Swami Dayanand Saraswati



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Fast Facts
180px-Dayanand_Swami.jpg
Other Names and Nicknames: 
Birthname: Moolshankar, Maharshi Dayananda Saraswati, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Swami Dayanand Saraswati
Function: 
Religious Figure
Traditions: 
Arya Samaj, Vedas, Hinduism
Main Countries of Activity: 
India
Date of Birth: 
February 12, 1824
Place of Birth: 
Tankara, Gujarat, India
In His/Her Body ("alive"): 
No
Date Left His/Her Body: 
October 31, 1883
Other Related Gurus: 
Swami Virjananda - His Guru

Biography

Swami Dayanand Saraswati was an important Hindu religious scholar and the founder of the Arya Samaj, "Society of Nobles", a Hindu reform movement, founded in 1875.

Early life

Dayananda was born in the village of Tankara near Morvi (Morbi) in the Kathiawar region of nowadays Gujarat, into a Brahmin family on February 12th in 1824. He was named, Moolshankar, and led a very comfortable early life, studying Sanskrit, the Vedas and other religious books to prepare him for a future as a Hindu priest.

A number of incidents resulted in Dayananda questioning traditional beliefs of Hinduism and inquiring about God in early childhood. Still a young child on the night of Shivratri (literally: the night for God Shiva) when his family went to a temple for overnight worship, he stayed up waiting for God to appear to accept the offerings made to idol of God Shiva. While all else slept, Dayananda saw mice eating the offerings kept for the God. He was utterly surprised and wondered how a God, who cannot even protect his own "offerings", would protect humanity. He argued with his father that they should not be worshipping such a helpless God.

The deaths of his younger sister and his uncle from cholera, caused Dayananda to ponder over the meaning of life and death and he started asking questions, which worried his parents. His parents decided to marry him off in his early teens (common in 19th century India), but he decided marriage was not for him and ran away from home.

Search for knowledge

He was disillusioned with classical Hinduism and became a wandering monk. He learned Panini's Grammar to understand Sanskrit texts, and learnt from them that GOD can be seen. After wandering in search of GOD for over 2 decades, he found Swami Virjananda near Mathura who became his guru (gu: darkness; ru:light- i.e. one who makes you reach towards light from darkness) and told him to throw away all his books, as he wanted Dayananda to start from a clean slate and learn directly from the Vedas, the oldest and foundational books. Dayananda stayed under Swami Virjananda's tutelage for two and a half years. After finishing his education, Virjananda asked him to spread the knowledge of the Vedas in society as his 'gurudakshina' (tuition-dues).

Dayanand's mission

Dayananda set about the difficult task with dedication despite attempts on his life. He traveled the country challenging religious scholars and priests of the day to discussions and won repeatedly on the strength of his arguments. He believed that Hinduism has been corrupted by divergence from the founding principles of the Vedas and misled by the priesthood for the priests' self-aggrandisement. Hindu priests discouraged common folk from reading Vedic scriptures and encouraged rituals (such as bathing in the Ganges and feeding of priests on anniversaries) which Dayananda pronounced as superstitions or self-serving.

Far from borrowing concepts from other religions, as Raja Ram Mohan Roy had done, Swami Dayananda was quite critical of Islam and Christianity as may be seen in his book Satyartha Prakash. He was against what he considered to be the corruption of the pure faith in his own country. Unlike many other reform movements within Hinduism, the Arya Samaj's appeal was addressed not only to the educated few in India, but to the world as a whole as evidenced in the 6th principle of the Arya Samaj. Arya Samaj is a rare stream in Hinduism that allows and encourages converts to Hinduism.

He was among the first great Indian stalwarts who popularised the concept of swaraj - the right to self-determination vested in an individual - when India was ruled by the British. His philosophy inspired nationalists in the mutiny of 1857[citation needed] as well as champions such as Lala Lajpat Rai and Bhagat Singh.

Dayananda's back-to-the-Vedas message influenced many thinkers. Taking the cue from him, Sri Aurobindo decided to look for hidden psychological meanings in the Vedas.

The ideology presented in the works of Dayananda has been used to support the Hindutva movement of the 20th century. Ruthven (2007:108) regards his "elevation of the Vedas to the sum of human knowledge, along with his myth of the Aryavartic kings" as an instance of religious fundamentalism, but considers its consequences as nationalistic, since "Hindutva secularizes Hinduism by sacralizing the nation".

Death

Dayananda's ideas cost him his life. He was poisoned in 1883 while a guest of the Maharaja of Jodhpur. On his deathbed, he forgave his poisoner, the Maharaja's cook, and actually gave him money to flee the king's wrath. He died on October 31st, 1883 at Ajmer during the evening of Diwali.

Teachings

Swami Dayananda believed in the infallible authority of the Vedas. Dayananda advocated the doctrine of karma, skepticism in dogma, and emphasized the ideals of brahmacharya (celibacy and devotion to God). The Theosophical Society and the Arya Samaj were united for a certain time under the name Theosophical Society of the Arya Samaj.

Swami Dayananda's creation, the Arya Samaj, is a unique component in Hinduism. The Arya Samaj unequivocally condemns idol-worship, animal sacrifices, ancestor worship, pilgrimages, priestcraft, offerings made in temples, the caste system, untouchability, child marriages and discrimination against women on the grounds that all these lacked Vedic sanction. The Arya Samaj discourages dogma and symbolism and encourages skepticism in beliefs that run contrary to common sense and logic. To many people, the Arya Samaj aims to be a "universal church" based on the authority of the Vedas.

Among Swami Dayananda's immense contributions is his championing of the equal rights of women - such as their right to education and reading of Indian scriptures - and his translation of the Vedas from Sanskrit to Hindi so that the common man may be able to read the Vedas. The Arya Samaj is rare in Hinduism in its acceptance of women as leaders in prayer meetings and preaching.

Dayananda’s concept of Dharma is succinctly set forth in his Beliefs and Disbeliefs. He said, "I accept as Dharma whatever is in full conformity with impartial justice, truthfulness and the like; that which is not opposed to the teachings of God as embodied in the Vedas. Whatever is not free from partiality and is unjust, partaking of untruth and the like, and opposed to the teachings of God as embodied in the Vedas - that I hold as adharma." Again he says "He, who after careful thinking, is ever ready to accept truth and reject falsehood; who counts the happiness of others as he does that of his own self, him I call just."

Dayananda's Vedic message was to emphasize respect and reverence for other human beings, supported by the Vedic notion of the divine nature of the individual - divine because the body was the temple where the human essence (soul or "Atma") could possibly interface with the creator ("ParamAtma"). In the 10 principles of the Arya Samaj, he enshrined the idea that "All actions should be performed with the prime objective of benefitting mankind" as opposed to following dogmatic rituals or revering idols and symbols. In his own life, he interpreted Moksha to be a lower calling (due to its benefit to one individual) than the calling to emancipate others.

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Books & Media

Recommended Books: 
Cover image

Women's Liberation: The Arya Samaj Movement in India

by Sangeeta Sharma

(Hardcover)

This study explores the decisive and distinctive contribution of Swami Dayanand Saraswati and the Arya Samaj social reform movement, particularly the comprehensive, structured, and multi-layered program that was initiated for women's liberation in India. The Arya Samaj movement was able to accord critical importance to women's issues, which no earlier nor contemporary movement had accomplished. The indisputable contribution towards the betterment of women's status in the early decades of the 20th century needs to be understood, as the main focus during these years had shifted to India's agitation against the British, leading to the hegemony of India's nationalist struggle. The book shows how this vibrant movement combated superstition, challenged the caste system, championed the cause of women's education, fought for the betterment in widows' conditions, and argued for liberalization of marriage. Despite the fact that the movement derived inspiration from ancient tradition, their perspective and efforts with regard to women's issues were clearly a sincere struggle for gender equality and social resurgence.

Pro Opinions

Awakener of India

NIDHI PARKASH's picture

Maharishi Dayananda was in real sense awakener of India from darkness of ignorance to light of knowledge.