SAT SABHĀ, a religious and social reform society founded at Lahore in 1866 by a group of Bengalis and Punjabis. Bābū Novīn Chandra Rāi and S. P. Bhaṭṭāchārjee of the Bengali Community along with two Punjabis, Paṇḍit Bhānū Datta Basant Rām and Lālā Behārī Lāl Purī, established this new society. In the sphere of religion, the Sat Sabhā preached an eclectic theism, very similar in content to that professed by the Lahore Brahmo Samāj. It also sought to encourage education, replace traditional rituals with new rationalistic ceremonies, and to improve the social position of women. The major difference between the Sat Sabhā and the Brahmo Samāj lay in the area of language. The Brahmo Samāj published its literature in either English or Hindi. Brahmo leaders, such as Novīn Chandra Rāi, espoused Hindi for education and government administration. The Sat Sabhā, by contrast, made the encouragement of Punajbi in the Gurmukhī script one of its major goals. Led by Behārī Lāl, the secretary of the Sabhā, they debated and argued in favour of Punajbi. Behārī Lāl's reputation as a poet and composer of popular bhajans strengthened his advocacy of the Punjabi language. Behārī Lāl wrote hymns with two goals in mind : first to create devotional songs in praise of a theistic God and secondly to provide alternatives to those traditional songs of Punjabi women which he and other reformers considered immoral. Under the leadership of Behārī Lāl, the Sat Sabhā opened a small school in 1882. This school taught in Punjabi using the Gurmukhī script. The Sabhā also presented a memorandum to the Hunter Educational Commission in which they argued their standpoint on language and education. The Sat Sabhā's advocacy of Punjabi made it one of the few groups outside of the Sikh community to espouse this language in the debates of the late nineteenth century.
The second major leader of the Sat Sabhā was Paṇḍit Bhānū Datta Basant Rām, the Āchārya of the society. Bhānū Datta took a prominent role in the religious debates among Punjabi Hindus. He clashed with the great orthodox leader Paṇḍit Shraddhā Rām Phillaurī and later opposed the Ārya Samāj when Swāmī Dayānand came to Lahore in 1877. Paṇḍit Bhānū Datta provided leadership for the Sat Sabhā after the death of Behārī Lāl in 1885. Even though the Sabhā did not become a mass movement like the Ārya Samāj and remained confined to Lahore, it provided a centre for discussion and debate during the latter years of the nineteenth century. Numerous prominent individuals spoke at the Sabhā hall including Novīn Chandra Rāi, Paṇḍit Ganesh Datt, Yogī Shiv Nāth, and S.P Bhaṭṭāchārjee. The school was well maintained and the annual anniversary celebrations of the Sat Sabhā remained an event of importance in the life of Lahore. Throughout its history it continued to be seen as a "Brahmic institution, whose object is to inculcate pure Theistic worship." The Sat Sabhā remains in Punjab history as an early example of social and religious reform stemming directly from the cultural influence of the Brahmo Samāj, but in a particularly Punjabi form tied to the advancement of the Punjabi language.
Kenneth W. Jones