Swami Dayananda Saraswati, the founder of the Arya Samaj, was one of the makers of modern India. With an indigenous orientation, he wanted to bring a new social, religious, economic and political order in India.
Taking inspiration from Veda, he criticized evil practices like idolatry, caste system, untouchability etc. as prevailed in the then Indian society.
Swami Dayananda Saraswati, known as Mulshankar in the childhood, was born in 1824 in a small town of Tankara belonging to Kathiawar of Gujarat in a conservative Brahmin family.
Taking early education from his family, he subsequently emerged as a great Vedic scholar. He renunciated the worldly life and moved from one part of India to another in the pursuit of wisdom and truth.
Finally, he met Swami Vrajanand at Mathura and became his disciple. After completing his education, he went on with the mission of spreading true Hindu religion and culture all over India. With this purpose he established the Arya Samaj at Bombay on 10th April, 1875. A number of twenty eight rules were framed which were approved by the members present in the meeting. As a writer of eminence, Dayananda wrote books like ‘Satyarth Prakash’, Vedanga Prakash, ‘Ratnamala’ ‘Sankarvidhi’, ‘Bharatinivarna’ etc. He travelled throughout the country to propagate his views and established branches of Arya Samaj at different places.
Principles of Arya Samaj:
1. Acceptance of the Vedas as the only source of truth.
2. Opposition to idol worship.
4. Opposition to the theory of God-incarnation and religious pilgrimages.
5. Recitation of the mantras of the Vedas and performance of ‘Havan’ and ‘Yajna’.
6. Faith in female education.
7. Opposition to child-marriage and polygamy.
8. Propagation of Hindi and Sanskrit languages.
Swami Dayanada, through the Arya Samaj, tried to reform the Hindu society and religion.
On the basis of the above mentioned principles, the Arya Samaj emphasized on the liberation of the Hindu society. Dayananda claimed that only Vedas were the repositories of true knowledge and the only religion was the religion of the Vedas. The principles of economics, politics, social sciences, humanities can be found in the Vedas. His clarion call “Go Back to the Vedas” created consciousness among the people. He rejected other scriptures and ‘Puranas’. He strongly opposed idol worship, ritualism, practice of animal-sacrifice, the concept of polytheism, the idea of heaven and hell and fatalism.
The Arya Samaj simplified Hinduism and made Hindus conscious of their glorious heritage and superior value of Vedic knowledge. The Hindus should not look towards Christianity, Islam or western culture for guidance.
Emphasizing on the superiority of Hinduism, the Arya Samaj could challenge the Islamic and Christian propaganda against it. Dayananda started “Shuddhi Movement” as a process of converting the people of other religions to Hinduism and also to reconvert those who have changed from Hinduism to other religions. This movement prevented low caste Hindus from converting to Christianity or Islam. The Shuddhi Movement challenged the Christian missionaries who tried to convert the uneducated, poor and depressed classes of the Hindus.
With its opposition to various social evils, the Arya Samaj rendered valuable services to Hindu society. He opposed the caste system and the superiority of the Brahmins in the society. He also challenged the monopoly of the Brahmins to read the Vedas and supported the right of every individual irrespective of caste, creed and colour to study the Vedas. Dayananda also opposed the practice of untouchability.
He protested against injustice to women and worked for the education of the females. He vehemently opposed child-marriages, polygamy, “Purdah” and the practice of “Sati” etc. Citing the teachings of the Vedas, he proved that women should have equal rights with men. Inter-caste marriages and interdining were practised by the members of the Arya Samaj.
The Arya Samaj established a number of educational institutions like Gurukuls, Kanya Gurukuls, D.A.V. Schools and Colleges for the education of both males and females. These educational institutions protected the Hindu religion and society and also promoted the growth of knowledge and education in modern scientific line.
Though Arya Samaj had not actively participated in politics yet it indirectly helped in the promotion of national consciousness. Dayananda was the first to advocate “Swadeshi” to discard foreign goods. By recognising Hindi as the national language, he promoted the growth of an all-India national spirit.
He also used the term ‘Swaraj’ to be established on the Vedic principles before any Indian national leader thought of it. The Arya Samaj, thus became a fanatic supporter of Hinduism and became an organ of militant Hinduism. Because of such militancy, subsequently the growth of extremism within the fold of the All India National Congress became possible.
The Arya Samaj played a significant role in bringing the socio- religious changes in pre-independent India. Though Dayananda was criticized as a conservative and sectarian activist who claimed the superiority of Hinduism over and above of all other religions, yet he was one of the makers of modern India. Truly speaking, he was not opposed to Christianity or Islam, rather the evil practices of all religions and their religious imperialism.