A portrait of Rammohun Roy by Rembrandt Peale (1833).


A portrait of Rammohun Roy by Rembrandt Peale (1833).


In accordance with the wish that you have often expressed to me to give you an insight into my life, I now have the pleasure of giving you the following very brief overview:

My ancestors were Brahmins of a high order, and from time immemorial devoted themselves to the religious duties of their race, until my fifth ancestor, who about one hundred and forty years ago abandoned the spiritual exercises for the pursuits and the enlargement of the world. His descendants since have followed his example, and, according to the usual fate of courtiers, with various successes, now rising to honor and now falling; sometimes rich and sometimes poor; sometimes excelling in success, sometimes miserable in disappointment. But my maternal ancestors, being of the priestly order by profession as well as by birth, and of a family to which no one holds a higher rank in this profession, have until our days uniformly adhered to a life of religious observances. and devotion, preferring peace and tranquility of mind to the excitements of ambition and all the attractions of worldly grandeur.

In accordance with the custom of my paternal race and the wishes of my father, I studied the Persian and Arabic languages, indispensable to those who attached themselves to the courses of the Mohammedan princes; and, in accordance with the custom of my maternal relations, I devoted myself to the study of Sanskrit and the theological works written therein, which contain the body of Hindu literature, law and religion.

Around the age of sixteen I composed a manuscript questioning the validity of the idolatrous system of the Hindus. This, together with my known feelings on this subject, having produced a coldness between me and my immediate kindred, I pursued my travels and passed through different countries, mostly within, but some beyond, the limits of the Hindoostan, with a feeling of great aversion to the establishment of British power in India. When I had reached the age of twenty, my father called me back and returned his favour; after which I saw and began to associate with Europeans, and soon afterwards I became quite familiar with their laws and their form of government. Finding them generally more intelligent, more steady, and more moderate in their conduct, I abandoned my prejudices against them and bowed in their favour, feeling persuaded that their dominion, though an alien yoke, would lead to the improvement of the native inhabitants; and I enjoyed the confidence of several of them even in their public service. My continuing controversies with the Brahmins about their idolatry and superstition, and my interference with their customs of burning widows and other pernicious practices, revived and increased their animosity against me; and by their influence on my family, my father was again compelled to openly withdraw his face, though his limited pecuniary support still kept me going.

After the death of my father, I opposed the partisans of idolatry with even more audacity. Taking advantage of the art of printing, now established in India, I have published various books and pamphlets against their errors, in native and foreign languages. It raised such a feeling against me, that I was at last deserted by all but two or three Scottish friends, to whom, and to the nation to which they belong, I still feel grateful.

Book cover of Rammohun Roy’s Translation of Vedas into English.


Book cover of Rammohun Roy’s Translation of Vedas into English.

The ground I took in all my controversies was not that of opposition to Brahmanism, but of a perversion of it; and I have endeavored to show that the idolatry of the Brahmins was contrary to the practice of their ancestors, and to the tenets of the ancient books and authorities which they profess to revere and obey. Despite the violent opposition and resistance to my opinions, several very respectable people, both among my own relatives and among others, began to adopt the same sentiments.

I now left a strong desire to visit Europe and obtain by personal observation a deeper insight into its manners, customs, religion, and political institutions. I refrained, however, from carrying out this intention until the friends who shared my sentiments were increased in number and in strength. My expectations having at last been realised, in November, 1830, I sailed for England, while the discussion of the charter of the East India Company was to take place, by which the treatment of the natives of India and its future government would be determined for many years to come, and an appeal to the king in council, against the abolition of the practice of burning widows, was to be heard before the Privy Council, and his majesty the Emperor of Delhi had me also charged with bringing before the authorities in England certain infringements of his rights by the East India Company. So I arrived in England in April 1831.

I hope you will excuse the brevity of this sketch, for I do not have the leisure for the moment to enter into the details, and

I stay, etc.,


To note:

*Miss Carpenter introduced this autobiographical sketch in her book, The Last Days in England of Rajah Rammuhan Roy’:-

“The flowing letter of Rammuhan Roy himself first appeared in the ‘Athénée’ and in the ‘Bibliothèque Gazatte’ of either of which it was copied in various newspapers. It was written just before he left for France. It was probably addressed to a distinguished person who had asked him to give some insight into his history and he adopted this form for that purpose. The letter may be considered to be to his friend, Mr. Gondar , from Calcutta’.”

Miss Collet calls it ‘the false ‘autobiographical letter’ published by Sandford Arnot in the Atheneum of October 5, 1833.” –ED.

Source: The English Works of Raja Rammohun Roy, Allahabad, The Panini Office. 1906.