Aryasamaj and Indian Nationalism
Aryasamaj and Indian Nationalism
[Source – Mr Ramsay J Macdonald book” The Government Of India” Publihsed in 1921. Pages-235-240 ]
Dr Vivek Arya
First amongst Hindu revivals is the Arya Samaj, founded by Swami Dayanand Saraswati, the son of a Gujarati Brahmin, born in 1824. A dramatic little story is told of how the light came to Dayanand. When he was fourteen years of age his father took him to the temple to keep the Shivaratri fast, which entailed a night being spent in prayer to Shiva. As the night wore on the worshippers slept, but the boy kept awake. A mouse came out and crawling round the base of the image nibbled at the offerings. This struck the sensitive mind of the lad. If this image was Shiva, why did the god allow such sacrilege! Awakening his father, he put his doubts to him, and finally received as his answer that the image was not Shiva, but that the devout praying to it found grace from Shiva. The boy would have none of this refinement, returned home, broke his fast, went to bed and slept.
Henceforth there were no more idols for him, and the anniversary of this night is kept as a feast by his followers. Then death came into his family, and filled his heart with a yearning to fathom the mystery of being and not-being, of coming and going; and in 1845 he ran away from home, and for fifteen years wandered in search of the teacher who would reveal to him what his soul wanted to know. After years of pilgrimage in search of truth, during which his greatest discovery was the debasement of Hinduism, he fell in with the blind Swami Virajanand, to whom he became pupil and who, when he had taught him all he knew, exacted the guru’s fee which it was customary for the Brahmchari to pay, in the shape of a pledge that he would “devote his life to the dissemination of truth, to the waging of incessant warfare against the falsehood of the prevailing Puranic faith (faith based on the Puranas), and to establish the right method of education, as was in vogue in pre-Buddhist times.”He went out into the world again, teaching and disputing, his call being. Back to the purity of the Vedas.” At a great meeting presided over by the Maharajah of Benares he met the Pandits of Benares, and they claimed the victory and practically excommunicated him. Truth is that it was victory by swami Dayanand-editor). But Dayananda was not a man to be overawed by the frowns of censuring Pandits. His doctrine was that there is one God who is to be known obeyed and worshipped, who has never been incarnate and who cannot be approached by the worship of any deity but himself. Caste is a political and not a religious creation. In 1875, after the Swami had come into contact with the leaders of the Brahmo Samaj in Calcutta, the Arya Samaj was founded in Bombay. But it took healthiest root in the Punjab, where Lahore may now be regarded as its capital city, and in the United Provinces.
This was a purely internal Hindu reform, a pruning of all the engrafted shoots upon the Vedas, a return to the authoritative doctrine. The most robust and promo of these debasements of Hinduism were the claims of the Brahmin. These the Arya disallowed. The Vedas were a closed book to the people. That the Arya opened, imitating in this respect the restoration of our own Bible by the Reformation. Hinduism was a condition of birth. That the Arya denied, and threw wide its doors to anyone who cared to enter.
In his defense of the Vedas as a sufficient basis for faith, the Swami came into conflict with Christianity! and thus gave the Arya its first tinge of aggressiveness which made it an expression of Indian nationalism. India was combating the world outside; Indian religion was defending itself and rebutting rival claims. It had been an indefinite and indefinable collection of precepts and belief; the Arya attempted to give it precision, at the same time enhancing its claims to great antiquity. The effect was to stop many Hindus from going over to Christianity and to anger missionaries accordingly. Nine-tenths of their attacks upon Hinduism did not apply to the Hinduism of the Arya Samaj. But the new Society carried the war of defense into one of offence, and conducted a propaganda against Christianity. Dayananda was no smooth-tongued controversialist, and his attacks upon our faith have been quoted to our annoyance and the detriment of his Society. He created passion as well as controversy. In a most interesting defense of the Society, written by Munshi Ram, the head of the Gurukul at Hardwar, and Ramdeva, of the Arya College at Lahore, a considerable number of pages are devoted to extracts to show that Christians themselves have not been too polite in the attacks made upon the faith of each other or upon that of other people. In any event, the Arya claims not only to have stopped conversion in certain districts, but to have drawn back converts from the Christian fold.
Herein lies the Arya’s strength and the contribution it has made to the Indian spirit. It is aggressive. It makes no apologies. It challenges and fights. That is why, when it began to influence the Nationalist movement, as it was bound to do, the combative independence with which it conducted itself made it so detested by official minds. To belong to the Arya was to carry the badge of a seditious disposition.It is, however, in its social and educational work that it has maintained Hinduism most effectually. From its foundation it has opposed child marriages and has countenanced the remarrying of widows; it has been sympathetic with the outcaste and has sought to raise him; and it has been specially interested in schools. In its educational schemes it has always sought to provide for women. Its chief living champion has admitted that “‘English education and Western ideas have played an important part in bringing about this change, but an equally great, if not even greater part has been played by an appeal to ancient Hindu ideals of womanhood and to the teachings of the ancient Hindu religion in the matter of the relations of the sexes.”
Its educational work is concentrated in two great institutions, the Dayananda Anglo- Vedic College in Lahore and the Gurukul in the neighborhood of Hardwar. The former is associated with the Punjab University; the other is quite independent of Government control, either direct or indirect, but both are intensely national in spirit. Whoever, walking through the D.A.V. College, sees its rooms, the pictures and texts on the walls of its offices, talks with its officials and teachers, who are all Indians, cannot fail to feel how different is the atmosphere there from any of the other colleges in Lahore or elsewhere. At every point he is impressed by the fact that this is an Indian effort, and the reason for it is stated quite definitely in its literature and reports. “‘To secure the best advantages of education, it is necessary to make it national in tone and character.””The present system of education in India “” tends to loosen these ties [of nationality] or obstructs the beneficent influence of education from being fairly extended to, and beneficially operating upon, the uneducated,” and is therefore “‘ partial, and, from the public point of view, undesirable.” ‘Foreign education has produced a schism in society which is truly deplorable.” This result, sad in itself, is the inevitable consequence of the one sided policy of education imparted through a foreign agency, for whom it was simply impossible to appreciate the indigenous wants, and to apply a suitable method.” The task of the founders of the college, therefore, has been “to make provision for the efficient study of the national language and literature, and carefully to initiate the youthful mind into habits and modes of life consistent with the national spirit and character.” These are extracts from the opening pages of the first report of the college, and there is much more in the same strain. They make the purpose of the venture perfectly obvious. Since 1886, the institution has been at work and has been served by teachers and officials who are wholeheartedly with its purpose, and who have accepted salaries very much less sometimes nothing at all than are paid in similar schools and colleges.
Even this college, with its determined Indian spirit, does not fully satisfy many of its supporters. Mr. Lajpat Rai speaking at a college meeting on Founder’s Day in 1914 remarked. But the discipline enforced and the life lived at the Gurukul at Kangri is more in accordance with genuine Hindu ideals than those in the college.” This Gurukul to which Mr. Lajpat Rai refers is an offspring from the D.A.V. College. Its founders believed that the connection of the college with the Punjab University hampered it in its work, made it think too much of university examinations (in which it has had much success) and too little of sound national education, and prevented it from pursuing such a curriculum of studies as Indian Educationalists would devise were they free to do so. After big a dissentient minority on the college committee they decided to begin work of their own. In conversation with the head of the Gurukul, Munshi Ram, I had the following explanation of how he came to start the school He had been a successful lawyer, but the spirit of religion came upon him and he shook the sins of law off his soul and Bought peace in training youth. He had seen how English hampered the education of his own sons and so he desired a new method of instruction; he was a devoted child of India and he cast out Western methods and returned to the ancient models. So in the jungle by the Ganges near Hardwar he began his Gurukul in 1902. When I was there 300 pupils were at the school.
The Gurukul has been the subject of much suspicion in Government quarters, and it has roused great opposition in missionary and other circles of Anglo-India. But its position is perfectly clear. In so far as the spirit of an independent India, declining to put itself unreservedly in the hands of the British, determined to preserve its own life and traditions, refusing to acquiesce in a denationalizing educational system, is a menace to the Government, these Arya institutions are a menace; but in so far as the ultimate purpose of Great Britain in India is consistent with the growth and nurture of a pure Indian conscience and intellect, these institutions are not only legitimate, but are experiments which the Government should watch with vigilant sympathy and copy if need be with grateful care. There are now several Gurukuls in existence. Of course, there must be political results from these institutions. Teachers, students, and ex-students must appear from time to time in Nationalist agitation and must contribute (as every denominational and government college in India does) to the ranks of “political undesirables. But the danger into which the Government ran in those trying years at the close of Lord Curzon’s rule and the opening of his successors was that it would classify everything that was pro-Indian as anti-British. Whilst it was running into that danger it insisted upon regarding the Arya and its works as dangerous political propaganda, and, unfortunately, it was encouraged in its error by biased and unbalanced critics who had an entry to journals of great influence in India and Great Britain. The years from, roughly, 1905 to 1910, will always be studied by statesmanlike Englishmen both in India and at home, as years of warning as to what British policy in India ought not to be; and the terrible blunders into which officials and their friends fell regarding the nature of the Arya Samaj and the problems which it created will also be studied as Illustrations of how easy it is for the best intentioned of people afraid to face the liberating consequences of their work and to accept the changing circumstances for which they are responsible, to try, during a short time of thoughtless panic, to undo everything they have done. In one of Balzac’s night mare tales — Don Juan — he tells how a son anointing the dead body of his father with a magical fluid which was to bring him to life again, became terror-stricken with the return of the dead to life, and how, when only the head and arm were anointed, he dropped the phial and spilt the liquid, and the servants who rushed in saw a young, living head on an old dead, decrepit body. The work of the British Government in India cannot end in such a horrible tragedy.