Chapter 6
The Impact of the British (3) The Spiritual Impact

AT THE beginning of the nineteenth century, the state of religion in North India was as debased as that of learning. Contemporary Indian writers record the corruption and degeneracy of the priesthood, their ignorance of the spiritual teachings of Hinduism, their obsession with disputes over points of ceremonial, their addiction to the sensual practices introduced into Hinduism some centuries earlier by the Tantrics,1 and the prevalence of animal sacrifice. Even reforming sects such as the Vaishnavas had become infected with the general corruption, and the great mass of the people were left in utter spiritual darkness. It was perhaps fortunate that the situation was at its worst in Bengal where British influence was now becoming paramount. The impact on Bengal society--and to a lesser extent on that of Madras--of Western education and of Christianity in one of its dynamic phases was bound to be shattering. Thoughtful men compared their own customs with what they read of other countries and revolted against sati,2 polygamy, child marriage and the extreme forms of untouchability. They were led inevitably to an exaggerated respect for Western institutions and an undue disparagement of their own religion.

These tendencies led young men in one of two directions, according to their temperament. Some rebelled against religion altogether, and, indeed, against all authority, while others turned to Christianity. The story of the rebels is well illustrated by events in the Hindu college at Calcutta, where a Portuguese- Indian, Derozio, exercised an extraordinary influence over the students and imbued them with a fervent desire to revolutionise society. Derozio himself, although a free thinker, never

____________________
1
Tantrics--a sect addicted to magic ritual and the use of spells.
2
Sati--the self-immolation of a widow on the funeral pyre of her husband.

-57-

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