Raja Rammohun Roy
'Ram Mohan Roy'
Unknown artist, c.1820
125 x 100mm
© Victoria and Albert Museum
Raja Ram Mohun Roy
Unknown artist, 1833
Watercolour on paper 105 x 128mm
© The British Library
Extraordinary linguist and astute businessman, the great Hindu social and religious reformer Raja Rammohun Roy (1772/4-1833) advocated monotheism, or the belief in one God, and denounced the caste system and religious ritual. Roy's progressive ideas were supported by the successful Indian merchants, Dwarkanath Tagore and Prasanna Kumar Tagore, and the Scottish philanthropist David Hare. A prolific writer, Roy published in Bengali and English and his liberal opinions often stirred debate among orthodox Hindus.
In 1828, Roy founded the Brahmo Samaj (Divine Society), a Hindu reformist sect that returned to the Vedas (the ancient Hindu texts) and embraced Unitarian beliefs. His protests against sati (the ritual burning of widows on their husbands' funeral pyre) strengthened Lord William Bentinck's campaign to abolish the practice in 1829. That same year, Roy travelled to England on behalf of Akbar II, the titular Mughal ruler of Delhi to request an increase in the emperor's pension.
Roy was the first Indian intellectual to sail to Europe, which was otherwise strictly forbidden by Hindu tradition, and was well received in England by Unitarians and King William IV. He met the philosophers James Mill and Jeremy Bentham whose ideas he had long admired. While in London, he rented a residence in Cumberland Terrace, near Regent's Park. Roy died on a trip to Bristol on September 27, 1833.