Swami Dayananda Saraswati

Swami Dayananda Saraswati

Dayananda Saraswati, originally known as Mool Shankar Tiwari, was a significant figure in Hinduism during the 19th century. He founded the Arya Samaj, a reform movement aimed at revitalizing Hinduism. His teachings, particularly outlined in his influential book Satyarth Prakash, focused on the philosophy of the Vedas and elucidated various human duties and concepts. Dayananda was a vocal advocate for Swaraj, or self-rule, proclaiming “India for Indians” in 1876, a sentiment later echoed by leaders like Lokmanya Tilak. He rejected idolatry and ritualistic worship, striving instead to revive the pure ideologies of the Vedas.

Swami Dayananda Saraswati

Dayananda’s influence extended to a wide range of individuals, including prominent figures like Madam Cama, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, and Bhagat Singh. He was deeply committed to the principles of celibacy and devotion to God, as well as the doctrines of karma and reincarnation. Notably, Dayananda championed social causes such as opposing untouchability and advocating for equal rights for women. His commentaries on the Vedas, delivered in both Vedic Sanskrit and Hindi, served to make these ancient texts more accessible and relevant to contemporary society. Through his teachings and actions, Dayananda Saraswati left a lasting legacy as a reformer and philosopher who played a pivotal role in shaping modern India.

Early Life and Spiritual Quest

Dayananda Saraswati was born on February 12, 1824, into a Brahmin family in Tankara, Gujarat, India. Initially named Mool Shankar Tiwari, he was deeply influenced by his father’s devotion to Shiva and learned the rituals and significance of fasting from him. However, his questioning nature arose early; during a fast, he witnessed a mouse disturbing the offerings to Shiva, leading him to question the deity’s omnipotence.

Tragedy struck with the deaths of his younger sister and uncle from cholera, prompting Dayananda to ponder the mysteries of life and death. His relentless questioning concerned his parents, and despite being engaged in his early teens, he fled from the idea of marriage in 1846.

For the next twenty-five years, from 1845 to 1869, Dayananda embarked on a quest for spiritual truth as a wandering ascetic. He found no solace in material possessions and instead delved into spiritual pursuits in forests, Himalayan retreats, and pilgrimage sites across northern India. Along the way, he experimented with various forms of yoga and eventually became a disciple of Virajanand Dandeesha, who believed that Hinduism had strayed from its authentic teachings.

Under Virajanand’s guidance, Dayananda vowed to devote his life to restoring the Vedas’ rightful place within Hinduism, as he saw them as the purest source of spiritual knowledge. This marked the beginning of his mission to reform Hindu society and promote Vedic principles.

Teachings and Philosophy

Maharshi Dayananda’s teachings revolve around the idea that all human beings have equal potential and are eternal citizens of the Supreme Lord. He emphasized the importance of the Vedas, considering them the uncorrupted source of Dharma, urging people to seek truth through science and discovery as promoted in the Vedas. Dayananda accepted the teachings of the Vedas, Upanishads, Vedanga texts, and six Darshana Shastras, while rejecting the authenticity of the 18 Maha Puranas and Upapuranas.

According to Dayananda, the eternal entities include the Supreme Lord, individual souls, and nature. He described Prakriti or nature as the material cause of creation, governed by equilibrium disrupted by the Supreme Lord for creation and dissolution cycles. Individual souls, or Jivatmas, have the potential for liberation through self-realization and understanding of the Supreme Lord and nature.

Dayananda’s concept of the Supreme Lord emphasized qualities like omnipresence, omniscience, and eternal bliss, beyond gender or form, reachable through yogic meditation. He interpreted names like Agni, Shiva, and Vishnu as characteristics of the Supreme Lord rather than individual deities. He differentiated between Saguna and Nirguna aspects of the Lord, with Saguna representing characteristics like omnipotence and bliss, and Nirguna referring to characteristics not attributed to the Lord.

Regarding Moksha or liberation, Dayanand described it as a state of freedom from nature, where individual souls experience bliss and consciousness without contact with the material world. He refuted the idea of eternal Moksha, arguing that souls eventually return to the world after a period of liberation.

Dayananda also advocated social reform, opposing the caste system, Sati practice, idol worship, and child marriage. He promoted a system based on education and profession rather than birth, and advocated for a unified global government, known as Chakradhipatya.

Overall, Dayananda’s teachings emphasize seeking truth through the Vedas, self-realization, and social reform based on principles of equality and justice.

Mission of Dayananda Saraswati

Dayananda Saraswati embarked on a mission to restore Hinduism to its original principles as outlined in the Vedas. He founded the Arya Samaj, promoting the Ten Universal Principles for Universalism, aiming to make the world a home for nobles. Dayananda traveled extensively, engaging in debates with religious scholars and priests, challenging prevalent rituals and practices he deemed superstitious or self-serving. He emphasized the importance of returning to Vedic teachings and embracing social reforms, such as the significance of cows for national prosperity and the adoption of Hindi as the national language for unity. His teachings advocated for self-governance, nationalism, and spiritualism, while also championing equal rights for women and universal education regardless of gender.

Dayananda critiqued not only Hinduism but also other faiths like Christianity, Islam, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism, aiming to purify what he saw as corrupted beliefs. Unlike other reform movements, Arya Samaj’s appeal extended beyond India to the global community, emphasizing universalism for all living beings. Dayananda’s concept of Dharma focused on impartial justice and truthfulness, rejecting anything opposed to the teachings of the Vedas.

In the Arya Samaj’s Ten Principles, Dayananda emphasized performing actions for the benefit of mankind rather than adhering to dogmatic rituals or idol worship. He stressed the divine nature of individuals and advocated for a society characterized by truth, nobility, civics, co-living, and disciplined life. Despite recognizing the concept of Moksha, Dayananda considered it a lower calling compared to serving others.

Dayananda’s message of returning to the Vedas resonated with many thinkers and philosophers worldwide, influencing discussions on religion, philosophy, and social reform.

Dayananda’s Activities

Dayananda Saraswati’s journey into religious discourse began at the tender age of 14 when he could already fluently recite religious verses and impart their teachings. His profound understanding and eloquence earned him respect, especially in religious debates, which drew large crowds.

One significant debate, held on 22 October 1869 in Varanasi, stands out in history. Here, he engaged in a rigorous intellectual exchange against 27 scholars and 12 expert pandits. The focal point of this debate was whether the Vedas advocated deity worship. This monumental event attracted an astonishing audience of over 50,000 people, reflecting the widespread interest and reverence for Dayananda Saraswati’s insights.

Establishment of Arya Samaj

Dayananda Saraswati founded the Arya Samaj, which criticized various practices from different religions and communities. These included idol worship, sacrificing animals, going on pilgrimages, relying heavily on priests, making offerings in temples, rigid caste systems, early marriage for children, consuming meat, and discriminating against women. He believed these practices went against logic and the teachings of the Vedas, advocating for a return to what he saw as the true essence of Hinduism.

Critique of Superstitions

In his book “Satyarth Prakash,” Dayananda strongly criticized superstitions like sorcery and astrology that were common in India at the time. He advised against believing in imaginary things like ghosts and spirits, and he condemned practices such as alchemy, magic, and sorcery as fraudulent. He argued against astrology, distinguishing it from the legitimate sciences of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, geography, geology, and astronomy. He labeled astrology a fraud, emphasizing the importance of focusing on genuine scientific studies rather than pseudoscientific beliefs. He urged young people to be educated about these matters so they wouldn’t fall prey to deception.

Attempts of Assassination

Dayananda encountered numerous assassination attempts during his life. According to his supporters, poison was used several times, but due to his regular practice of Hatha Yoga, he managed to survive each attempt. In one incident, attackers tried to drown him in a river, but Dayananda turned the tables by dragging them into the water instead. Remarkably, he released them before they met harm.

Another account recounts an attack while Dayananda was meditating on the banks of the Ganges. They hurled him into the water, but his pranayama practice enabled him to stay submerged until the attackers departed, saving himself from harm. These events showcase Dayananda’s resilience and the depth of his spiritual practice amidst adversity.


In 1883, the Maharaja of Jodhpur, named Jaswant Singh II, extended a warm invitation to Dayananda to stay at his lavish palace. The Maharaja held a deep admiration for Dayananda’s teachings and sought to become his disciple, eager to absorb his wisdom. During his stay, Dayananda stumbled upon a scene that troubled him deeply – he witnessed the Maharaja in the company of a dancing girl named Nanhi Jaan. Dayananda, true to his principles, urged the Maharaja to forsake such unethical behavior and embrace the path of Dharma, urging him to embody the noble ideals of an Arya.

Nanhi Jaan, feeling slighted by Dayananda’s suggestion, harbored a vengeful spirit. On 29 September 1883, she devised a wicked plan and bribed Dayananda’s cook, Jagannath, to adulterate his nightly milk with small pieces of glass. Unaware of the treachery, Dayananda consumed the tainted milk before retiring for the night, unaware of the danger lurking within. The consequences were severe – he was struck down with excruciating pain, bedridden for days, and afflicted with agonizing sores that bled profusely.

Despite the severity of his condition, the Maharaja, remorseful for the unintended consequences, swiftly arranged for medical assistance. However, the damage had been done, and Dayanand’s health continued to deteriorate rapidly. In a moment of profound remorse, Jagannath, overwhelmed by guilt, confessed his heinous act to Dayananda. Even on his deathbed, Dayananda, embodying the principles of forgiveness and compassion, pardoned Jagannath and provided him with a sum of money, urging him to flee the kingdom to avoid the Maharaja’s wrath.

In a bid to seek better medical care, the Maharaja arranged for Dayananda to be transferred to Mount Abu, following the advice of the Residency. However, despite the efforts made, Dayananda’s health failed to improve. On 26 October 1883, he was relocated to Ajmer in a desperate attempt to save him. Tragically, his condition showed no signs of improvement, and on the auspicious morning of Diwali, 30 October 1883, Dayananda breathed his last breath, chanting sacred mantras as he departed from this world. Thus, the great reformer and philosopher left behind a legacy of enlightenment and moral rectitude, inspiring countless souls with his teachings of truth and righteousness.

Cremation and Commemoration

Dayananda passed away at Bhinai Kothi, Bhinai, which is 54 km south of Ajmer. His ashes were scattered at Ajmer in Rishi Udyan, as per his wishes. Rishi Udyan is located by Ana Sagar Lake off NH58 Ajmer-Pushkar Highway. There’s a functional Arya Samaj temple there, hosting daily morning and evening yajna homa. An annual 3-day Arya Samaj melā is held at Rishi Udyan on Rishi Dayananda’s death anniversary at the end of October. The event includes vedic seminars, vedas memorization competition, yajna, and Dhavaja Rohan flag march. It’s organized by the Paropkarini Sabha, founded by Swami Dayananda Saraswati on 16 August 1880 in Meerut and registered in Ajmer on 27 February 1883. Since 1893, it has been operating from its office in Ajmer.

Every year on Maha Shivaratri, Arya Samajis celebrate Rishi Bodh Utsav during the 2-day mela at Tankara organized by Tankara Trust. The event includes a Shobha Yatra procession and Maha Yajna, often attended by the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi and Chief Minister of Gujarat Vijay Rupani.

Navlakha Mahal inside Gulab Bagh and Zoo at Udaipur is also associated with him. It’s where he wrote the second edition of his seminal work, Satyarth Prakash, in Samvat 1939 (1882-83 CE).

Legacy of Dayananda Saraswati

Dayananda Saraswati, a prominent figure in Indian history, left a lasting legacy that influenced various aspects of society. Numerous institutions, including Maharshi Dayananda University in Rohtak, Maharshi Dayananda Saraswati University in Ajmer, and DAV University in Jalandhar, bear his name, alongside over 800 schools and colleges under the D.A.V. College Managing Committee.

Notably, Dayananda Saraswati played a significant role in shaping the freedom movement of India. His ideas resonated with many key figures such as Shyamji Krishna Varma, Subhas Chandra Bose, Lala Lajpat Rai, and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, among others. His influence even extended to Bhagat Singh, who attended the Dayananda Anglo Vedic Middle School in Lahore.

Dayananda Saraswati’s emphasis on reason and a return to Vedic principles had a profound impact on Indian society. He advocated for social reform and cultural rejuvenation, inspiring changes such as the adoption of Hindi as the main language in places like Jodhpur and Rajasthan.

His teachings and reforms also left a mark on the Indian Constitution, with some of its provisions inspired by his ideals. Figures like Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna, and Vallabhbhai Patel acknowledged his contributions to Indian society.

Even beyond India, Dayananda Saraswati’s influence was felt. American Spiritualist Andrew Jackson Davis praised him as a “Son of God,” while Swedish scholar Sten Konow recognized his role in revitalizing Indian history.

Overall, Dayananda Saraswati’s legacy continues to shape Indian society and culture, with his ideas resonating across generations and borders.

Works and Contributions

Dayananda Saraswati, a prolific writer, penned over 60 works during his lifetime. Among his notable contributions are a comprehensive 16-volume elucidation of the Vedangas, an unfinished commentary on the Ashtadhyayi (Panini’s grammar), various concise writings on ethics, morality, Vedic rituals, and sacraments, as well as a critical analysis of rival doctrines like Advaita Vedanta, Islam, and Christianity.

His significant works include the enlightening “Satyarth Prakash,” which translates to “The Light of Truth,” and its precursor “Satyarth Bhumika,” or “The Introduction to the Truth.” Additionally, he authored “Sanskarvidhi,” a text detailing the rites and rituals in Hinduism, “Rigvedadi Bhashya Bhumika,” providing an introduction to his commentary on the Rigveda, and the partial commentary on the Rigveda known as “Rigved Bhashyam” (covering up to 7/61/2). He also delved into the Yajurveda with his commentary known as “Yajurved Bhashyam.”

To disseminate his teachings and texts, Saraswati established the Paropakarini Sabha in Ajmer, India. This institution aimed to publish and propagate his works alongside Vedic scriptures, ensuring broader access to spiritual knowledge and philosophy.

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