Mahadev Govind Ranade (18 January 1842 to 16 January 1901) was a distinguished Indian scholar, social reformer and author. He was a founding member of the Indian National Congress (INC) and owned several designations as member of the Bombay legislative council, member of the finance committee at the centre, and the judge of Bombay High Court.
A well known public figure, his personality as a calm and patient optimist would influence his attitude towards dealings with Britain as well as reform in India. During his life he helped to establish the Vaktruttvottejak Sabha, the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha and the Prarthana Samaj, and would edit a Bombay Anglo-Marathi daily paper, the Induprakash, founded on his ideology of social and religious reform.
Mahadev Govind Ranade was born in Niphad, a taluka town in Nashik district. He spent much of his childhood in Kolhapur where his father was a minister. He began studies at the Elphinstone College in Bombay (now known as Mumbai), at the age of fourteen. He belonged to Bombay University, one of the three new British universities, and was part of the first batches for both the B.A. (1862) and the LL.B. (Government Law School, 1866) where he graduated at the top of his class. Ramakrishna Gopal Bhandarkar was his classmate. Ranade later got his MA degree at the top of his class.
He was appointed Presidency magistrate, fourth judge of the Bombay Small Causes Court in 1871, first-class sub-judge at Pune in 1873, judge of the Poona Small Causes Court in 1884, and finally to the Bombay High Court in 1893. From 1885 until he joined the High Court, he belonged to the Bombay legislative council.
In 1897, Ranade served on a committee charged with the task of enumerating imperial and provincial expenditure and making recommendations for financial retrenchment. This service won him the decoration of Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire. Ranade also served as a special judge under the Deccan Agriculturists’ Relief Act from 1887.
Ranade held the offices of syndic and dean in arts at Bombay University, where he displayed much organizing power and great intimacy with the needs of the student class. A thorough Marathi scholar, he encouraged the translation of standard English works and tried, with some success, to introduce vernacular languages into the university curriculum.
He published books on Indian economics and on Maratha history. He saw the need for heavy industry for economic progress and believed in Western education as a vital element to the foundation of an Indian nation. He felt that by understanding the mutual problems of India and Britain both reform and independence could be achieved to the benefit of all and insisted that an independent India could only be stable after such reforms were made. Reform of Indian culture and use of an adaptation of Western culture, in Ranade’s view, would bring about “common interest … and fusion of thoughts, amongst all men.”
Along with his friends Atmaram Pandurang, Dr.Bhandarkar and Vaman Abaji Modak, Ranade founded the Prarthana Samaj, a Hindu movement inspired by the Brahmo Samaj, espousing principles of enlightened theism based on the ancient Vedas. Prarthana Samaj was started by Keshav Chandra Sen, a staunch Brahma Samajist, with the objective of carrying out religious reforms in Maharashtra. He presided a function to honor his friend, Virchand Gandhi, who had defended Indian culture and Hinduism in 1893’s world religion parliament in Chicago, USA.
Ranade founded the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha & Ahmednagar Education Society and later was one of the originators of the Indian National Congress. He has been portrayed as an early adversary of the politics of Bal Gangadhar Tilak and a mentor to Gopal Krishna Gokhale.
Ranade was a founder of the Social Conference movement, which he supported till his death, directing his social reform efforts against child marriage, the shaving of widows’ heads, the heavy cost of marriages and other social functions, and the caste restrictions on traveling abroad, and he strenuously advocated widow remarriage and female education. He was one of the founders of the Widow Marriage Association in 1861.Ranade attempted to work with the structure of weakened traditions, reforming, but not destroying the social atmosphere that was India’s heritage. Ranade valued India’s history, having had a great interest in Shivaji and the Bhakti movement, but he also recognized the influence that British rule over India had on its development. Ranade encouraged the acceptance of change, believing traditional social structures, like the caste system, should accommodate change, thereby preserving India’s ancient heritage. An overall sense of national regeneration was what Ranade desired.
Though Ranade criticised superstitions and blind faith, he was conservative in his own life. He chose to take prayaschitta (religious penance) in case of Panch-houd Mission Case rather than taking a strong side of his opinions.
Upon the death of his first wife, his reform-minded friends expected him to marry (and thereby rescue) a widow. However, he adhered to his family’s wishes and married a child bride, Ramabai Ranade, whom he subsequently provided with an education. After his death, she continued his social and educational reform work. He had no children. Ramabai Ranade in her memoirs has stated that when one equally prominent Pune personality, Vishnupant Pandit, married a widow, Ranade entertained him and a few guests at his home. This was not liked by his orthodox father who decided to leave Ranade’s home in Pune and go to Kolhapur. It was only after he, Mahadev G. Ranade, told the father that he would resign from his government job that the father relented and canceled his plans to go to Kolhapur. Ranade decided never to do any such thing in the future. He however was insistent that his young wife, Ramabai Ranade, should do his bidding in the matters of social reforms.
Ranade, Mahadev Govind, Rise of the Maratha Power (1900); reprint (1999) ISBN 81-7117-181-8
Bipan Chandra, ed., Ranade’s Economic Writings New Delhi, Gyan Books Pvt. Ltd. (1990) ISBN 81-212-0328-7.
A television series on Zee Marathi named Uncha maaza zoka (roughly translated as ‘I have leapt high in Life’) based on Ramabai’s and Mahadevrao’s life and their development as a ‘women’s rights’ activist was telecasted in March 2012,.This series was critically acclaimed and celebrated throughout Maharashtra.
The TV series was based on a book by Ramabai Ranade titled “Amachyaa Aayushyaatil Kaahi Aathavani” (in Marathi), wherein Jastice Ranade’s name is given as “Madhav”. He himself is quoted as saying that “I am Vishnu (Madhav) and not Shiva (Mahadev)” (see pages 12, 121). This anomaly was found out by Ms. Vibhuti V. Dave, while translating the book in Gujarati, titled “Amaaraa Sahajivan naa Sambhaaranaa