Romain Rolland on Swami Dayanand


Romain Rolland

ROMAIN ROLLAND WAS A FRENCH WRITER WHO WON NOBEL PEACE PRIZE IN 1915 FOR LITERATURE. READ HIS FAMOUS QUOTES ON SWAMI DAYANAND.

This man with the nature of a lion is one of those, whom Europe is too apt to forget when she judges India, but whom she will probably be forced to remember to her cost; for he was that rare combination, a thinker of action with a genius for leadership.

While all the religious leaders of whom we have already spoken and shall speak in the future were and are from Bengal, Dayanand came from quite a different land, the one which half a century later gave birth to Gandhi – the north-west coast of the Arabian Sea. He was born in Gujrat at Tankara (Morvi) in the State of Kathiawar of a rich family belonging to the highest grade of Brahmins no less versed in Vedic learning than in mundane affairs both political and commercial. His father took part in the government of the little native state. He was rigidly orthodox according to the letter of the law with a stern domineering character, and this last to his sorrow he passed on to his son.

As a child Dayanand was therefore brought up under the strictest Brahmin rule, and at the age of eight was invested with the Sacred Thread and all the severe moral obligations entailed by this privilege rigorously enforced by his family. It seemed as if he was to become a pillar of orthodoxy in his turn, but instead he became the Samson, who pulled down the pillars of the temple; a striking example among a hundred others of the vanity of human effort, when it imagines that it is possible by a superimposed education to fashion the mind of the rising generation and so dispose of the future. The most certain results is revolt.

That of Dayanand is worth recording. When he was fourteen his father took him to the temple to celebrate the great festival of Shiva. He had to pass the night after a strict fast in pious vigil and prayer. The rest of the faithful went to sleep. The young boy alone resisted its spell. Suddenly he saw a rat nibbling the offerings to the God and running over Shiva’s body. It was enough. There is no doubt a but moral revolt in the heart of a child. In a second his faith in the idol was shattered for the rest of his life. He left the temple. Went home along through the night, and thenceforward refused to participate in the religious rites.

It marked the beginning of a terrible struggle between father and son. Both were of an unbending and autocratic will, which barred the door to any mutual concession. At nineteen Dayanand ran away from home to escape from a forced marriage. He was caught and imprisoned. He fled again, this time for ever.(1845). He never saw his father again.

For fifteen years this son of a rich Brahmin, despoiled of every thing and subsisting on alms, wandered as a sadhu clad in the saffron robe along the roads of India. Dayanand went in search of learned men, ascetics, studying here philosophy, there the Vedas, learning the theory and practice of the Yoga. He visited almost all the holy places of India and took part in religious debates.

He suffered, he braved fatigue, insult and danger. However, Dayanand remained far from the human masses through which he passed, for the simple reason that he spoke nothing but Sanskrit throughout this period. Dayanand did not see, did not wish to see, anything round him but superstition and ignorance, spirituality, degrading prejudices and the millions of idols he abominated.

At length about 1860 he found at Mathura an old Guru even more implacable than himself in his condemnation of all weakness and his hatred of superstition, a Sanyasin blind from infancy and from the age of eleven quite alone in the world, a learned man, a terrible man, Swami Virjanand Saraswati. Dayanad put himself under his “discipline” which in its old literal seventeenth century sense scarred his flesh as well as his spirit.

Dayanand served this untamable and indomitable man for two and half years as his pupil. It is therefore mere justice to remember that his subsequent course of action was simple the fulfillment of the will of the stern blind man, whose surname he adopted, casting his own to oblivion. When they separated, Virjanand extracted from him the promise that he would consecrate his life to the annihilation of the heresies that had crept into the Puranic faith, to re-establish the ancient religious methods of the age before Buddha, and to disseminate the truth.

Swami Dayananda, born in 1824 at Tankara, a small place in Kathiawad, left his home in the early part of his life, at an age of 22, while the arrangements were brisk for his marriage, and for a large number of years, up to 1860, he literally walked from place to place, from temples to monasteries, from hills to forests, from villages to large cities, along the banks of rivers for the satisfaction of his spiritual urge, and this gave him a unique opportunity of studying the conditions of his country and her people, demoralized to the core on account of personal strifes, internal conflicts and outside impacts.

Dayananda was the first leader in the field of theology who welcomed the advances of sciences and technology. To him, the Vedas as the source book contain the seed of science, and to him, the Vedas advocate the philosophy of dynamic realism.

Dayanand immediately began to preach in Northern India, but unlike the benign men of God who open all heaven before the eyes of their hearers, he was a hero of the Iliad or of the Gita with the athletic strength of a Hercules, who thundered against all forms of thought other than his own, the only true one. He was so successful that in five years. Northern India was completely changed. During these five years his life was attempted four or five times – some times by poison.

Once a fanatic threw a cobra at his face in the name of Shiva, but he caught and crushed it. It was impossible to get the better of him; for he possessed an unrivalled knowledge of Sanskrit and the Vedas, while the burning vehemence of his words brought his adversaries to naught. They likened him to a flood. Never since Sankara had such a prophet of Vedism appeared.

The orthodox Brahmins, completely overwhelmed, appealed from him to Benares, their Rome. Dayanand went there fearlessly, and undertook in November, 1869, a Homeric contest before millions of assailants, all eager to bring him to his knees, he argued for hours together alone against three hundred pandits – the whole front line and the reserve of Hindu orthodox.

He proved that the Vedanta as practiced was diametrically opposed to the primitive Vedas. He claimed that he was going back to the true word. They had not the patience to hear him. He was hooted down and excommunicated. A void was created round him, but the echo of such a combat in the style of the Mahabharat spread throughout the country, so that his name became famous over the whole of India.

At Calcutta, where he stayed from December 15, 1872 to April 15, 1873 Ramakrishna met him. He was also cordially received by the Brahmo Samaj. Keshab and his people voluntarily shut their eyes to the differences existing between them; they saw in him a rough ally in their crusade against orthodox prejudices and the million of gods. But Dayanand was not a man to come to an understanding with religious philosophers imbued with Western ideas.

His national Indian theism, its steel faith forged from the pure metal of the Vedas alone, had nothing in common with theirs, tinged as it was with modern doubt, which denied the infallibility of the Vedas and the doctrine of transmigration. He broke with them, the richer for the encountered, for he owed them the very simple suggestion, whose practical value had not struck him before, that his propaganda would be of little effect unless it was delivered in the language of the people.

He went to Bombay, where shortly afterwards his sect, following the example of the Brahmo Samaj, but with a better genius of organization, proceeded to take root in the social life of India. On April 10, 1875, he founded at Bombay his first Arya Samaj, or Association of the Aryans of India.

He fell, struck down in his prime, by an assassin. The concubine of a Maharajah, whom the stern prophet had denounced, poisoned him. He died at Ajmer on October 30, 1883. But his work pursued its uninterrupted and triumphant course.

It may perhaps be useful to remind Europe of the reasons at the bottom of his national awakening, now in full flood. Westernisation was going too far, and was not always revealed by its best side. Intellectually it had become rather a frivolous attitude of mind, which did away with the need for independence of thought, and transplanted young intelligence from their proper environment, teaching them to despise the genius of their race.

The instinct for self-reservation revolted, Dayanand’s generation had watched, as he had done, not without anxiety, suffering, and irritation, the gradual infiltration into the veins of India of superficial European rationalism on the one hand, whose ironic arrogance understood nothing to the depths of the Indian spirit, and on the other hand, of a Christianity, which when it entered family life fulfilled only too well Christ’s prophecy he had come to bring division between father and son……………

The enthusiastic reception accorded to the thunderous champion of the Vedas, a Vedist belonging to a great race and penetrated with the sacred writings of ancient India and with her heroic spirit, is then easily explained. He alone hurled the defiance of India against her invaders. Dayanand declared war on Christianity and his heavy massive sword cleft it asunder with scant reference to the scope or exactitude of his blows.

Nevertheless, as Glasenapp rightly remarks, they are of paramount interest for European Chriatianity of which ought to know what is the image of itself as presented by its Asiatic adversaries.

Dayanand had no greater regard for the Koran and the Puranas, trampled underfoot the body of Brahmin orthodoxy. He had no pity for any of his fellow country-men, past or present, who had contributed in any way to the thousand-year decadence of India, at one time the mistress of the world. He was a ruthless critic of all who, according to him, had falsified or profaned the true Vedic religion.

He was a Luther fighting against his own misled and misguided Church of Rome; and his first care was to throw open the wells of the holy books, so that for the first time his people could come to them and drink for themselves. He translated and wrote commentaries on the Vedas in the vernacular – it was in truth an epoch-making date for India when a Brahmin not only acknowledged that all human beings have the right to know the Vedas, whose study had been previously prohibited by orthodox Brahmins, but insisted that their study and propaganda was the duty of every Arya.

It is true that his translation was an interpretation, and that there is much to criticize with regard to accuracy as well as with regard to the rigidity of the dogmas and principles he drew from the text, the absolute infallibility claimed for the one book, which according to him had emanated direct from the “Prehuman” or Superhuman Divinity, his denials from which there was no appeal, his implacable condemnations, his theism of action, his credo of battle, and finally his national God.

But in default of outpourings of the heart and the calm sun of the spirit, bathing the nations of men and their Gods in its effulgence, Dayanand transfused into the languid body of India his own formidable energy, his certainty, his lion’s blood, His words rang with heroic power. He reminded the secular passivity of a people, too prone to bow to fate, that the soul is free and that action is the generator of destiny.

He set the example of a complete clearance of all the encumbering growth of privilege and prejudice by a series of hatchet blows. If his metaphysics were dry and obscure, if his theology was narrow and in my opinion retrograde, his social activities and practices were of intrepid boldness. With regard to questions of fact he went further than the Brahmo Samaj, and even further than the Ramkrishna Mission ventures to-day..

His creation; the Arya Samaj, postulates in principle equal justice for all men and all nations, together with equality of the sexes. It repudiates a hereditary caste system, and only recognizes professions or guilds, suitable to the complementary aptitudes of men in society; religion was to have no part in these divisions but only the service of the state, which assesses the tasks to be performed. The state alone, if it considers it fort he good of the community, can raise or degraded a man from one caste to another by way of reward or punishment.

Dayanand wished every man to have the opportunity to acquire as much knowledge as would enable him to raise himself in the social scale a high as he was able. Above all he would not tolerate the abominable injustice of the existence of the untouchables, and nobody has been a more ardent champion of their outrage rights. They were admitted to the Arya Samj on a basis of equality; for the Aryas are not a caste.” The Aryas are all men of superior principles; and the ‘Dasyus’ are they who lead a life of wickedness and sin.”

Dayanand was no less generous and no less bold in his crusade to improve the condition of women a deplorable one in India. He revolted against the abuses from which they suffered, recalling that in the heroic age they occupied in the home and in society a position at least equal to men. They ought to have equal education, according to him, and supreme control in marriage, over household matters including the finances.

Dayanand in fact claimed equal rights in marriage for men and women, and though he regarded marriage as indissoluble, he admitted the remarriage of widows and went so far as to envisage a temporary union for women as well as men for the purpose of having children, if none had resulted from marriage.

Lastly the Arya Samaj, whose eighth principle was “to diffuse knowledge and dissipate ignorance,” has played a great part in the education of India –
especially in the Punjab and the United Province – & it has founded a host of schools for girls and boys. Their laborious hives are grouped round two model establishments. The Dayanand Anglo-Vedic College of Lahore and the Gurukula of Kangri, national bulwarks of Hindu education, which seek to resuscitate the energies of the race – and to use at the same time the intellectual and technical conquests of the West.

To these let us add philanthropic activities, such as orphanages, workshops for boys and girls, homes for widows, and great works of social service at the time of public calamities famine, etc.

I have said enough about this Sanyasin with the soul of a leader, to show how great an uplifter of the people, he was – in fact the most vigorous force of the immediate and present actin in India at the moment of the rebirth and reawakening of the national consciousness. His Arya Samaj whether he wished it or not, prepared the way in 1905 for the revolt of Bengal. He was one of the most ardent prophets of reconstruction and of rational organization.

I feel that it was he who kept the Vigil; but his strength was also his weakness. His purpose in life was action and its object his nation. For a people
lacking the vision of wider horizon, the accomplishment of the action and the creation of the ration might perhaps be enough. But not for India – before her will still lie the universe

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Posted on October 17, 2011, in Swami Dayanand. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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