Gour Govinda Ray
Ghorachoba, Pabna (now in Bangladesh)
Gour Govinda Ray, Upadhyay, (1841–1912) was a notable scholar on Hinduism and a Brahmo missionary. He had edited for forty years Dhamatattva, an official publication of the Brahmo Samaj and assisted Keshub Chunder Sen in the compilation of Slokasangraha, a collection of quotes from different religious texts.
The son of Gour Mohan Ray, he was brought up by his uncle. He studied up to the Entrance (school leaving) standard in Rangpur High School. Later he studied Sanskrit and Persian. For sometime he studied ‘Daras’ under a Muslim fakir.
During the period 1863 – 1866 he was a sub-inspector of police. At the age of twenty-five, he gave up his job and became a follower of Keshub Chandra Sen. He joined the Brahmo Samaj as a missionary.
In 1869, Keshab Chandra Sen selected from his missionaries four persons and ordained them as adhypaks or professors of four old religions of the world. Gour Govinda Ray was made the professor of Hinduism, Protap Chunder Mozoomdar, the professor of Christianity, Aghore Nath Gupta, the professor of Buddhism and Girish Chandra Sen, the professor of Islam. Subsequently, Trailokyanath Sanyal was also ordained as an adhyapak of music. In the same year Keshub Chunder Sen's move towards universalism in religion was further strengthened by the publication of four books - Gour Govinda Ray's work on the Gita, P C Mozoomdar's book The Oriental Christ, Aghore Nath Gupta's study on Buddha and Girish Chandra Sen's Tapasmala - life of Muslim saints and his Bengali translation of Koran and Hadis. For his erudition, he was bestowed with the title of ‘Upadhyay’ by Keshub Chanuder Sen.
The great scholar led a perfectly ascetic life, devoting his entire time to studies, never touching money. His worldly needs were met by the head of the Prachar Ashram, Kanti Chandra Mitra. It was the latter who took care of the education of his two children. Prachar Ashram was a small establishment of Brahmo Samaj of India at Patuatola Lane in Kolkata, meant primarily for missionaries and their families, with a students' hostel and a press in an adjacent building.
He was generally late in rising, as he worked late into the night. After attending prayers with others in the morning, he sat on a hard desk seat or bench and worked throughout the day till late into night, till around 2 am. He was unperturbed by the activities of others around him. He never felt disturbed when others spoke to him, sought advice or discussed matters. He had visitors ranging from foreign missionaries to local scholars, who had serious discussions with him on religious matters. His publications were highly rated by scholars. They often wondered how a non-Brahmin could master such profound knowledge of Hinduism. His thirst for knowledge and his ascetic habits ‘made his contemporaries acknowledge him as the most formidable intellectual in the Durbar,’ formed by the group of ascetics in the New Dispensation after Keshub Chunder Sen's death.
He never accepted any money for the long hours of work he performed and made it a practice not to touch money. When Kanti Chandra Mitra happened to be absent, he signed on money order receipts but the money was kept on the desk by the post man and picked up by Mitra when he came back. After 1872, he lived in Bharat Ashram with his wife and children.
As a missionary, he visited many parts of the country and was associated with the establishment of a Brahmo Samaj at Mangalore.
David Kopf says, "Gour Govinda was a confirmed cultural nationalist. Though from the early days a Brahmo rationalist and reformer, he did not find sympathy with vague universalist sentiments. Once on a discussion on the Great Prophets, led by Keshub, Jesus was referred to (possibly by Majumdar) as the king of prophets. Gour Govinda promptly rejected the arguments and proceeded to show that the message of Christ was an ‘old conception’ found in ‘our Hindu Shastras’. David Kopf points out that most revealing was Ray's attempts to compare Krishna with Christ. For Ray, Christ and Krishna were similar as religious and ethical reformers who sought the same end of sanctifying earthly conditions. The original Buddha could also be placed in this category. "The fact is," wrote Ray, "that essentially all reformers respond to the same conditions with identical ideas that transcend the particular time and country of birth." One must understand the pattern of evolution from the Vedas to the Bhagavad Gita, as against the pattern in West Asia from the Old to the New Testament. Ray also reasoned that both Krishna and Christ were providentially designed for man's salvation. However, Christ's death on the cross to save mankind was a unique resolution of the problem of evil, "which had no parallel in the Krishna of Gita."
His cultural nationalism was modified by the comparative assessments of other religions undertaken by his colleagues. It "loosened the bonds of ideological parochialism and made them value unity over diversity." In his last book, published shortly before his death, he dealt with the philosophy of the Vedanta, in a way that "resembled the neo-Vedantic lectures" of Swami Vivekananda and Brahmabandhab Upadhyay. While the latter two glorified its virtues, "arguing the superiority of Hinduism", Ray argued that Vedantic monism was offered to the world as "a universal faith to combat sectarianism and its false loyalty to ‘partial truths’."
In Bengali - Sribhagavadgitasmanyabhasya, Srimadbhagavadgita Prapurti, Vedantasamanyabhasyang, Sri Krishner Jibon O Dharma, Acharya Keshub Chandra (11 volumes), Vivek O Buddhir Kathopakathan, Aryadharma O Tadbyakhyatrigana, Gayatrimulak Shachakrer Vyakhayan O Sadhan,
Translated from Bengali to Sanskrit - Nava Samhita, Yog, Jibonved, Brahmagitoponishad