Swami Dayananda Saraswati was a Hindu spiritual leader of the 19th century and social reformer famous for being the founder of the Hindu reform organization Arya Samaj. He was an eminent scholar and teacher of Advaita Vedanta, equally respected by traditional pandits and academically inclined people.
Swami Dayananda deeply studied the Upanishads, logic, and grammar of Sanskrit under the guidance of various teachers, which gave clarity to his teachings. His teaching style allowed him to establish an excellent rapport with his audience, be it a gathering of several thousand regular listeners of his lectures in India or seminars at universities around the world.
Dayananda Saraswati’s deep scholarship and subtle appreciation of Eastern and Western cultures made him a rare contemporary teacher who is able to convey the vision of non-duality to modern listeners.
Early Life of Dayananda Saraswati
Dayananda Saraswati was born to a Brahmanic family on February 12, 1824, in Jeevapar Tankara, Kathiawad region (now Morbi district of Gujarat). At an early age, he began the orthodox course of study, and by the time he had reached the age of 14, he had memorized a Sanskrit drama, a Sanskrit vocabulary, the entire Yajur-Veda, and part of other Vedas.
Very soon, he felt the inconsistency between the religious ideas of the Vedas and those related to the worship of Shiva and hesitantly bowed to his father’s insistence on performing the rites of Shiva.
On one occasion, when he was taking part in this worship, as he continued the ceremonies for a long time during the night, his father and others fell asleep. While looking at the idol, the boy saw a mouse carrying an offering left for him. Suddenly the inconsistency of the worship of God in stone form struck him so that he left the temple and never worshiped an idol again.
The death in his family led him to delve into the meaning of life, determined to break away from all external forms and find the true path through the efforts of the soul. His parents, thinking that the boy was too meditative, determined his marriage. The preparations were almost complete when he quietly left home at night and never returned from his wanderings, searching for someone who could guide him to the truth.
Dayanand’s Seek for the truth
Finally, in November 1860, he met a religious teacher named Swami Virjananda Dandeesha in Mathura. With this scholar of the Vedas, who was blind since childhood, Dayananda studied the Vedas for four years. After his education, Virjananda sent him to spread the knowledge obtained from the Vedas.
Formation of Arya Samaj
In obedience, he traveled throughout India, visiting especially places of pilgrimage, where he denounced the idolatry and superstitions of Hinduism. In 1872 he visited Calcutta and met Devendranath Tagore, with whom he had long and sincere conversations. In 1874 he arrived in Bombay, and after a few months of effective work, he organized the Arya Samaj on April 10, 1875, extending it in 1877 during a tour of Punjab.
The Arya Samaj’s main aim was to condemn unrighteous practices in the name of customs, rites, and religions like child marriage, animal sacrifice, priestcraft, and discrimination against women.
Message from Swami Dayanand
Swami Dayanand’s main message – Back to the Veda – formed the foundation of all his thoughts and actions. He spent a lot of time preaching against many Hindu morals and traditions that were meaningless and oppressive. These include practices such as polytheism and social stigmas such as caste and infinity, child marriage, and forced widows, which were prevalent in the 19th century.
Dayananda Saraswati taught the inspiration of the Vedas as the pure source of authentic knowledge. He taught the personality of God as the sole object of worship. God and the soul are related as the penetrator and the penetrated. The external substances are God, the soul, and matter; salvation is the state of emancipation from birth and death. He denounced the caste system and idol worship.
Dayananda Saraswati taught and educated the Hindus on how to return to their roots of faith – the Vedas – they could improve their lot and India’s social, political, and economic conditions at that time. Although he had millions of followers, he also attracted many detractors and enemies.
Swami Dayananda’s Major Contributions to Society
Swami Dayanand, an influencer of the freedom movement in India, founded a Hindu reformation organization called Arya Samaj. The Arya Scholors created ten of its principles that are very different from Hinduism but based on the Vedas. These principles aim to advance individuals and society through humankind’s physical, spiritual, and social betterment.
The aim is not to find a new religion but to re-establish ancient Vedantic teachings. He desired true human development by accepting the Supreme truth and rejecting falsehood through analytical thinking.
Swami Dayananda also started the movement called the ‘Shuddhi Movement’. It was a self-taught movement for those individuals to come back to their own religion (Hinduism), who was unwantedly or voluntarily converted to another religion.
Dayanand Saraswati is also notably responsible to influence the formation of a wide number of centers for teaching Advaita Vedanta. Many qualified teachers who followed the Vedanta pathway of Dayanand are guiding their students in the same way of life.
Teachings of Swami Dayananda Saraswati
Swami Dayananda was considered the teacher of teachers due to his capability of both designing and teaching 7 residents in-depth Vedantic courses in India and the United Nations, each of them taking almost 3 years to complete. Some teachings of Swami Dayanada are:
- Sanskar or rites are the foundation of human conduct; the deeper the rites are, the more unwavering man is on duty, religion, truth, and justice.
- When a man overcomes his anger, controls his lust, abandons the desire for fame, and is dislodged from the illusion of Maya (the illusion of mundane existence), then the divine figures that come in it are called Kundalini Shakti.
- After knowing that omnipotent God through yoga, the inexplicable knot of the heart is cut off. All doubts are removed, and the sins committed in the future are destroyed; that is, knowing God, the person does not commit sins in the future.
The assassination of Dayananda Saraswati
As the legend points out, he was poisoned many times by orthodox Hindus, and one such attempt proved fatal, and he succumbed to death in 1883. What he left behind was one of the largest and most revolutionary Hindu organizations, the Arya Samaj.
In 1883 he visited the Maharaja of Jodhpur, where he was greatly disturbed by the sensuality and dissipation that marked the court’s life. As he rebuked the Maharaja to his face, he was poisoned by a woman named Nanhi, with whom Maharaja was seen dancing in his restroom. He died on October 30, 1883, on the auspicious Hindu festival of Diwali.
Arya Samaj after Dayanand’s death
After the death of Swami Dayananda Saraswati, the leadership of the Arya Samaj was assumed by several prominent figures, including Lala Hansraj, Pandit Guru Datt, and Pandit Lekh Ram. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, leaders such as Lala Lajpat Rai and Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya played a key role in expanding the reach and influence of the organization.
In more recent times, notable figures associated with the Arya Samaj include Rajendra Prasad, who went on to become the first President of India, and D. S. Rajan, who has been an active leader in promoting the ideals of the organization.
Though the organization faced internal conflicts and factionalism, it continued to grow and expand, establishing branches and schools in India and abroad. The Arya Samaj remained active in promoting Hinduism, education, and social reform, and continues to be an influential Hindu organization to this day.