1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Keshub Chunder Sen

KESHUB CHUNDER SEN (Keshava Chandra Sena) (1838–1884), Indian religious reformer, was born of a high-caste family at Calcutta in 1838. He was educated at one of the Calcutta colleges, where he became proficient in English literature and history. For a short time he was a clerk in the Bank of Bengal, but resigned his post to devote himself exclusively to literature and philosophy. At that time Sir William Hamilton, Hugh Blair, Victor Cousin, J. H. Newman and R. W. Emerson were among his favourite authors. Their works made the deepest impression on him, for, as he expressed it, “Philosophy first taught me insight and reflection, and turned my eyes inward from the things of the external world, so that I began to reflect on my position, character and destiny.” Like many other educated Hindus, Keshub Chunder Sen had gradually dissociated himself from the popular forms of the native religion, without abandoning what he believed to be its spirit. As early as 1857 he joined the Brahma Samaj, a religious association aiming at the reformation of Hinduism. Keshub Chunder Sen threw himself with enthusiasm into the work of this society and in 1862 himself undertook the ministry of one of its branches. In the same year he helped to found the Albert College and started the Indian Mirror, a weekly journal in which social and moral subjects were discussed. In 1863 he wrote The Brahma Samaj Vindicated. He also travelled about the country lecturing and preaching. The steady development of his reforming zeal led to a split in the society, which broke into two sections, Chunder Sen putting himself at the head of the reform movement, which took the name “Brahma Samaj of India,” and tried to propagate its doctrines by missionary enterprise. Its tenets at this time were the following: (1) The wide universe is the temple of God. (2) Wisdom is the pure land of pilgrimage. (3) Truth is the everlasting scripture. (4) Faith is the root of all religions. (5) Love is the true spiritual culture. (6) The destruction of selfishness is the true asceticism. In 1866 he delivered an address on “Jesus Christ, Europe and Asia,” which led to the false impression that he was about to embrace Christianity. This helped to call attention to him in Europe, and in 1870 he paid a visit to England. The Hindu preacher was warmly welcomed by almost all denominations, particularly by the Unitarians, with whose creed the new Brahma Samaj had most in common, and it was the committee of the British and Foreign Unitarian Association that organized the welcome soirée at Hanover Square Rooms on the 12th of April. Ministers of ten different denominations were on the platform, and among those who officially bade him welcome were Lord Lawrence and Dean Stanley. He remained for six months in England, visiting most of the chief towns. His eloquence, delivery and command of the language won universal admiration. His own impression of England was somewhat disappointing. Christianity in England appeared to him too sectarian and narrow, too “muscular and hard,” and Christian life in England more materialistic and outward than spiritual and inward. “I came here an Indian, I go back a confirmed Indian; I came here a Theist, I go back a confirmed Theist. I have learnt to love my own country more and more.” These words spoken at the farewell soirée may furnish the key to the change in him which so greatly puzzled many of his English friends. He developed a tendency towards mysticism and a greater leaning to the spiritual teaching of the Indian philosophies, as well as a somewhat despotic attitude towards the Samaj. He gave his child daughter in marriage to the raja of Kuch Behar; he revived the performance of mystical plays, and himself took part in one. These changes alienated many followers, who deserted his standard and founded the Sadhārana (General) Brahma Samaj (1878). Chunder Sen did what he could to reinvigorate his own section by a new infusion of Christian ideas and phrases, e.g. “the New Dispensation,” “the Holy Spirit.” He also instituted a sacramental meal of rice and water. Two lectures delivered between 1881 and 1883 throw a good deal of light on his latest doctrines. They were “The Marvellous Mystery, the Trinity,” and “Asia’s Message to Europe.” This latter is an eloquent plea against the Europeanizing of Asia, as well as a protest against Western sectarianism. During the intervals of his last illness he wrote The New Samhita, or the Sacred Laws of the Aryans of the New Dispensation. He died in January 1884, leaving many bitter enemies and many warm friends.

See the article Brahma Samaj; also P. Mozoomdar, Life and Teachings of Keshub Chunder Sen (1888).