Swami Dayanand Saraswati:A Prophet of Modern Hinduism

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Swami Dayanand Saraswati:A Prophet of Modern Hinduism

More than thirty-five years ago I graduated from D.A.V. College in Amritsar. Credit truly goes to this fine institution that I still cherish my fond memories of the educational experience. Even though D.A.V. College is named after a man called “Dayanand”, most students knew next to nothing about him and nor were we taught anything about him.

Then in the early 1970s a minor incident occurred that surprised many of us. The Punjab Government decided to realign some colleges to affiliate with the newly created Guru Nanak University located in Amritsar. A number of colleges including those in Amritsar were included in this transfer category and surprisingly this decision caused an uproar among them. Apparently these colleges were content with their affiliation with the Punjab University in Chandigarh, and resented strongly being reassigned to Guru Nanak University.

As a young student I heard distressing rumors that these D.A.V. colleges didn’t think much of the name of Guru Nanak, which to me was baffling all the more because I held D.A.V. colleges in high esteem just as I held Guru Nanak’s name. I graduated and moved on but the question remained in my remote memory as to why such institutions of higher learning like the D.A.V colleges resented being linked to the name of Guru Nanak via a university affiliation.

Swami ji and Arya Samaj

After commissioning in the U.S. Army and weeks before leading to the 1984 tragedies affecting the Sikhs in India, I read a few reports highlighting the role that Arya Samaj played in the breakdown of Punjabi society both before and after Punjab’s partition in 1947. Swami Dayananda about whom I did not know much at that time founded Arya Samaj.

I have always exercised caution while reading news authored by various Indian groups including the Sikhs. Finally the circumstances had descended for me to begin unveiling the mystery of Arya Samaj and its founder Swami Dayanand. Little was I prepared when in 1991 I read the Satyarth Prakash, Dayananda’s master literature, which left me stunned for days. Before I dwell further on the Swami, let me say a few words on modern Hinduism, an understanding of which is essential here.

What is modern Hinduism?

With the introduction of British colonialism in the Bengal region of India a new ideology took birth that was to transform classical and/or popular Hinduism. In other words, modern Hinduism (also referred to as reformatory Hinduism) is a reinterpretation of Hindu scriptures or Hindu ideas based upon the following six competing aggressive factors:

  • (1) European colonialism;
  • (2) Christian missions;
  • (3) Western education & technology;
  • (4) Western means of propaganda & disinformation;
  • (5) Theosophy; and
  • (6) Freemasonry.

Over the years various interpretations had appeared on the horizon starting with the Brahmo Samaj and its various tributaries. Men who brought forth these new interpretations are the ones whom I call “Prophets of modern Hinduism.” They range from RamMohan Roy in Bengal to Mahatma Gandhi of Gujarat. In fact among the cadres of these prophets, all hailed from Bengal with the exception of two from Gujarat namely Swami Dayananda and Mahatma Gandhi.

It should be noted that both Gandhi and Dayanand exerted far-reaching negative impact on Punjab. While popular imagination is entrenched in thinking that modern Hinduism is after all a reformatory movement and therefore a far better alternative to its predecessor, I contend that modern Hinduism is far more precarious ideologically with its unending mutations at any given opportunity and it can, and has, seriously undermined both the Hindus and their neighbors including the Sikhs. This characteristic of modern Hinduism is absolutely essential to unfolding the mystery surrounding Swami Dayananda and his legacy.

Research, debates and Books

I have been researching Swami Dayananda off and on for the last sixteen years. Dayanand was a big man full of an unending supply of inner energies, determinations, zeal, resolve, and so forth. He cherished a sincere desire to seek answers to many mysteries that grapple a thinking person, and he would travel extraordinary distances often in unfriendly territories hoping to find answers.

Imbued with that hungry spirit, amazingly Swami would seek debates with his opponents and open the books including the Hindu scriptures. All in all this man, while on road, carried a significant load of reading materials plus other items. Such was his unquenchable thirst to learn. There are more admirable qualities about him but I think you got the idea.

Swami ji background

Dayanand’s story began in a small town of Tankara, Gujarat in 1824; born with a name of Daya Ram Mulshankar, the Swami was nicknamed Mulji. Expectedly his Brahman parents were deeply religious within the Shaivite tradition and rightly so harbored great aspirations for Mulji. By the age of 22 years (1846) Mujli’s life was anything but stable; there was a storm brewing inside of him and he ran away from home.

Shortly thereafter he was bestowed with the coveted title and he became Swami Dayanand Saraswati. Life away from home and barely existing on the dusty road and back alleys for the next 15 years in faraway inhospitable places as a sannayasi (recluse) pursuing yoga and surviving by begging is no easy lifestyle.

Then, why pursue such a life? The Swami’s answer would be moksha (spiritual liberation) . I suspect Mulji was already experiencing psychological challenges, but I can’t cast a definitive critical eye on his early years (evidence is lacking). The Swami’s life as a yogi is a specimen for closer examination, however.

Yoga, frustration and confusion

If Dayanand’s younger years at home were healthy (suspicion is otherwise), I believe yoga seriously undermined Swami’s critical faculties, and possibly afflicted him with a bipolar-like personality disorder. Swami devoted significant time and effort to master yoga, a task fraught with dangers.

Reading his biographies one can’t escape turmoil the Swami was in. Here is an example: While on the banks of Ganges, upon seeing a corpse floating, Swami jumped and dragged the body out to examine it’s inside using his pocket knife. He cut open the body to inspect the heart, head, neck, etc., trying to verify the yoga anatomical details.

Not finding them the frustrations grew. One can imagine Swami’s mental framework! It should come as no surprise to know that he could not find the chakras and the nadis via gross anatomy, which leads me to believe that Swami hadn’t been reading the yoga scriptures carefully. Nonetheless this wild experience should have convinced him to re-evaluate the field of Hindu spirituality. But I can’t find that moment; all I find is more turmoil in him.

Confusion, narrow escape and bhang

Further down in time, Swami found himself poisoned and he at once resorted to applying Neoli-karm, apparently one of the yogic dhoutis. Swami descended into the Ganges water, swallowed large quantities of this polluted water and passed it out via his anus in an attempt to flush his entire gastrointestinal system.

By this way we are told, Swami saved his life. If this incident is true it points to the fact that Swami was deep into the yoga practices and no surprise to those of us who study Yoga that such yogic complex techniques point to his psychological instabilities. If this were not enough Dayanand acquired the habit of ingesting bhang.

As stated earlier these roughly fifteen years of pursuing yoga devastated the Swami especially his mental health if not his physical health. Swami needed a quick rescue and in 1860, Swami Virjanand Saraswati (1779-1868) of Mathura is credited for saving Dayanand. For the next three years, Mulji received instructions and then was commissioned to restore glory to Aryavarta and re-establish pristine Vedic knowledge at the expense of all other false religions.

To put it mildly, as Arthur Koestler would sum it, Swami was tasked to become a Yogi and the Commissar – a perfect blend of both politics and religion. The image of Swami Dayananda that we have inherited as a reformer had its roots at this stage of his life. At this time, I will stop the biography and concentrate on Swami’s important teachings.

Vedas & the Vedic Literature

Dayanand considered Vedas to be eternal, meaning they existed before the universe came into being and authored by God himself. Using his brand of hermeneutics, Swami radically altered the teachings of Vedas thereby bringing them in conformity with the Semitic religions of Islam and Christianity. This of course didn’t go well at many places, especially where scholars and prominent people knew Sanskrit.

In Punjab, however, the situation was different due to the susceptibility of educated Hindu Punjabi Khatri and his receptiveness to the new Vedic interpretation. Neither knowing Sanskrit and nor being versed in the Hindu scriptures these Punjabi Hindus swallowed the whole of Swami’s Vedas. Sensing his incredible successes in Punjab, Swami contacted the Punjab government to lay validity to his Vedic commentary.

Hardly a surprise, the Punjab government along with its cadre of Vedic scholars rejected the Swami. Even Max Muller commented, “By the most incredible interpretations Swami Dayanand succeeded in persuading himself and others that everything worth knowing, even the most recent inventions of modern science, were alluded to in the Vedas.”

One man named Shiv Narayan Agnihotri (later, Satyananda Agnihotri) emerges as an intellectual giant of Punjab. Based upon his intense dealings with the Swami, Agnihotri accused him of

  • (1) embezzlement,
  • (2) hypocrisy,
  • (3) the teachings of immorality
  • (4) arrogance, and
  • (5) misrepresentations of the Vedas.

Sceptics in the midst

Unfortunately, the Punjabi Hindu, brainwashed in Arya Samaj, was in no mood to listen to Agnihotri. Incidentally, this is the same Agnihotri who almost forty years later warned Punjabis and other Indians to beware of Mahatma Gandhi. Agnihotri was the first Indian to recognize that race hatred is the modus operandi by which Gandhi worked his politics. The tragedy is that in both cases he failed to convince his fellow Punjabis of these two Gujaratis in their midst.

Bhai Ditt Singh (1853-1901) had a singular honor of joining the ranks of Swami during his Punjab journey. Ditt Singh experienced another rare fortunate incident when he renounced the Swami upon learning uncomfortable version of his sermons. During this up close sessions, Singh literally witnessed how intricate and methodical the Vedic interpretations were made:

Swami Dayanand reflected a considerable amount of flexibility in changing his interpretation of Vedas according to the need of the hour. For instance, in one of his discourses at Lahore, he said that the sun revolved around the earth. Back home, his admirers told him that people will think poor of Vedas as the latest scientific knowledgeable reveals that earth revolves around the sun. The following day, Swami Dayanand revised his interpretation of Vedas accordingly.

The Caste System and Racism

Although on the surface Dayanand looked reformed, however, on closer inspection he appears casteist and downright racist. In other words, the caste system stays intact, perhaps more solidified, if Swami’s prescription of Hindu totalitarianism were to be implemented. On page 266 [Bharadwaja’s translation] of Satyarth Prakash, we read him by citing the Atharva Veda:

“The Dwijas (the twice-born)—Brahmanas, Ksyatriyas, Vaishyas—are called Aryas, while the Shudras are called Anaryas, or Non-Aryas.” Swami continues his racial rhetoric:

In the face of these Vedic authorities how can sensible people believe in the imaginary tales of the foreigners. In the Devasura wars, Prince Arjuna and King Dashratha and others of Aryavarta used to go to the assistance of the Aryas in order to crush the Asuras…. But the war which Ram Chandra waged in the south against Ravana—the king of Ceylon—is called … war between the Aryas and Rakshasas. Besides, Manu also corroborates our position. He says, “The countries other than Aryavarta are called Dasyu and Maleschha countries.” The people living in the north-east, north, north-west and west of Aryavarta were called Dasyus, Asuras and Malechhas, while those living in the south, south-east and south-west were called Rakshasas. You can still see that the description of Rakshasas given therein tallies with the ugly appearance of the Negroes of today….

Hindu reformers like Dayananda would play with words and the concepts giving out different images of caste reforms without ever acknowledging that deceptive rhetoric is meant to throw off others by creating confusion. Careful reading of Swami’s political ideas throws some light insofar as his idea of a Hindu totalitarian state. One can only imagine the creation of state’s bureaucracy handling the caste matters! Dr. Rudolf Hoernle (Principal, Banaras Sanskrit College) made the following remarks:

Caste reformation?

Caste, the reformer [Dayananda] considers only as a political institution made by the rulers for the common good of society and not a natural or religious distinction…. The castes are simply different professions or guilds (adhikaras), established by the state to guard against confusion and mutual interference, and for the better establishment of the different works. Each class was made into a guild and furnished with its rights and privileges and made hereditary.

But, as the whole classification is a creation of the state, any Sudra, who is deserving of the promotion, can be made by the state a Vaisya or Kshattriya or Brahmana, if he qualifies for the work of the respective class. Likewise any Brahmana, who deserves the degradation can be made by the state a Sudra. In fact, any Brahmana who is disqualified for the work, becomes at once a Sudra de jure, and a Sudra, who qualifies for it, becomes at once a Brahmana de jure; though neither can become so de facto also either by his own will or the will of others, as long as the state does not make him so.

On the surface Swami has made a reform here because seemingly the idea of hereditary castes is no longer Vedic and, the non-hereditary caste system is to be run and maintained by the State. In other words, what sounded as reform turned out to be no reform: If the caste system cannot be protected by claiming the religious doctrines for whatever reasons then come up with the political design to accomplish the same.

The end result is still the same. There is no evidence in place where Swami as an authority ever crossed the caste lines to intermingle or eat with the lower castes. At one time he refused to dine with Sayed Ahmed Khan, and on another occasion he refused to eat a Brahmo’s food because it had been prepared by a low-caste female. Once in Banaras, Swami left a room where a Muslim was present to have a drink of water.


Swami remained single throughout his life. Whether he experienced any sexual encounters of any variety is hard to tell since the literature is silent on this fact. For sake of understanding, let’s say you are married and you find out your wife is pregnant. Given your beliefs, consider that you must refrain from any sexual activity until your wife delivers a baby. In the meantime how do you handle your sexual urges? Swami has an answer: Go ahead with sexual intercourse with someone else provided you do it according to the Vedic instructions -- read page 140 of Satyarth Prakash.

In no way this recommendation is different from Islam’s sanctioning of “temporary marriage” called Mutah. Swami spelled out a wild doctrine of niyoga. I ask the reader to browse through pages 130 to 140 of Satyarth Prakash to grasp what niyoga is. Many fair-minded Hindus and others were incensed at the Swami for uttering such immoral nonsense. Manusmriti sanctions sex outside the norm in a narrowly prescribed manner. But the Swami, being never a careful reader, overextended Manu’s sanctions and created a scandal against him. His brainwashed followers brought suit against those ridiculing the niyoga. I am thankful to John Campbell Oman for bringing to my attention the following: “Courts pronounced the tenets of the Arya Samaj in regard to Niyoga to be undoubtedly immoral.”


Jordens referenced this paragraph from “Rishi Dayananda Saraswati ke Patra aur Vijnapan,” 2nd edition (1955) pages 451-52. Obviously Swami believed in more Vedic-derived ideas recorded beyond the confines of his Satyarth Prakash. Again I felt that Jordens’ above paragraph also jarringly resembled those teachings sprouting from Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad. I have been contemplating about Swami Dayananda and wondering what more did he truly believe out of this famous Upanishad. For reasons that will become clearer and I prefer not to comment on it any further, but I will suggest you read the following entire twenty-eight verses dealing with “incantations and ceremonies for procreation,” of the fourth Brahmana—section of SIXTH ADHYÂYA of Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad: (Specific to the red colored section, I forewarn this may not be suitable for some readers).

  • 1. Verily, of created things here earth is the essence; of earth, water; of water, plants; of plants, flowers; of flowers, fruits; of fruits, man (purusa); of man, semen.
  • 2. Prajâpati ('Lord of creatures') bethought himself: 'Come, let me provide him a firm basis!' So he created woman. When he had created her, he revered her below.--Therefore one should revere woman below.--He stretched out for himself that stone which projects. With that he impregnated her.
  • 3. Her lap is a sacrificial altar; her hairs, the sacrificial grass; her skin, the soma-press. The two labia of the vulva are the fire in the middle. Verily, indeed, as great as is the world of him who sacrifices with the Vâjapeya ('Strength-libation') sacrifice, so great is the world of him who practises sexual intercourse, knowing this; he turns the good deeds of women to himself. But he who practises sexual intercourse without knowing this-women turn his good deeds unto themselves.
  • 4. This, verily, indeed, it was that Uddâlaka Âruni knew when he said:--

This, verily, indeed, it was that Nâka Maudgalya knew when he said:-- This, verily, indeed, it was that Kumârahârita knew when he said: 'Many mortal men, Brahmans by descent, go forth from this world, impotent and devoid of merit, namely those who practise sexual intercourse without knowing this.' [If] even this much semen is spilled, whether of one asleep or of one awake, [5] then he should touch it, or [without touching] repeat:-- 'What semen has of mine to earth been spilt now, Whate'er to herb has flowed, whate'er to water-- This very semen I reclaim! Again to me let vigor come! Again, my strength; again, my glow! Again the altars and the fire Be found in their accustomed place!' Having spoken thus, he should take it with ring-finger and thumb, and rub it on between his breasts or his eye-brows

  • 6. Now, if one should see himself in water, he should recite over it the formula: 'In me be vigor, power, beauty, wealth, merit!' This, verily, indeed, is loveliness among women: when she has removed the clothes of her impurity. Therefore when she has removed the clothes of her impurity and is beautiful, one should approach and invite her.
  • 7. If she should not grant him his desire, he should bribe her. If she still does not grant him his desire, he should hit her with a stick or with his hand, and overcome her, saying: 'With power, with glory I take away your glory!' Thus she becomes inglorious.
  • 8. If she should yield to him, he says: 'With power, with glory I give you glory!' Thus they two become glorious.
  • 9. The woman whom one may desire with the thought, 'May she enjoy love with me!'--after inserting the member in her, joining mouth with mouth, and stroking her lap, he should mutter:--

'Thou that from every limb art come, That from the heart art generate, Thou art the essence of the limbs! Distract this woman here in me, As if by poisoned arrow pierced!'

  • 10. Now, the woman whom one may desire with the thought, 'May she not conceive offspring!'--after inserting the member in her and joining mouth with mouth, he should first inhale, then exhale, and say: 'With power, with semen, I reclaim the semen from you!' Thus she comes to be without seed.
  • 11. Now, the woman whom one may desire with the thought, 'May she conceive!'--after inserting the member in her and joining mouth with mouth, he should first exhale, then inhale, and say: 'With power, with semen, I deposit semen in you!' Thus she becomes pregnant.
  • 12. Now, if one's wife have a paramour, and he hate him, let him put fire in an unannealed vessel, spread out a row of reed arrows in inverse order, and therein sacrifice in inverse order those reed arrows, their heads smeared with ghee, saying:--

'You have made a libation in my fire! I take away your in-breath and out-breath (prânâpânau)--you, so-and-so! You have made a libation in my fire! I take away your sons and cattle--you, so-and-so! You have made a libation in my fire! I take away your sacrifices and meritorious deeds --you, so-and-so! You have made a libation in my fire! I take away your hope and expectation--you, so-and-so!' Verily, he whom a Brahman who knows this curses--he departs from this world impotent and devoid of merit. Therefore one should not desire dalliance with the spouse of a person learned in sacred lore (s'rotriya) who knows this, for indeed he who knows this becomes superior.

  • 13. Now, when the monthly sickness comes upon anyone's wife, for three days she should not drink from a metal cup, nor put on fresh clothes. Neither a low-caste man nor a low-caste woman should touch her. At the end of the three nights she should bathe and should have rice threshed.
  • 14. In case one wishes, 'That a white son be born to me! that he be able to repeat a Veda! that he attain the full length of life!'--they two should have rice cooked with milk and should eat it prepared with ghee. They two are likely to beget [him].
  • 15. Now, in case one wishes, 'That a tawny son with reddish-brown eyes be born to me! that he be able to recite two Vedas! that he attain the full length of life!'--they two should have rice cooked with sour milk and should eat it prepared with ghee. They two are likely to beget [him].
  • 16. Now, in case one wishes, 'That a swarthy son with red eyes be born to me! that he be able to repeat three Vedas! that he attain the full length of life!'--they two should have rice boiled with water and should eat it prepared with ghee. They two are likely to beget [him].
  • 17. Now, in case one wishes, 'That a learned (pandita) daughter be born to me! that she attain the full length of life!'--they two should have rice boiled with sesame and should eat it prepared with ghee. They two are likely to beget [her].
  • 18. Now, in case one wishes, 'That a son, learned, famed, a frequenter of council-assemblies, a speaker of discourse desired to be heard, be born to me! that he be able to repeat all the Vedas! that he attain the full length of life!'--they two should have rice boiled with meat and should eat it prepared with ghee. They two are likely to beget [him], with meat, either veal or beef.
  • 19. Now, toward morning, having prepared melted butter in the manner of the Sthâlîpâka, he takes of the Sthâlîpâka and makes a libation, saying: 'To Agni, hail! To Anumati, hail! To the god Savitri ('Enlivener,' the Sun), whose is true procreation 3 (satya-prasava), hail!' Having made the libation, he takes and eats, Having eaten, he offers to the other [i.e. to her]. Having washed his hands, he fills a vessel with water and therewith sprinkles her thrice, saying:--

'Arise from hence, Vis'vavasu! Some other choicer maiden seek! This wife together with her lord ----'

  • 20. Then he comes to her and says:--

'This man (ama) am I; that woman (sâ), thou! That woman, thou; this man am I! I am the Sâman; thou, the Rig! I am the heaven; thou, the earth! Come, let us two together clasp! Together let us semen mix, A male, a son for to procure!'

  • 21. Then he spreads apart her thighs, saying: 'Spread yourselves apart, heaven and earth!' Inserting the member in her and joining mouth with mouth, he strokes her three times as the hair lies, saying:--

'Let Vishnu make the womb prepared! Let Tyashtri shape the various forms! Prajâpati--let him pour in! Let Dhâtri place the germ for thee! O Sinîvâlî, give the germ; O give the germ, thou broad-tressed dame! Let the Twin Gods implace thy germ-- The Asvins, crowned with lotus-wreaths!

  • 22. With twain attrition-sticks of gold
        	The As'vin Twins twirl forth a flame;
        	'Tis such a germ we beg for thee,
         	In the tenth month to be brought forth.  

As earth contains the germ of Fire (agni), As heaven is pregnant with the Storm (indra), As of the points the Wind (vâyu) is germ, E'en so a germ I place in thee,

  • 23. When she is about to bring forth, he sprinkles her with water, saying.--

Like as the wind doth agitate A lotus-pond on every side, So also let thy fetus stir. Let it come with its chorion. This fold of Indra's has been made With barricade enclosed around. O Indra, cause him to come forth-- The after-birth along with babe!'

  • 24. When [the son] is born, he [i. e. the father] builds up a fire, places him on his lap, mingles ghee and coagulated milk in a metal dish, and makes an oblation, ladling out of the mingled ghee and coagulated milk, and saying-

'In this son may I be increased, And have a thousand in mine house! May nothing rob his retinue Of offspring or of animals!


The vital powers (prâna) which are in me, my mind, I offer in you. Hail!

What in this rite I overdid, Or what I have here scanty made-- Let Agni, wise, the Prosperer, Make fit and good our sacrifice!

  • 25. Then he draws down to the child's right ear and says 'Speech! Speech!' three times. Then he mingles coagulated milk, honey, and ghee and feeds [his son] out of a gold [spoon] which is not placed within [the mouth], saying: 'I place in you Bhûr! I place in you Bhuvas! I place in you Svar! Bhûr, Bhuvas, Svar---everything I place in you!'
  • 26. Then he gives him a name, saying: 'You are Veda.' So this becomes his secret name.
  • 27. Then he presents him to the mother and offers the breast, saying:--

'Thy breast which is unfailing and refreshing, Wealth-bearer, treasure-finder, rich bestower, With which thou nourishest all things esteeméd-- Give it here, O Sarasvatî, to suck from.'

  • 28. Then he addresses the child's mother:--

'You are Ilâ, of the lineage of Mitra and Varuna! O heroine! She has borne a hero!' Continue to be such a woman abounding in heroes-- She who has made us abound in a hero!' Of such a son, verily, they say: 'Ah, you have gone beyond your father! Ah, you have gone beyond your grandfather!' Ah, he reaches the highest pinnacle of splendor, glory, and sacred knowledge who is born as the son of a Brahman who knows this!

Homa (Havan)

Of late the world is witnessing increasing pollution; in India this problem is even more severe. For reasons already discussed it shouldn’t be difficult and surprising to learn that Swami’s prescription of sacred sacrifice of burning the woods in a religious ceremony, if carried through true to the spirit, would have doomed humanity a lot quicker. Bhai Kahan Singh (1861-1938) after reading chapter 3 of Satyarth Prakash explored the Homa quandary in his “Sikhs: We are not Hindus”:

In the jungle, on the bank of a river, morning and evening, take a pot that is sixteen fingers (12 inches) deep and of the same width, perform Havan by burning wood. Read Mantras and make offerings by pouring butter, etc. in the fire. The Havan purifies air. By not performing Homa there is sin, because bad smell originates from humans and that makes the air unclean, and becomes the cause of disease. If Homa were to be performed like old days all the maladies of India will disappear. There should be more ghee (melted butter) used in Homa than for eating.

Every person should make, at least, 16 offerings of Ghee, each of six Mashas (about 5 grams) he have to consider this, if we need to purify air, why not perform Haven in the House? Air in the jungle is already fresh and pure. What is the significance of the special size of the pot for Havan? … If every one of the family, morning and evening, burns only 8 measures then a family of ten will need 160 tolas (about 2,240 grams) ghee everyday. What is required for food will be greater. The benefit that Dayanand foresees through Homa for the country is beyond our comprehension. Swami also believed that performing Homa sacrifice will increase the rainfall!

Political Activism

Performing his role as a political agent and as agitator was probably the most effective methodology that Swami had swung into motion. And it had enduring side-effects much of it, if not all, turned negative. Three case reports should illustrate the point.

  • a. Munshi Indramani, an Arya, and a known writer especially against Islam, lost a court case against him brought by Muslims. The issue got out of hands thanks in part because the Swami personally got involved inciting Hindus and sought funds to help Indramani. This was the first time Swami succeeded in getting the Aryas deeply involved in an agitation where Arya Samaj’s activism was promoted as defender of Hinduism vis-à-vis Islam. This was the beginning of a new brand of low politics that was to reshape Hindu-Muslim relations.
  • b. The idea of “Cow Protection” steadily grew in Swami’s mind and eventually turned into a fury full of rage and momentum. Again this confrontational agitation turned and pitted against Muslims covering from local level to nationwide implications. Dayananda rationalized many reasons to safeguard the cows including the ideas that it promotes “better rainfall and a purer atmosphere.” It is mind boggling to read the extent to which Swami would travel against cow slaughter. Besides the merits or the demerits of Swami leading off this aggressive movement, clearly as an outcome, it cemented chilling relations with the Muslims.
  • c. Swami left no stone unturned to promote the Hindi language while turning against Urdu. By 1870s, the movement for Hindi had already adopted an intriguing argument connecting language, religion, and nation. Hinduism as a religion and Hindi as a language couldn’t have been fortuitous in the sense that it was merely in roughly 1850s that the European colonials had coined both terms: Hindi and Hinduism. While the Bengali elite somehow entangled themselves first to promote the idea of Hindi as a national language, it was Swami himself whose agitations encompassing his entire spread out Arya organizations and publishing vehicles transformed the Hindi campaign to a higher pitch nationwide. Upon his death, thanks largely to the Swami, he left behind a politically inspired active functioning team.

All of Swami’s “active measures” promoting himself and his Arya Samaj to the forefront of artificially labeled national causes embittered the Muslim population. In fact a case can be made that Swami Dayananda is really the father of modern Hinduism who had planted anti-Muslim politics in India. In a recently published (2004) book, “Identity and Religion: Foundations of anti-Islamism in India,” Professor Amalendu Misra, though missing Dayananda altogether, marshaled a compelling research on some of the other prophets of modern Hinduism and their devastated consequences. Following the tragic 1947 partitions, the Arya political machine dominated by the Punjabi elements turned more self-destructive: they went after their own Punjabi mother tongue while promoting Hindi with a religious zeal. Arya’s politicization of language causes had delivered a mortal blow to Punjab’s already vulnerable psyche.

The last two chapters of Satyarth Prakash solely deal with Swami’s critical analysis on both Islam & Christianity. Written in the early 1880s, his reading and analysis of both the Koran and the Bible shows Dayananda’s deep interest in these topics for number of years before he penned his comments. These commentaries imparted some utility values at the time of writing and shortly thereafter. But today with the advent and rapid advances of modern Biblical and Islamic scholarships, Swami’s write ups are crude, unsophisticated, and outdated. They serve hardly any useful purpose. Swami’s untimely death in 1883 at which time he was barely 59 years old shocked everyone. Some believe he was poisoned by a prostitute; I am not sure what killed him. But the evidence is convincing that with so many doctors attending to him, literally left the medical case grossly mismanaged.


What do we make of Swami Dayananda? What to do with Arya Samaj? With the benefit of hindsight, today there are no easy answers. Just the other day, a friend asked me if Swami always uttered nonsense. My answer was no. For him to be recognized as a credible founder and interpreter of ancient Vedas, he had enough intelligence to sway and guide a portion of relatively educated Hindus, especially in Punjab. Very few of these Punjabis had the sense of healthy skepticism and tenacity to go and double check the Swami. To be blunt, Swami had much more difficult task to con those non-Punjabi Indians (for example Bengali educated class) who were familiar with the Hindu texts and knew of Sanskrit. Like his sole Gujarati successor in the field of modern Hinduism, Mahatma Gandhi, Swami was an unstable man who learned to thrive on chaos.

His damage done to Punjab is beyond repair. I understand why many Sikhs, Muslims, and some Hindus express an aversion for the Swami and his followers. I look at Arya Samajists (or Aryas) with a degree of hope. I recognize serious troubles with Dayananda. What he had unleashed was really troublesome that we all must face. I have known and befriended many Aryas. These men and women are hard working and honest people. Like other politically inspired ideologies, Arya Samaj has given birth to its own fair share of fanatics. But again I must stress many Aryas are law-abiding and will never hurt anybody irrespective of what Swami’s legacy has been. In my own education at D.A.V. College, I have seen Aryas behave at their best. What is lodged inside the pages of Satyarth Prakash is really a huge problem for the Aryas and that burden is theirs and should stay that way. How they handle the substantive errors and many other outdated things is their internal business. Sikhs should not ask them to remove just three or four questionable pages on Sikh Gurus and be content to leave the rest intact. I think the problem is much bigger than those just few questionable pages.

The problem of Dayananda is part of a bigger mess--the issue of modern Hinduism. Modern Hinduism has not served well the interests of Hindus. Additionally in the process, it has inflicted pains upon Sikhs, and other Indian religious groups as well. We must face the fact that modern Hinduism had never been a reform movement; in fact it has made Hinduism a malignant force, and ushered far more deadly fundamentalism consistent with those coming out of the Semitic religions. While eroding away many of Hindusim’s classical polytheistic worldview and multiple value-systems, Arya Samaj replaced it with new wild interpretations concocted to face the Christian missionaries of a bygone era. Now the times have changed and with that politics even more so. I believe traditional and popular Hinduisms have enough reservoirs to handle the missionary and colonial threats of the future. Again the burden to transform modern Hinduism back to traditional and popular roots of Hinduism rests with those who call themselves Hindus. It is their burden. This won’t be an easy going-back sort of transformation. Hindus are people with deeper internal strengths and resourcefulness and I have full confidence they will take appropriate measures in months and years to come. Before I close, I think Hindus (and others) should benefit from the well-informed comments of Rev. T. Williams on the true nature of Dayananda as recorded in a pamphlet published in 1894, “A Farce—a religion professedly based on a book, which, as translated for that religion, has no existence.”

But in point of fact POLITICAL MOTIVES are at the bottom of the whole Arya Samaj movement, whether the members be flesh-eaters or non-flesh-eaters. A religious character was given to it by Dayananda simply as a means to this end. Political motives are really those that have attracted even the rank and file. The members of the Arya Samaj are not one whit more religious—rather less so in my opinion—than their confreres of the old system. The reply usually given by the Aryas as to why they follow Dayananda is that he sought THE ADVANCEMENT OF THE COUNTRY (mark, not THE ADVANCEMENT OF THE RELIGION). It is, I repeat, a political movement, and Dayananda sought to bind all his countrymen into one compact whole by giving ONE shastra and ONE religion, even though he had for this purpose to forge them both.


  • 1. J.T.F. Jordens, Dayananda Sarasvati: His Life and Ideas. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1978.
  • 2. H.C.E. Zacharis, Renascent India: From Rammohan Roy to Mohandas Gandhi. London: George Allen & Unwin LTD, 1933.
  • 3. Hervey D. Griswold, Insights into Modern Hinduism. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1934.
  • 4. George Macmunn, The Religions and Hidden Cults of India. London: Sampson Low, Marston & Co. 1931.
  • 5. John Campbell Oman, Cults, Customs and Superstitions of India. Philadelphia: George W. Jacobs & Co. 1909.
  • 6. Sangat Singh, The Sikhs in History. New Delhi: Uncommon Books, 1996.
  • 7. Lala Rajpat Rai, The Arya Samaj, An account of its Aims, Doctrine and Activities with a Biographical Sketch of the Founder, London, New York: Longmans, Green and co., 1915.
  • 8. Bawa Chhajju Singh, Life and Teachings of Swami Dayananda, New Delhi: Jan Gy¯an Prak¯ashan, 1971; first edition in 1903.
  • 9. Kenneth W. Jones, Arya Dharm: Hindu Consciousness in 19th Century Punjab. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976.
  • 10. J.E. Llewellyn, Arya Samaj As a Fundamentalist Movement: A Study In Comparative Fundamentalism . New Delhi: Manohar Publishers, 1993
  • 11. Bhai Kahan Singh, Sikhs: We Are Not Hindus.

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- G.B. Singh-