Dayananda Saraswati [1825-1884]
Dayananda Saraswati [1825-1884], a Brahman of Katthiawar, led the recoil of orthodox Hindu thought back to the old. Dayananda Saraswati [1824-1883] was the first to give the call for Swarajya – "India for Indians" – in 1876. Dayananda Saraswati was the first to dispute the Aryan myth was, rejecting out of hand the entire 19th Century European view of the Veda. Throughout his known adult life, Swami's main message was "Back to the Vedas". One of Swami Dayanand's major arguments for going back to the Vedas was that, in his own words "the four Vedas, the repositories of knowledge & religious truth, are the Word of God. They are absolutely free of error, & the Supreme & independent authority". Swami was "a voice against superstition, against unrighteousness, which reigned supreme in the garb of true religion, and against a foreign rule".
He himself was from his youth brought up in the strictest school of Hindu orthodoxy. Nothing supernatural or unnatural is said to have happened at the birth of Swami Dayanand, as that was not necessary for the mission of his life. While still a boy of thirteen his conscience was roused by an ordinary incident. It is a Hindu custom to keep vigil on a certain night during the year and dedicate it to the worship of the god Siva. Dayanand's parents went to sleep after remaining awake for some time, when he observed that some rats came out of a corner and ran over the image of the god. Strong doubts with regard to the current beliefs of his people arose in his mind. He was twenty-one when two deaths occurred in his own family, those of his uncle and his sister. The youth stood face to face with death.
Dayananda Saraswati early abandoned idol-worship, but he remained firm in his belief in Vedic revelation. He was opposed to many of the abuses that had crept in, during the later period of the religions growth of India, and of whioh, as is known, no trace can be found in the ancient sacred books of the Brahmans, — the Vedas. He took his stand on the Vedas. Whatever was not found in the Vedas he declared to be false or useless; whatever was found in the Vedas was to him beyond the reach of controversy. Like all the ancient theologians of India, he looked upon the Vedas as divine revelation. That idea seems to have taken such complete possession of his mind that no argument could ever touch it.
Dayananda Saraswati rejected the older commentaries of the Vedas by Sayana, Mahidhara and Uvata as medieval corruptions "opposed to the real meaning of the Vedas", renouncing the academic philological work of western scholars summarily as either misinformed by such corrupted Indian commentators, or as consciously misrepresenting the texts due to a colonialist agenda. Professing pure monotheism, while admitting a plenary belief in the doctrines of metempsychosis and Karma, Dayanand embarked upon a strenuous campaign against idol-worship and the Hinduism which is based upon the Puranas. More particularly, being a Saiva or worshipper of Siva, did his anger blaze forth against the Bhagavat Gita, which he regarded as "an execrable production and an outrage upon the glory of the Supreme who alone should be worshipped and adored." The Swami's violent attacks upon contemporary Hinduism provoked the bitter resentment of the Brahmans and of many prominent sectarians.
Dayanand Saraswati turned to the Vedas, which he regarded as teaching a purely theistic religion, and as anticipating also the results of modern culture. He was opposed to idol-worship, he repudiated caste, and advocated female education and widow marriage. To him not only was everything contained in the Vedas perfect truth, but he went a step further. By the most incredible interpretations, Dayanand Saraswati succeeded in persuading himself and others that everything worth knowing, even the most recent inventions of modern science, were alluded to in the Vedas. Steam engines, railways, and steam boats, all were shown to have been known to the poets of the Vedas, for Veda, he argued, means Divine knowledge, and how could anything have been hidden from that?
What Dayanand did in his Hindi commentaries on the Vedas is to give a rationalistic interpretation of these ancient writings. On the assumption that the Vedas are a direct revelation from the Supreme Being, it follows that they must be correct, and, therefore, cannot possibly conflict with God's other revelation to man, viz. the truths of science, physical and natural. Nothing, therefore, is necessary, but to put a rationalistic interpretation on the obscure and doubtful passages, and to find a new meaning for such statements or injunctions as seem to conflict with well-established facts and principles. With this method of exegesis and its results Europe had long been familiar, and the Hindu reformer did not seem to have been more fortunate in its application than Western theologians.
Swami Dayanand was the founder of the Hindu reform organization Arya Samaj, which he established on April 7th 1875, in Bombay India. He also created the 10 principles of Arya Samaj. Arya Samaj are Sanskrit words meaning ‘A Noble gathering ‘. These adherents were, for the most part, of what would be called the professional classes. The Arya Samaj combined a reformation of the secular abuses and legendary accretions of orthodox Hinduism — a reversion from "ecclesiasticism" to the Vedic scriptures — with an insistence on the development of an independent Indian intellectual life and thought.
At one of the anniversary meetings of the Society, a member gravely stated that the Vedas mentioned pure fire, and as pure fire was nothing but electricity, it was evident the Indians of the Vedic period were acquainted with electricity. A leading member of the sect, who had studied science in the Government college, discovered in two Vedic texts, made up of only eighteen words in all, that oxygen and hydrogen with their characteristic properties were known to the writers of the Rig Veda, who were also acquainted with the composition of water, the constitution of the atmosphere, and had anticipated the modern kinetic theory of gases.
Dayanand Saraswati, who formed a new society called the "Arya Samaj", is also credited with the outspoken expression of opinion about the present-day degeneration of Englishmen in India. The Swami is reported to have said to an English clergyman who came to visit him, "I have been an early riser from my childhood. In the beginning I saw that Englishmen would get up early in the morning, and taking their children with them would go out for a walk. The excess of wealth, however, has made them indolent since. They are seen stretched on their beds in their bungalows till the sun is up, and I cannot but perceive that, like the old Aryas, the days of your fall are also coming." Without too much straining, one would be justified in recognizing in this significant condemnation and equally significant prediction, uttered by or attributed to Dayanand, an encouragement of the later political activities of the sect which he founded; particularly as the reformer was intent upon the regeneration of Aryavarta, and had the words patriotism and nationality constantly upon his lips.
During 1879 Dayanand met, first at Saharanpore and afterwards at Meerut, Colonel Olcott and Madame Blavatsky, founders of the world-known Theosophical Society, and it is stated that at the latter place, on May 4, Colonel Olcott in a public address said that he and Madame "had come to India accepting the Swami as their guru and guide." By the end of 1880 a complete disagreement was found to exist between Swami-ji and bis American "disciples" in respect to their views about the existence of God, Colonel Olcott and Madame Blavatsky having openly avowed that they had no faith in God. A rupture between the Arya Samaj and the Theosophical Society became inevitable, angry passions were aroused, both sides indulged in accusations and recriminations. Swami Dayanand denounced his quondam American disciples in no measured terms as dangerous atheists, and taking the world into his confidence gave various instances of the duplicity of the Colonel and his companion in their dealings with himself and the Arya Samaj.
The extraordinary feature that distinguishes him from all other teachers, is that he altogether excluded his personality from his teachings. He begins his works by stating that the reader is at perfect liberty to reject what he sees that is wrong, and to accept only what appears to him to be right.
Dayanand Saraswati died at the age of fifty-nine, at Ajmere, on Tuesday, the 30th of October, 1884. There was a large funeral procession, the followers of Dayananda chanting hymns from the Vedas. The body was burnt on a large pile. Two maunds of sandal-wood, eight maunds of common fuel, four maunds of ghee (clarified butter), and two and-a-half seers of camphor, were used for the cremation. The adherents of the Arya Somaj came afterward under spiritualistic influences.
What Swami Dayanand aimed at can be best understood by the preface of his work Satyartha Prakhash (The light of Truth). He says: "It is a well-known fact that 5000 years ago there existed no other religion in the whole world but the Vedic." This is the basic principle from which he took his start.
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