A 2000 stamp dedicated to Arya Samaj
Make the world noble!
|Formation||10 April 1875|
Bombay, Bombay Presidency, British India (present-day Mumbai, Maharashtra, India)
|Purpose||Educational, Religious studies, Spirituality, Social Reforms|
|Headquarters||New Delhi, Delhi, India|
|श्रीमती परोपकारिणी सभा – Shreemati Paropkarini Sabha|
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Arya Samaj (Sanskrit: ārya samāja आर्य समाज "Noble Society", Hindi: आर्य समाज, Bengali: আর্য সমাজ, Punjabi: ਆਰੀਆ ਸਮਾਜ, Gujarati: આર્ય સમાજ, Marathi: आर्य समाज, Nepali: आर्य समाज) is a monotheistic Indian Hindu reform movement that promotes values and practices based on the belief in the infallible authority of the Vedas. The samaj was founded by the sannyasi (ascetic) Dayanand Saraswati on 10 April 1875. Members of the Arya Samaj believe in one God and reject the worship of idols.
Between 1869 and 1873, Dayanand began his efforts to reform orthodox Hinduism in India. He established Gurukul (Vedic schools) which emphasised Vedic values, culture, Satya (virtue) and Sanatana Dharma (the essence of living). The schools gave separate educations to boys and girls based on ancient Vedic principles. The Vedic school system was also to relieve Indians from the pattern of a British education.
The first Vedic school was established at Farrukhabad in 1869. Fifty students were enrolled in its first year. This success led to the founding of schools at Mirzapur (1870), Kasganj (1870), Chhalesar (Aligarh) (1870) and Varanasi (1873).
At the schools, students received all meals, lodging, clothing and books free of charge. Discipline was strict. Students were not allowed to perform murti puja (worship of sculpted stone idols). Rather, they performed Sandhyavandanam (meditative prayer using Vedic mantras with divine sound) and agnihotra (making a heated milk offering twice daily).
The study of Sanskrit scriptural texts which accepted the authority of the Vedas were taught. They included the Vedas, Upanishads, Aranyaka, Kashika, Nirukta, Mahabhasya, Ashtadhyayi, Darshanas. The teaching was not open to girls and to children who were not of the Brahmins class.
After visiting Calcutta, Dayanand's work changed. He began lecturing in Hindi rather than in Sanskrit. Although Sanskrit garnered respect, in Hindi, Dayanand reached a much larger audience. His ideas of reform began to reach the poorest people.
In Varanasi, after hearing Dayanand speak, a local government official called Jaikishen Das encouraged Dayanand to publish a book about his ideas. From June to September 1874, Dayanand dictated a series of lectures to his scribe, Bhimsen Sharma. The lectures recorded Dayanand's views on a wide range of subjects. They were published in 1875 in Varanasi with the title Satyarth Prakash ("the light of truth").
While his manuscript for Satyarth Prakash was being edited in Varanasi, Dayanand received an invitation to travel to Bombay. There, he was to debate representatives of the Vallabhacharya sect. On 20 October 1874, Dayanand arrived in Bombay. The debate, though well publicized, never took place. Nonetheless, two members of the Prarthana Samaj approached Dayanand and invited him to speak at one of their gatherings. He did so and was well received. They recognized Dayanand's desire to uplift the Hindu community and protect Hindus from the pressures to convert to Christianity or Islam. Dayanand spent over one month in Bombay and attracted sixty people to his cause. They proposed founding a new samaj with Dayanand's ideas as its spiritual and intellectual basis.
On 31 December 1874, Dayanand arrived in Rajkot, Gujarat, on the invitation of Hargovind Das Dvarkadas, the secretary of the local Prarthana Samaj. He invited topics of discourse from the audience and spoke on eight. Again, Dayanand was well received and the Rajkot group elected to join his cause. The Samaj was renamed Arya Samaj (Society of Nobles). Dayanand published a list of twenty-eight rules and regulations for the followers. After leaving Rajkot, Dayanand went to Ahmedabad but his audience at a meeting on 27 January 1875, did not elect to form a new Arya Samaj. Meanwhile, the Rajkot group had become in a political row.
On his return to Bombay, Dayanand began a membership drive for a local Arya samaj and received one hundred enrollees. On 7 April 1875, the Bombay Arya Samaj was established. Dayanand himself enrolled as a member rather than the leader of the Bombay group. The Samaj began to grow.
Dayanand died in 1883. The Arya Samaj continued to grow, especially in Punjab. The early leaders of the Samaj were Pandit Lekh Ram (1858 – 1897) and Swami Shraddhanand (Mahatma Munshi Ram Vij) (1856 – 1926). Some authors claim that the activities of the Samaj led to increased antagonism between Muslims and Hindus. Shraddhanand led the Shuddhi movement that aimed to bring Hindus who had converted to other religions back to Hinduism.
In 1893, the Arya Samaj members of Punjab were divided on the question of vegetarianism. The group that refrained from eating meat were called the "Mahatma" group and the other group, the "Cultured Party".
In the early 1900s, the Samaj (or organizations inspired by it such as Jat Pat Todak Mandal) campaigned against caste discrimination. They also campaigned for widow remarriage and women's education. The samaj also established chapters in British colonies with an Indian diaspora such as South Africa, Fiji, Mauritius, Suriname, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.
Prominent Indian Nationalists such as Lala Lajpat Rai belonged to Arya Samaj and were active in its campaigning. The British colonial government in the early part of 20th century viewed the Samaj as a political body. Some Samajis in government service were dismissed for belonging to the Samaj
In Punjab, the Arya Samaj was opposed by the Ahmadiyya movement which provided the Samaj one of its most aggressive opponents from among the various Muslim groups and whose founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was extensively involved in theological disputations with Samaj leaders, most notably with Pandit Lekh Ram. It was also opposed by the Sikh dominated Singh Sabha, the forerunner of the Akali Dal.
The Arya Samaj of Gujarat members were missionaries from Punjab who had been encouraged to move to Gujarat to carry out educational work amongst the untouchable castes by the maharaja, Sayajirao Gaekwad III. The Gujarat Samaj opened orphanages. In 1915, the samaj lost its following to Mahatma Gandhi.
In 1921, during a rebellion by the Muslim Moplah community of Malabar Indian newspapers reported that a number of Hindus were forcibly converted to Islam. The Arya Samaj extended its efforts to the region to reconvert these people back to Hinduism through Shuddhi ceremonies. :p.141–152
The then Shankaracharya of Badrinath math in 1939 in a letter to the archbishop of Canterbury, called Arya Samajis Un-Hindu. He also criticized the samaj efforts at converting Christians and Muslims.
A branch of Arya Samaj was established at Dharur in Beed district of Hyderabad state, the largest princely state during British colonial rule. Keshavrao Koratkar was the president of the organization until 1932. During his tenure, the Samaj, established schools and libraries throughout the state. Although a social and religious organization, the Samaj activities assumed a great political role in resisting the government of the Nizam during 1930s. In 1938-1939, Arya Samaj teamed up with the Hindu Mahasabha to resist the government through Satyagraha. The Nizam government responded by raiding and desecrating Arya samaj mandirs. The Samaj, in turn, criticized Islam and the Islamic rulers of the state. This widely increased the gulf between the Hindu and Muslim population of the state.
Arya Samaj promoted the use of Hindi in Punjab and discouraged the use of Punjabi. This was a serious point of difference between the Sikhs, represented by the Shiromani Akali Dal group and the Arya Samaj. The difference was marked during the period immediately following the independence of India and the time of the Punjabi Suba movement (demand for a Punjabi speaking state).
Arya Samaj was a charitable organisation. For example, donations were made to victims of the 1905 Kangra earthquake. The samaj campaigned for women's right to vote, and for the protection of widows.
Arya Samaj schools and temples are found in almost all major cities and as well as in rural areas (esp in North region) of India. Some are authorised to conduct weddings. The Samaj is associated with the Dayanand Anglo Vedic (DAV) schools which number over two hundred.
Arya Samaj is active in countries including Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Fiji, Australia, South Africa, Kenya, Mauritius and other countries where a significant Hindu diaspora is present.
Immigrants to Canada and the United States from South Asia, Eastern Africa, South Africa, and the Caribbean countries of set up Arya Samaj temples for their respective communities. Most major metropolitan areas of United States have chapters of Arya Samaj.
Members of the Arya Samaj believe in one almighty creator referred to with the syllable Aum as mentioned in the Yajur Veda (40:17). They believe the Vedas is an infallible authority. The Arya Samaj members reject other Hindu religious texts because they are not "revealed" works. For instance, they believe books like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are legends of historical figures, and rejects them as reference to supreme beings and avatars. The members of Arya Samaj reject other scriptural works such as the Puranas, The Upanishads, the Bible, and the Quran. They reject the worship of idols. The Arya Samaj promotes the equality of all human beings and the empowerment of women.
The core beliefs of Arya Samaj are postulated below:
The Arya Samaj members consider the Gayatri Mantra, as the most holy mantra and chant it periodically, do the meditation known as "Sandhya" and make offering to the holy fire (havan). The havan can be performed with a priest for special occasions or without a priest for personal worship. The havan is performed as per the havan pustika, usually a simplified guide to do havan, having mantras for general or special occasions. The priest is generally a Vedic scholar from the local Arya Samaj Mandir or Gurukul. Sometimes elder members of family or neighbours can also perform the havan acting as a purohit. The host is known as the "Yajmana". The priest can be called an "Acharya", "Swami ji" or "Pandit Ji" depending upon his scholarly status and local reputation. It is customary to give a nominal "dakshina" to the priest after havan, although in Arya Samaj it is more symbolic and the priest does not state any sum. The sum is decided by the host's capability and status but is still a small amount.
Arya Samaj advocates a lacto-vegetarian diet and in particular, the eating of beef is strictly prohibited.
After a death, Arya Samaj will often conduct a haven and collect the ashes on the fourth day.
The Arya Samaj celebration of Diwali is typified by the celebration in Suriname. The festival celebrates the victory of good over evil. A vegetarian fast is kept. The Gayatri mantra is spoken while oil lamps are lit. One Diya lamp, which is of larger size has two wicks crossed to produce four lights, one in each direction and is lit first. The smaller lamp has one wick. The recitation of the Gayatri mantra occurs in front of a fire altar lit with sandalwood. A lamp is kept in every room except the bathroom and restroom. More lamps can be lit, which can be placed arbitrarily in the yard, living room and so on.
Holi is celebrated as the conclusion of winter and the start of spring to sow the land and hope for a good harvest. This day is marked by colors and song (Chautal). It does not require specific prayer or fasting, however, some people keep a vegetarian fast on this day. The Arya Samaj does not associate Holi with a particular deity such as Vishnu or Shiva and in comparison to some interpretations of the festival, the Arya Samaj version in more sober and is as per the 4 Vedas.
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