The economic and political developments in India in the first half of the nineteenth century became more and more incompatible with the outmoded religious beliefs, obsolete customs and ossified social relations. But, deep-rooted religious beliefs and social customs did not readily give way to rationalism, scientific thought and the modern way of life. Under such conditions, economic and political struggles naturally put on a religious garb. Two contradictory and often conflicting tendencies were in evidence.
One section of the intelligentsia considered the revival of religious traditions an important factor for safeguarding “national” culture from the attack of the West. They counterpoised the “spiritual” culture of India to the “materialist” culture of the West.
They asserted that Indian culture was superior to the Western and denounced all foreign cultural influences. They insisted on the strict observance of many of the traditional customs, rituals and ceremonies of Hinduism, although they were opposed to some of the obsolete customs.
The second tendency was manifested by intellectuals who stood unflinchingly for a reform of the Hindu religion and society in accordance with the needs of the time. Their appeal was not to a revivalist faith in the country’s past but to the spirit of eagerness to move forward to a better and greater future with the help of modern science and culture.
Explaining the difference between reformism and revivalism Lajpat Rai observed: ” The real significance of these words – reform and revival – if any, seems to be in the authority or authorities from which the reformers and revivalists respectively seek their inspiration for guidance in matters social.
The former are bent on relying more upon reason and the experience of European society, while the latter are disposed primarily to look at their Sastras and past history, and the traditions of their people and the institutions of the land which were in vogue when the nation was at the zenith of its glory.