Gopal Hari Deshmukh and his Contribution to Maharashtra

The article describes the role of Gopal Hari Deshmukh as a social reformer of Maharashtra. His work and his concern for the masses brought him the title of Lokhitwadi. He was the pioneer of reformism in India. He has also been called the morning star of the National Movement in India.

The English educated generation in Maharashtra began to examine the old traditions, the old institutions, old values, old customs and visages, subjugating them to the test of reason. On such re-examination, they felt the urgent need to reform the society to suit the new environment. Three thought currents of different types emerged as a consequence. These were represented by three outstanding personality's viz. Gopal Hari Deshmukh alias Lokhitwadi, Vishnubuwa Bramhahari and Jyotiba Phule. These thought currents may be designated as 'all sided reformism', 'revivalism' and 'populism' respectively.


Gopal Hari Deshmukh, popularly known as Lokhitwadi, was the pioneer of all sided reformism in Maharashtra. He was a fine product of the new learning of the West. He laid the foundation of a broad based intellectual renaissance in western India. He possessed a rare foresight and could predict the future course of events. Lokhitwadi was active throughout his life.

Public Insititutions

His name is connected with the establishment of a number of public institutions. His greatest impact however, was made through his journalistic and literary work. He wrote a number of booklets on current religious, social and economic problems.

His Books

His bigger books are mainly on historical topics. From 1848 onwards, he published a series of short articles in the periodical 'Prabhakar' on religious, social, political, economic and educational subjects. These one hundred and eight articles known as Shatapatre were collected in 1860 as part of 'Lokhitwadikrta Nibandhasangraha'. The Shatapatree represents an outspoken, impatient, penetrating analysis of the ills of society. He published a book entitled Svadhyaya Athava Aryavidyancha Krama, Vichar ani Pariksana (study of sequence of the Aryan learnings, thought and review) which is more moderate in its diction, gives the opinions of the experienced, mature reformer. The Shatapatree and the Svadhaya hold the key to an understanding of Lokhitwadi. Both books contain basically the same teaching; but the latter is more clearly in praise of the Vedic times.

Social Helper

The Shatapatree reveals his unusual grasp of the new trend of events. One is surprised to see the modernity and the secularity of his outlook in so young an age. As he explained the effect of writing these letters in letter no.100, he wished that the people should know the real situation, reform themselves, achieve well-being in this world and attain happiness in the other. He wanted people to renounce their time honored prejudices, indiscretion and foolishness. He appealed to his readers again and again to think for themselves and welcome the new learning with open mind. He spared no body and no follies of his countrymen, which were responsible for the present downtrodden state of the country. He was the first to challenge the age old authority and traditions. He realized the importance of the western learning and the power of knowledge. True learning is search for knowledge. He earnestly wished to place before his fellowmen the new thought and the new vision.

Social Reforms

He was convinced that this was essential to reform the society. He defined reform as a way to public good. The hundred epistles reveal his considered reflections on religion, politics, economic, social matters and administrative affairs. His criticism of social matters had a comprehensive bearing. The Epistles show his patriotic fervor and the deep love for his own country. They express the poignant grief felt by the intellectual class of Maharashtra at the loss of political independence of the country. He was the first to ponder over the causes, which were responsible to the loss of our independence. He attributed the loss to eight causes, which he called as 'Hindushashtak' (eight aggregate causes of the ruin of Hindus). To avoid overlapping in his argument, the causes he enumerated were ignorance, loss of learning, dominance of foolish Brahmin's, misguided notions about religion, fatalism and blind traditionalism.


He had not produced a fictitious description based on somebody's words or teachings. He did not write for profit or wealth, not with the purpose of gaining fame. He labored so that the people might recognize their true condition and improve and some long outstanding opinions, which have taken firm root through thoughtlessness or stupidity, may become fewer and disappear. For this purpose, he had labored without remuneration as well as he could and of his own free will.

Religious Ideas

To many an old fashioned person, several opinions of Lokhitwadi will appear unfavorable and against the Hindu religion. But this is mere imagination on their part, because there is nothing in them, which is unfavorable to the Hindu religion. All it is against is stupidity.


His letters gives us an insight into what guided his journalism and his reform efforts throughout his life. He wrote: 'I request all you people to begin to read, to read new books and newspapers and observe what is happening around you. Begin to realize that the British have many a good quality. God brought the British and you together in order that you may acquire these qualities. Become religious and intent on God. Without these virtues, everything is vain. Speak the truth, give up vicious desires, work for the improvement of religion and do not cast it aside, but interpret it according to the times. Spread the knowledge of god and the world among all the people. Stop being lazy. Appoint the really intelligent among you as leader. Proceed according to his directions. Let there be unity among all men. Keep in mind that there should be no split among us. Increase your knowledge and forge ahead. Watch continuously how the government functions, who is ruling and how he behaves. Stay well informed.


Compare with your ancient sciences, books, opinions, ideas, a hundred times better as many more. Sciences have now risen, examine them all. In your regard for wealth, do not stick to your laziness. Know that the bhats and pandits are just fools. Search for true morality. Learning means knowledge; it makes man pure, inquisitive, and powerful'. This text exhorts the people to open their minds to become inquisitive, to improve. At the same time Lokhitwadi pointed out equally clearly that their society was crippled by abuses.

Blue prints for a new outlook on life

Lokhitwadi used these and strong words to arouse people. But his criticism did not remain negative. He strove to pull down the ramshackle old hut, but he already had the blue prints of a new building to be erected in its place. The positive substance of his writings had stood the test of a century, and has kept its value even to this day.


In Lokhitwadi's view a rational approach must be made to religion. He wrote: 'Hindus have not yet started to think for themselves. It is still not clear to them that the mind is a big sacred book and that the written sacred books are all inferior to it'.

Judging his own religion from a practical point of view he came to the conclusion that the saying of the Holy Scriptures needed to be tested by reason. The Vedas were written by rishis who were writers and great saints, but not divine persons. Castes were originally based on the qualities of the people and their occupations, and not on a divine dispensation. The avatars were brave and virtuous heroes. The belief in reincarnation arose only in the Puranas. The effigy of mantras is imaginary. Astrology is false. It is proper to fight against the customs of Sati, cutting of hair of the widows, child marriage, prohibition of remarrying widows and similar practices. But religion, understood as a way to God, should not be disapproved.

Prarthana Samaj

The philosophical outlook of Lokhitwadi was that of the Prarthana Samaj. He held that there is only one ruler of the universe. The human soul and the absolute being are essentially different. The human soul is of inferior nature and God is almighty without limitation. The origin, preservation and destruction of the universe depend on him. The changes which affect the universe do not make it unreal. The reality of the world is a fact of experience. Lokhitwadi restricts the content of our knowledge of God, more than other members of the Prarthana Samaj did.

He also contributed his share to the growth of a liberal philosophy of political government. For this, he drew his main inspiration from the dynastic sequence of Jeremy Bentham, James Mill and J.S. Mill.

The state, he held is established to bring about the good of the people. After mentioning in praise of the British government, the new system of appointments based on competitive examinations, he wrote approvingly that: 'all thoughtful people admit that the second aspect of the present form of government is that it preserves happiness and peace and promotes learning, justice, good behavior, freedom and many a work useful to the people. By this it strives to keep the people flourishing and satisfied; and the result of this can be easily experienced'.

The same utilitarian function of the government is also mentioned in a list of thirty nine propositions, which in his view, had been neglected in India for a long time, but revived again through the influx of new ideas. One proposition runs as follows: 'It should be the policy of the government to increase the knowledge and the wealth of the people day by day. Government has the duty to protect the freedom of the individual. In a good state, the views of the people are considered and its administration is based on their consent. The ruler should be elected by the people and can be removed if he abuses his position. Kings are not constituted by divine institution. The exercise of government should be based on law. All the citizens have the same rights and duties. For the protection of the state, the legislation should therefore be equal for all without distinction of caste or creed.

Lokhitwadi understood that this principle of equality should be applied also to the relations between the English and the Indians. He stated impatiently that both are men and contradiction some of his other statements, he added that the present form of government was not for the good of the Indians and did not give them the rights which were due to them. He wrote this as early as 1848. He called for the establishment of a Parliament in India for which the wisest should be elected irrespective of caste or religion or whether they were foreign or indigenous. This was a bold proposal. M. G. Ranade never went so far.

According to Mathew Lederley, 'Lokhitwadi was not a utilitarian. He was not baffled therefore by the problem of how to reconcile in the utilitarian scheme, the clash of interest between Indians. The utilitarian tells the Indian to give up his interest, his 'self regarding interest' in Bentham's words and to accept the assurance of his governors that in doing this he is following his true interest.

Views on economic matters

Lokhitwadi had acquired a varied experience in the course of his official duties in different parts of Maharashtra and a place like Ahmadabad which formed a part of Bombay Presidency. His rationalism inspired him to spot out inconsistencies, pretensions and absurdities. Just as he critically viewed the social condition of the Hindu society, he also turned his attention to the inequalities and injustices perpetuated by the nature and English officials in matters of taxes and levies. The excise on liquor gave the exchequer a substantial amount. Drinking was being encouraged so that more money could be available to the government. He condemned the attitude of the government to ruin the health of the people for filling the coffers of the government. He declared, 'People are the mother of the government. If the government, disregarding the health of the people, would result in the poverty of the people the government finance would be adversely affected.

In 1894, he wrote, 'History of Gujarat'. He added an appendix entitled, 'Comparison of Governments' (Rajyatulana). He compared the merits and demerits of the native and foreign rule. He concluded that in the British regime taxes, customs, excise duties and other charges were excessive as compared to the late government. It does little credit to the enlightened government of the East India Company that they have kept the rayat dissatisfied with their revenue policy. It would be better if this government would adopt welfare measures as the Marathas had done. He also denounced the policy of favoritism and distinctions followed in dealing with natives and European persons. In the course of his official duty he came across many instances of Partisan spirit and economic injustice to the people of Maharashtra.

Swadeshi and boycott

Padhye and Tikekar would consider Lokhitwadi as a pioneer of the Swadesh and boycott movements of later years. While analyzing the poverty and unemployment in Maharashtra, he focused light on the dumping of goods by the Englishmen in our markets to the detriment of native merchants. Our people should resolve not to buy goods of other countries and buy only indigenous articles even though they may be of inferior quality. The cotton buyer should decide not to sell raw cotton to the foreigners and sell them only textile goods. He advised them to stop buying English goods and selling our finished goods. We should shun the foreign goods and patronize indigenous goods even if they might be coarse textiles. It is remarkable for Lokhitwadi to show the audacity to hurt the ruler's at the most vulnerable points in spite of his being in the service of the English government. However the approach was amateurish.

Lokhitwadi respected Justice Ranade in more than one respect. Like Ranade, he considered social reform absolutely necessary for the political emancipation of India. Like Ranade, he regarded British rule in India as divinely ordained but he was not a blind admirer of the British rule. Both were students of economics and champions of swadeshi. Both advocated industrialization of the country. He was however, so very radical in his prescription of the method of achieving self government that he may be called the morning star of the National Movement of India.

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Guest Author: Nitin Tiwari19 Sep 2012

Well, that's a great information about Gopal Hari Deshmukh but it need some Photos. If there is no photo, how could this article be completed?

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