Manav Dharma Sabha was founded on 22 June 1844 in Surat by Durgaram Manchharam Mehta, Dadoba Pandurang, and a few others. It was one of the earliest socio-religious reform organisations in British India, whose goals were to expose the hypocritical arts existing in Hindu, Muslim and Christan religions. Initially, it was concentrated in Surat but later spread to the entire Gujarat.
Since the second decade of the 17th century, Surat was under British rule. During the 1840s, tensions arose there through the introduction of western education and missionary activities. In 1830, Durgaram Manchharam Mehta became the headmaster of the Government School in Surat. With his impressive personality, Durgaram became a leading figure among the small group of educated Gujaratis. The group started criticising contemporary society in Gujarat. Other prominent members of this group were Dadoba Pandurang, Dinmai Shankar, Dalpatram Bhagubai, and Damodar Das.
Durgaram and his companions rejected the existence of ghosts, their exorcism through incarnations, the evils of early marriage and the bar against the remarriage of high caste Hindu widows. They founded the Manav Dharma Sahba in 1844 in Surat.
The Sabha used to organise meetings every Sunday in which the speakers used to encourage to give up casteism, encourage widow remarriage and stop the practice of idol worship. These meetings were open to anyone who wished to attend.
Manav Dharma Sabha accepted the concept of monotheism, i.e., believing in the existence of one God only. The primary objective of the Sabha was to highlight the positive side of true religion based on truth and morality.
The main activity of the Sabha was to abolish superstitious beliefs from the society and ensure that people do not practice black magic, witchcraft and other malpractices. As part of its programme, the Sahba challenged magicians and the reciters of incarnations to demonstrate their skills.
Manav Dharma Sahba had a short life span. It began to shatter when Dadoba Pandurang left for Bombay in 1846 and ceased to exist when Durgaram left for Rajkot in 1852.
However, Manav Dharma Sabha was linked to later developments in Gujarat and Maharashtra, as its members carried with them the ideals of this movement and became leaders in similar influential organisations such as Paramahansa Mandali in Maharashtra.