The Prarthana Samaj (also ‘Prayer Society’ in english) was founded in Maharashtra by Dr. Atmaram Pandurang in 1867 under the influence of Brahmo leader Keshab Chandra Sen. Later, Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade and historian Ramkrishna Bhandarkar also joined the Prarthana Samaj.
Ranade and his followers were unhappy with many religious practices and harmful social customs. They wanted to develop a changed socio-religious outlook among the people in general. They founded the Prarthana Samaj with bold ideas about reforms.
The Social Reforms of Prarthana Samaj included introduction of
inter-caste marriage and widow remarriage,
abolition of untouchability, dowry system, early marriage, polygamy etc.
They had a programme of social services like
spread of female education,
opening orphan homes,
free clinical etc.
Justice Ranade was the heart and pulse of the Samaj. The ‘Widow Marriage Association’ was founded (1861) under his initiative. He also worked for the spread of education among the widows. He was one of the promoters of `Sarada Sadan’ which was founded with the object of spreading education among the widows. He also founded a Girls’ college (1862) in Poona. The ‘Deccan Education Society’ was his handiwork. The Fergusson College at Poona and Wellingdon College at Sangli were established under the auspices of this society.
Besides the Brahmo movement, the socio-religious reform movements of Prarthana Samaj contributed for the welfare of the society.
The members of the Prarthana Samaj remained inside the Hindu fold as pure Hindus. They never thought of making themselves distinct from others. Their aim was to attack the evils from inside and to reform the society as its faithful members.
The Prarthana Samaj felt greatly attracted towards Western education. It was their conviction that real changes in the society were impossible without the spread of European science and ideas. Therefore of its prime objectives was to establish English schools and popularize Western education. In Bombay (presently Mumbai) and Maharashtra regions, the Samaj became active in educational enterprises.
Ranade was one of the founders of the Indian Social Conference. That conference aimed at liberalizing a rigid society by various methods. Public opinion was necessary to remove social evils. The leaders of the conference devoted themselves to make the public conscious of the merits and demerits of many social systems. A desire for change came out of that consciousness.
By the closing years of 19th century, the desire for social changes became a part of a greater desire for political changes. National consciousness was taking a wider shape. Organizations like the Prarthana Samaj gave their moral support to the greater movements in the country and worked silently to change the society slowly from within.