Dayanand Saraswati, a prominent Hindu religious leader and a Vedic scholar was the first Indian to voice his right for freedom of India from British rule in 1876. A highly intelligent and rational personality, he was way ahead of his times. He was a staunch believer in the Vedic tradition and denounced idol worship and the rituals that were very wide spread during him time. A scholar in Vedic lore and Sanskrit he aspired to wean the Indians away from meaningless rituals and guided them towards true Vedic ideologies. Even as a young boy he was inclined towards asceticism and ran away from home when his parents tried to arrange his marriage with a girl of their choice. He was deeply devoted to God and translated the Vedas from Vedic Sanskrit to Sanskrit and Hindi so that the common man could also read them. A visionary, he called for the equality of rights of all human beings irrespective of gender, religion or social standing. Among his biggest contributions to mankind was the founding of the Arya Samaj, a socio-cultural movement that promoted true Vedic learning and worked for the upliftment of the society.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born as Mool Shankar in Gujarat, India, to Karshanji Tiwari and his wife Yashodabai. His family was Brahmin by caste. His father, a tax collector, was a rich and influential person.
He had a comfortable upbringing as his family was financially well off. His father was a staunch believer in Lord Shiva and also made his children pray to the lord and keep fasts. As a boy he was educated about the Vedas and Sanskrit.
Certain incidents in his childhood made him think about the meaning of life—the death of his younger sister was one of them. His parents, troubled by the questions their son had begun to ask tried to get him married.
Young Mool Shankar realized that family life was not for him and ran away from home.
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Shocked by the death of his little sister, he roamed around as an ascetic searching for answers to his questions about life and death. From 1845 to 1869 he wandered all over India looking for the “truth”. He visited temples, met many yogis, and even spent time in Himalayan retreats. But no one could give him the answers he was seeking.
He finally found what he sought when he arrived at Mathura one day. There he found Swami Virajanand Dandeesha and became his disciple. Virajanand gave the young man some invaluable advice—he was asked to throw away all his books and seek knowledge directly from the Vedas.
He completed his Vedic education under the guidance of his guru who also asked him to spread the knowledge of Vedas among the masses as the common man was moving away from the true knowledge of the Vedas and getting entangled in meaningless rituals.
Swami Virajanand christened Mool Shankar as Rishi Dayanand when the time came for him to leave the ashram. Dayanand promised to his teacher and mentor that he would devote his life to disseminating the teachings of the Vedas.
As promised to his Guru ji, Dayanand formed the Arya Samaj at Bombay in April 1875. Formed with the motto of “Krinvanto Vishvam Aryam" (Make this world noble), it was a socio-cultural movement aimed at reforming the society by making the people aware of true Vedic knowledge.
The Arya Samaj was based on ten principles which were based on the Vedas but were distinct from the prevalent practices of Hinduism at that time. Dayanand did not want to create another religion; he just wanted to re-establish the teachings of the ancient Vedas.
In 1875 he wrote the book ‘Satyarth Prakash’, meaning ‘The Light of Truth’ which is considered one of his major scholarly works. The book mainly deals with the reformist policies he advocated and a comparative study of different faiths in India.
He wanted people to think for themselves and analyze whatever religion taught them instead of blindly following it. He aimed for the upliftment of the society through spiritual and social reforms.
He founded the Arya Samaj which was an organization for teaching the true Vedic religion and also a social reform movement. He fought for equal rights for all and emphasized on social upliftment of women and the so-called lower caste. He denounced superstitions and condemned practices such as animal sacrifices.
Personal Life & Legacy
Even as a youngster Dayanand had been interested in asceticism and ran away from home as a teenager in search of truth.
He was a very outspoken person who bravely fought against the ill-practices of the society and was vocal in his criticism of meaningless religious practices. Because of this many people turned against him and had tried to kill him.
He was given a glass of poisoned milk by his own cook on 29 September 1883; the cook had been bribed by someone to kill him. The swami suffered in pain for a whole month before leaving for his heavenly abode on 30 October 1883.
This Hindu spiritual leader forgave the person who poisoned him even as he lay on his deathbed.