Swami Dayanand Saraswati’s birth anniversary falls on March 8 in 2021. according to Bharatiya/Hindu calendar. Dr Vinay Nalwa explains various aspects of this multi-dimensional personality who was a reformist and a staunch nationalist.

From Valmiki to Vivekanand, bharatbhoomi has been nurtured by many Hindu saints. Their wisdom along with knowledge of ancient philosophy and traditions has always contributed to defining a pristine way of living. Just like any organic existence on the earth, Hindu dharma and its various systems have been continuously evolving. One such significant progression is manifested in the form of Arya Samaj, founded by Swami Dayananda Saraswati (1824-1883) a great revolutionary and social reformer.

Dayanand Saraswati was born on February 12, 1824 in Tankara, Gujarat as Mool Shankar to Karshanji Lalji Tiwari and Yashodabai. They were an affluent Brahmin family and ardent follower of Lord Shiva. Mool Shankar was taught religious rituals, piety and purity, importance of fasting from a very early age. The death of his younger sister and his uncle from cholera caused Dayananda to ponder the meaning of life and death. He began asking questions which worried his parents. He was engaged to be married in his early teens, but he decided marriage was not for him and left his home in 1846.

Dayananda Saraswati spent nearly twenty-five years, from 1845 to 1869, as a wandering ascetic, searching for truth. He devoted himself to spiritual pursuits in forests, retreats in the Himalayan Mountains, and pilgrimage sites in northern India. During these years he practiced various forms of yoga and became a disciple of a religious teacher named Virajanand Dandeesha. It was the time when Indian society was turning away from ancient cultural roots due to foreign influences and invasions .

On 10 April 1875, Arya Samaj, a Hindu reforms movement was founded by Maharishi Dayanand Saraswati.

The Samaj sheds ritualistic practices while seeking spiritual rejuvenation of the Bharatiya thought, it also worked towards abolishing various social anomalies. The Arya Samaj launched programs to support widow remarriage in the 1880s. Maharishi Dayanand also underlined the importance of educating the girl child and opposed child marriage.

While Swami Dayananda worked towards reviving Vedic philosophy and denouncing the ritualistic worship, his aim was for humanity to experience the unparalleled wisdom of Vedas for making human life joyful. Among the basic principles of Arya Samaj that set upon the task of changing Bharatiya society was that all human beings irrespective of their caste, colour or creed are equal. Through the Shuddhi Movement he brought depressed classes at par with other coummuties and strengthened Hinduness, an inherent strength and the core value of Bharatiya society.

The ten tenets of the Arya Samaj are: God is the efficient cause of all true knowledge and all that is known through knowledge. God is omnipresent ,immortal, intelligent and fearless , blissful and maker of all. He alone is worthy of being worshiped. One should always be ready to accept truth and renounce untruth. All acts should be performed in accordance with Dharma that is, after deliberating on what is right and wrong. The prime object of the Arya Samaj is to do good to the world, that is, to promote physical, spiritual, and social good of everyone. Our conduct towards all should be guided by love, righteousness, and justice. We should dispel Avidya (ignorance) by promoting Vidya (knowledge). One should look for his/her good in promoting the good of all rather than be content with promoting his/her good only.

Among his many contributions to the Indian society he was an early supporter of the cow protection. Dayananda Saraswathi published the Gokarunanidhi (Ocean of mercy to the cow) in 1881. It strongly opposed cow slaughter.

Maharishi Dayanand was fully convinced that the lack of knowledge was the main culprit behind the weakening of Hinduness of the country. Besides its many contributions, Arya Samaj has played a leading role in educational reforms. In education, Swami Dayanand saw character building. He reintroduced the ancient Gurukul system of education by establishing Gurukul Kangri at Haridwar and thereafter several other Gurukuls for Vedic research scholars. Inspired by his beliefs, teachings, and ideas the Dayanand Anglo Vedic College Trust and Management Society was established after his death in 1883. The first DAV High School was established at Lahore on June 1, 1886 with Lala Hans Raj as its headmaster.

He was the first to give the call for ‘Swarajya’ as “India for Indians” – in 1876, later taken up by Lokmanya Tilak and other freedom fighters of the time. Swami Dayanand’s teachings and Arya Samaj also influenced many leaders like Dadabhai Naoroji, Ram Prasad Bismil, Lala Lajpat Rai, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Madam Cama, Ram Prasad Bismil, Mahadev Govind Ranade, Madan Lal Dhingra and Subhash Chandra Bose to take part in the struggle for freedom of the country. Shaheed Bhagat Singh was educated at the D.A.V. School in Lahore.

Due to his strong views on the social issues and beliefs Dayanand Saraswati had to pay with his life.In 1883, on the occasion of Diwali, the Maharaja of Jodhpur, Jaswant Singh II, had invited Maharishi Dayanand to his palace to sought blessings. A courtesan conspired with the cook who mixed pieces of glass in the Maharishi’s milk. The Maharishi forgave the cook but died after suffering an excruciating pain on October 30, 1883, at Ajmer, on the day of Diwali.

The Arya Samaj besides setting up school, colleges for all have opened many orphanages and old people houses . The Arya Samaj started as a reformist movement over the years has contributed much in increasing the nationalist thought that is seen today.

(The writer is senior fellow with Vichar Vinimay Kendra, a Delhi based think tank. Views expressed are personal)