Dayanand Saraswati and Arya Samaj

Dayanand Saraswati was born in 1824 in a Brahmin family in Morvi in Gujarat as Mula Shankar. At 21, he left home in order to escape the entanglement of marriage and to seek to pacify the turmoil and commotion of his soul. For 15 years he led the life  of a wandering scholar in  search of knowledge. Finally, he spent two and a half years at Mathura as a disciple of a blind saint scholar Swami Virjananda, who taught him the philosophic interpretation of the Vedas and then charged him with the mission to purge Hinduism of all its ugly accretions and aberrations.

After deeply studying the Vedas and Indian philosophy, Dayanand Saraswati came to conclusion that the Aryans were the chosen people, the Vedas the chosen gospel and India the chosen land. Based on this belief, he founded the Arya Samaj in Bombay in 1875. A few years later the headquarters of the Arya Samaj were established at Lahore. During the remaining eight years of his life Dayanand devoted himself to preaching his new gospel, writing books, embodying his teachings and organising the Arya Samaj throughout India.  He translated the Vedas and wrote three books viz. Satyartha Prakash in Hindi, Veda Bhasya Bhumika, an introduction to his Vedic commentary, and Veda Bhasya, a Vedic commentary in Sanskrit on the Yajurveda and the major part of the Rig-Veda. His mission of spreading the message of the Arya Samaj proved very successful in the Punjab and to a certain degree also in U.P., Gujarat and Rajasthan.

Vedas-India’s Rock of Ages

Dayanand Saraswati looked upon the Vedas as ‘India’s Rock of Ages’. He believed that the Hindu religion and the Vedas on which it was based were eternal, unalterable, infallible and divine. Therefore, he gave the slogan ‘Go back to the Vedas‘ and ‘the Vedas are the source of all knowledge’.  According to him, the later Hindu scriptures such as Puranas were responsible for the evil practices of idol worship and other superstitious beliefs in the Hindu religion.

Thus, Arya Samaj rejected all the post-Vedic developments in Hinduism and thus denounced meaningless rites, worship of the images of different gods and goddesses which split the people into numerous belligerent sects, repudiated the authority of the Brahmins and launched a crusade against all religious superstitions.  Its slogan ‘Back to Vedas’ was inspired to revive the true Vedic religion and bring about national unity and to kindle national pride and consciousness.

The above description makes it clear that Dayanand was a revivalist and was also the first Hindu reformer who turned from defense to attack, from protecting the Hindu faith from the assaults of the Christian and Muslim critics to challenging them on their own ground in order to force them to defend their position.

Key Principles of Arya Samaj

Main principles and objectives of the Arya Samaj are as follows:

  • Believes in infallibility of Vedas and takes them as only truth and source of all source all knowledge. Believed that post-vedic texts such as Puranas were responsible for pollution of Vedic religion.
  • Opposes the idol-worship and reincarnation theory of God but accepts the doctrine of ‘Karma’ and transmigration of soul. Dayanand also rejected the theory of destiny / fate {Niyati}.
  • Believes in one God who has no physical existence.
  • Rejects Brahmanical dominance of spiritual and social life of Hindus. Denounces claim of Brahmins as intermediaries between man and God.
  • Supported Four Varna System but the Varna system should be based on merit not birth. Hindu religion gives everyone an equal place in the spiritual and social life.
  • Advocated equal status for women in the society. There is no room for any kind of discrimination against women on the basis of gender.
  • Advocated widow remarriage, female education and opposed polygamy, child marriage, Sati, etc.
  • Backed propagation of Hindi and Sanskrit. Considered good education as base of a good and solid social system. It did phenomenal work in the field of education even for women.
  • Denounces socio-religious evils such as animal sacrifices, religious pilgrimages, feeding the dead through sraddhas, magic and charms etc. According to Swami Dayanand, these evils exist in the society due to ignorance of the teaching of the Vedas.

Arya Samaj established a chain of DAV educational institutions for the education of both boys and girls. It represented a form of national awakening of the Indian people and drew to its fold hundreds of nationalist Indians. It played a very progressive role in the earlier stages of national awakening when it attacked religious superstitions, the supremacy of the Brahmins, polytheism, untouchability, and when further it adopted the programme of mass education, elimination of sub-castes, and equality of men and women.

Controversies – Shuddhi Movement

Some activities of the Arya Samaj were very controversial. The foremost was the Shuddhi programme, to open the doors of Hinduism for those who had embraced other religions. Shuddhi provided for the reconversion of such persons to Hinduism. This movement was primarily directed against the Christian missionaries, who had converted a large number of Hindus, particularly from the depressed classes to Christianity. Another controversial issue was on protection of the cow.

In 1882 the Arya Samaj formed a ‘Cow Protection Association’. However, this antagonized the Muslim theologists and resulted in serious Hindu Muslim riots.