A Biographical sketch of Pandit Gurudatta vidyarthi
“Pandit Gurudatta Vidyarthi is recognized to have been the greatest achievement of Rishi Dayananda for his ancient Aryan church. The dying glance of the Rishi had miraculously transformed the mettle which was there in the young intrepid scholar. Had not death cut short his scholastic career so early, the Arya Samaj and through it the whole world of religious and metaphysical though may have been considerably enriched by his erudite philosophic contributions, of which the few dissertations and brief discourse he could, in the midst of his manifold activities, find time to write, gave sure promise.
An unmistakable vein of sincere love of truth for which no sacrifice of personal glory and earthly possession and comfort was too great, runs through them all. This marks Gurudatta out as a genuine philosopher, whose craving for spiritual light was not simply intellectual, it was the innermost call of his disconsolate soul.
He it was who recognized in the last glance of Rishi Dayananda the soul of a seer, anxious to save a money-mad world from the dismal abyss of gross materialism, to guide it away by the help of the eternal light of the Veda to the empyrean heights of Spiritual Bliss. In that departing glance he read a message, a command to take up the challenge which the asuri demonical, forces of Mammon were throwing out to the ancient diava, divine, culture of the Rishis.
The young boy of nineteen took the challenge up, and coming of a warlike race fought to the last on the side of truth and righteousness. His was the death of a hero who, like another young boy whom Muse glorifies as having died on the station of his duty in another sphere.
Pandit Gurudatta was the last male child of Lala Radhakishen Sardana of Multan, whose ancestors had distinguished themselves in the field both, of letters and arms. He was born on 26th April 1864.
His grandfather was the ambassador of Nawab of Bahawalpur in the court of the Amir of Kabul. From him he inherited an aptitude from Persian which by a little training in the primary classes gave him a working mastery of that language so that he could in his boyhood dip into the deepest waters of the Persian literature. He conceived a fondness for Samskrita too in his schooldays. And the first book that after his study of the Samskrita Priimer fell into the young boy’s hands was the Rig Vedadi Bhashya Bhumika of Swami Dayananda.
He forthwith approached the authorities of Arya Samaj at Multan and challenged then to either make arrangements for his study of the Ashtadhyayi and the Vedas or accept that the scriptures for which they claimed infallibility were only trash. The alternatives proposed appear to us to be an index to his sinner nature. In his heart of hearts he was convinced of the intellectual and spiritual worth of the Vedas, an introduction to which by the Rishi of the time he had already read.
It was his impatience, and irresistible zeal to read more which prompted him to the blasphemous insinuation that the Vedas could, if the were not taught him, be regarded as trash. The Multan Arya Samaj engaged a Pandit who found it beyond his learning and pedagogic capacity to satisfy the little Vidyarthi.
The Vidyarthi solved his own puzzles of Grammar and the Vedas, and though the arrangement made by the Samaj was not satisfactory, he did not regard the Vedas as trash. In 1881 he martriculated. It was this year that he got himself registered in the Arya Samaj as member. In 1883 he undergraduated. He had in the interim founded a Free Debating Club, where profound philosophical questions used to be discussed.
Gurudatta was snow passing through that period of his life when the mind of a young man is yet in a fluid state. The college days of mental and spiritual intractability. The supreme authority to a college-boy is his own virgin opinion. In those days, if ever, liberty of thought holds an absolute way over man’s mentality.
The age of greatest impressionability is also the age of greatest intractability. Everyday and every hour new opinions are borrowed. Every new thought however has during the regime its suzerainty absolute. Pandit Gurudatta’s progress in grasping and assimilating ideas and facts was tremendously rapid. Somehow he acquired the notoriety of being an atheist.
Those who had the occasion to live close to him bear witness to a strong skeptic disposition in him, which to them was a mark of an intensely inquisitive frame of mind. Gurudatta, even when some thought he was an atheist, continued a staunch Arya Samajist. And when the news was received of Rishi Dayananda’s illness at Ajmer, the Arya Samaj at Lahore deputed Lala Kivan Das and Gurudatta to go and tend him.
The resources of the Arya Samaja appear to have been very poor at the time so that the choice for an errand of such importance and responsibility could fall on a lad of nineteen. To Gurudatta the occasion afforded an opportunity of his first and last darshana of his beloved Rishi. He saw the Rishi Dying. Not a word passed between the Master and his devotee, but Gurudatta’s whole nature had in the meantime silently taken a turn.
When he returned to Lahore, he was evidently a changed man. His former frivolity, his impatience, his skepticism had in an instant left him. The zeal was there, but now it was wedded to seriousness. Somehow the feeling had dawned on Gurudatta that the Rishi had by his last glance let his mantle drop on his shoulders. To others the privileges of succession, to Gurudutta were passed the obligations of the Rishis mission.
In 1885 he graduated and in 1886 he passed his M.A. His subject was Physical Science. The position secured by him in the pass list remains yet a record in the University which no succeeding candidate has yet surpassed. In the meantime Gurudatta had been touring the Punjab attending anniversaries of Arya Samajis. He had been busy reading the scriptures and books on philosophy and religion both eastern and western.
For two years he was acting Professor at the Government College where his deep erudition and pedagogic capability met with high and well-merited appreciation. The movement to found a college in memory of Rishi Dayananda had, since the death of the Sage, been launched by the guiding spirits of the Arya Samaj.
Gurudatta threw himself heart and soul into the campaign to collect funds for that, to him a sacred institution. The speeches he delivered on behalf of the cause were recognized as wonderful specimens of erudition and oratory. The D.A.V. College of Pandit Gurudatta’s dream was an institution where Brahmacharya would be the dominant factor in life of the students and ancient Shastras the primary study in the curriculum of the academy. He was yet living when under the influence of the University the D.A.V. college was given its present shape and character.
He expressed strong dissatisfaction with his disagreement with its then conductors as regards there educational policy. In the short period of six years after he had seen the Rishi he had acquired marvelous master of sacred books of Samskrita. A treatise by him entitled “The Terminology of the Vedas” was included in the course of Samskrita for the degree examination at Oxford.
His translation of a few of the Upanishads, when after his death copies of it were sent to America on the occasion of the Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1896, won such appreciation that an American edition of it was published by an American publisher, of his own accord.
Gurudatta spoke for hours in Samskrita, which feat won him the title ‘Pandit’ which sticks still to his name. He in his humility styled himself Vidyarthi, while those who heard him styled him Pandit. This was true Brahmni spirit which marked Gurudatta throughout his career. To his Ashtadhyayi class came some old men, among them an E.A.C who had taken leave for the sole object of reading Grammar with Gurudatta. A young man of only twenty-six, attracting pupils of all ages, and making such stir among the populace recalled scenes from the hoary history of Bharata Varasha of the time of Janaka and Yajanvalkya.
The strain on the nerves of Gurudatta had been great. He had tried to compress within three years what normally should have taken a life-time to accomplish. He had amassed a great deal of learning, so that in his time he well-nigh became an authority on the true meaning of scriptures. But his ceaseless assiduity had cost him his health.
During his school days Gurudatta had been fond of physical exercise: His physique was strong, but his mental labor had of late been great, so that in 1889 he fell victim to consumption, and finding it impossible even then to rest, succumbed to the dire disease in March 1890. he was advised by doctors to take meat, which would uphold him in his weakness. But the smiling answer of the Vidyarthi was:-
“Will meat make me immortal? Will it make me death-proof ever after? If not, why for a chance of saving one’s own life bring about certain death of another?
During the night in which Pt. Gurudatta died Ish-Upanishad had at his request been repeated recited to him. His references to incidents in Rishi Dayananda’s life had always formed a pathetic portion of his speeches. People had therefore urged him to write a biography of the Swami, which the Pandit had gladly consented to do so. When the Pandit was on the point of death somebody asked where his manuscript of the biography was. The Pandit characteristically replied,
”I have been trying conscientiously to record the life-account of my Rishi not on paper, not in ink, but in my own day-to-day life. It was my ambition to live Dayananda. My body, alas! Has failed me. I lay it down, gladly in the hope that the next vehicle will be more in conformity with the aspirations of the soul.”
To us a thread appears to run through the variegated phases of Gurudatta’s life. He was a heroic soul, passionately zealous, impatiently inquisitive, conscientious and inordinately sincere and true. He believed in the Vedas and yet in his zeal to be able to read more of them declared his readiness to denounce them as trash.He believed in God and yet in his zeal to understand His nature more thoroughly he argued His existence with himself and others and thus appeared as if he were an atheist. He was born for a mission, and when the last glance of the Rishi had pointed the path to him, he had, as it were, almost doubled his age, and become grave and thoughtful like a man of fifty.
The inability to at once take the place of the Rishi was to him intolerable. He wanted instantly to shake off his physical and mental limitations and at once become a sage. The ambition was great, but in it there was not vestige of self-conceit. He was trying everyday of his life to become Dayananda. To that end he learnt Yoga exercises, and when even these could not bridge the mental and spiritual distance between him and his goal he willingly laid down his life. His was the glory of a martyr to his own tyranny.
The day of his death was honored by local colleges and courts being closed for a holiday. The world of letters mourned his loss as the loss of a literary prodigy. The Punjab University was conscious that it has lost its only scholar whose earliest productions has met with recognition at the hands of those who were competent to judge, both in and outside the country.
Of the Arya Samaj he was the one hope. The spirit that inspired him has, however lived. It will forever continue inspiring young hearts. O that he had taken better care of his body!
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