EPITOME OF EXCELLENCE MAHATMA HANSRAJ
By Brigadier Chitranjan Sawant,VSM
Bajwada is a non-descript township near Hoshiarpur in the Punjab where a great soul was born on 19th April 1864 in a family of modest means. The boy was named Hansraj. He displayed leadership qualities from his early years. Before he could cross the age of twelve and become a teenager, he lost his father, Lala Chunilal, the sole earning member of the family. The elder brother of young Hansraj, Mulkraj perforce quit post matriculation schooling to lend a helping hand to the bereaved family. Sacrificing by nature, the same elder brother became a pillar of financial strength to Hansraj in later life by sharing his pay half and half to enable the younger brother, a graduate by then, to climb high on the ladder of sacrifice and self denial. Indeed that was like laying the foundation stone of edifice known today as the Dayanand Anglo-Vedic College and its group of educational institutions.
Young Hansraj studied in a Christian run school where the Head Master berated the Hindu dharma to eulogize Christianity. The young boy fired with patriotic and religious thoughts brooked no nonsense and caught the bull by the horn. It was a verbal duel between two unequal sides where the ninth class student carried the day, became a hero in the eyes of class fellows but paid the price by being expelled from the school. Hansraj had no regrets and it was the Head Master who, not wishing to lose a brilliant student, rescinded the order of expulsion. The memorable incident put the fiery boy on the path of leadership to become the Defender of the Faith. Preaching the tenets of the Vedic Dharm as enunciated by Swami Dayanand Saraswati, who happened to be in Lahore around same time to lay the foundation of the Arya Samaj, got etched on the mind and heart of young Hansraj. He never looked back thereafter.
In the year 1883 Swami Dayanand Saraswati was poisoned at Jodhpur by a coterie of conspirators, remained grievously ill for a month and a day before breathing his last at Ajmer on 30 October 1883 – the evening of Diwali, festival of lights. The shocked Aryas of the Punjab, decided to commemorate the Rishivar’s contribution to the Hindu society by raising a lasting educational memorial. Most of admirers came of the middle class in society who could not gather enough money to start a High School, leave alone a College. There were mostly European Head Masters and Principal at that time and they drew fabulous salaries that the Aryas could not afford.
Hansraj, a young graduate of the Calcutta/Punjab University stepped forward to captain the floundering ship of education launched by the Arya Samaj Lahore. In consultation with his elder brother and financer, Hansraj sent a two-line letter to the Pradhan of the Arya Samaj offering his services as the Head Master of the proposed DAV School without charging a single rupee as remuneration. The proposal of Hansraj was accepted with thanks and it helped in refloating the sinking ship of Aryan education plan. The 22 year old Hansraj was hailed as the man of sterling character worth his weight in gold.
Lala Hansraj, as he was known then, remained at the post of Head Master and later Principal for a quarter of a century. He was hailed as a great organizer, an educationist and a self effacing man who lived in a rented house devoid of any furniture worth the name paying a rent of Rupees four per month. The young educational head started the educational venture with a paltry capital of a few thousand rupees but made it a comfortable cushion by the time he chose to leave for active propagation of the Vedic Dharma and humanitarian service to the distraught in famine areas or provinces stricken by earthquakes or communal rights.
QUALITIES OF HEAD AND HEART
Lala Hansraj, a man of meager means living on a stipend of Rupees Forty per month given by his elder brother Lala Mulkraj who drew a pay of Rs Eighty per month as a bank employee, had just six annas left in his pocket of Khadi kurta. But he was not non-plussed. He bought parched gram and his family survived on that for three days. He raised no hue and cry about it and remained as peaceful in his dealings as ever.
Always dressed in Khadi Kurta-pujama, with a loosely tied turban on head, he wore a pair of native shoes made in Hoshiarpur by a village cobbler. He sometimes wore a pair of torn shoes and when bosom friends advised him to get rid of it, he brushed their suggestion aside humourously by saying that it was his satsangi shoes that he wore for the weekly Arya Samaj satsang without fear of losing them to thieves.
PURSUIT OF NON-VIOLENCE
Equanimity of mind was indeed a rare quality of his. He never lost his cool even in adverse circumstances, come what may. Being a strong believer in Ishwar and his dispensation of justice, he had no reason to crib. Once it so happened that the situation on both domestic and socio-legal fronts was so bad that a close relative asked him whether he still believed in the dispensation of justice by the Almighty. His unflinching reply to the query was a definitive YES. Notwithstanding his son facing a trial for sedition against the King-Emperor where the punishment could be death by hanging, his wife, Thakur Devi lying on the deathbed, his younger son suffering from pneumonia and he himself facing failing eyesight and weakness in body because of non-nourishing diet, Lala Hansraj continued to have a firm belief in the existence of Ishwar and His Nyaya or dispensation of justice.
Of course, he felt sad that the Arya Samaj was vertically divided into two and he himself faced strong opposition from his co-religionists, the Arya Samajis but he never used abusive language for them what to say of using physical violence. Unsubstantiated charges were leveled against him by the opponents but Lala Hansraj chose to remain silent rather than go in for rebuttal. He believed that Truth alone will survive and the untruth will die a premature death.
Lala Hansraj believed in furthering the cause of the Shuddhi Movement, that is bringing the convertees back to the original fold of our Dharma. Many books and tracts were written by Muslim Ulemas and Christian missionaries against Swami Dayanand Saraswati and the Vedic Dharm but Lala Hansraj did not repose faith in the path of violence or abusive retaliation. His cool reply was: the abusive tracts will die a natural death but the Light of Truth, the Satyarth Prakash will survive and carry the day. How right Hansraj Ji was!
Nevertheless Lala Hansraj continued with the mission of Shuddhi in the Agra-Mathura belt of the then United Provinces. Once on a similar mission he was advised by the Police Inspector to discontinue his mission of reconversion as it might result in communal violence. Lala Hansraj Ji calmly said that he would follow the path that would not contravene law of the land. He and his team reconverted as many as 147 villages of Muslims back to the Vedic fold. There was no violence at all. The Muslim convertees to the Vedic fold were all volunteers and there is no law to check reconversion to the Vedic Dharma when done voluntarily.
Indeed it broke his heart but not the spirit when some Arya demonstrators advanced menacingly towards him and the staff and students of the DAV College Lahore but he championed the cause of non-violence and did not retaliate by using violent means. To ward off similar unsavoury incidents in future he founded the Arya Pradeshik Pratinidhi Sabha and had its office in a rented room in Anarkali, Lahore where the Arya Samaj Anarkali was destined to function from. The other group of Arya Samaj Vachhowali stands consigned to history but the Arya Samaj Anarkali continues its mission of Ved Prachar from the precincts of the Arya Samaj(Anarkali) Mandir Marg, New Delhi. In other words what Lala Hansraj said had moral force behind it.
No wonder Lala Hansraj became Mahatma Hansraj in the eye of both friend and foe. He continues to be revered many decades after his demise on 15 November 1938.
May the memory of excellent work done by Mahatma Hansraj Ji in the fields of education and Vedic Dharma continue to be cherished by one and all living in all parts of the old and new worlds. It goes without saying that Mahatma Hansraj Ji was an Epitome of Excellence.