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Social Reformers

Mahatma Gandhi(Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi)

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was a pre-eminent political and ideological leader of India during the Indian independence movement. He pioneered satyagraha. This is defined as resistance to tyranny through mass civil disobedience, a philosophy firmly founded upon ahimsa (nonviolence). This concept helped India gain independence and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world. Gandhi is often referred to as Mahatma or “Great Soul” (magnanimous), an honorific first applied to him by Rabindranath Tagore. In India he is also called Bapu and officially honored as the Father of the Nation. His birthday, 2 October, is commemorated as Gandhi Jayanti, a national holiday, and worldwide as the International Day of Non-Violence. Gandhi was assassinated on 30 January 1948 by Nathuram Godse.As a practitioner of ahimsa, Gandhi swore to speak the truth and advocated that others do the same. He lived modestly in a self-sufficient residential community and wore the traditional Indian dhoti and shawl, woven from yarn that he had spun by hand himself. He ate simple vegetarian food, experimented for a time with a fruitarian diet, and undertook long fasts as a means of both self-purification and social protest.

Swami Vivekananda

was the chief disciple of the 19th century mystic Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and the founder of Ramakrishna Mission.He is considered a key figure in the introduction of Hindu philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga in Europe and America and is also credited with raising interfaith awareness, bringing Hinduism to the status of a major world religion during the end of the 19th century.Vivekananda is considered to be a major force in the revival of Hinduism in modern India.He is perhaps best known for his inspiring speech beginning with “Sisters and Brothers of America”, through which he introduced Hinduism at the Parliament of the World’s Religions at Chicago in 1893. Swami Vivekananda was born in an aristocratic Bengali family of Calcutta in 1863. Swami’s parents influenced his thinking—the father by his rational mind and the mother by her religious temperament. From his childhood, he showed inclination towards spirituality and God realization. While searching for a man who could directly demonstrate the reality of God, he came to Ramakrishna and became his disciple. As a guru, Ramakrishna taught him Advaita Vedanta (non-dualism) and that all religions are true, and service to man was the most effective worship of God. After the death of his Guru, Vivekananda became a wandering monk, touring the Indian subcontinent and getting first-hand knowledge of India’s condition. He later sailed to Chicago and represented India as a delegate in the 1893 Parliament of World Religions. An eloquent speaker, Vivekananda was invited to several forums in the United States and spoke at universities and clubs. He conducted hundreds of public and private lectures and classes, disseminating Vedanta and Yoga in America, England and a few other countries in Europe. He also established the Vedanta societies in America and England. Later he sailed back to India and in 1897 founded the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, a philanthropic and spiritual organization.


Sree Nārāyana Guru

Sree Nārāyana Guru (1855–1928), also known as Sree Nārāyana Guru Swami, was a Hindu saint and social reformer of India. The Guru was born in a Ezhava family, in an era when people from backward communities like the Ezhavas faced much social injustices in the caste-ridden Kerala society. Gurudevan, as he was fondly known to his followers, led reform movement in Kerala, revolted against casteism and worked on propagating new values of freedom in spirituality and of social equality, thereby transforming the Kerala society.Nārāyana Guru is revered for his Vedic knowledge, poetic proficiency, openness to the views of others, non-violent philosophy and his unrelenting resolve to set aright social wrongs. Nārāyana Guru was instrumental in setting the spiritual foundations for social reform in today’s Kerala and was one of the most successful social reformers who tackled caste in India. He demonstrated a path to social emancipation without invoking the dualism of the oppressed and the oppressor.
Ayyankali

Ayyankali was a leader of the Indian lower caste Dalits known as the Untouchables. He pioneered many reforms to improve the lives of the Dalits. In 1937 he was praised by Mahatma Gandhi. Ayyankali was born in 1863 in Venganoor, Trivandrum.  He was illiterate as were all Dalits at that time. Ayyankali organized Dalits and fought against these discriminations. Ayyankali demanded right for Dalit children to study in school.The significance of Ayyankali lies in the fact that he could spearhead a struggle for human rights of the untouchables raising demands which find expressions in various international human rights documents well before their adoption. He pioneered a movement for democratizing public places and asserting the rights of workers even before the formation of any workers organisation in Kerala. The most amazing part of it is that he did all this in spite of his illiteracy. No wonder that Ayyankali was later nominated to the assembly of Travancore namely, Sri Moolam Legislative Assembly, in 1910 by the then rulers in recognition of his leadership ability. In his efforts Ayyankali also received the support of his great contemporary Sree Narayana Guru and other social reformers. By 1900 Dalits were given the freedom to walk on the public roads, and by 1914, Dalit children were allowed to join schools. Also, Dalit women were allowed to cover their nakedness in public through his efforts.He is such a dynamic person that he could gather support for his cause even from the members of upper caste community as well as some prominent land lords who were members of Praja Sabha during his time.Ayyankali founded the Sadhujana Paripalana Sangham (Association for the Welfare of the Poor) in 1905, which succeeded in obtaining a six-day week for agricultural laborers. Ayyankali died on June 18, 1941.

B R Ambedkar

Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (14 April 1891 — 6 December 1956), also known as Babasaheb, was an Indian jurist, political leader, Buddhist activist, philosopher, thinker, anthropologist, historian, orator, prolific writer, economist, scholar, editor, revolutionary and a revivalist for Buddhism in India. He was also the chief architect of the Indian Constitution. Born into a poor Mahar (then considered an Untouchable caste) family, Ambedkar spent his whole life fighting against social discrimination, the system of Chaturvarna — the categorization of Hindu society into four varnas — and the Hindu caste system. He is also credited with providing a spark for the conversion of hundreds of thousands of untouchables to Theravada Buddhism. Ambedkar was posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award, in 1990.
Overcoming numerous social and financial obstacles, Ambedkar became one of the first so called “Outcasts” to obtain a college education in India. Eventually earning law degrees and multiple doctorates for his study and research in law, economics and political science from Columbia University and the London School of Economics, Ambedkar gained a reputation as a scholar and practiced law for a few years, later campaigning by publishing journals advocating political rights and social freedom for India’s so-called untouchables. He is regarded as a Bodhisattva by some Indian Buddhists, though he never claimed himself to be a Bodhisattva.

Sree Chattampi Swamikal

Sree Vidyadhiraja Parama Bhattaraka Chattampi Swamikal (1853–1924) was a Hindu sage and social reformer. Swamikal along with his contemporary Nārāyana Guru, strived to reform the heavily ritualistic and caste-ridden Hindu society of the late 19th century Kerala.Chattampi Swamikal denounced the orthodox interpretation of Hindu texts citing sources from the Vedas. Swamikal also worked for the emancipation of women and encouraged them to come to the forefront of society. He said that the enslavement of women was a manifestation of male arrogance. Swamikal promoted vegetarianism and professed non-violence (Ahimsa). He strongly opposed Christian missionary activities and criticized Christianity. He authored several books on spirituality and the history of language.Chattampi Swamikal was known by different names throughout his intellectually and spiritually enriched life. The swami’s original name was Ayyappan, although he was called Kunjan Pillai and later Shanmukhadasan.