Swami Dayanand Saraswati, the great philosopher, social reformer, and freedom fighter was born on the 12th of February 1824. His birth anniversary (Jayanti) is celebrated on the 10th day of Falgun (Krishna Paksha), which falls on the 8th of March this year.
Birth and Early Life
Swami Dayanand Saraswati was born in 1824 in Tankara, near Morbi in Gujarat. His real name was Mool Shankar Tiwari. His parents were devout followers of Lord Shiva. Mool Shankar was brought up in a strict religious environment but he had his own ideas and often questioned traditional practices. Mool Shankar was engaged when he was about 20 years old, but he felt marriage was not for him. He ran away from home in 1845 to seek spirituality and find answers to his questions.
Wanderings in Forests and Himalayan Retreats
After leaving home, Swami Dayanand Saraswati spent 25 years wandering from place to place. He lived an ascetic life and devoted himself to spirituality. During the early part of his wanderings, Swami Dayanand Saraswati met his Guru – Swami Virajanand Dandeesha. Soon his thinking and ideas began to fall in place and he decided to spend the rest of his life restoring purity in religious practices. Maharishi Dayanand Saraswati felt Sanatan Dharma had strayed from its roots over the centuries. He felt the four Vedas were the core of religion and should be the base of all practices. Swami Dayanand Saraswati wanted the nation to return to the Vedic way of life. He felt priests and other religious figures had gradually corrupted religious practices for their own benefit. Priests encouraged needless superstitions by creating a feeling of fear in people’s minds.
Accordingly, Swami Dayanand Saraswati preached his own thoughts and soon had a large following across India. He also gave the call for Swarajya – freedom. Maharishi Dayanand Saraswati also worked for social equality and more rights for women. He particularly emphasized education for children. He took part in various debates with scholars and religious leaders all over the country which resulted in more and more people accepting his teachings. Swami Dayanand Saraswati was against idol worship, animal sacrifice, child marriage, and pilgrimages. He felt all these are contrary to the Vedas.
Founding and Growth of Arya Samaj
Maharishi Dayanand Saraswati went on to establish the Arya Samaj. The samaj was founded on the 10th of April, 1875. Arya Samaj promotes values of life based solely on the Vedas. Members of Arya Samaj believe in One God. Idol worship is not encouraged. Even before Maharishi Dayanand Saraswati founded the Arya Samaj, he had established Gurukul Schools in at least eight locations in India. These schools were residential institutes and completely free of cost for students. Food, clothes and books were provided for the students. Strict discipline was maintained and teaching included the Vedas, Upanishads, and other religious texts.
Branches of Arya Samaj were soon established across multiple towns and cities in India. Arya Samaj was now a nationwide organization with hundreds of thousands of members and followers. Mumbai, Gujarat, Punjab and Sindh were the areas where Arya Samaj was particularly active and also had a presence in numerous towns in India. Arya Samaj works on Ten Basic Principles. The Gayatri Mantra and Pranava (AUM) are considered the holiest mantras and should be changed regularly. Arya Samaj conducts Havans based on Vedic principles. Today Arya Samaj temples and schools are to be found in almost every major city and in rural areas. They run more than 900 schools known as DAV (Dayanand Anglo Vedic) schools across the country. Arya Samaj has more than eight million followers. Arya Samaj is active in many countries around the world. Schools are run by Arya Samaj in many African and Caribbean countries. Arya Samaj temples can be found in Europe. Canada, USA and Australia.
Contribution of Swami Dayanand Saraswati
Swami Dayanand Saraswati was a social reformer who promoted equal rights for women, such as the right to education and reading of Indian scriptures, and his commentary on the Vedas from Vedic Sanskrit in Sanskrit as well as in Hindi.
Celebration of Maharishi Dayanand Saraswati Jayanti
Swami Dayanand Saraswati Jayanti is celebrated with great enthusiasm across India. All Arya Samaj temples, schools, and other affiliates organize functions which include Havans, chanting of Mantras, and reading of Maharishi Dayananda’s thoughts. The birthplace of Swami Dayanand Saraswati – Tankara in Gujarat is especially geared up for the occasion and there are multiple celebrations in the town. The old house of Maharishi Dayanand Saraswati is still preserved and some of the items like Thali and Kalash used by him can be seen even today.
Maharishi Dayanand Saraswati was a great soul, his work during his lifetime and the legacy he left have contributed immensely to the positive development of India.