Indian religious thought raised a purely Indian Samaj against Keshab’s Brahmo Samaj and against all attempts at Westernization, even during his life-time, and at its head was a personality of the highest order, Dayananda Saraswati (1824-1883).
This man with the nature of a lion is one of those, whom Europe is too apt to forget when she
Judges India, but whom she will probably be forced to remember to her cost; for he was that rare combination, a thinker of action with a genius for leadership.
While all the religious leaders of whom we have already spoken and shall speak in the future were and are from Bengal. Dayananda came from quite a different land, the one which half a century later gave birth to Gandhi—the north-west coast of the Arabian Sea. He was born in Gujarat at Tankara (Morvi) in the State of Kathiawar of a rich family belonging to the highest grade of Brahamins no less versed in Vedic learning than in mundane affairs both political and commercial. His father took part in the government of the little native state. He was rigidly orthodox according to the letter of the law with a stern domineering character, and this last to his
sorrow he passed on to his son.
As a child Dayananda was, therefore, brought up under the strictest Brahmin rule, and at the age
of eight was invested with the Secred Thread and all the severe moral obligations entailed by this privilege rigorously enforced by his family.’ It seemed as if he was to become pillar of orthodoxy in his turn, but instead he became the Samson, who pulled down the pillars of the temple; a striking example among a hundred others of the vanity of human effort, when it imagines that it is possible by a superimposed education to fashion the mind of the rising generation and so dispose of the future. The most certain result is revolt.
That of Dayananda is worth recording. When he was fourteen his father took him to the temple to celebrate the great festival of Shiva. He had to pass the night a strict fast in pious vigil and prayer. The rest of the faithful went to sleep. The young boy alone resisted its spell. Suddenly he saw a mouse nibbling the offerings to the God and running over Shiva’s body. It was enough. There is no doubt about moral revolt in the heart of a child. In a second his faith in
the idol was shattered for the rest of his life. He left the temple, went home alone through the night, and thenceforward refused to participate in the religious rites.
It marked the beginning of a terrible struggle between father and son. Both were of an unbending
and autocratic will, which barred the door to any mutual concession. At nineteen Dayananda ran
away from home to escape a forced marriage. He was caught and imprisoned. He fled again, this time for ever (1845). He never saw his father again. For fifteen years this son of a rich Brahmin,
despoiled of everything and subsisting on alms, wandered as a sadhu clad in the saffron robe along roads of India. Dayananda went in search of learned men, ascetics, studying here philosophy, there the Vedas, learning the theory and practice of the Yoga.
He visited almost all the holy places of India and took part in religious debates. He suffered, he braved fatigue, insult and danger. However, Dayananda remained far from the human masses through which he passed for the simple reason that he spoke nothing but Sanskrit throughout this period.
Dayananda did not see, did not wish to see, anything round him but superstition and ignorance, spiritual laxity, degrading prejudices and the millions of idols he abominated. At length about 1860 he found at Mathura an old Guru even more implacable than himself in this condemnation of all weakness and his hatred for superstition, a Sanyasi blind from infancy and from the age of eleven quite alone in the world, learned man, a terrible man Swami Virijananda Sarasvati. Dayananda put himself under his ‘discipline” which in its old literal seventeenth century sense scarred his flesh as well as his spirit.
Dayananda served this untamable and indomitable man for two and a half years as his pupil. It is,
therefore, mere justice to remember that his subsequent course of action was simply the fulfillment of the will of the stern blind man, whose surname he adopted, casting his own to oblivion. When they separated Virjananda extracted from him the promise that he would consecrate his life to the annihilation of the heresies that had crept into the Puranic faith, to reestablish the ancient religious methods of the age before Budha, and to disseminate the truth.
Dayananda immediately began to preach in Northern India, but unlike the benign men of God
who open all heaven before the eyes of their hearers, he was a hero of the Iliad or of the Gita with the athletic strength of Hercules,’ who thundered against all forms of thought other than his own, the only true one. He was so successful that in five years Northern India was completely changed. During these five years his life was attempted four or five times—sometimes by poison.
Once a fanatic threw a cobra at his face in the name of Shiva, but he caught it and crushed it. It
was impossible to get the better of him; for he possessed an unrivalled knowledge of Sanskrit and the Vedas, while the burning vehemence of his words brought his adversaries to naught. They likened him to a flood. Never since Sankara had such a prophet of Vedism appeared. The orthodox Brahmins, completely overwhelmed, appealed from him to Benares their Rome. Dayananda went there fearlessly, and undertook in November, 1869, a Homeric contest before millions of assailants, all eager to bring him to his knees, he argued for hours
together alone against three hundred pandits—the whole front line and the reserve of Hindu
orthodoxy) He proved that the Vedanta as practiced was diametrically opposed to the primitive Vedas.
He claimed that he was going back to the true word. They had not the patience to hear him out. He was hooted down and excommunicated. A void was created round him, but the echo of such combat in the style of the Mahabharata spread throughout the country, so that his name became famous over the whole of India. At Calcutta where he stayed from December
15, 1872 to April 15, 1873, Ramakrishna met him.
He was also cordially received by the Brahmo Samaj. Keshab and his people voluntarily shut their eyes to the differences existing between them; they saw in him a rough ally in their crusade against orthodox prejudices and the millions of Gods. But Dayananda was not a man to come to an understanding with religious philosophers imbued with Western ideas. His national Indian theism, its steel faith forged from the pure metal of the Vedas alone, had nothing in common with theirs, tinged as it was with modern doubt, which denied the infallibility of the Vedas and the doctrine of transmigration.’ He broke with them the richer for the encounter,2 for he owed them3 the very simple suggestion, whose practical value had not struck him before, that his propaganda would be of little effect unless it was delivered in the language of the people. He went to Bombay, where shortly afterwards his sect, following the example of the Brahmo Samaj but with a better genius of organization proceeded to take root in the social life of India. On April 7, 1875 he founded at Bombay his first Arya Samaj, or Association of the Aryans of India, the pure Indians, the descendants of the old conquering-race of the Indus and the Ganges,
(These italic words express that the author is influenced by the speculated historical elements
which were imposed upon our history by foreigners.
Swamiji did not really take this view of Arya in any of his writings—Editor) and it was exactly in those districts that it took root most strongly. From 1877, the year when its principles were definitely laid down at Lahore, to 1883, Dayananda spread a close network over Northern India. Rajputana, Gujrat, the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh, and above all in the Punjab which remained his chosen land, practically the whole of India was affected. The only province where his influence failed to make itself felt was Madras. (He could not have the time and chance to preach his gospel in Madras—Editor) He felt, struck down in his prime, by an assassin. The concubine of a Maharajah, whom the stern prophet had denounced, poisoned him. He
died at Ajmer on October 30, 1883. But his work pursed its uninterrupted and triumphant course, from 40,000 in 1891 the number of its members rose to 1,01,000 in 1901, to 2,40,000 in 1911 and to 4,58,000 in 1921.1 Some of the most important Hindu personalities, politicians and Maharajahs belonged to it. Its spontaneous and impassioned success in contrast to the slight reverberations of Keshab’s Brahmo Samaj shows the degree to which Dayananda’s stern
teachings corresponded to the thought of his country and to the first stirrings of Indian nationalism, to which he contributed.
It may perhaps be useful to remind Europe of the reasons at the bottom of his national awakening, now in full flood. Westernization was going too far, and was not always revealed by its best side. Intellectually it had become rather frivolous attitude of mind, which did away with the need for independence of thought, and transplanted young intelligences from their proper environments teaching them to despise the genius of their race. The instinct for self-preservation
revolted. Dayananda’s generation had watched, as he had done. Not without anxiety, suffering and irritation, the gradual infiltration into the veins of India of superficial European rationalism on the one hand, whose ironic arrogance understood nothing of the depths of the Indian spirit, and on the other hand, of a Christianity, which when it entered family life fulfilled only too well Christ’s prophecy he had come to bring division between father and son.
The enthusiastic reception accorded to the thunderous champion of the Vedas, a Vedist
belonging to a great race and penetrated with the sacred writings of ancient India and with her heroic spirit, is then easily explained. He alone hurled the defiance of India against her invaders.
Dayananda declared war on Christianity and his heavy massive sword cleft it as under with scant reference to the scope of exactitude of his blows. Nevertheless as Glasenapp rightly remarks,
they are of paramount interest for European Christianity of which ought to know what is the image of itself as presented by its Asiatic adversaries.
Dayananda had no greater regard for the Qoran and the Puranas, trampled underfoot the
body of Brahmin orthodoxy. He had no pity for any of his fellow countrymen, past or present, who had contributed in any way the thousands-year decadence of India, at one time the mistress of the world.’ He was a ruthless critic of all who, according to him, had falsified or profaned the true Vedic religion.’ He was a Luther fighting against his own misled and misguided Church of Rome,’ and his first care was to throw open the wells of the holy books,
so that for the first time his people could come to them and drink for themselves. He translated and wrote commentaries on the Vedas in the vernacular— Its was in truth an epoch-making date for India when a Brahmin not only acknowledged that all human beings have the right to know the Vedas, whose study had been previously
prohibited by orthodox Brahmins, but insisted that their study and propaganda was the duty of every Arya
It is true that his translation was an interpretation, and that there is much to criticize with
regard to accuracy’ as well as with regard to the rigidity of the dogmas and principles he drew from the text, the absolute infallibility claimed for the one book, which according to him had emanated direct from the “Prehuman” or Superhuman Divinity, his denials from which there was no appeal, his implacable condemnations, his theism of action, his credo of battle,’ and finally his national God. But in default of outpourings of the heart and the calm sun of the spirit, bathing the nations of men and their Gods in its effulgence Dayananda transfused into the languid body of India his own formidable energy, his certainty, his lion’s blood.
His words rang with heroic power. He reminded the secular passivity of a people, too prone to bow to fate, that the soul is free and that action is the generator of destiny. He set the example of a complete clearance of all the encumbering growth of privilege and prejudice by a series of hatchet blows. If _ his metaphysics were dry and obscure his theology was narrow and in my opinion retrograde_,_ (The underlined only expresses the want of opportunity and inability in contacting and penetrating the mystery of Dayananda’s Theology—Editor) his social activities and practices were of intrepid boldness, with regard to questions of fact he went further than the Ramakrishna Mission ventures to-day.
His creation, the Arya Samaj, postulates in principle equal justice for all men and all nations,
together with equality of the sexes. It repudiates a hereditary caste system, and only recognizes professions or guilds, suitable to the complementary aptitudes of men in society; religion was to have no part in these divisions but only the service of the state, which assesses the tasks to be performed. The state alone, if it considers it for the good of the
community, can raise or degrade a man from one caste to another by way of reward or punishment, Dayananda wished every man to have the opportunity to acquire as much knowledge as would enable him to raise himself in the social scale as high as he was able. Above all he would not tolerate the abominable injustice of the existence of the untouchables, and nobody has been a more ardent champion of their outraged rights. They were admitted to the Arya Samaj on the basis of equality; for the Aryas are not a caste. The Aryas are all men of superior principles; and the ‘Dasyus’ are they who lead a life of wickedness and sin.
Dayananda was no less generous and no less bold in his crusade to improve the condition of
women a deplorable one in India. He revolted against the abuses from which they suffered recalling that in the heroic age they occupied in the home and in society a position at least equal to men. They ought to have equal education according to him, and supreme control in marriage,’ for men and women, and though he regarded marriage as indissoluble, he admitted the remarriage of widows and went so far as to envisage a temporary union for women as well as men for the purpose of having children, if none had resulted from marriage.
Lastly the Arya Samaj, whose eighth principle was ” to diffuse knowledge and dissipate ignorance” had played a great part in the education of India— especially in the Punjab and the United Province and it has founded a host of schools for girls and boys. Their laborious hives are grouped round two model establishments,’ The Dayanand Anglo—Vedic College of Lahore and the Gurukula of Kangri, national bulwarks of Hindu education, which seek
to resuscitate the energies of the race and to use at the same time the intellectual and technical conquests of the West. To these let us add philanthropic activities such as orphanages, workshops for boys and girls, homes for widows, and great works of social service at the
time of public calamities, famine etc.
I have said enough about this Sanyasi with the soul of a leader, to show how great an uplifted of
the peoples he was in fact the most vigorous force of the immediate and present action in India at the moment of the rebirth and reawakening of the national consciousness. His Arya Samaj whether he wished it or not prepared the way in 1905 for the revolt of Bengal. He was one of the most ardent prophets of reconstruction and of national organization. I feel that it was he who kept the vigil; his purpose in life was action and its object his nation. For a people lacking the vision of wider horizon, the accomplishment of the action and the creation of nation might perhaps be enough. But not for India— before her will still lie the universe.