 1856 but founded his own breakaway "Brahmo Samaj of India" in 1866 while the Brahmo Samaj remained under the leadership of Maharshi Debendranath Tagore (who headed the Brahmo Samaj till his death in 1905).] In 1878 his followers abandoned him after the child marriage of his daughter by Hindu idolatrous rituals. Later in his life he came under the influence of Ramakrishna and founded a syncretic "New Dispensation" or Nôbobidhan inspired by Christianity, and Vaishnav bhakti, and Hindu practices.

Early life and Education

Keshub Chandra Sen was born on November 19, 1838 into an affluent family of Calcutta. His family originally belonged to Gariffa village on the banks of the river Hooghly. His grandfather was Ramkamal Sen (1783-1844), a well known pro-sati Hindu activist and lifelong opponent of Ram Mohan Roy His father Peary Mohan Sen died when he was ten, and Sen was brought up by his uncle. As a boy, he attended the Bengali Patshala elementary school and later attended Hindu College in 1845 and Metropolitan College.
He had at least 9 children, four sons — Karuna, Nirmal, Profullo and Subrata and five daughters — Suniti, Savitri, Sucharu, Monica and Sujata.

Career

In 1855 he founded an evening school for the children of working men, which continued through 1858. In 1855, he became Secretary to the Goodwill Fraternity, a Masonic lodge associated with the Unitarian Rev.Charles Dall and a Christian missionary Rev. James Long who also helped Sen establish a "British Indian Association" in the same year. Around this time he began to be attracted to the ideas of the Brahmo Samaj.
Keshub Chunder Sen was also briefly appointed as Secretary of the Asiatic Society in 1854. For a short time thereafter Sen was also a clerk in the Bank of Bengal, but resigned his post to devote himself exclusively to literature and philosophy. On this, Professor Oman who knew him well writes, "Endowed with an emotional temperament, earnest piety, a gift of ready speech and a strong leaven of vanity, Keshub Chunder Sen found the sober, monotonous duties of a bank clerk intolerable, and very soon sought a more congenial field for the exercise of his abilities." and he formally joined the Brahma Samaj in 1859.
Keshab Chandra Sen and his wife Jagonmohini Sen had ten children, five sons, Karuna Chandra Sen, Nirmal Chandra Sen, Prafulla Chandra Sen, Saral Chandra Sen, Dr. Subroto Sen and five daughters Sunity Devi (Maharani of Cooch Behar), Sabitri Devi, Sucharu Devi (Maharani of Mayurbhanj), Monica Devi and Sujata Devi.

Brahmo Samaj

In 1857 Sen again took employment in clerkship, this time as private secretary to Dwijendranath Tagore and joined the Brahmo Samaj. In 1859, Sen dedicated himself to the organisational work of the Brahmo Samaj and in 1862 was assigned, by Hemendranath Tagore, a stipendary ministry (Acharya) of one of its worship houses despite being a non-Brahmin (previously a Shudra untouchable had been made an Acharya by Debendranath Tagore).
In 1858, left his home in Coolootola and took refuge in the Jorasanko House of the Tagore family[16] when the patriarch of the family was then away. In 1862 Sen helped found the Albert College and wrote articles for the Indian Mirror, a weekly journal of the Calcutta Brahmo Samaj in which social and moral subjects were debated.
In 1863 he wrote The Brahma Samaj Vindicated. He strongly criticized Christianity and traveled about the country lecturing and preaching that the Brahmo Samaj was intended to revitalize Hindu religion through use of ancient Hindu sources and the authority of the Vedas. By 1865, however, Sen was convinced that only Christian doctrine could bring new life to Hindu society.
In November 1865 he was caused to leave the Brahma Samaj after "an open break with its founder Debendranath Tagore" over Christian practices in Brahmoism, and the next year (1866) with encouragement of the Unitarian preacher Charles Dall he joined another new organisation BharatBarshiya Brohmo Samaj (Brohmo Samaj of India) as it's Secretary (the President being "God"). Tagore's Brahmo Samaj then quickly purged itself of Sen's Christian teaching and encouraged being described as Adi Brahmo Samaj to distinguish it from Sen's deliberately eponymous version.

Christianity

In 1866 Sen delivered an address on Jesus Christ, Europe and Asia, in which he proclaimed that "India would be for Christ alone who already stalks the land" and which fostered the impression that he was about to embrace Christianity.
Professor Oman writes "From the time of his secession from the parent Society, Keshub by his writings and public lectures enlisted the sympathies of the Viceroy, Sir John Lawrence, who took a deep interest in the work of the native reformer, particularly as Keshub had spoken publicly of Christ in terms which seemed to justify the belief that he was Christian in all but open profession of the faith."
This drew attention to him and in 1870 he journeyed to England where he remained for six months. The reception in England disappointed him, as he records much later in a letter to Max Muller "The British public ought to know how the most advanced type of Hinduism in India is trying to absorb and assimilate the Christianity of Christ, and how it is establishing and spreading, under the name of the New Dispensation, a new Hinduism, which combines Yoga and Bhakti, and also a new Christianity, which blends together Apostolical faith and modern civilisation and science."
Love for Sovereign
In 1870 Keshab introduced a new doctrine into his Church "Love for the Sovereign". Perceiving Christianity as a model tradition from which the Indians could learn, Keshab became convinced that the British presence in India served a divine purpose for the Indian people. At his historic 1870 meeting with the queen he expressed his acceptance of British rule which pleased the British. This theological stand against Indian nationalism (then being propounded by the Brahmos under Hemendranath Tagore's new doctrine of "Brahmos embrace the co-existence of Brahmo principles with governance, but oppose all governance in conflict with Brahmo principles.") made Keshab the target of tremendous criticism at home.

Universal religion

Sen’s primary quest was for a universal religion or belief-system. Sen established a syncretic school of spiritualism, called the Nabo Bidhan or 'New Dispensation', which he intended to amalgamate the best principles of Christianity and of the western spiritual tradition with Hinduism.
His opponents felt that he had rejected completely the tenets of Brahmoism settled by Rammohun Roy (as cited by J.N. Farquahar and other scholars), and in January, 1881, the New Dispensation was formally announced in the Sunday Mirror of October 23:
Our position is not that truths are to be found in all religions ; but that all the established religions of the world are true. There is a great deal of difference between the two assertions. The glorious mission of the New Dispensation is to harmonise religions and revelations, to establish the truth of every particular dispensation, and upon the basis of these particulars to establish the largest and broadest induction of a general and glorious proposition.
Sen adopted a number of ceremonies from both Hinduism and Christianity, calling God "Mother", and adopting the homa sacrifice and the 'arati' ceremony (the waving of lights) into Brahma ritual. He found spiritual nourishment in Durga Puja, and composed a hymn of praise containing 108 names of God, along with other forms of worship that echoed traditional Hindu prayers.
The Nabo Bidhan school generated considerable antagonism among Brahmo Samajists, since Sen's followers represented that they were also Brahmos. Eight Brahmos of Sylhet (now in Bangladesh) including Raj Chandra Chaudhuri and Pandit Sitanath Tattvabhushan issued the following proclamation in 1880:
Let us all, every Brahmo and Brahmo Samaj, combine to let the world know that the New Dispensation is not the Brahmo religion: That we have not the least sympathy for the creed : That the New Dispensation is totally opposed to Brahmoism.
This proclamation of the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj resulted in 1881 of the formation of the Brahmo Conference Organisation to publicly denounce and expose Keshab Sen and his Nabo Bidhan movement from every platform as being "anti-Brahmo" in terms of the aforesaid proclamation.[38]
While Sen's detractors opposed and condemned him, he found appreciation in others.

Bipin Chandra Pal has succinctly summarised the evolution:
....To Keshub, however, was left the work of organising Rammohun Roy’s philosophy into a real universal religion through new rituals, liturgies, sacraments and disciplines, wherein were sought to be brought together not only the theories and doctrines of the different world religions but also their outer vehicles and formularies to the extent that these were real vehicles of their religious or spiritual life, divested, however, through a process of spiritual sifting, of their imperfections and errors and superstitions.

Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das explained Sen's attempt to create a universal religion. Speaking in 1917 he said:
The earlier religion of his (Keshub Chunder Sen’s) life was perhaps somewhat abstract. But his religion in developed form, as we find it, in his Navavidhan, is full of concrete symbols of all religions....Every Hindu is conscious of the underlying unity of this universalism. Read the devotional poems of the Vaishnavas, read the devotional poems of the Shaktas and the other sects, you will find they were identical in this character. The life and work of Keshub Chunder Sen also point to attempt after attempt at this very universalism....The result may or may not be considered satisfactory. But I refuse to judge it by the results. I rejoice in the glory of the attempt."

Sources: 
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NIDHI PARKASH's picture

Revered Keshav Chandra Sen was very active and conscious about the awakening of Indian society during the yoke of British slavery on India specially in the field in the field of religions.