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Dayanand Saraswati biography

Dayanand Saraswati

(1824-1883)

biography

Among all the reformers of the nineteenth century, Dayanand was unique in the sense that he was not influenced by western education and philosophy; in fact, he did not even know English. In spite of that, he has left a more lasting impact on Indian society than any other reformer. The Arya Samaj, founded by him, is still active, not only in India but also in other countries where Indians have settled in considerable numbers like South Africa, Mauritius, Fiji, Trinidad, and England.
The educational wing of the Arya Samaj in the form of Dayanand Anglo-Vedic (D.A.V) schools and colleges is the largest educational network in the country. In addition to these modern institutions there are gurukuls, established on the ancient pattern of education, for both boys and girls. Such was the impact of the gurukuls that when Gandhi returned from South Africa in 1915, he sent his sons and about one hundred other children, who were with him in the Phoenix Ashram, Durban, to Gurukul Kangri, Hardwar for some time. These institutions are keeping alive the name and message of Dayanand.
dayanand saraswati

Dayanand’s Autobiography does not throw light on his place of birth, nor about his family. But his biographers Lekhram and Devendranath Mukhopadhyaya, who went to Gujarat to find out the truth about his birth and family, have revealed that Dayanand was born at Tankara village in Morvi state of Kathiawar, in 1824. He was given the name Moolshankar or Mulji by his family, who were Brahmins. His father was a small landholder-cum-moneylender and commanded respect in the area. Mulji’s family was orthodox Shaivites. Dayanand spent the first twenty years of his life in the village and got the education which such an environment could offer. He committed to memory Yajurveda and parts of other Vedas as well as Rudradhyaya, the scripture for Vaishnavas. He learnt the Devanagari script at the age of five and was also taught Sanskrit. His father also taught him the rituals which a Shaivite family had to perform. Two events had a great impact on his life the death of his younger sister from cholera and that of his uncle soon after whom he loved and respected. The second event was on a Shivratri night, when the young Mulji saw a mouse climbing on the Shivlinga and devouring the offerings, while other members of the family were asleep. These two events were the turning point in the life of the young Moolshankar. He began to ponder on the meaning of life and death and the true form of God as he was now convinced that the symbols of God, as represented in idols of various shapes and forms, could not be true God. When his parents came to know about his state of mind they decided that Mulji should get married. Before that could happen, Mulji left his home and family, never to return. He was initiated into sanyas by Swami Parmanand Saraswati, who changed his name to Dayanand Saraswati. He learned yoga from Jawalanand Puri and Sivanand Giri at Dudeshwar, near Ahmadabad. He traversed all of north-west India for many years in search of a guru and yogi who could clear his doubts and teach him true religion but could find none, till he met Swami Virjananda at Mathura. Here, his real education in Sanskrit and the Vedas started in 1860. He was already thirty-six years old. He stayed for three years in Virjananda’s ashram. His guru found in Dayanand an extraordinary personality eager to do something for the Hindu society.  At the command of his guru, Dayanand took a solemn vow to devote his life to spreading the Vedic message and for removing superstitions and ignorance from the Hindu society.
He started preaching about the true religion of the Vedas and condemning idol-worship, meaningless rituals and the evils inherent in the caste system. His slogan was back to the Vedas, the sacred books of the Hindus which should be read by all Hindus irrespective of the caste to which they belonged. For several years, he confined his efforts to lectures and Shastrarths (debates) with orthodox Hindus to spread his message. He preached at the Kumbh Mela in 1867 at Hardwar and while preaching, he met with stiff resistance from the orthodox Hindus. His famous Shastrarths in Varanasi (1869) with three hundred traditional of Kashi did not bring any fruitful result.
His visit to Calcutta in 1872-73 was a turning point in the reforming mission of Dayanand. He had gone to Calcutta at the invitation of the Adi Brahmo Samaj and stayed at the house belonging to the Tagore family. There, he met several leaders of the Adi Brahmo Samaj, including Keshab Chandra Sen, Hemchandra Chakravarti and others. He studied the working of the Brahmo Samaj and learnt many lessons, being receptive to new ideas. Consequently, a major shift in his methods of preaching came about. Instead of preaching in Sanskrit, which only a few persons could understand, he decided to preach in Hindi in future, thus reaching a wider audience. He also changed his dress from a loincloth to a long gown, dhoti and a turban, all in ochre colour - the colour of the Indian sadhus. He also learnt that by merely giving lectures and holding debates, he would not be able to achieve much. To associate willing persons and to give some kind of permanency to his endeavours, he needed an organization on the lines of the Brahmo Samaj. He realized he would also have to write his views to convey his message to people living in different parts of the country and even outside. I-le learnt Hindi and gave his first lecture in Hindi in 1874, a year after his return from Calcutta.
The urge to start an Organization fructified when in January 1875 the first Arya was established in Rajkot. But it did not survive for long. The second Arya Samaj in April of the same year was founded at Bombay, with one hundred founding members, and proved to be an important landmark in the history of the Arya Samaj movement. A committee was formed to supervise the activities and rules (twenty-eight in number) were framed for the initiation and guidance of its members.
But for Dayanand, real success came when he visited Punjab in March 1877. He went to Lahore at the invitation of the Brahmo Samajis, who had established some branches in Punjab earlier. But soon differences in ideology cropped up and the Brahmo Samaj people disassociated themselves from the Swami. However, his lectures attracted quite a fewInfluential people, who were impressed by the personality and teachingof the Swami. There was hardly any debate there as Punjab did not haveBrahmin orthodoxy. Hindus there had been facing foreign onslaughts forcenturies. They were ready to try social transformation and wanted toget organized for their emancipation. The first Arya Samaj in Punjab wasestablished in June 1877, at Lahore. From the very start, it was betterorganized than the one in Bombay. They elected a committee to run theaffairs; reduced the number of principles from twenty-eight to ten, whichare still followed by the Arya Samaj everywhere. They also formulatedby-laws. Arya Samaj sprang up in all major cities of Punjab, except inthe princely states, Where Dayanand did not preach.
It was in Punjab, while the Swami was preaching, that a new concept emerged, that of (purification). Christian missionaries and Muslim mullahs were very active at that time in Punjab, converting Hindus to their religions. Through shuddhi, a person who was converted to another religion could be ‘purified’ and brought back to the fold of Hinduism. Arya Samaj in Punjab had taken the Work of shuddhi in earnest, facing the ire of both Muslims and Christians, especially of the former. Many Aryas were martyred while doing shuddhi Work including leaders like Lekhram (biographer of Swami Dayanand) and later Shraddhanand. The Shuddhi movement has been criticized by a group of historians, forgetting that it was an ancient custom approved by scriptures like vratyastoma and Devalasmritii. One of the most famous cases of shuddhi was that of Harilal Gandhi, the eldest son of Mahatma Gandhi. Harilal had become a Muslim to avoid paying back the money borrowed by him from some Muslim moneylenders and also to spite his father, whom he held responsible for his troubles. He was converted to Islam in Jama Masjid, Bombay on 14 May 1936, in front of a cheering crowd of Muslims. This created a stir in the country and was a great embarrassment for the elder Gandhi and Kasturba. It was the Arya Samaj which came to their rescue and showing great daring, brought back Harilal to the Hindu fold through shuddhi after six months.
Another development which contributed to Swami’s success in Punjabwas the publication of vedabhashya in fascicules starting, in 1878. The response was overwhelming and the subscription for the book ran into hundreds. While in Punjab, Swamiji had Written a small book earlier (1877) Aryaddheshya Ratnavli, containing a hundred definitions and descriptions of key terms of Hindu religion and philosophy, to help people in understanding his discourses and writings. “Swami spent only sixteen months in the Punjab and was never to pay a return visit, yet, when he left the land of Eve rivers, a new force had clearly been set in motion in Punjab society, a force that had decisive influence in the history of the province for many years to come”. Lahore had become the unofficial headquarters of the Arya Samaj and gave a lead to Arya Samajs around the World. Lahore, becoming part of Pakistan after the partition of the country in 1947, proved a great setback for the Arya Samaj, from which it has not been able to recover fully even to this day.
By the time Dayanand left Punjab, he had become famous and his following had increased considerably. Soon, the number of Arya Samajs multiplied and when Swamiji died, there were seventy-nine Arya Samajs functioning mostly in Punjab and UP. Today the number runs into thousands. Of the five years and three months of his remaining life, the Swami spent in hectic activity visiting Uttar Pradesh and lastly Rajputana, where he died on 30 October 1883. According to his biographer J.T.F. Jordan, an Australian, the cause of Swami’s death was acute dysentery, double pneumonia and mismanagement of his treatment by his followers, who had brought him from Jodhpur to Ajmer while he was seriously ill. However, Arya Samaj people believe that Dayanand was poisoned by his enemies, especially a favourite concubine of the Maharaja of Jodhpur.
Dayanand has left a considerable number of books and pamphlets, which he wrote laboriously. His magnum opus, of course, is Satyarth Prakash. The first edition of this seminal work was published in 1875 in Hindi, when Dayanand was not quite proficient in the language and thus was not satisfied with the end result. A second and final edition of Satyarth Prakash was published in 1882-83, a part of it after his death. Some other important works of his are: Sanskarvidhi, first edition 1877, second edition after his death in 1884; Rigvedadibhashyabhumika, published in fascicules from 1877 onwards; Rigvedabhshya and Yajurvedabhashya, published in fascicules from 1877 to 1880. His Autobiography written in Hindi by the Swami and subsequently its English translation was published in The Theophist, a monthly of the Theosophical Society, 1879-80, at the time when the Swami had a brief association with the society and its founder, Blavatsky.
Besides preaching Vedic lore, Dayanand preached against idolatry, meaningless rituals and the caste system. He was one of the first reformers to advocate swadeshi and Swaraj (self-rule. For the integrity of the country, he favoured Hindi as the national language and set an example himself though he did not know English; he encouraged Indians to learn English to understand the modern scientific advancement of the West. The name Dayanand Anglo-Vedic given to educational institutions run by Arya Samaj implies just that.
Arya Samaj has attracted many luminaries during Dayanand’s life time and since his death. Some of them have taken active part not only as social reformers but also as freedom fighters like M.G. Ranade, Lajpat Rai, Bhai Parmanand, Shyamji Krishnaverma, Shraddhanand and many others.

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