Rammohan Roy and Christianity - Fr. George Thadathil sdb - Principal, Salesian College, Sonada-Siliguri
I would like to present in the short time before me an idea of what Brahmo Samaj, in today's India could do. I shall do so by looking at the past, and the present to draw out a possible future.

Rammohan is verily the father of modern India and the founding inspiration of Brahmo Samaj. His conversion has been studied and commented by one of the researchers who observes that 'while he challenged Britain (and by extension Europe) in social, educational and political matters, he succumbed to the west on religious matters'. (Bruce Robertson, 1995). I would beg to differ with this opinion precisely for the fact that Brahmo Samaj a new vision of religion for India is there alive to this day. This brings us to the times and manner in which Rammohun encountered Christianity, and as to where we are today positioned as Brahmo's and Christians in India.

I had an experience of being in Fiji Islands, during my initial stages of research on Sri Narayana Guru of South India and how the Indian Gurus have been received in non-Indian cultural contexts - the reverse of what had happened as with the arrival of Christianity into non-Christian cultures. One could see there, in 1999, the mid 19th century indentured labourers who formed half the population of the small island nation, practicing a Hinduism that they had known before they left India, and pieced together practices of the different regions they went from. While Hinduism underwent change in India, there was evidently an attempt to hold on to what they had carried with them, fear of losing something if they attempted to change. I wonder if the same cannot be applied to Christianity as it came from Syria to Kerala in the first century, or in the late 16th century and then on through colonialism in rest of India. Or for that matter to the Brahmoism being practiced today in comparison to the hey days of its origin. This attempt to hold on to orthodoxy is thus a constant in every religion and period. The attempt to avoid fossilization is what makes any religion or worldview or ideology for that matter alive to the times as happened with Vatican II (the council of church fathers to reinterpret the basic tenets and its lived applications for contemporary times). As a result, for instance we have what Raimundo Panikkar, a catholic priest did, by coming over to Benares from his native Spain (his mother was Spanish and father Indian) and being leader of the team that translated the Vedas for Modern Man entitled Mantramanjari (1977) A book that Motilal Banarsidas, has claimed as being one of their most sold books. His attempt was inspired by Brahmobandhab Upadhyaya who wanted to make Christianity Indian and Abhishiktananda (Henry Le Saux) a French Benedictine monk who became an advaitin and died in India.

The history of the Church, when viewed over the centuries, can be said to have passed through persecution phase, the empire phase, the Christianity phase and now posing the question, what next? It is in this that probably Brahmo beginnings and its one hundred and twenty five year trajectory needs to and could for mutual benefit connect with Indian Christianity once again.

In a visit to Shantiniketan, which unfortunately happened only after having been thirty years in Bengal, brought the thought that my own intellectual journey would have been different had I been exposed to those environs as an 18 year old, arriving in Bengal. The attempt to create something new "viswa bharati", 'shanti niketan', and that creative inspiration which remains, in whatever transitioned form one witnesses today, needs to be captured to make way for something new yet again, as we struggle to merge identities vis-a-vis sloganeering to harden the boundaries of identities.

Brahmo idea, at its heart, is that of a resurgent India as a land of all Indians following the ethos of tolerance and acceptance of truth coming from all quarters. It implies therefore the resistance to deviate from such path, as evinced in the supreme court verdict of 1988, declaring null and void the election of a candidate who had campaigned precisely on a religious identity platform, in 1995, nudged and nurtured by the regional party of Maharashtra that time. The verdict kept alive the truth that holds India together, and for two millennia and more. The history of India written in three volumes by Abraham Eraly, a History teacher who began to write a book for want of good text book, has the first volume entitled, The First Spring and narrates the spring time of Indian history as from 500 BCE to 500 CE. If we delve into the religious ideology that ruled and the spirit of the age, we find the egalitarianism and maitribhav (compassionate approach to other humans) originating from Buddhism as being the corner stone of a civilization that had much internal diversity taking shape. However, one becomes immediately curious as to why did it not survive into the next millennium, and what made it disappear and get replaced in less than another 500 years with 'so called foreign rule'?

This brings us again to the idea of India being contested today, one that would like to see a resurgence of a singular identity vis-a-vis a the legacy of a conglomerated religious-ideological spectrum of Indian consciousness. A vision that is enshrined in the constitution and something that began with what the encounter of Christianity and Indian ethos triggered. An idea that links the voices of liberal democratic formations at all levels, an India that is naturally diverse in multiple ways and therefore needing to preserve it consciously and against repeated counter ideologies and aspirations of dominance by any one strand in the string. The contemporary challenge of likeminded groups coming together and led by Brahmo as the probable initiator of such a process, as it did at the early stages of its formation and linkages with Unitarianism, against those elitist tendencies who would like to control the destiny of India.

One of the routes to the consciousness of open minded welcoming attitude to differences of all kinds, comes from the breadth of vision that only a Universal History of the world can give. Yuval Noah Harari, another history teacher in Hebrew University became famous with his book, Homo Sapiens, narrating the cultural evolution of human beings on earth. He takes a position that probably the shift from hunter gatherer stage to the pastoral-agricultural mode in the human history was not all that good a transition. The stability of the agriculturist versus the constant preparedness for change and being on the move calling for greater alertness all the time, of the hunter gatherer, is what has come to define the 'limit-setting' ways of the human beings to this day. Humans are never meant to be limited. The search for the unlimited potential is what is happening with the Artificial Intelligence and the Space Travel that astro-physics is opening up.

In these times of transitions, the possibility and the belief in our human ability to conjure up a better future is what brings us to movements, centres and prayer programmes of this nature that offer such hopes. Brahmoism is an attitude, relying on prayer to reach integrity and inner wellbeing. To spread the religion of Brahmo values through education and culture, through a network of likeminded persons gathering across India and the globe, carrying forward the history of the past 100 and a quarter is what you intend to do these days, and in such gatherings. I hope that we connect and we spread wings and in some measure become the true face of a resurgent India.