By Swami Harshananda
The Āryasamāj founded by Swāmī Dayānanda Sarasvatī (A. D. 1824-1883) is one of the most important reform movements of Modern renaissance initiateḍ during the 19th century. It came as a reaction to the two-way decline of the society:
- The first being the loss of faith in its own religion due to the impact of English education and Western culture
- The second being the de-vitalization brought about by the onslaughts of Islam and Christianity
Principles of Āryasamāj
It was formally established in 1875 with a creed of 28 principles which were later reduced to 10 in the revision brought about in 1877. Belief in Brahman the one God and in the infallibility of the Vedas is the central part of the creed. Since only the Vedas were accorded the highest place, much of the later thought, belief and ritualism were given the go by. Even the Upaniṣads and the Gītā were relegated to the background.
Āryasamāj as a reformation movement
However, the Āryasamāj fulfilled a very important and urgent need of the society by instituting the śuddhi movement (reconversion into Hinduism). A sizable section of the population which had been alienated from the religion and society due to historical and other factors, was reclaimed back to the religious fold. By abolishing caste among its followers, investing all of them with the yajñopavīta (sacred thread) and giving the Gāyatrī mantra to them, Āryasamāj has helped in the consolidation of society, at least in those parts of country which had come under its influence.
Āryasamāj also sponsored social reforms like advocating remarriage of widows, abolition of child marriage and untouchability. It has done great service in the field of education. It has played an active role in spreading Sanskrit language. Its sphere of influence was mostly be confined to Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.
The militant approach of the Āryasamāj created many enemies for it which resulted in the martyrdom of some of its leaders. Within ten years of its founder’s death, the movement split into two, one group advocating modernism also and the other devoted to orthodoxy.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore