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Religious Reform and Public Debates

During the early nineteenth century, there were intense debates on religious issues. Changes within the colonial society were debated in different ways, and religious beliefs were interpreted differently. Some criticised existing practices and campaigned for reforms, while others opposed reformers. These debates were carried out in public and in print.

Printed matter and newspapers spread the new ideas and the public were now more involved in state matters as they were more knowledgeable now.

As more people started reading about the controversies between social and religious reformers new ideas were born. The Hindu orthodoxy over matters like widow immolation, monotheism, Brahmanical priesthood and idolatry was discussed and son social reforms were born, championing the cause of the down trodden.

Topics that created controversies

  • Collapse of the Muslim dynasties
  • Fear of conversion
  • Change of Muslim personal laws

Popular Indian publications

  • Sambad Kaumudi by Rammohun Roy
  • Samachar Chandrika by the Hindu orthodoxy society
  • Jam-i-Jahan Nama and Shamsul Akhbar – Persian newspapers
  • Bombay Samachar – a Gujarati newspaper

Bombay Samachar


Religious literature flourished during this time in India

Muslim publishers printed huge quantities of literature advising Muslims readers on

how to conduct themselves in their everyday lives and explained the meanings of Islamic doctrines. A number of Muslim sects and seminaries appeared. They all had different interpretation of faith and wanted to enlarge their following and counter the influence of their opponents. Urdu print helped them conduct these battles in public

Among Hindus, print encouraged the reading of religious texts, especially in the vernacular languages. The first printed edition of the Ramcharitmanas of Tulsidas, came out in 1810. Soon cheap lithographic editions of this book flooded north Indian markets.


Famous Indian presses during that time :-

  • The Naval Kishore Press at Lucknow
  • The Shri Venkateshwar Press in Bombay

Religious texts reached a very wide circle of people. It encouraged discussions and debates. Controversies within and among different religions soon precipitated.

When we look at the positive side of print we see that it connected communities and people in different parts of India. Newspapers conveyed news from one place to another, creating unity in diversity.

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