Swami Dayananda Saraswati
(1824 - 1883) is an important Hindu religious scholar born in Gujarat,
India. As a child, Dayanand sat with his father in a temple for
overnight worship. One night, he saw mice eating the offerings kept
for the God. He was utterly surprised and wondered how a God, who
cannot even defend his own "prasad", would defend the humanity.
He argued with his father that he should not be worshipping such
a helpless God. He started pondering over the meaning of life and
death and started asking questions, which worried his parents. His
parents decided to marry him, but he decided marriage was not for
him and ran away from home. He was disillusioned with classical
Hinduism and became a wandering monk. He learned Panini's Grammar
to understand the Vedas. He reached Swami Vrijananda's ashram at
Mathura, who told him to throw away all his books in the river.
He stayed in the ashram for two and a half years. After finishing
his education, he spread the concept of Vedic Hinduism.
The Arya Samaj, society of virtuous
men, a great Hindu reform movement, was founded by him in 1875.
He was a sanyasin (one who has renounced the world) and an original
scholar, who believed in the infallible authority of the Vedas.
Dayananda advocated the doctrine of karma and rebirth, and emphasised
the ideals of brahmacharya (celibacy) and sanyasa (renunciation).
Far from borrowing concepts from
other religions, as Raja Ram Mohan Roy had done, Swami Dayananda
was fiercely critical of Islam and Christianity as may be seen in
his book Satyartha Prakasha. 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, but to the Indian nation
as a whole.
The Arya Samaj unequivocally condemned
idolatry, animal sacrifices, ancestor worship, pilgrimages, priestcraft,
offerings made in temples, the caste system, untouchability and
child marriages, on the grounds that all these lacked Vedic sanction.
It aimed to be a universal "church" based on the authority of the
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
He was the first among the great
Indian stalwarts who popularised the concept of Swaraj -
that is, right to self-determination vested in Indians, when India
was ruled by the British.
His influence reduced the unnecessary
rituals that had creeped into Hinduism, and this brought him in
conflict with the classical Brahmans. There were many contests of
knowledge, "shastrarth", between him and other priests, and he won
all such contests. His legacy is still visible in the Indian countryside
where people just believe in Vedic yagya and not going to the Hindu