Swami Dayananda Saraswati

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Swami Dayananda Saraswati (स्‍वामी दयानन्‍द सरस्‍वती) (1824 - 1883) was an important Hindu religious scholar born in Gujarat, India. He is best known as the founder of the Arya Samaj "Society of Nobles", a great Hindu reform movement, founded in 1875. He was a sanyasi (one who has renounced all worldly possessions and relations) from his boyhood. He was an original scholar, who believed in the infallible authority of the Vedas. Dayananda advocated the doctrine of karma, skepticism in dogma, and emphasised the ideals of brahmacharya (celibacy and devotion to God). The Theosophical Society and the Arya Samaj were united for a certain time under the name Theosophical Society of the Arya Samaj.

Swami Dayananda's creation, the Arya Samaj, is a unique component in Hinduism. The Arya Samaj unequivocally condemns idol-worship, animal sacrifices, ancestor worship, pilgrimages, priestcraft, offerings made in temples, the caste system, untouchability, child marriages and discrimination against women on the grounds that all these lacked Vedic sanction. The Arya Samaj discourages dogma and symbolism and encourages skepticism in beliefs that run contrary to common sense and logic. To many people, the Arya Samaj aims to be a "universal church" based on the authority of the Vedas.

Among Swami Dayananda's immense contributions is his championing of the equal rights of women - such as their right to education and reading of Indian scriptures - and his translation of the Vedas from Sanskrit to Hindi so that the common man may be able to read the Vedas. The Arya Samaj is rare in Hinduism in its acceptance of women as leaders in prayer meetings and preaching.

Dayananda starting questioning traditional beliefs of Hinduism and inquiring about God in early childhood. Still a young child on the night of Shivratri (literally: the night for God Shiva)when his family went to a temple for overnight worship, he stayed up waiting for God to appear to accept the offerings made to idol of God Shiva. While all else slept, Dayananda saw mice eating the offerings kept for the God. He was utterly surprised and wondered how a God, who cannot even protect his own "offerings", would protect humanity. He argued with his father that they 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 off in his early teens (common in 19th century India), 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 Sanskrit texts. After wandering in search of guidance for over 2 decades, he found Swami Virjananda near Mathura who became his guru and told him to throw away all his books in the river and focus on the Vedas. Dayananda stayed under Swami Virjananda's tutelage for two and a half years. After finishing his education, Virjananda asked him to spread the concepts of Vedas in society as his gurudakshina ("tuition-dues").

Dayananda set about the difficult task with dedication despite attempts on his life. He traveled the country challenging religious scholars and priests of the day to discussions and won repeatedly on the strength of his arguments. He believed that Hinduism has been corrupted by divergence from the founding principles of the Vedas and misled by the priesthood for the priests' self-aggrandisement. Hindu priests discouraged common folk from reading Vedic scriptures and encouraged rituals (such as bathing in the Ganges and feeding of priests on anniversaries) which Dayananda pronounced as superstitions or self-serving.

Dayananda's ideas cost him his life. He was poisoned in 1883 while a guest of the Maharaja of Jodhpur. On his deathbed, he forgave his poisoner, the Maharaja's cook, and actually gave him money to flee the king's wrath.

Far from borrowing concepts from other religions, as Raja Ram Mohan Roy had done, Swami Dayananda was quite critical of Islam and Christianity as may be seen in his book Satyartha Prakash. 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 in India, but to the world as a whole as evidenced in the 6th principle of the Arya Samaj. Arya Samaj is a rare stream in Hinduism that allows and encourages converts to Hinduism.

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 just."

He was the among the first great Indian stalwarts who popularised the concept of Swaraj - right to self-determination vested in an individual, when India was ruled by the British. His philosophy inspired nationalists in the mutiny of 1857 (a fact that is less known) as well as champions such as Lala Lajpat Rai and Bhagat Singh. Dayananda's Vedic message was to emphasize respect and reverence for other human beings, supported by the Vedic notion of the divine nature of the individual - divine because the body was the temple where the human essence(soul or "Atma") could possibly interface with the creator ("ParamAtma"). In the 10 priniciples of the Arya Samaj, he enshrined the idea that "All actions should be performed with the prime objective of benefitting mankind" as opposed to following dogmatic rituals or revering idols and symbols. In his own life, he interpreted Moksha to be a lower calling (due to its benefit to one individual) than the calling to emancipate others.

Dayananda's back-to-the-Vedas message influenced many thinkers. Taking the cue from him, Sri Aurobindo decided to look for hidden psychological meanings in the Vedas . Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry. 1972.

Dayananda and the Arya Samaj provide the ideological underpinnings of the Hindutva movement of the 20th century, Ruthven (2007:108) regards his "elevation of the Vedas to the sum of human knowledge, along with his myth of the Aryavartic kings" as religious fundamentalism, but considers its consequences as nationalistic, since "Hindutva secularizes Hinduism by sacralizing the nation".

[edit] Works

  • Dayananda Saraswati wrote more than 60 works in all, including a 14 volume explanation of the six Vedangas, an incomplete commentary on the Ashtadhyayi (Panini's grammar), several small tracts on ethics and morality, Vedic rituals and sacraments and on criticism of rival doctrines (such as Advaita Vedanta). The Paropakarini Sabha located in the Indian city of Ajmer was founded by the Swami himself to publish his works and Vedic texts.
  • Satyartha Prakash / Light of Truth - translated to English published in 1908
  • R̥gvedādi-bhāṣya-bhūmikā / An Introduction to the Commentary on the Vedas. ed. B. Ghasi Ram, Meerut (1925). reprints 1981, 1984
  • ed. New Book Society of India, Glorious Thoughts of Swami Dayananda (1966)
  • Autobiography, ed. Kripal Chandra Yadav, New Delhi : Manohar, 1978.
  • Yajurvēda bhāṣyam : Samskr̥tabhāṣyaṃ, Āndhraṭīkātātparyaṃ, Āṅglabhāvārthasahitaṅgā, ed. Mar̲r̲i Kr̥ṣṇāreḍḍi, Haidarābād : Vaidika Sāhitya Pracāra Samiti, 2005.
  • The philosophy of religion in India, Delhi : Bharatiya Kala Prakashan, 2005, ISBN 8180900797

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