Man from Multan was an Arya Pracharak
There walked a man on the roads of Lahore in 1880s who presented a strange spectacle. He wore a white sheet on his chest and another on his back, each had five principles of the Arya Samaj hand written on them. The man was possessed by an ardent desire to let the world know what the Ten Commandments formulated by Swami Dayanand Saraswati in 1877 in Lahore were. When his wife questioned this method of propagating the mission of Dayanand, the young post graduate in Physical Sciences went ahead regardless of adverse criticism at home and outside. With unflinching faith, devotion to Dayanand and dedication to the Vedic Dharm and determination writ large on his face, the young man called Pundit Gurudatt Vidyarthi stuck to his goal. His steadfastness drew admiration from one and all, both friend and foe.
NEVER SAY DIE
Born in a Sardana family who had produced Persian scholars and an ambassador to the king’s court in Kabul, the young Guruditta lost no time in changing his mundane name to a polished one and became Gurudatt. It was his erudition and articulation that won him the prefix Pundit from fellow students and the teaching faculty. He, however, always remained dedicated to the cause of learning and himself took the suffix Vidyarthi. He remained a dedicated student devoted to pursuit of the Muse and wrote poems in more languages than one.
Born on 26 April 1864, he was always different as a student and excelled in whatever he did. One day the Headmaster asked all the students of his class to dramatise a prose text. His class fellows found this difficult to do. Young Gurudatt climbed the teacher’s table, read the preceding part of the text and finally dramatising the sentence and modulating his voice, he delivered the punch line “here it is” and kept the book on the table. He performed with excellence and drew applause of teachers and taught alike. The Headmaster gave him five rupees as a reward. The inborn knowledge of dramatics helped him in perfecting the art of oratory too.
On successful completion of high school education in Multan, Gurudatt moved to Government College Lahore from where he eventually got a Master’s degree in Physical Sciences. Lala Lajpat Rai and Mahatma Hansraj were his College mates and friends. In 1881-82 Gurudatt spearheaded a movement for Hindi in Devnagari script as the lingua franca of education in the undivided Punjab. He succeeded in obtaining endorsement and signatures of thousands of students of diverse faiths.
An interesting anecdote in this regard is worth mentioning. Pt Gurudatt Vidyarthi motivated to join the Sanskrit class and abandon Persian in College. When the Sanskrit teacher, Pt Bhagwan Das asked Lala Lajpat Rai about his background knowledge in Sanskrit, Pt Gurudatt Vidyarthi fielded the question and said “Sir, he was a Muslim so far, now I have made him a Hindu” and all of them roared into laughter. It was true in actual life too. Lala Lajpat Rai has himself written that it was Pt Gurudatt Vidyarthi who initiated him into the tenets of the Vedic Dharm and thus he could serve the country fearlessly. The Islamic influence of Radha Krishna Ji, his father, who observed Roza and performed Namaz daily was countered successfully by the young Arya pracharak from Multan.
A JOKE ON JULLUNDER
The Arya Samaj Jullunder, under the leadership of Mahatma Munshi Ram was holding a big function and requested Arya Samaj, Lahore to depute an orator of repute to impress the Jullunder audience with his knowledge and delivery. Arya Samaj Lahore agreed to send the best vedic missionary. On the appointed date and time, Mahatma Munshi Ram and other Aryas assembled at the railway station to receive the distinguished guest from Lahore. When the rather diminutive figure( from Punjabi standard) of Pt Gurudatt Vidyarthi alighted on the platform, the Jullundur Aryas remarked aside “Lahore Aryas have played a cruel joke on us”. All doubts were, however, dispelled when our great orator impressed the learned audience with his knowledge and delivery.
Pt Gurudatt Vidyarthi could achieve so much in so little time was a tribute to his perseverance and determination to achieve the aim. As a member of the Arya Samaj Multan, he found that the knowledge of Sanskrit of the Purohit was rather scanty, he cautioned the Pradhan and Mantri to make suitable arrangements to teach him Panini’s Ashtadhyayi otherwise he would let it be known to all Multanis that the talk of teaching and learning Vedas was a sham. The threat worked. Our scholar’s attachment to Ashtadhyayi remained steadfast and he pressed the Managing Committee of the DAV School Lahore to follow the Sanskrit curriculum prescribed by Swami Dayanand Saraswati. Thus Ashtadhyayi could find a place of honour in the hearts and minds of people of Punjab and both young and old alike loved to study the original grammar as enunciated by Panini.
A ROVING VED PRACHARAK
It is said that Pt Gurudatt Vidyarthi was either an atheist or an agnostic even after enrolling himself as a member of the Arya Samaj, Multan. But a change came when he saw the last moments of Swami Dayanand Saraswati at Bhinoy Kothi in Ajmer. The great saint-reformer had been ill for one month one day when he breathed his last. A young man of 19 years who came to Ajmer with other Aryas of Lahore saw how calm, composed and peaceful was Swami Dayanand despite mistreatment and medical mishandling of the case. The Swami still recited Ved mantras and submitted himself to the will of Param Pita Parmatma. The young Vidyarthi saw the scene and the fleeting glance of Swami Dayanand Saraswati towards him and felt a tremendous change in his attitude to life and its philosophy. The defining moment made young Vidyarthi a firm believer in Parmatma and made up his mind to be a Ved pracharak as and when the right moment came in his life.
Pt Gurudatt Vidyarthi got a new lease of life when the Mahan Swami’s soul was leaving the body for good. Thereafter he gave first preference to Ved prachar. At times he would forego his meals or sleep or both. Although he had a good physique as a student, now reckless spending of the capital started telling on his health. Notwithstanding all the knowledge that he acquired, he would not keep a regular routine. He continued reading and writing for days in his room in the old house where he had lived as a student and let his body suffer for lack of regular exercise. Lack of nutrition during travels as a Vedic missionary and tight schedule of various Arya Samajes did not spare a man of strong will power like Pt Gurudatt Vidyarthi. The doctors opined that he had contracted tuberculosis. There was a lack of proper medical treatment and varied systems of medical treatment like Ayurved, Unani, Allopathic and sundry local medicines took their toll. Our strong man became so weak that he could not even leave the bed. And yet he was ever ready to deliver sermons from the Arya Samaj pulpit. His voice was so feeble that even those who sat found it hard to hear.
The end came on 19 March 1890 when he was just 26 years old. It was no less than the Greek tragedy. His old widowed mother, a young wife and two sons survived him. The Arya Samaj suffered a great blow and the loss was irreparable. Thousands of men gathered to have the last Darshan and joined the last journey of the roving pracharak. Pt Gurudatt Vidyarthi was gone and as he said that his soul would get a better body to carry on the mission of Dayanand. Indeed, the Man from Multan was an Arya Pracharakthrough and through.