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The Brahmo Samaj, a definitive web resource
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Delhi Brahmo Samaj.

Brahmo Conference Organisation

Delhi Brahmo Samaj

Delhi Brahmo Samaj

Information for members of the Brahmo Samaj of Delhi

Address:

The Delhi Brahmo Samaj,

12, Vishnu Digamber Marg (Rouse Avenue Lane)

Near ITO,

New Delhi 110002

Objectives:

To achieve the eternalness of the ONE god, and to propagate the Brahmo religion.

Membership:

Open to all believers in ONE god and the core principles of the Brahmo Samaj.

Annual membership of Rs.100 ( US$2) per head.

Simple Answers to Frequently Asked Questions:

Disclaimer: The following answers are the personal observations / views of the author. You really ought to consult a legal professional if you plan to rely upon this information.

1. What is the Brahmo Samaj ?

A. The Brahmo Samaj is a movement started by leading intellectuals of Bengal ,such as Ram Mohan Roy, in the 1820's which culminated in the birth of the Brahmo religion in 1850.

2. What is the Brahmo religion ?

A. Maharshi Debendranath Tagore (father of Rabindranath) has spelt out the core principles of the Brahmo religion in the "Brahmo Dharma". These include:-

  • That there is ONE Universal GOD who has no form.
  • That the ONLY way to salvation is through goodness.
  • That no fire or sticks or objects are required to be worshipped to achieve ONEness with God, nor is any book (such as the Vedas) infallible concerning the ONE god, and neither are any intermediaries (such as priests) required to approach god.

    3. Are Brahmos Hindu ? What is the legal position ?

    A. That the Brahmo religion is a separate religion - distinct from Hinduism has been repeatedly upheld by the highest Courts in the land.

    The 1903 Privy Council Judgement in the matter of "Rani Bhagwan Koer and Ors v. J.C.Bose and Ors." {30 Cal 11} is the landmark caselaw. It was held here:-

  • that "if a Brahmo declares (for the purpose of the Special Marriage Act,1872) that he is NOT a Hindu it must be taken as conclusive evidence that he is NOT a Hindu",
  • that "if a Hindu follows the Brahmo Samaj it does not mean that he ceases to be a Hindu",
  • that "there are at least 3 branches of the Brahmo Samaj and that only the original (Adi) Brahmo Samajis (a very small minority today) consider themselves to be Hindus". It is important to understand the significance of these rulings:-
  • "Conclusive Evidence" is the highest form of evidence of a particular fact.
  • Certain legal authorities like Maynes have misrepresented that "all Brahmos are Hindus and nothing but Hindus" because they continue to be Hindus after "conversion". Since Maynes' treatise "Hindu Law" is otherwise such an authority this canard has been widely spread. Firstly J.M.Maynes represented the "losing" Hindu side in this particular matter. Secondly the Brahmo Samaj does not require renunciation of your existing religion to "follow" the universal core principles of the Brahmo Samaj in one's day to day life. Thirdly "followers of the Brahmo Samaj" are not neccesarily Brahmo religionists (who exclusively have faith in the Brahmo religion)
  • Maharshi Debendranath Tagore (the founder of the Brahmo religion), being part of an old and extended Hindu family, continued to permit certain Hindu religious rituals in his Adi Brahmo Samaj out of deference to his family. However, today all Brahmo religionists would unhesitatingly declare that they are not Hindus by religion. Additionally they would fail the so-called Bal Gangadhar Tilak "test" for Hinduism in every respect.

    Insofar, as the various Hindu Laws are concerned:-

  • These Hindu laws are certainly applicable to those Hindus who are also "followers" of the Brahmo Samaj, just as similarly as the Islamic Laws would be applicable to any Mohammedans who are also "followers" of the principles of the Brahmo Samaj etc. Since membership of the various Brahmo Samajes is freely open to persons of all religious faiths - the personal law of members of the Brahmo Samaj is not an issue for the Samaj. It is important to realise that the Brahmo religion is separate and distinct from the Brahmo Samaj.

  • Brahmos (ie. exclusively Brahmo religionists) are governed by the secular laws of the country of their residence. For example in India, they would be governed by the "Special Marriages Act 1872, or 1954", "The Indian Succession Act", "The Guardians and Wards Act", etc. In addition Brahmos are also free to opt for relief under any personal laws applicable to them. In laws of Bangladesh - Brahmoism is recognised as a separate religion distinct from Hinduism or Islam.

  • It is the official position of the various Brahmo Samajes that Brahmos are encouraged to comply with the various laws of their land in matters of family law, succession law etc, and to scrupulously adhere to any formalities such as registration(s) that may be required under such laws.

    4. What are the laws concerning Brahmo marriages in India ?

    A. This would depend upon the facts and circumstances of the case:-

  • Any unregistered marriage properly conducted according to customary Brahmo rites where at least one of the parties is a Brahmo is absolutely and legally valid. The Brahmo elder who conducted the marriage would issue a certificate of the marriage on application. In such case the ordinary law of the land only would apply. Brahmo marriages cannot be dissolved and there is no provision for divorce. These marriages may still be governed by the provisions of the Special Marriage Act of 1872 (via certain savings). Non-registration of a Brahmo marriage has no impact on the legality of the marriage (except in Goa). However, there are certain customary degrees of relationships between whom parties cannot marry - this is well codified by the various Samajes and the elders would not conduct marriages in these circumstances. These restrictions essentialy correspond to or exceed those given in the Special Marriage Acts.

  • Where one of the parties is NOT a Brahmo, it is advisable to get the marriage registered under the Special Marriages Act of 1954, so as to allow divorce, maintenance etc in future. It is important to note that to avoid subsequent legal complications through lack of knowledge that a "civil marriage" with 30 days prior notice should preferably be done first and thereafter a Brahmo marriage ceremony be conducted. If it is not possible to give 30 days notice it is recommended that the parties be married by Brahmo rituals ONLY or by Brahmo rituals FIRST and thereafter the marriage be registered under the Special Marriages Act,1954. In cases of marriages between a Hindu and Brahmo, or even between 2 Brahmos it is also common to get such marriages registered under the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, this is usually done to avoid being "disinherited" from joint family property as a "consequence" of marriage under the Special Marriages Act 1954.

    PLEASE NOTE: Marriages solemnised between say a Brahmo and a Hindu conducted by Hindu rites alone may not be legally valid (since the Hindu Marriage Act 1955 only applies to marriages where BOTH the parties are Hindus). Subsequent Registration of a defective marriage does NOT make an invalid marriage valid.

  • The Brahmo marriage ceremony is "contractual" in nature (like Islam), unlike the "sacramental" and "ritualistic" ceremonies of Hinduism and Christianity. Since priests are not required, the ceremony is minimalistic and essentially consists of the parties (both of whom are consenting adults aged 21 years or more) declaring in the presence of witnesses (preferably their parents and family or elders) their agreement to marry each other. To "seal" this marriage an elder will bind their hands with floral garlands and/or exchange rings while a brief sermon on role of the parties in the marriage is delivered. Additionally the parents of the parties will bless and/or give away their children. Certain Samajes (notably in Kolkatta) require that a "civil marriage" be registered before conducting ceremonies, this is a throw-back precautionary measure to remove any legal challenges to the validity of inter-religious marriages dating from the 19th century.

  • The essential ceremony of a Brahmo marriage is that the 2 parties (both adults) must freely confirm in the presence of at least 3 witnesses that they are marrying each other of their own volition.

  • In matters of marriage, the Brahmo Samaj does not encourage or require conversion to Brahmoism. However, at least one of the parties must be either a Brahmo or a current member of a Brahmo Samaj or with a Brahmo parent.

  • Runaway marriages are not performed by Brahmo Samajes. Respect for and consent of family is strongly advised for performance of Brahmo marriages.

  • Both parties must be consenting adults (21 years or more).

  • Although monogamy is de-riguer for Brahmos, there is no specific law that makes bigamy an offence for Brahmos. However, if any marriage of a Brahmo is registered under a law which makes bigamy an offence (such as the Special Marriages Act or the Hindu Marriage Act) then bigamy provisions are attracted. Brahmo elders will not knowingly conduct marriage ceremonies when it is suspected that a previous marriage exists.

  • Brahmos whose marriages are unregistered are not "automatically" governed by the Hindu Marriage Act, unless they were married by Hindu rites exclusively. In case any Brahmo is sued under any Hindu Marriage / Guardianship Act provision it would be better to clarify at the outset that he/she is neither a Hindu nor a "follower of the Brahmo Samaj" and hence not covered under the Act.

  • The Brahmo family laws and rituals are well codified by various Samajes. These may be relied upon in a court of law if required. It would not be out of place here that it was the Brahmos who gave modern India their marriage laws. The Brahmo Marriage Bill of 1871 was so immaculately drafted for Brahmos by Brahmo stalwarts like Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar that it was immediately extended to benefit Christians and Jews and Parsis also by the British when it was passed as the Special Marriages Act of 1872, however Hindus and Mohamedans were specifically excluded from this Act. Even today a clause by clause comparison of the Hindu Marriage Act 1955 reveals that it is nothing but the Special Marriages Act of 1872 under a new name. The new Special Marriages Act of 1954 is a far superior piece of legislation except for the discriminatory clauses concerning "consequences of marriage under the Act" which result in severance of members from a joint family.

  • The Brahmo community usually recognised as valid marriages of Brahmos which were conducted by elders of allied Samajes such as the Prathana Samaj and in the distant past by the Arya Samaj also. However, today the Brahmo community may not recognise Arya Samaj marriage rituals especially those which involve fire. In the past, marriage ceremonies in the presence of fire or idols has been frowned upon by Brahmos.

  • The contents of this page may also be useful to Prarthana Samajis (who are quite closely affiliated to the Brahmo Samaj). The Prarthana Samaj is active in Maharashtra and Mumbai (Bombay).

    Are Brahmos Christians and who are the Unitarians ?

    This is another canard being spread by a few irresponsible Brahmos. Since the Brahmo Samajes are open to all who believe in ONE god, we have always welcomed and interacted with people of all faiths and denominations with belief in ONE god, to better understand and benefit from each others perspective. Since Brahmoism is a separate and distinct religion, true Brahmos do not accept pelf from those who need to swell their ranks of harvested souls.

    This information page does not in any way constitute endorsement of its contents by the Brahmo Samaj

    (c) 2009 World Council of Brahmo Samaj