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Role of Theosophical Society, Self-Respect Movement and Prarthana Samaj

Last Updated : 05 Sep, 2022
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Socio-Religious movements during the British Raj influenced the people of India for rational thinking. Such movements showed a gateway towards a society with a positive mindset. Theosophical Society, Self-respect Movement (1925), and Prarthana Samaj contributed significant roles in reforming Indian society. The general objectives of these movements were based on providing equal rights to live, especially to the backward class and unprivileged people. And such movements also focused on women’s rights. Here we will discuss the main objectives and works of the Theosophical Society, the Self-respect Movement (1925), and Prarthana Samaj.

Theosophical Society:

  • The base of the Theosophical Society was in Maharashtra. Madame H.P. Blavatsky and Colonel S. Olcott established the Theosophical Society in the United States in 1875. In the year 1882, the headquarter of the Theosophical Society was transferred to Adyar, Madras. The Greek word ‘theosophia’ is the root word for ‘theosophy’, and it means God’s wisdom. The objectives of the Theosophical Society brought some significant changes to Indian society.
  • The Theosophical Society started with an active movement in India after Annie Besant came to India in 1893. The objectives of theosophical principles were different from typical religious movements. According to the principles of the Theosophical Society, there is no need for conversions of religions. The theosophist believed that a person’s soul could be elevated and connected to God with prayers and revelations.
  • The thought of universal brotherhood helped to eradicate racism, casteism and sexism to some extent. Another objective of the Theosophical Society was to make people understand Hindu spiritual knowledge through western spiritual connection. It tied the Hindu philosophy of God by providing importance to ancient doctrines. The members of the Theosophical Society took the initiative to publish and translate Hindu scriptures. The society accepted ancient Hindu beliefs of Yoga, Sankhya, Upanishads and Vedanta.
  • The members of the Theosophical Society took initiatives to reform the Indian education system. The contribution of Anne Besant to reform the education system was remarkable. She became the president of the Theosophical Society in 1907. And she established Central Hindu University in 1898. She also protested against child marriage and the unacceptability of widow remarriage in Indian society.

Self-Respect Movement (1925):

  • The Self-respect Movement (1925) was started by S. Ramanathan, who later included E.V Ramasamy in the team to lead the movement. E.V Ramasamy, the Father of Modern Tamilnadu or Periyar, projected his Dravidian ideology to secure the rights of the backward classes and women.
  • The Self-Respect Movement was against the typical Hindu societal pattern. It demanded a society that would be free of casteism and religious discrimination.  
  • The concept of self-respect in Tamil literature, known as tan-maanam or suya mariyadai, was the focus of the movement created by E.V Ramasamy and S. Ramanathan. Annai Meenambal and Veeramal were the main women leaders who played significant roles.
  • The Self-respect Movement focused on the importance of the Dravidian languages like Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam. Apart from providing basic civil rights to the unprivileged class, the movement worked towards providing shelter to orphans and homeless people. Widows were provided importance to improve the growth of society. And education was the primary objective of the movement. The members of the Self-respect Movement also worked against untouchability in Indian society.
  • EV Ramasamy criticised the laws of Manu while protesting against rigid Hindu social patterns. And he discouraged further establishment of Vedic schools, temples or Hindu religious constructions. One of the main objectives was to discourage people from using caste names.

Prarthana Samaj:

  • Prarthana Samaj was established in 1867 by  Atmaram Pandurang in Bombay. The objectives of Prarthana Samaj came to action in 1870 when Justice M.G. Ranade and  R.G. Bhandarkar joined. Sir Ramakrishna Gopal Bhandarkar and Sir Narayan Chandavarkar were also significant members of Prarthana Samaj.
  • The members of Prarthana Samaj were Hindu. The objective was to reform the unacceptable Hindu rituals and beliefs by staying in Hinduism and understanding its roots of the same.
  • The members of Prarthana Samaj aimed to eradicate child marriage, Sati, the dowry system, the unacceptability of widow remarriage and inter-marriage from Indian society.
  • Prarthana Samaj did not accept the idol worshipping ritual of the Hindu religion. The outlook of Prarthana Samaj members differed from the Brahma Samaj. The latter had more rigid beliefs and ideologies. In contrast, the focus area of Prarthana Samaj was to reform the social structure and provide importance to prayer. And the members believed in the existence of one God.
  • Prarthana Samaj accepted the religious guidance of Christianity and Buddhism just like they accepted the existence of Hinduism. They did not want to divide society into multiple castes. So, as a gesture of encouragement, the members attended communal meals where they ate food prepared by people of different religions and castes.


The objectives of the Theosophical Society, the Self-respect Movement (1925) and Prarthana Samaj might differ from each other. But all movements conveyed a message of equality. Such movements showed new insights into religious beliefs to uplift the backward class, women and unprivileged people in Indian society. And the actions of the socio-religious movements helped to bring back their rights to some extent. Common people learned to think rationally. And the rigidity of religious culture was diminished too.

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