A marriage – Vivaha in Hindi movies is always shown as taking seven phere – rounds around the holy fire. To my mind it was the one and only way in which a Hindu marriage was solemnized. I was surprised to attend a friend’s wedding where the marriage ceremony was performed differently. Another friend clarified that what we saw in Hindi movies was the Arya Samaji way of getting married. Being products of Macualay’s educational system, Arya Samaj! (AS) what was my next question? Is it a sect, religion, who was its founder, what are its principles? The AS was founded by a Hindu Gujarathi Swami Dayanand Saraswati (SDS). Here is it for you.

You might wonder how the Arya Samaji way of marriage came to be popular in Hindi movies. Am unable to find a correct answer but what I think happened is that a number of actors in the late 1940’s, 1950’s were migrants from Punjab. Since the Arya Samaj had a large following there, the marriage custom followed by them was shown in our movies. Hindi movies rightly or wrongly are said to represent India so it got embedded in my mind like many others that this is the only way of Hindu marriage.

The essay is based on A History of the Arya Samaj by Lala Lajpat Rai, revised expanded and edited by Sriram Sharma and the History and Culture of the Indian People by the Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan.

The essay is divided into 10 chapters. Ch 1 is on Dayanandji’s early life and his quest for true knowledge. Ch 2 covers his Fight for truth. Ch 3 covers the birth of the Arya Samaj and his death. Ch 4 covers his teachings. Ch 5 covers religious teachings, observances and practices. Ch 6 covers religious ideals and aims. Ch 7 covers social ideals and aims. Ch 8 covers the Shuddhi movement and philanthropic work. Ch 9 covers contribution to education. Ch 10 covers impact of the Arya Samaj on contemporary India.

Early Life

Morvi is a small town in the princely state of Kathiawar in modern day Gujarat. Born Mulshankar, Dayanand’s (D) father worked for the local Government there, his family were landowners, wealthy enough to become moneylenders. They are Brahmins of the highest order, learned in Vedic lore and held in great respect because of that. D was born in 1824. In his 8th year he was invested with the sacred thread, began reading alphabets from the age of 5. The thread ceremony in yr 8 is a sort of baptism, which is conferred, on every Hindu child, born of twice-born parents. From thereon begins the life of a Brahmachari which meant that the child moved to the teacher’s home but since D’s father was a learned man he decided to teach his son at home.

D’s father worshipped Lord Shiva whose followers kept fasts during Shivarathri, sometimes for 36 hours. On his father’s saying D at the age of 14 observed Shivarathri fasts too. Father and son went to a temple on the outskirts of the village where the rules to be observed were explained. One of them required the devotee to fast the whole night saying prayers before the lord. While the others went to sleep D said his prayers. While doing so he saw a mouse creep on the body of Shiva and began to nibble at the offerings before the image. D was told that God was everywhere, then how was it that God did not protect himself from a mouse. Not convinced he could no longer pay homage to the idol. On being asked his father told him that the image was not God, merely represented him for the purpose of worship.

Dissatisfied with the answer, D took permission to go home, broke his fast and went to sleep. When the father saw his son asleep he was furious. Relations between father and son got strained. The incident has been dwelt upon in some detail to furnish a forecast of the developed mind of Dayanand, the reformer. Arya Samajists celebrate Shivarathri as the anniversary of D’s enlightenment.

Although they were Sam-Vedi Brahmans ie knowers of the Sama-Veda, D’s education began for some reason with the Yajur Veda. Before he was 14, D knew the Yajur-Veda by heart and also portions of the other three Vedas. He also learnt other pieces of Sanskrit literature, both prose and poetry. On these lines D made progress but he was in search for something more, namely enlightenment. The death of a dear sister plunged him into meditation on death as apart from life. He lost a beloved Uncle to the same disease. Distracted he moved around asking friends how death could be overcome. The reply was yogabhyas – contemplation. D realized that to learn yoga he would have to leave home.

When parents see that their son has ascetic lines of thought, the age-old solution is marriage. D’s parents tried to get him married but failed! Around a week before the d-day, D ran way. In less than three days he was robbed of all his valuables, became a Sadhu and began to search for a Guru. He was traced and kept captive only to run away for the last time in 1845.

From 1845 to 1860 D wandered across all parts of India. Rivers, plains, hills wherever he met religious scholars from whom he could learn something. During his wanderings he acquired the theory and practice of Yoga. It is a distinguishing feature of Hindu religion that its holiest places are noted for their natural beauty, scenery and purity of waters.

For as short period after his flight from home he passed as a Brahmachari (student) but within a few years life was formally initiated into the order of the Sannyasis. According to Hindus, life has four stages, Bramhachari (studentship), Grihastha (life of a householder), Banprastha (retirement from active life and of mediation) and fourth is Sanyas (complete renunciation and life dedicated to service). Every individual has to go through these four stages in a sequential order. However, the shastras permit entry into the fourth stage from the first provided one or more members of the fraternity consider the person suitable i.e.-another Sannyasi. D however, after lots of difficulty gained admission into the highest order of Sannyasis.

We may summarize the notable aspects of SDS’s life during the period of writing.

1. D was not those who would accept knowledge easily from authority. He would take nothing, which could not be verified or demonstrated. If he found that what was taught in the books was wrong he would dump the books.

2. Never for a moment did he falter or turn his gaze from the ideal to which he aspired. With his personality, looks, knowledge numerous mahants, heads of religious institutions with huge wealth wanted to nominate him as their spiritual heir but he refused stating that his goal was different; he was not seeking wealth or power.

3. During his wanderings he met a number of Sadhus, some of whom he respected greatly but he did not meet a single one who attained his ideal of a Guru. A born rebel he could not respect anyone for historic reasons or out of tradition.

The religion which once permitted freedom of thought and conscience to every individual, in which divergence of opinion was tolerated and respected, which imposed on each the duty of reading and understanding of the Veda for himself, which taught that everyone was the master of his soul, directly responsible for his deeds to God and received inspiration through direct communion with God, this great religion had been reduced to a soul-destroying system of blind faith in authority. D found that light and knowledge had deserted the country. He was sad to see a land that was once noted for its freshness and vigor of intellect was shallow, stale and feeble in its intellectual products. He was sad to see that the elite of the Hindus had cultivated a morbid and contemptible craving for peace, instead of fighting their way out, were fleeing out of sheer cowardice. He wished to overcome death by vanquishing ignorance, superstition and fear.

He had conferred with the Himalayas, Ganges, Narmada, and forests. They had imbibed him with the desire of increasing activity, had infused him with an unshaken faith in duty, service, and had added to the purity, loftiness and strength of his soul. His soul or must I say the soil had been well prepared, needed a gardener – Guru to water it.

Virjananda Saraswati (VS) – at whose feet D completed his education was a Sannyasi of the order that D belonged to. Blinded at the age of five, ill treated by his brother’s wife VS left for Hardwar. The pious Hindu’s reasons for this exaggerated notion of the river’s sanctity are partly based on his love of nature, whose grandeur and beauty fills him with ecstatic love of, and boundless admiration for his Creator. In a few years VS assimilated and learnt the best that Hardwar could teach him. Later on he migrated to Mathura which is where D met him. VS had outgrown his education. His hatred of image-worship, superstition, the pettiness of current Hindu life kindled in him a consuming fire. By sheer dint of labor and constant concentration of mind he had mastered Sanskrit language and literature. He analyzed everything by dissecting it, could put his finger on the weak points of prevalent Hindu thought and religion. He was fearless but short-tempered.

D had been studying for thirty years then and required finishing touches from the hands of a master spirit. For two and a half years he waited on SV and learnt all there was to learn from him. Knowing very well that D was a man of few means, VS asked him for his customary fee. What VS asked his pupil was a pledge to devote his life to disseminating the truth, to waging unremitting warfare against the falsehood of the then prevailing Hindu faith and to establish the right method of education as in the pre-Buddhist times.