Vishnubua Brahmachari : An ascetic defender of Hinduism

विष्णुबुवा ब्रह्मचारी सामाजिक केंद्र    19-Aug-2023
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Writer : Suresh Gokhale
Vishnubuva Brahmachari was a 19th century Marathi Hindu revivalist, an ascetic defender of Hinduism. He was well known for his religious polemics, mainly against Christianity. He was known for his “humorous reactions and vigorous arguments” while confronting Christian missionaries and occasionally other Hindus as well. His Bombay debates of 1857 had been widely published in English and Marathi.
A short biography
Vishnubuva Brahmachari was born on the auspicious day of Adhik Shravan Shuddha Panchami, July 20, 1825 at the village Shirvali, Taluka – Mangaon in Raigad district of Maharashtra. His full name is Vishnu Bhikaji Gokhale. His father passed away when he was five. After studying for a while at the age of 7, he could not continue his education for long due to the poverty of his family. From the age of 9, he started earning for livelihood. Initially he worked in a grocery shop at Mahad. At very young age i.e., 14 years he passed the entrance examination of the customs department of British Government and served there for about 7 years. He was transferred to various places such as Vasai, Kalyan, Bhiwandi and Uran.
From the childhood he had an affinity for spirituality. So, he continued to study religious texts extensively. After completing the duty assigned to him very sincerely, he used to spend time in the company of kirtankars, sadhus, bairagis, sannyasis. However, he couldn’t find peace and satisfaction in their company. Eventually at the age of 23, he renounced all associations, resigned from his job and retired to the forest in pursuit of self-realisation.
Vishnubuva spent some time in search of Sadguru; but he was disappointed. He met many saints and sought their teachings; but none of them could satisfy him. Then he decided to attain self-realisation by his own efforts.
Accordingly, he went to the mountain of Saptashringi, Nasik and performed severe penance eating roots and bulbs only. He was always engrossed in Vedanta thought and meditation. At this place, he received the divine order. He felt that he had attained the state of self-realisation for which he had practiced sadhana. But he was not contented. He thought that by practicing austere penance, he had attained his own well-being but he must dedicate himself to make his fellow beings realise the ultimate and true meaning of Dharma. An inspiration arose in his heart that he should spend the rest of his life for the welfare of the world.
In order to acquaint people to their supreme and glorious Dharma, he felt certain that the way of the Vedokta Dharma as envisaged by the Vedas should be shown to his brethren. He received then a divine order from Shri Dattatreya to demolish the much prevailing misconduct and misdeeds under the garb of religion, to refute heretic foreign opinions and to reestablish Vedokta Dharma.
Accordingly, Vishnubuva set for his journey. He went to Pandharpur via Nashik. He recited Bhavarth Ramayana authored by Sant Eknath Maharaj twice. He started addressing the people to enlighten them about the true meaning of Vedokta Dharma. His great eloquence left an impression on the people. Soon he achieved the fame and people started calling him ‘Brahmachari Buva’. To bring forth the real essence of Vedik Dharma he wrote his first book ‘Bhavarthsindhu’ in 1856 at Pandharpur.
Here he got acquainted with Shri Mahadevshastri Kolhatkar, an inspector in Education Department of the British Government. Mahadevshastri urged him to visit various places and towns in Maharashtra – Baramati, Pune, Ahmednagar, Sangali, Satara, Miraj, Wai, Kolhapur, Solapur. At these places Vishnubuva delivered lectures emphasizing the importance of Vedokta Dharma.
In September 1856, he came to Mumbai on the way to Dwarka. He was aware of the onslaught of Christianity on Hinduism. The Christian missionaries had carried out the work of spreading their religion among the Indian people very systematically. With their apparent charitable attitude, they made an impression on the uneducated and lower caste people of the society and won their hearts. On the other hand, they tried to influence the educated and elite class by propagating so called noble and humanistic principles of Christianity.
Due to the propaganda of the Christian missionaries, a great crisis was approaching on the Hindu religion. The educated class of Hinduism was also influenced by western values. A kind of inferiority complex about Swadharma had started occupying the minds of common people. The British had not only captured the political power but they had also hatched a conspiracy of cultural and religious invasion of the Hindu society through missionaries. Vishnubuva sensed their crooked plan of religious conversion of Hindus and he decided to curb it by fiercely resisting it.
Vedokt Dharma Rakshan (Protection of Vedokta Dharma)
From the manuscripts of Hindu religious books, Christian missionaries identified faults lines in Hindu religion to advocate Christianity and to carry out mischievous criticism of Hindu religion. In response to this, Vishnubuva started social counselling in various meetings.
Every Saturday he gave lectures at Prabhu Seminary in Girgaon – Mumbai. He held a total of 50 such meetings. In these sessions Vishnubuva effectively countered the mischievous and vulgar criticism from Christian missionaries. His public speaking skill and debating skill was very impressive. In the span of  January 15 1857 to May 28 1857, every Thursday evening he had 20 public discussions and meetings with Christian missionaries on the sea front of Mumbai Backbay. Through these lectures, he refuted the objections against Vedic religion and convinced people of its superiority. With his uncompromising arguments, he influenced many people who called themselves atheists, converted Hindus and brought them back to Hinduism. As a result, the irresponsible propaganda of the Christian missionaries against Hinduism was greatly curbed.
Christian missionary G. George Bowen used to attend these meetings. He wrote a book by name ‘Discussions by the Seaside (1857) giving an account of discussions held during these meetings. Its Marathi translation ‘Samudrkinaricha Vadvivad’ was published in 1872.
Social work of Vishnubuva Brahmachari
Although Vishnubuva was proud of Vedic religion, he did not turn a blind eye to the flaws in the prevailing social structure. The caste discrimination and social disparity were responsible for the deterioration of the Hindu society. Hence, we lost our independence and became subjects of invasions, exploitation and torture. He strongly advocated that every element of the society should get equal status in public life.
He advocated social reforms. His personal behavior was consistent with his reformist views. He used to drink water and eat food served by any person irrespective of his caste. His character was very pure. Vishnubuva raised his voice against social inequality and the inhuman and unjust treatment given to the Atishudras.
The upper castes are entirely responsible for the backwardness of their Dalit brothers; therefore, he asserted that the Brahmins should treat the Dalits as equals without despising them, strive hard for their cultural and social upliftment and happily accept their rightful rights as temple visitors.
He put forth his positive thoughts regarding remarriage, adult marriage, purification, divorce, girls’ education etc.
Thoughts on Equality
The ideas of this spiritual but reformist Brahmachari are based on freedom, equality and brotherhood which are truly mind-boggling. Vishnubuva authored a book named ‘Vedoktadharmaprakash’ in 1859. This book has a separate chapter on politics.
Further, he illustrated his views and wrote the ‘Sukhadayak Rajyaprakarani Nibandh’ (‘Essays on Beneficent Government’), a small book in 1867. Surprisingly the ideas mentioned by Karl Marx in Das Capital, a few months later, resemble with the ideas presented by Vishnubuva in the ‘Essays on Beneficent Government’.
During British rule in India, there happened a large-scale automation as was evident from a number of machine – made products. Due to industrialisation a labour class was born. Vishnubuva described the pitiable condition of workers and put forth his thoughts with regard to same
He got his book translated in English and published in 1869. He got printed 10,000 copies of the same and sent them to respectable personalities in India and abroad including the Queen Victoria of Britain.
His said book bears an ideal concept of the government. The following quote from this book gives good insight about his philosophy. “In the same way that all the people are one family and all the land is one garden and whatever is produced in it belongs to all. In this form of government, everyone gets all the benefits and everyone is fed well. So, all people live happy & joyful life with contentment. All the land should be cultivated by all the subjects and many kinds of fruits, tubers, vegetables, food should be grown and it should be stored in the storehouses of the villages.
All the villagers should take needed food from it. The land should be cultivated throughout the year and the production from all the farms should be kept in the custody of one person and everyone should get abundant food.
All boys and girls who have attained the age of five should be handed over to the king. King should take the responsibility of their education and skill development. One should be engaged in a work in which he is inclined to be more diligent.
Some other books worth mentioning and authored by Vishnubuva include ‘Chatuhshloki Bhagawat yacha Arth (1867), Sahajsthiticha Nibandh’ (1868). Those authored by him and published after his demise include ‘Vedokta Dhrmacha Vichar Va Christimatkhadan’ (Essence of teachings – 1874) and Setubandhani Tika (1890). Setubandhani Tika is a search and investigation in Bhagwad Geeta. It can be described as a bridge leading from ignorance to knowledge.
His book ‘Bhavarth Sindhu’ was translated into Gujarati language and ‘Vedokta Dharmaprakash’ into Bhojpuri language. Along with counselling, Vishnubuva took lead and inspired in establishing libraries and newspapers from place to place.
Because of Vishnubuva’s thought – provoking discourses, there was a large awakening in Hindu and Parsi society and they started taking pride in their religion. Eventually this also put a break to a speed of religious teachings of Christian missionaries. Their cunning designs were defeated and conversions of Hindu and Parsi society came to a halt.
Original Voice of Nationalism and Social Hindutva
Vishnubuva, in his sacred endeavor, received the support of many a great personality like Sir Jeejibhoy Jamshetji, Jagannath Shankarsheth, Hari Keshavaji, Seth Gokuldas Tejpal, Bhau Daji Lad, Vinayraoji Vasudev, Narayan Dinanathji, Dadoba Pandurang and Dadabhai Nauroji. During his stay at Akkalkot, he happened to avail company, guidance and blessings of Shri Swami Samarth.
Vishnubuva Brahmachari travelled to enlighten the people in Kolkata, Varanasi, Chennai and Gujrat. Shri. Madhav Anant Dalal supported and helped him during his stay in Kolkata.
Vishnubuva passed away on 18th February, 1871 (Mahashivaratri, Magh Vadya Chaturdashi, Shak 1792) in Vitthal mandir, Girgaon, Mumbai.
In a short life span of only 46 years, Vishnubuva carried out commendable work of social counselling and awakening, leading to protection of Hindu Dharma. He ignored criticism from fellow Indians and others too. He didn’t count insults and focused on his noble objective of establishing Vedokta Dharma. He can be said to be an original voice behind the concept of nationalism and social Hindutva that came to life in the second half of the 19th century.
Vishnubuva Brahmachari Samajik Kendra
‘Vishnubuva Brahmachari Samajik Kendra’ was established on Chaitra Shuddha Panchami – Lakshmi Panchami (6th April 2022) with the aim of working together for building a strong Bharat through social awareness and social service based on the ideals and work of Vishnubuva Brahmachari.
RSS senior pracharak late Shri. Moropant Pingle had visited Shiravali, the birthplace of Vishnubuva in 90’s. He had urged to establish an appropriate memorial to commemorate the Great Seer Vishnubuva. The inspiration behind the establishment of ‘Vishnubuva Brahmachari Samajik Kendra’ trust is Shri. Moropant Pingle. The trust is also blessed and guided by Pujya Shri. Sanatan Swami (Tikona Peth, Taluka Maval, Pune).
Vishnubuva had established Shri Dattaguru Paduka at Shiravali and abhishek is performed on Padukas on every Pournima.
The trust has initiated different programs in the field of Vishnubuva’s literature research and education, training and services for the needy and poor people. Vishnubuva’s books are uploaded on our website – which also provides details of our plans, programs and activities.
Information Sources :- Organiser