Swami Shraddhanand

Swami Shraddhanand



Swami Shraddhanand was born at Talwandi, District Jalandhar in Punjab, as Munshi Ram. His father, Nanak Chand, was a small-time businessman. But soon he closed his business and entered the police service as
Swami Shraddhanand
Swami Shraddhanand
inspector (1957) and was posted in the North-Western Province (present Uttar Pradesh), when Munshi Ram was a year old.
Munshi Ram had three brothers and two sisters. Due to his father’s frequent transfers, Munshi Ram’s education was often interrupted and the boy had to change many schools in different cities. However, he did pass the matriculation examination in 1877, at the age of twenty-one. The same year he was married to Shiv Devi, daughter of Salig Ram, a prosperous landlord of Jalandhar city.
For higher studies, Munshi Ram was sent to Banaras and joined Queen’s College, one of the oldest colleges in Uttar Pradesh. But due to his indulgences he did not keep good health and his father called him back to Bareilly after a year, where he was posted at that time. In 1882, Munshi Ram joined the University Law College at Lahore and passed the law examination in due course. But the year 1882 proved to be a turning point in his life when he heard Swami Dayanand speaking on the nature of God and about the Vedas during his visit to Bareilly. He contacted the Swami later and decided to follow his precepts. When Munshi Ram returned to Lahore, he formally joined the Arya Samaj, which had been inaugurated by the swami a few years earlier. He read Satyarth Prakash, written by Swami Dayanand, and met several leading Arya Samajists at Lahore and elsewhere.
By then, Munshi Ram was a qualified lawyer and he started a legal practice at Jalandhar in 1885. Soon, he became a successful lawyer. At the same time he was an active member of the Arya Samaj and due to his organizational ability and eloquence he was emerging as a leading Arya Samajists of Punjab, and became the president of the Representative Assembly (Arya Pratinidhi Sabha) of Punjab in 1889. Along with the removal of untouchability, child marriage, caste system and spreading the message of the Vedas, the Arya Samaj movement was concerned with the education of boys and girls to make them better Aryas. With this in view, Shraddhanand, in collaboration with his brother-in-law Lala Devraj, founded a girls college at Jalandhar in 1886 and named it Kanya Maha Vidyalaya. It was a residential school for girls where they were brought up in an intensively Hindu or Aryan atmosphere. The school was raised to the level of a college in due course of time and attracted students not only from various parts of India but also from some foreign countries where Hindus were in a sizeable number Today it is a leading postgraduate college for girls in Punjab.
A split occurred in the Arya Samaj on the issue of the type of education which the Arya Samaj educational institutions should render. One wing supported the Dayanand Anglo-Vedic (D.A.V) institutions, which offered courses in Western sciences, philosophy, English literature etc. with some courses covering Hindi and Sanskrit literatures. The other section was all for the ancient type of institutions called gurukuls with emphasis on ancient Hindu culture through the medium of Hindi and Sanskrit. Munshi Ram emerged as the leader of the Gurukul wing. To propagate his views, he started a weekly newspaper, the Satya Dharma Pracharak, from Jalandhar, with himself as editor. The foundation of the Gurukul became the mission of his life and he started collecting the required funds for the purpose. By 1902, he was able to collect thirty-two thousand rupees, which included his own contribution, and founded the Gurukul at Hardwar. He abandoned his legal practice at Jalandhar and moved to Hardwar to look after the working of the Gurukul. The medium of instruction at the Gurukul was Hindi and Sanskrit with emphasis on Sanskrit classics including scientific works. The boys were to observe brahmcharya (celibacy) during their Gurukul days and live a simple and religious life. It was difficult to find students for the education given in the Gurukul because it was not job-oriented. Among the four students in the first batch, two were Munshi Rams own sons. The Gurukul did succeed and gradually the number of students increased. It became a trendsetter for other gurukuls to come up in various places in north India. The Gurukul education also inculcated a nationalist feeling among the students and pride in the ancient culture of India. When Gandhi started a Satyagraha in South Africa, the inmates of the Gurukul collected a modest amount and the money was sent by Munshi Ram to Gandhi in South Africa, earning Gandhi’s gratitude and friendship. The success of the Gurukul could be gauged from the fact that when Gandhi returned to India from South Africa in 1915, along with about a hundred Phoenix boys, they had to be accommodated in the Gurukul for several weeks. Gandhi also stayed there for some time and discussed various matters with Munshi Ram. In fact, C.F. Andrews had written to Gandhi while he was still in South Africa that he should meet three great men of India on his return to India – Rabindranath Tagore, Sushil Kumar Rudra (the Christian principal of St. Stephens College, Delhi) and Swami Shraddhanand. Gandhi was impressed by the working of the Gurukul and years later, he wrote in Young India: Whenever I see a Punjabi youth capable of reading and writing Devanagari, I immediately conclude that he must have had his training in one of the Gurukuls. They have done more than any other institution in these parts to revivify Sanskrit learning and Aryan culture." Munshi Ram had built this institution almost single-handedly and served as its Governor-Director. The Gurukul has a beautiful campus on the bank of the Ganges and in the initial stages it resembled the ashrams of the ancient rishis. Today, however, it is a deemed university" like any other university in India, perhaps with more emphasis on Sanskrit learning as compared to others. Munshi Ram remained the guiding spirit of the Gurukul till 1917. When he turned sixty, he decided to enter the last stage of the life of a Hindu – sanyas ashram. He became a sanyasi and changed his name to Shraddhanand, the name by which he became famous. He now moved to Delhi where his son Indra Vidyavachaspati lived and was a journalist in the Hindi paper Arjun.
At Delhi, he started organizing social work under the aegis of the Arya Samaj. He organized famine relief Work in Garhwal in 1918 and the other places. Wherever there was a calamity there was Shraddhanand with a small band of his Arya followers. The year 1919 turned out to be the most memorable in the life of Shraddhanand. Rowlett Acts which empowered the Government to arrest and imprison Indians without trial and inflict on them most humiliating punishments and much more, was passed on 21 March 1919 in spite of opposition of Indian members in the Imperial Legislative Council. Gandhi exhorted all Indians to observe 30 March as a protest day (actually he had fixed the day as April 6 but because of some misunderstanding, people in Delhi observed it on 30 March). There was demonstration in Chandni Chowk, a busy market place in Delhi. In panic, the police opened fire on demonstrators, killing ten persons, both Hindus and Muslims. Many more were injured. From the crowd, Shraddhanand emerged in saffron robes and a staff in hand, and faced the Gurkha soldiers who were ready to continue firing. ‘Main tum ko ched dun ga’ (l will pierce you with bullet) said a Gurkha. Shraddhanand bared his chest and shouted ‘Goli chalao’ (fire at me). Better sense prevailed and the gurkhas withdrew. The procession was then allowed to proceed. Muslims, who were also demonstrating against the treatment meted out to the Khalifa of Turkey by the British, were so moved by this act of bravery on the part of Shraddhanand that they lifted him on their shoulders and took him to the nearby Jama Masjid where Shraddhanand delivered a soul stirring speech. Then happened the jallianwala Bagh tragedy on 13 April 1919, followed by other atrocities on the innocent people of Punjab, including the crawling order. Gandhi’s indifference to the plight the people of Punjab, mostly Hindus and Sikhs, shocked Shraddhanand and on 30(May 1919 he withdrew from the Satyagraha movement started by Gandhi. In Young India (11.6.1919) Gandhi wrote: “By my complete silence over the Punjab disturbances I have allowed myself to be misunderstood by many friends and, as is now well known, I have been desired of the Cooperation, though never the friendship, of so respected and renowned a leader and coworker as Sanyasi Swami Shri Shraddhanand ji. The swami did not sit idle and straight went away to Punjab and visited several places in the province including Amritsar, Lahore Gujranwala, where ghastly massacres had occurred. He tried to trace out the families whose male members were killed in Jallianwala Bagh and other places and tried to give them solace and monetary help after collecting funds for the purpose. Madan Mohan Malaviya joined Shraddhanand in this humanitarian venture. Shraddhanand persuaded the Congress party to hold its annual session of 1919 December in Amritsar, hoping that the Congress would wake up to the immensity of the Punjab tragedy. He acted as chairman of the Reception Committee and in a memorable speech he told the gathering what had happened in Punjab.
After that, Shraddhanand concentrated on the social work launched by the Arya Samaj, like educating people about the curse of untouchability and caste system. He started taking part in the Shuddhi (purifying) movement; bringing back those Muslims to the fold of Hinduism who had been forcibly converted to Islam. In the first half of 1923 more than eighteen thousand Malkana Rajputs, Gujjars and Bania converts were brought back to the Hindu fold. Under the Sanghatan movement, great efforts were made to elevate the depressed classes and untouchables. This antagonized the Muslim community who believed that conversion was only their exclusive right. On this issue, fresh differences cropped up between him and Gandhi when the latter criticized the Shuddhi movement and also Swami Dayanand and Satyarth Prakash written by Dayanand. Early in 1926, Shraddhanand started a paper, Liberator, with the purpose of propagating against untouchability and the treatment suffered by the depressed classes. Thus, the last years of Shraddhanand’s life were spent for the cause of the upliftment of the depressed classes, reconversion of the former Hindus to Hinduisms and bringing Hindus of various views together. By such activities he had earned the ire of the Muslim fanatics. On 23 December 1926 a Muslim came to the residence of Shraddhanand, who was ill and was lying down. He sent Shraddhanand’s servant to fetch a glass of water and shot Shraddhanand twice on the chest. Shraddhanand died in the spot. The nation was stunned. The assassin, Abdul Rashid, was caught, tried in a court and was sentenced to be hanged. The Muslim press and leaders came forward in his defence. On the eve of the implementation of the capital punishment to the murderer, Muslim crowds collected at the Delhi jail and the following morning thousands joined the funeral procession. En route, many processionists went out of control and started attacking the Hindus.
During the Gauhati session of the Congress (26 December) a resolution was passed which was drafted by Gandhi. Gandhi asked Mohammad Ali to move the resolution, who refused. Gandhi then himself moved the resolution: This Congress expresses its horror and indignation at the cowardly and treacherous murder of Swami Shraddhanand and places on record its sense of the irreparable loss the nation has sustained by the tragic death of a brave and noble patriot who dedicated his life and his great gifts to the service of his country and of his faith and espoused with fearless devotion the cause of the lowly, the fallen and the weak. It was followed by a speech by Gandhi who called the murderer Abdul Rashid his brother. I do not even regard him as guilty of Swamis murder. Guilty indeed, are all those who excited feelings of hatred against one another. However, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote in a different vein in his Autobiography: “The end of the year 1926 was darkened by great tragedy, which sent a shrill of horror all over India. Always I have admired sheer physical courage, the courage to face physical suffering in a good cause, even unto death. Most of us I suppose, admire it. Swami Shraddhanand had an amazing amount of that fearlessness. His tall and stately figure, wrapped in a sanyasin’s robe, perfectly erect in spite of advanced years, eyes flashing, sometimes a shadow of irritation or anger at the weakness of others passing over his face – how I remember that vivid picture and how often it has come back to me”.

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