Arya Samaj

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From The Tribes And Castes Of The Central Provinces Of India

By R. V. Russell

Of The Indian Civil Service

Superintendent Of Ethnography, Central Provinces

Assisted By Rai Bahadur Hira Lal, Extra Assistant Commissioner

Macmillan And Co., Limited, London, 1916.

NOTE 1: The 'Central Provinces' have since been renamed Madhya Pradesh.

NOTE 2: While reading please keep in mind that all articles in this series have been scanned from the original book. Therefore, footnotes have got inserted into the main text of the article, interrupting the flow. Readers who spot these footnotes gone astray might like to shift them to their correct place.

Arya Samaj

YBibliography : Sir E. D. Maclagan's Punjab Cetisus Repori of iSgi ; Mr- R. Burn's United Provinces Censtis Report of igoi ; Professor J. C. Oman's Cults, Customs and Superstitions of India.'\ LIST OF PARAGRAPHS 1. The f01177der of the sect. Daya- 3. Tefiets of the Smndj. nand Sdraswati. 4. Modernising tendencies. 2. His methods and the scientific 5. Aims and educational i?istitu- ititerpretatio7i of the Vedas. tions. 6. Prospects of the sect.

Arya Samaj Religion

This important reforming sect of 1. The Hinduism numbered nearly 2 50,000 persons in India in 1 9 1 1, [^g"g^[ °^ as against 92,000 in 1901. Its adherents belong principally Dayanand to the Punjab and the United Provinces. In the Central saraswati. Provinces 974 members were returned. The sect was founded by Pandit Dayanand Saraswati, a Gujarati Brahman, born in 1824. According to his own narrative he had been carefully instructed in the Vedas, which means that he had been made to commit a great portion of them to memory, and had been initiated at an early age into the Saiva sect to which his family belonged ; but while still a mere boy his mind had revolted against the practices of idolatry.

He could not bring himself to acknowledge that the image of Siva seated on his bull, the helpless idol, which, as he himself observed in the watches of the night, allowed the mice to run over it with impunity, ought to be worshipped as the omnipotent deity.^ He also conceived an intense aversion to marriage, and fled from home in order to avoid the match which had been arranged for him. He was attracted by the practice of Yoga, or ascetic philosophy, and ' Cults, Custo/ns, p. I ^o. ARTICLES ON RELIGIONS AND SECTS 2. His methods and the scientific interpreta- tion of the \'edas.


studied it with great ardour, claiming to have been initiated into the highest secrets of Yoga Vidya. He tells in one of his books of his many and extensive travels, his profound researches in Sanskritic lore, his constant meditations and his ceaseless inquirings. He tells how, by dissecting in his own rough way a corpse which he found floating on a river, he finally discerned the egregious errors of the Hindu medical treatises, and, tearing up his books in disgust, flung them into the river with the mutilated corpse. By degrees he found reason to reject the authority of all the sacred books of the Hindus subsequent to the Vedas.

Once convinced of this, he braced himself to a wonderful course of missionary effort, in which he formulated his new system and attacked the existing orthodox Hinduism/ He maintained that the Vedas gave no countenance to idolatry, but inculcated monotheism, and that their contents could be reconciled with all the results of modern science, which indeed he held to be indicated in them. The Arya Samaj was founded in Lahore in 1877, and during the remainder of his life Dayanand travelled over northern India continually preach- ing and disputing with the advocates of other religions, and founding branches of his sect. In 1883 he died at Ajmer, according to the story of his followers, from the effects of poison administered to him at the instigation of a prostitute against whose profession he had been lecturing." Dayanand's attempt to found a sect which, while not going entirely outside Hinduism, should prove acceptable to


educated Hindus desiring a purer faith, appears to have been distinctly successful. The leaders of the Brahmo Samaj were men of higher intelligence and ability than he, and after scrupulously fair and impartial inquiry were led to deny the infallibility of the Vedas, while they also declined to recognise caste. But by so doing they rendered it im- possible for a man to become a Brahmo and remain a Hindu, and their movement has made little hcadwa)-. By retaining the tenet of the divine authority of the Vedas, Dayanand made it possible for educated Hindus to join his sect without absolutely cutting themselves adrift from their old faith. ^ Maclagan, Punjab Census Report,

^ Burn, United Provinces Censtts

But Dayanand's contention that the Vedas should be figuratively interpreted, and are so found to foreshadow the discoveries of modern science, will naturally not bear examination. The following instances of the method arc given by Professor Oman :

" At one of the anniversary meetings of the society a member gravely stated that the Vedas mentioned /«;r fire, and as pure fire was nothing but electricity, it was evident that the Indians of the Vedic period were acquainted with electricity. A leading member of the sect, who had studied science in the Government college, discovered in two Vedic texts, made up of on/y eighteen words in all, that oxygen and hydrogen with their char- acteristic properties were known to the writers of the Rig Veda, who were also acquainted with the composition of water, the constitution of the atmosphere, and had anticipated the modern kinetic theory of gases." ^ Mr. Burn gives the following parallel versions of a verse of the Rig Veda by Professor Max Muller and the late Pandit Guru Datt, M.A., of the Arya Samaj : Professor Max Miiller.—

" May Mitra, Varuna, Aryaman, Ayu, Indra, the Lord of the Ribhus, and the Maruts not rebuke us because we shall proclaim at the sacrifice the virtues of the swift horse sprung from the Gods." Pandit Guru Datt.—" We shall describe the power- generating virtues of the energetic horses endowed with brilliant properties (or the virtues of the vigorous force of heat) which learned or scientific men can evoke to work for purposes of appliances. Let not philanthropists, noble men, judges, learned men, rulers, wise men and practical mechanics ever disregard these properties.

" In fact, the learned Pandit has interpreted horse as horse-power. Nevertheless the Arya Samaj does furnish a haven for 3. Tenets educated Hindus who can no longer credit Hindu mythology, gamaj. but do not wish entirely to break away from their religion ; a step which, involving also the abandonment of caste, would in their case mean the cessation to a considerable extent of social and family intercourse. The present tenets and position of the Arya Samaj as given to Professor Oman by Lala Lajpat Rai " indicate that, while tending towards the 1 Cults, Customs, p. 144. 2 Ibidem, pp. 176, 177.


complete removal of the over-swollen body of Hindu ritual and the obstacles to social progress involved in the narrow restrictions of the caste system, the sect at present permits a compromise and does not require of its proselytes a full abjuration. In theory members of any religion may be admitted to the Samaj, and a few Muhammadans have been initiated, but unless they renounce Islam do not usually participate in social intercourse. Sikhs are freely admitted, and converts from any religion who accept the purified Hinduism of the Samaj are welcome. Such converts go through a simple ceremony of purification, for which a Brahman is usually engaged, though not required by rule.


Those who, as Hindus, wore the sacred thread are again invested with it, and it has also been conferred on converts, but this has excited opposition. A few marriages between members of different subcastes have been carried out, and in the case of orphan girls adopted into the Samaj caste, rules have been set aside and they have been married to members of other castes. Lavish expenditure on weddings is discouraged. Vishnu and Siva are accepted as alternative names of the one God ; but their reputed consorts Kali, Durga, Devi, and so on, are not regarded as deities. Brah- mans are usually employed for ceremonies, but these may also, especially birth and funeral ceremonies, be performed by non-Brahmans. In the Punjab members of the Samaj of different castes will take food together, but rarely in the United Provinces. Dissension has arisen on the question of the consumption of flesh, and the Samaj is split into two parties, vegetarians and meat-eaters.

In the United Pro- vinces, Mr. Burn states, the vegetarian party would not object to employ men of low caste as cooks, excepting such im[)ure castes as Chamars, Doms and sweepers, so long as they were also vegetarians. The Aryas still hold the doctrine of the transmigration of souls and venerate the cow, but they do not regard the cow as divine. In this respect their position has been somewhat modified from that of Dayanand, who was a vigorous supporter of the Gaoraksha or cow-protection movement. 4. Modern- Again Dayanand enunciated a very peculiar doctrine on 'Sing Niyoga or the custom of childless women, either married or tendencies. -' ^ '

widows, resorting to men other than their husbands for obtaining an heir. This is permitted under certain circum- stances by the Hindu lawbooks.

Dayanand laid down that a Hindu widow might resort in succession to five men until she had borne each of them two children, and a married woman might do the same with the consent of her husband, or without his consent if he had been absent from home for a certain number of years, varying according to the purpose for which he was absent.^ Dayanand held that this rule would have beneficial results. Those who could restrain their impulses would still be considered as following the best way ; but for the majority who could not do so, the authorised method and degree of intimacy laid down by him would prevent such evils as prostitution, connubial unfaithful- ness, and the secret liaisons of widows, resulting in practices like abortion.

The prevalence of such a custom would, however, certainly do more to injure social and family life than all the evils which it was designed to prevent, and it is not surprising to find that the Samaj does not now consider Niyoga an essential doctrine ; instead of this they are trying in face of much opposition to introduce the natural and proper custom of the remarriage of widows. The principal rite of the Samaj is the old Hom sacrifice of burning clarified butter, grain, and various fragrant gums and spices on the sacred fire, with the repetition of Sanskrit texts. They now explain this by saying that it is a sanitary measure, designed to purify the air. The Samaj does not believe in any literal heaven and hell, but considers these as figurative expressions of the state of the soul, whether in this life or the life to come.

The Aryas therefore do not perform the sJiradJiJi ceremony nor offer oblations to the dead, and in abolishing these they reduce enormously the power and influence of the priesthood. The above account indicates that the Arya Samaj is 5. Aims tending to become a vaguely theistic sect. Its religious ^"^ fc> fc> y » educa- observances will probably fall more and more into the back- tionai in- ground, and its members will aspire to observe in their ^" " '°"^" conduct the code of social morality obtaining in Europe, and to regulate their habit of life by similar considerations ^ Cults, Customs, pp. 148, 149.


of comfort and convenience. Already the principal aims of the Samaj tend mainly to the social improvement of its members and their fellow-Indians. It sets its face against child-marriage, and encourages the remarriage of widows. It busies itself with female education, with orphanages and schools, dispensaries and public libraries, and philanthropic institutions of all soi'ts.^ Its avowed aim is to unite and regenerate the peoples of Aryavarrta or India. As one of its own poets has said : ^ Ah! long have ye slept, Sons of India, too long ! Your country degenerate, your morals all wrong.


Its principal educational institutions are the Dayanand Anglo-Vedic College at Lahore and the Anglo-Vedic School at Meerut, a large orphanage at Bareilly, smaller ones at Allahabad and Cawnpore, and a number of primary schools. It employs a body of travelling teachers or Upadeshaks to make converts, and in the famine of 1900 took charge of as many famine orphans as the Local Governments would entrust to it, in order to prevent them from being handed over to Christian missionaries. All members of the Samaj are expected to contribute one per cent of their incomes to the society, and a large number of them do this.

The Arya Samaj has been accused of cherishing political aims and of anti-British propaganda, but the writers quoted in this article unite in acquitting it of such a charge as an institution, though some of its members have been more or less identified with the Extremist party. From the beginning, however, and apparently up to the present time, its religious teaching has been directed to social and not to political reform, and so long as it adheres to this course its work must be considered to be useful and praiseworthy. Nevertheless some danger may perhaps exist lest the boys educated in its institutions may with youthful intemperance read into the instruction of their teachers more than it is meant to convey, and divert exhortations for social improvement and progress to political ends. 5. Pros- The census of 1 9 1 i showed the Arya Samaj to be in pects of flourishing and progressive condition. There seems good the sect. b r- & a 1 Maclagan, I.e. ^ Ibidem.


reason to suppose that its success may continue, as it meets a distinct religious and social requirement of educated Hindus. Narsinghpur is the principal centre of the sect in the Central Provinces, and here an orphanage is maintained with about thirty inmates ; the local members have an ata fund, to which they daily contribute a handful of flour, and this accumulates and is periodically made over to the orphanage. There is also a Vedic school at Narsinghpur, and a Sanskrit school has been started at Drug.^ 1 J. T. Marten, Census Report (191 1).

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