Dayanand Saraswati was a Hindu religious leader, renowned Vedic scholar and founder of the Arya Samaj. Let's take a look at the life, contribution and achievements f the great social reformer.


Swami Dayanand Saraswati

Date of Birth: February 12, 1824

Place of Birth: Tankara, Gujarat

Parents: Karshanji Lalji Tiwari (Father) and Yashodabai (Mother)

Education: Self-taught

Movement: Arya Samaj, Shuddhi Movement, Back to the Vedas

Religious Views: Hinduism

Publications: Satyarth Prakash (1875 & 1884); Sanskarvidhi (1877 & 1884); Yajurved Bhashyam (1878 to 1889)

Death: October 30, 1883

Place of death: Ajmer, Rajasthan

Image Credit: thearyasamaj.org

Swami Dayanand Saraswati was more than a religious leader of India who left deep impact on the Indian society. He founded the Arya Samaj that brought about changes in the religious perception of Indians. He voiced his opinions against idolatry and the pointless emphasis on empty ritualism, and man-made dictates that women are not allowed to read the Vedas. His idea of denouncing the caste system inherited by oneself in lieu of their birth was nothing short of radical. He brought about a complete overhaul of the education system by introducing Anglo-Vedic schools to offer Indian students an updated curriculum teaching both the knowledge of the Vedas along with contemporary English education. Although he was never really involved in politics directly, his political observations were the source of inspiration for a number of political leaders during India’s struggle for independence. He was given the epithet of Maharishi and is considered as one of the Makers of Modern India.

Early Life and Education

Dayanand Saraswati was born on February 12, 1824 in Tankara, Gujarat as Mool Shankar to Karshanji Lalji Tiwari and Yashodabai. His affluent and influential Brahmin family was an ardent follower of Lord Shiva. The family being deeply religious, Mool Shankar was taught religious rituals, piety and purity, importance of fasting from a very early age. The Yajnopavita Sanskara or the investiture of the "twice-born" was performed, when he was 8 and that initiated Mool Shankar into the world of Brahmanism. He would observe these rituals with much honesty. On the occasion of Shivaratri, Mool Shankar would sit awake the whole night in obedience to Lord Shiva. On one such night, he saw a mouse eating the offerings to the God and running over the idol's body. After seeing this, he questioned himself, if the God could not defend himself against a little mouse then how could he be the saviour of the massive world.

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Spiritual Indoctrination

Mool Shankar was attracted towards the spiritual realm after the death of his sister when he was 14-year-old. He began asking questions about life, death and the afterlife to his parents to which they had no answers. On being asked to get married following societal traditions, Mool Shankar ran away from home. He wandered all over the country for the next 20 years visiting temples, shrines and holy places. He met with yogis living in the mountains or forests, asked them of his dilemmas, but nobody could provide him with the perfect answer.  

At last he arrived at Mathura where he met Swami Virajananda. Mool Shankar became his disciple and Swami Virajananda directed him to learn directly from the Vedas. He found all his questions regarding life, death and afterlife answered during his study. Swami Virajananda entrusted Mool Shankar with the task of spreading Vedic knowledge throughout the society and rechristened him as Rishi Dayanand.

Spiritual Beliefs

Maharishi Dayanand was a believer in Hinduism just as the Vedas have outlined, devoid of any corruption and embellishments. Preserving the purity of the faith was of utmost important to him. He strongly advocated the concepts of Dharma which he believed to be free from any partiality and as an embodiment of truthfulness. To him Adharma was anything that did not hold true, was not just or fair and was opposed to the teachings of the Vedas. He believed in reverence of human life irrespective of anything and condoned the practice of Ahimsa or non-violence. He advised his countrymen to direct their energy towards betterment of mankind as a whole and not waste away in unnecessary rituals. He revoked the practice of idol worship and considered them a contamination introduced by the priesthood for their own benefit. He was against other social evils like superstitions and caste segregation. He advocated the concept of Swarajya, meaning a country free of foreign influence, resplendent in the glory of fair and just participants.

Dayanand Saraswati & Arya Samaj

On 7 April, 1875 Dayanand Saraswati formed the Arya Samaj at Bombay. It was a Hindu reforms movement, meaning "society of the nobles". The purpose of the Samaj was to move the Hindu religion away from the fictitious beliefs. 'Krinvan to Vishvam Aryam" was the motto of the Samaj, which means, "Make this world noble". The ten tenets of the Arya Samaj are as follows:

1. God is the efficient cause of all true knowledge and all that is known through knowledge.

2. God is existent, intelligent and blissful. He is formless, omniscient, just, merciful, unborn, endless, unchangeable, beginning-less, unequalled, the support of all, the master of all, omnipresent, immanent, un-aging, immortal, fearless, eternal and holy, and the maker of all. He alone is worthy of being worshiped.

3. The Vedas are the scriptures of all true knowledge. It is the paramount duty of all Aryas to read, teach, and recite them and to hear them being read.

4. One should always be ready to accept truth and to renounce untruth.

5. All acts should be performed in accordance with Dharma that is, after deliberating what is right and wrong.

6. The prime object of the Arya Samaj is to do good to the world, that is, to promote physical, spiritual and social good of everyone.

7. Our conduct towards all should be guided by love, righteousness and justice.

8. We should dispel Avidya (ignorance) and promote Vidya (knowledge).

9. No one should be content with promoting his/her good only; on the contrary, one should look for his/her good in promoting the good of all.

10. One should regard oneself under restriction to follow the rules of society calculated to promote the wellbeing of all, while in following the rules of individual welfare all should be free.

These 10 founding principles of the Arya Samaj was the pillar on which Maharishi Dayanad sought to reform India and asked people to go back to the Vedas and its undiluted spiritual teaching. The Samaj directs its members to condemn ritualistic practices like idol worship, pilgrimage and bathing in holy rivers, animal sacrifice, offering in temples, sponsoring priesthood etc. The Samaj also encouraged followers to question existing beliefs and rituals instead of blindly follow them.

The Arya Samaj not only sought spiritual reorganisation of the Indian psyche, it also worked towards abolishing various social issues. Primary among these were widow remarriage and women education. The Samaj launched programs to support widow remarriage in the 1880s. Maharishi Dayanand also underlined the importance of educating the girl child and opposed child marriage. He proclaimed that an educated man needs and educated wife for the overall benefit of the society.

Image Credit: Prabhat Prakashan

Shuddhi Movement

The Shuddhi Movement was introduced by Maharishi Dayanand to bring back the individuals to Hinduism who were either voluntarily or involuntarily converted to other religions like Islam or Christianity. Shuddhi or purification was imparted to those who sought their way back to Hinduism and the Samaj did an excellent work in penetrating the various strata of society, taking back the depressed classes into the folds of Hinduism. 

Educational Reforms

Maharishi Dayanand was fully convinced that the lack of knowledge was the main culprit behind the adulteration of Hinduism. He set up a number of Gurukuls to teach his followers the knowledge of the Vedas and for them to spread the knowledge further. Inspired by his beliefs, teachings and ideas, his disciples established the Dayanand Anglo Vedic College Trust and Management Society, after his death in 1883. The first DAV High School was established at Lahore on June 1, 1886 with Lala Hans Raj as its headmaster. 

Death

Due to his radical thinking and approach to the social issues and beliefs Dayanand Saraswati created many enemies around him. In 1883, on the occasion of Diwali, the Maharaja of Jodhpur, Jaswant Singh II, had invited Maharishi Dayanand to his palace and sought the Guru’s blessings. Dayanand offended the court dancer when he advised the King to forsake her and pursue a life of Dharma. She conspired with the cook who mixed pieces of glass in the Maharishi’s milk. The Maharishi suffered excruciating pain but forgave the cook involved before he succumbed to death on October 30, 1883, at Ajmer, on the day of Diwali.

Legacy

Today, the Arya Samaj is very active not only in India but also in other parts of the world. The United States, Canada, Trinidad, Mexico, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Malawi, Mauritius, Pakistan, Burma, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Australia are some of the countries where the Samaj has its branches. 

Although Maharishi Dayanand and the Arya Samaj were never involved in the Indian Independence Struggle directly, his life and his teachings had considerable influence in several important personalities like Lala Lajpat Rai, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Madam Cama, Ram Prasad Bismil, Mahadev Govind Ranade, Madan Lal Dhingra and Subhash Chandra Bose. Shaheed Bhagat Singh was educated at the D.A.V. School in Lahore. 

He was a universally revered figure and American Spiritualist Andrew Jackson Davis called Maharishi Dayanand “Son of God", admitting that the he had exerted profound effect on his spiritual beliefs and applauded him for restoring the status of the Nation.