THE RENAISSANCE RISHI
By Brigadier Chitranjan Sawant,VSM
Indeed it was a dark age in India. Speaking of the political scene, one may say that the ruler and the ruled were both down and almost out. Militarily speaking, the morale of captains and commoners was down in the dumps. Speaking of Science, research was at a standstill. Religion was confined to the closets and common man relied on rituals that were empty and provided
little support emotionally when a man or a woman needed it most. Pundit, padre and mullah had become parasites that lived off others and did little
In that gloomy scenario appeared a man of sterling worth in the region of Kathiawad, India. He gave a clarion call “Go back to the Vedas “. His thrust line was this: Human beings should lead their lives happily as per the tenets of the Vedas that were revealed by the Almighty right at the beginning of the human Creation, through the Rishis or saints of high caliber, and eventually attain Emancipation or Moksha from the bondage of birth, death and rebirth. Vedas are for all and sundry, irrespective of caste creed, colour or sex of the person. All human beings have a right to read and meditate on the mantra. This was a Religious Renaissance par excellence that brought immense joy to men and women all over the world. The Renaissance Rishi who heralded this freedom of faith was known as Swami Dayanand Saraswati, a disciple of a great grammarian and Vedic scholar named Swami Virjanand Saraswati.
Swami Dayanand Saraswati was born in a village, Tankara in Rajkot district of Kathiawar, now Saurashtra, India in 1824.His father, Karsanji Tewari, a state revenue official, named his son – Moolshankar. The young precocious boy went through a normal system of learning Sanskrit and religious text. At a young age, he memorized the text of the Yajurveda and impressed his teachers and class fellows with his extra-ordinary memory. Indeed a bright future was in the offing. Life was ambling by along the Demi River that lay meandering on the periphery of the village. On its banks stood a small Shiva temple where young Moolshankar’s folks assembled in strength on the Maha-Shivratri to worship the Lord. An incident in the temple was the turning point in Moolshankar’s life, nay in the life and times of the then India, and later the world.
The great Quest had begun. Meeting many mahatmas, after the young lad left his parental home at age 22 when pressed to get married and abandon the spiritual quest and imbibing spiritual knowledge, Moolshankar became Shuddh Chaitanya. In this relentless quest of the Almighty, he was even cheated at times by false god men but he never abandoned the great quest. Moving from place to place and meeting mahatmas, the young explorer chose to enter the fourth ashram of the varnashram dharma, that is, Sanyas. Swami Poornanand Saraswati, a great Vedic scholar, initiated him into the Sanyas Ashram. Thus was born an ascetic, Swami Dayanand Saraswati, who turned into a great Vedic scholar, a writer of Ved Bhashya (Vedic explanations of mantras) and many treatises like the Satyarth Prakash, Rigvedadi Bhashya Bhumika and Sanskar Vidhi. He became a preacher of the true Vedic Dharma himself and traveled far and wide in India. The great Awakening of masses, the rank and file of Indians in slumber, had begun. His religious discourses were well attended by captains and commoners alike.
We may recall some of the anecdotes of his life that go to show that he placed great reliance on the social unity of the masses, besides uniting them in one Vedic Dharma, to make the nation strong. Swami Dayanand Saraswati advised all Arya Samajes to run their show in a democratic manner. On Saturday, April 10, 1875 when the first Arya Samaj was founded at Kakarwadi, Mumbai, India, the great Swami was requested by the congregation to assume Presidentship of the organization but he declined and chose to be “just a simple member”. He had great faith in local talent taking over the reigns and not depending on an individual, howsoever great the individual might be. Whenever, the members of the newly founded Arya Samaj elsewhere had indulged in mutual recrimination and indulged in senseless accusation and became a prey to dissensions, the Swami advised them to sort out the religious and social problems themselves instead of requesting him to come to the scene or rushing to courts of law en block. He was dead against entering into legal litigation to solve problems of social nature. He made a mention of it in black and white in his WILL twice, first at Meerut and later again in 1883 in Udaipur, Rajputana. One only wishes the Arya stalwarts of later times had heeded to the advice of their mentor, the great Rishi and avoided rushing into quagmire of courts of law where angels feared to tread. Indeed the image of the their co-religionists who face fearful odds, like a solid rock. A case from Moradabad, UP, may be cited. Munshi Indramani who wrote many tracts and books criticizing the Islamic attack on the tenets of the Vedic Dharma and launched a counter-attack on the contradictions in Islam was hauled up before a court of law to face a trial. Swami Dayanand Saraswati wrote letters and made verbal appeals to all and sundry to stand by Munshi Indramani and provide him both moral and material support. Aid started pouring in. Initially, Munshi ji was found guilty but when the Aryas went in appeal, he was eventually acquitted. Such was the rewarding result of unity among the Aryas forged by the Swami
The founder of the Arya Samaj paid utmost attention to unity and solidarity in the society. He never intended to be known as a founder of a sect that would cut itself away from the vast society of the Hindus. He stressed that the ancient Vedic Dharm was his creed and the Ved mantras in original text were the ultimate forum to decide what constituted Dharma and what did not. He had seen and known how infallible the Brahmos of Bengal had become by moving away from the path of their forefathers and by tilting towards Christianity. Roots were roots, if diseased-these were to be cleansed and treated with a dose of reform; and under no circumstances were the roots to be cut or the original tree to be uprooted. While writing the Satyarth Prakash, the great Swami made the point crystal clear.
Thus he did not hesitate even for a single moment in launching a frontal attack on those men and organizations that were destroying the Indian economy by slaughtering cows. He spearheaded the anti cow slaughter movement and enlisted the support of kings and commoners by obtaining their signatures on a petition to be submitted to Queen Victoria, the reigning Empress of India. Above all, it was a movement of solidarity of society and should be viewed as such. Unfortunately, Dayanand Saraswati’s untimely demise gave a severe blow to this movement of solidarity but the point had been made and it was for the followers to pick up the thread from where he had left.
The Renaissance Rishi was not dogmatic. He had an open mind and acted on the suggestions made to him in good faith. Acharya Keshav Chandra Sen of the Brahmo Samaj had met the Rishi in Calcutta and suggested that the latter give his discourses in Hindi, instead of Sanskrit, for the common man to understand and appreciate. Further, the educated ladies wished to form a part of the audience to listen to the learned interpretations of the Ved mantras but fought shy of his scantily covered body. The Rishi accepted both the suggestions and acted accordingly. The numbers of men and women in the audiences swelled indeed. The people came from far and wide to see and hear him. His preaching missions were a great success in the land of intellectuals in Bengal.
We must make a mention of Rajputana that the Rishi had made his work place in the last years of his life. The Rishi’s aim was to make rulers well versed in the principles and practice of good governance as mentioned in the Sanskrit texts of yore like the Manu Smriti. Thereafter both the ruler and the ruled will be happy and carry on with their lives as per the teachings of the Vedas. He had a roaring success in the big State of Mewar where the Ruler, His Highness Maharana Sajjan Singh Ji became his devoted disciple. The Maharana studied Sanskrit and Manusmriti at the feet of the Rishi. Consequently, the education system of Mewar was reoriented to meet the Vedic standards. The Ruler personally performed daily Havan in his palace. It was going great guns for the Arya Samaj. Another princely state to follow the principles of the Vedic Dharma was Shahpura. Its ruler, His Highness Sir Nahar Singh Varma became a devout Arya himself and reformed the education system of his small principality. Both these rulers had, in turn become the president of the Paropkarini Sabha established by Swami Dayanand Saraswati and made a successor to his mission in the Swami’s last will and testament. Nonetheless, it was the state of Jodhpur that failed to preserve the person of the Swami and the poison potion administered to him by enemies of the Renaissance and reformation marked the beginning of the end of his life.
Swami Dayanand Saraswati demonstrated till his last breath that he indeed practiced what he preached. His ardent faith and belief in God remained unflinching till he breathed his last at Ajmer after a grave illness of one month and one day. At times the treatment was faulty and at times movement of his ailing body unnecessary. The Renaissance Rishi bore it with a smile. On the Diwali evening, 30 October 1883, came his end. The swami sat in his bed, recited Ved mantras, said hymns in Hindi and bowing to the will of the Almighty let his soul leave his body. A young man from the Punjab, Guru Datt, who had entertained atheistic ideas became an ardent Arya on seeing the Swami breathe his last with courage and forbearance. Indeed the lamp of life of the renaissance Rishi was thus extinguished and it in turn lighted many million lamps to lead men and women from darkness unto light.