Swāmī Dayananda Sarasvati
By Swami Harshananda
Svāmī Dayananda Sarasvati (A.D. 1825-1883) was the founder of the Āryasamāj which was a reform movement in the 19th century.
Svāmī Dayananda Sarasvati was born in A. D. 1825, in the small town of Taṅkāra in the Morbi district of Gujarat to Ambāśaṅkar Tiwārī and Amṛtābāī. His original name was Mulaśaṅkara. As he was born in an orthodox brāhmaṇa family, he underwent the usual religious sacraments like upanayana. He also studied Vedas and performed religious rites.
The free movement of a little rat on the Śivaliṅga on a Sivarātri day, became the turning point in his life and in his attitude towards image worship. He also started to re-think about ritualistic religion. He developed a great abhorrence for the same. The death of his uncle and sister made him more introvert and philosophical. One day, while preparations of his marriage were going on, he managed to slip away from his house, never to return again.
He started traveling from place to place, in search of a competent guru or a spiritual teacher. After studying some Vedāntic texts under Svāmī Brahmānanda and Paramahansa Paramānanda, he was ordained to saṁnyāsa or monastic life by Svāmī Purṇānanda Sarasvati. From then on wards he came to be known as Svāmī Dayānanda Sarasvatī.
It was actually Svāmī Virajānanda Sarasvatī, a blind but erudite and a highly evolved soul, that fulfilled the spiritual aspirations of Dayānanda. After intensive study and training under Him for about three years, Dayānanda set out on his life’s mission as per the directions of his guru Virajānanda. Propagation of the pure Vedic religion based entirely on the Saṁhitās was the main task assigned to him by his guru. Now began his relentless fight against the various unhealthy accretions of the Vedic religion. He also came across the assaults on the religion by the Semitic religions. He prepared himself for this onerous task by practicing severe austerities for two years in a garden in Agra.
During his ceaseless travels all over the country, he staunchly opposed the various opinions and practices of the pundits through his incisive logic and vast knowledge of the Vedas. He successfully roused the religious conscience of the masses. He also reconverted many people who had gone out of the religious folds and gave them the Gāyatrī-mantra, which he considered as a universal mantra and the common property of all the people.
His insistence on the original Vedic religion as true follower of the religion, his call to ignore the hereditary based varna system as a man-made accretion and his stress on the varṇa system based, not on birth, but on the character earned him a very large following, especially from the deprived sections of the society.
However, his ruthless condemnation of many ritualistic and other practices in the society based on the secondary scriptures like the purāṇas, created many enemies for him. His criticism of Islam and Christianity and the campaigns for re-conversion of those who had adopted these foreign faiths roused the wrath of the Muslims and the Christians. Several attempts were made against his life.
Dayānanda established the Ārya Samāj at Bombay in 1875 with a creed of 28 principles, later on reduced it to 10 in the revision made by himself in 1877. He passed away in 1883 by being poisoned by his own cook. He forgave him and helped him to escape!
He carved out a niche for himself in the religion by:
- His pure life
- Fearless and uncompromising adherence to the principles of his conviction
- Crusades against the forays into the Vedic religion by others
- Scholarly works like the Satyārthaprakāśa (in Hindi)
- Sanskrit commentaries on some portions of the Vedas
- Upananyana is investiture with the sacred thread.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore