The Arya Samaj is a Hindu revivalist movement founded by Rishi Dayanand in 1875. At a time when India was in its darkest hour – the rebellion of 1857 had ended in bitter defeat, and in all of India the British were paramount, the Rishi chose a very Indian way to rouse a rebellion – he chose to use the power of the Hindu Religion to awaken the people. In this, there was nothing unique – earlier the Bhakti Saints (Tulsidas, Samarth Ramdas) and the Sikh Gurus had also done the same and succeeded. In another 50 years, Gandhi would do the same thing.
[The Hindu religion is not strictly a religion – in the sense that there is no one doctrine, but a huge variety of them. And each revivalist has used it to fashion his own thing. This is a freedom allowed and given in Hinduism – by doing so, no one goes out of the fold, and over a longer term, each such movement has ended up strengthening the religion.]
One of the main tenets of the Arya Samaj is that they place foremost emphasis on the Vedas, the oldest scripture of the human race, and which they consider to be divinely revealed. [Although the process of revelation is different from that of Abrahamanical Religions, and there are no prophets involved.] They are adamant that they shall accept any other scripture only to the extent that this other scripture conforms to the Vedas – the same test they apply to all of the rest of the Hindu scripture as well. This often puts them into philosophical conflict with the non-Arya Samaj Hindus.
By why this emphasis – this fundamentalism people say. What do you achieve by it?
For this, we have to go back to the Rishi’s Teachings on the Vedas, and the Dharma.
What is Dharma people ask? Is it the same as religion? Is it morality? Even the Hindu tradition that invented the term, has struggled to define over millenia. Finally, they decided to illustrate it – a definition is still elusive – via the Mahabharata.
But what is Dharma? The Rishi says, “Jo jaisa hai, usko vaisa hi manna Dharma hai, baki Adharma hai.” Meaning, to accept and to first discover the true qualities of each substance in this Universe, and then to treat it as it is – on a factual basis one might say – is what is Dharma – the rest is Adharma.
For instance, Fire is hot. To say Fire is hot is Dharma. To tell a story where fire does not burn – that is Adharma.
One might say, that all you are saying is an emphasis on truthfulness, and nothing else. What is great or new in this?
Remember the Rishi was trying to rouse a rebellion. And he was trying to awaken people from their slumber. Christian Missionaries and Muslims were gleeful, and trying to hope convert millions in this Age of Darkness. The Rishi’s objectives were two-fold – to rouse a political rebellion – over the long term, but in the short term – to rid people of their fears, and to rouse first an intellectual and religious awakening – to create a resistance against these alien cults.
For the latter reason, the Rishi was the first Indian to undertake an in-depth study of Christianity and Islam from the point of view of Hinduism, these forming the thirteenth and fourteenth chapter of his Magnum Opus “Satyarth Prakash” (The Light of Truth). For the same reason, he was also the only Hindu religious leader of the time to engage in public debates with leaders of all other religions and sects – including Christian Pastors, even inside Churches, and Muslims.
By such public displays, he exposed the hollowness and logical inconsistencies of these cults, and by winning each debate, he demonstrated the complete superiority of his own system over all others. To have the courage to do so in a time when the Ruling Powers themselves were predominantly Christian, was an act of supreme courage, and was something that made millions his followers, and members of the Arya Samaj.
But why does the Arya Samaj place such emphasis on the Vedas? Why is it so opposed to alien cults? What is the basis of its opposition? The reason for its victory over opposing cults?
We shall describe all this in posts to follow.