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The Indian newspapers contain the announcement of the death of Dayānanda Sarasvatī. Most English readers, even some old Indians, will ask, Who was Dayānanda Sarasvatī? - a question that betrays as great a want of familiarity with the social and religious life of India as if among us any one were to ask, Who was Dr. Pusey [Edward Bouverie Pusey, 1800-1882]? Dayānanda Sarasvatī was the founder and leader of the Ārya-Samāj, one of the most influential of the modern sects in India. He was a curious mixture, in some respects not unlike Dr. Pusey. He was a scholar, to begin with, deeply read in the theological literature of his country. Up to a certain point he was a reformer, and was in consequence exposed to much obloquy and persecution during his life, so much so that it is hinted in the papers that his death was due to poison administered by his enemies. He was opposed to many of the abuses that bad crept in, as he well knew, during the later periods of the religious growth of India, and of which, as is known now, no trace can be found in the ancient sacred books of the Brāhmans, the Vedas. He was opposed to idol worship, he repudiated caste, and advocated female education and widow marriage, at least under certain conditions. In his public disputations with the most learned Pandits at Benares and elsewhere, he was generally supposed to have been victorious, though often the aid of the police had to be called in to protect him from the blows of his conquered foes. He took his stand on the Vedas. Whatever was not to be found in the Vedas he declared to be false or useless; whatever was found in the Vedas was to him beyond the reach of controversy. Like all the ancient theologians of India, he looked upon the Vedas as divine revelation. That idea seems to have taken such complete possession of his mind that no argument could ever touch it.
It is here where Dayānanda Sarasvatī’s movement took a totally different direction from that of Rāmmohun Roy [Bengali: রাম মোহন রায়, 1772 - 1833]. Rammohun Roy also and his followers held for a time to the revealed character of the Vedas, and in all their early controversies with Christian missionaries they maintained that there was no argument in favor of the divine inspiration of the Bible which did not apply with the same or even greater force to the Vedas. As the Vedas at that time were almost inaccessible, it was difficult for the missionaries to attack such a position. But when at a later time it became known that the text of the Vedas, and even their ancient commentaries, were being studied in Europe, and were at last actually printed in England, the friends of Rammohun Roy, honest and fearless as they have always proved themselves to be, sent some young scholars to Benares to study the Vedas and to report on their contents. As soon as their report was received, Debendranāth Tagore [Bengali: দেবেন্দ্রনাথ ঠাকুর, 1817 - 1905], the head of the Brāhma-Samāj [Bengali: ব্রাহ্ম সমাজ], saw at once that, venerable as the Vedas might be as relics of a former age, they contained so much that was childish, erroneous, and impossible as to make their descent from a divine source utterly untenable. Even he could hardly be expected to perceive the real interest of the Vedas, and their perfectly unique character in the literature of the world, as throwing light on a period in the growth of religion of which we find no traces anywhere else.
But Dayānanda, owing chiefly to his ignorance of English, and, in consequence, his lack of acquaintance with other sacred books, and his total ignorance of the results obtained by a comparative study of religions, saw no alternative between either complete surrender of all religion or an unwavering belief in every word and letter of the Vedas. To those who know the Vedas such a position would seem hardly compatible with honesty; but, to judge from Dayānanda’s writings, we cannot say that he was consciously dishonest. The fundamental idea of his religion was revelation. That revelation had come to him in the Vedas. He knew the Vedas by heart; his whole mind was saturated with them. He published bulky commentaries on two of them, the Ŗig-Veda and Yajur-Veda. One might almost say that he was possessed by the Vedas. He considered the Vedas not only as divinely inspired, or rather expired, but as prehistoric or prehuman. Indian casuists do not understand how Christian divines can be satisfied with maintaining the divine origin of their revelation, because they hold that, though a revelation may be divine in its origin, it is liable to every kind of accident if the recipient is merely human. To obviate this difficulty, they admit a number of intermediate beings, neither quite divine nor quite human, through whom the truth, as breathed forth from God, which was safely handed down to human beings. If any historical or geographical names occur in the Vedas, they are all explained away, because, if taken in their natural sense, they would impart to the Vedas an historical or temporal taint. In fact, the very character which we in Europe most appreciate in the Vedas - namely, the historical - would be scouted by the orthodox theologians of India, most of all by Dayānanda Sarasvatī. In his commentary on the Ŗig-Veda, written in Sanskrit, he has often been very bard on me and my own interpretation of Vedic hymns, though I am told that he never traveled without my edition of the Rig-Veda. He could not understand why I should care for the Veda at all, if I did not consider it as divinely revealed. While I valued most whatever indicated human sentiment in the Vedic hymns, whatever gave evidence of historical growth, or reflected geographical surroundings, he was bent on hearing in it nothing but the voice of Brahman. To him not only was everything contained in the Vedas perfect truth, but he went a step further, and by the most incredible interpretations succeeded in persuading himself and others that everything worth knowing, even the most recent inventions of modern science, were alluded to in the Vedas. Steam engines, railways, and steam boats, all were shown to have been known, at least in their germs, to the poets of the Vedas, for Veda, he argued, means Divine Knowledge, and how could anything have been hid from that? Such views may seem strange to us, though, after all, it is not so very long ago that an historical and critical interpretation of the Bible would have roused the same opposition in England as my own free and independent interpretation of the Rig-Veda has roused in the breast of Dayānanda Sarasvatī.
There is a curious autobiographical sketch of his life, which was published some time ago in an Indian journal. Some doubts, however, have been thrown on the correctness of the English rendering of that paper, and we may hope that Dayānanda's pupil, Pandit Shyāmaji Kṛishnavarmā [Gujarati: શ્યામજી કૃષ્ણ વર્મા, 1857-1930], now a BA of Balliol College, will soon give us a more perfect account of that remarkable man.
In the mean time an abstract of what Dayānanda has told us himself of his life may be interesting, as introducing us into an intellectual and religious atmosphere of which even those who live in India and are in frequent contact with the Hindus know very little.
“I was born in a family of Udīchya (Northern) Brāhmans, in a town belonging to the Rājah of Morvi [Gujarati: મોરબી], in the province of Kāthiāwār [Gujarati: કાઠીયાવાડ]. If I refrain from naming my parents, it is because my duty forbids me. If my relations knew of me, they would call me back, and then, once more face to face with them, I should have to remain with them, attend to their wants, and touch money. Thus the holy work of the reform to which I have dedicated my life would be jeopardized.
“I was hardly five years of age when I began to study the Devanāgarī [Sanskrit: देवनागरी] alphabet. According to the custom of my family and caste, I was made to learn by Rote a large number of mantras or hymns with commentaries. I was but eight when I was invested with the sacred Brāhmanic thread, and taught the Gāyatrī [Sanskrit: गायत्री] hymn, the Sandhyā [Sanskrit: सन्ध्या] (morning and evening) ceremony, and the Yajur-veda-samhitā [Sanskrit: यजुर्वेदसंहिता ], beginning with the Rudrādhyāya [Sanskrit: रुद्राध्याय]. As my father belonged to the Śiva-sect, I was early taught to worship the uncouth piece of clay representing Śiva, known as the Pārthiva Linga [Sanskrit: पार्थिवलिंग]. My mother, fearing for my health, opposed my observing the daily fasts enjoined on the worshipers of Śiva, and as my father sternly insisted on them, frequent quarrels arose between my parents. Meanwhile I studied Sanskrit grammar, learned the Vedas by heart, and accompanied my father in his visits to the shrines and temples of Śiva. My father looked upon the worship of Śiva as the most divine of all religions. Before I was fourteen I had learned by heart the whole of the Yajur-veda-samhitā [Sanskrit: यजुर्वेदसंहिता], parts of the other Vedas, and of the Śabdarūpāvali [Sanskrit: शब्दरूपावलि] (an elementary Sanskrit grammar), so that my education was considered as finished.
“My father being a banker and Jamādār (Town revenue collector and magistrate) we lived comfortably. My difficulties began when my father insisted on initiating me in the worship of the Pārthiva Linga [Sanskrit: पार्थिवलिंग]. As a preparation for this solemn act I was made to fast, and I had then to follow my father for a night’s vigil in the temple of Śiva. The vigil is divided into four parts of praharas [Sanskrit: प्रहर], consisting of three hours each. When I had watched six hours I observed about midnight that the Pūjāris, the temple-servants, and some of the devotees, after having left the inner temple, had fallen asleep. Knowing that this would destroy all the good effects of the service, I kept awake myself, when I observed that even my father had fallen asleep. While I was thus left alone I began to meditate. Is it possible, I asked myself, that this idol I see bestriding his bull before me, and who, according to all accounts, walks about, eats, sleeps, drinks, holds a trident in his hand, beats the drum, and can pronounce curses on men, can be the great Deity, the Mahādeva [Sanskrit: महादेव], the Supreme Being? Unable to resist such thoughts any longer I roused my father, asking him to tell me whether this hideous idol was the great god of the scriptures. ‘Why do you ask? ’Said my father. 'Because,' I answered, 'I feel it impossible to reconcile the idea of an omnipotent living God with this idol, which allows the mice to run over his body and thus suffers himself to be polluted without the slightest protest.' Then my father tried to explain to me that this stone image of the Mahādeva [Sanskrit: महादेव], having been consecrated by the holy Brāhmans, became, in consequence, the god himself, adding that as Śiva cannot be perceived personally in this Kali-yuga [Sanskrit : कलियुग], we have the idol in which the Mahādeva [Sanskrit: महादेव] is imagined by his votaries. I was not satisfied in my mind, but feeling faint with hunger and fatigue, I begged to be allowed to go home. Though warned by my father not to break my fast, I could not help eating the food which my mother gave me, and then fell asleep.
“When my father returned he tried to impress me with the enormity of the sin I had committed in breaking my fast. But my faith in the idol was gone, and all I could do was to try to conceal my lack of faith, and devote all my time to study. I studied at that time the Nighantu [Sanskrit: निघन्तु] and Nirukta [Sanskrit: निरुक्त] (Vedic glossaries), the Pūrvamīmāṁsā [Sanskrit: पूर्वमीमांसा] (Vedic philosophy), and Karmakaṇḍa [Sanskrit: कर्मकण्ड] or the Vedic ritual.
“There were besides me in our family two younger sisters and two brothers, the youngest of them being born when I was sixteen. On one memorable night one of my sisters, a girl of fourteen, died quite suddenly. It was my first bereavement, and the shock to my heart was very great. While friends and relations were sobbing and lamenting around me, I stood like one petrified, and plunged hi a profound dream. ‘Not one of the beings that ever lived in this world could escape the cold hand of death,’ I thought; ‘I too may be snatched away at any time, and die. Whither then shall I turn to alleviate this human misery? Where shall I find the assurance of, and means of attaining Moksha [Sanskrit: मोक्ष], the final bliss? ’It was then and there that I came to the determination that I would find it, cost whatever it might, and thus save myself from the untold miseries of the dying moments of an unbeliever. I now broke for ever with the mummeries of fasting and penance, but I kept my innermost thoughts a secret from everybody. Soon after, an uncle, a very learned man, who had shown me great kindness, died also, his death leaving me with a still profounder conviction that there was nothing stable, nothing worth living for in this world.
“At this time my parents wished to betroth me. The idea of married life had always been repulsive to me, and with great difficulty I persuaded my father to postpone my betrothal till the end of the year. Though I wished to go to Benares [Hindi: वाराणसी] to carry on my study of Sanskrit, I was not allowed to do so, but was sent to an old priest, a learned Pandit, who resided about six miles from our town. There I remained for some time, till I was summoned home to find everything ready for my marriage. I was then twenty-one, and as I saw no other escape, I resolved to place an eternal bar between myself and marriage.
“Soon after I secretly left my home, and succeeded in escaping from a party of horsemen whom my father had sent after me. While traveling on foot, I was robbed by a party of begging Brāhmans of all I possessed, being told by them that the more I gave away in charities, the more my self-denial would benefit me in the next life. After some time I arrived at the town of Sayla [Gujarati: સાયલા], where I knew of a learned scholar named Lālā Bhagat, and with another Brahmacārin [Sanskrit: ब्रह्मचारिन्], I determined to join his order.
“On my initiation I received the name of Śuddha Caitanya [Sanskrit: शुद्धचैतन्य] (pure thought), and had to wear a reddish-yellow garment. In this new attire I went to the small principality of Kouthagangad [Kotha Gangad], near Ahmadabad [Gujarati: અમદાવાદ], where to my misfortune I met with a Bairāgi (Vairāgin, hermit), well acquainted with my family. Having found out that I was on my way to a Mella (religious fair) held at Sidhpur, he informed my father; and while I was staying in the temple of Mahādeva at Nīlakaṇṭha with Darādi Svāmi and other students, I was suddenly confronted by my father. In spite of all my entreaties he handed me over as a prisoner to some Sepoys whom he had brought with him on purpose. However, I succeeded in escaping once more, and making my way back to Ahmadabad [Gujarati: અમદાવાદ], I proceeded to Baroda [Gujarati: વડોદરા]. There I settled for some time, and at Chetan Math (a temple) held several discourses with Brahmānanda and a number of Brahmacārins and Sannyāsins, on the Vedanta philosophy.From Brahmānanda I learned clearly that I am Brahman [Sanskrit: ब्रह्मन्], the jīva [Sanskrit: जीव] (soul) and Brahman being one.
“I then repaired to Benares and made the acquaintance of some of the best scholars there, particularly that of Saccidānanda Paramahaṁsa. On his advice I afterwards proceeded to Chānoda Kanyāli on the banks of the Narbada (Narmadā [Hindi: नर्मदा]), and met there for the first time with real Dīkshitas [Sanskrit: दीक्षित], initiated in the Yoga-philosophy. I was placed under the tuition of Paramānanda Paramahaṁsa, studying such books as the Vedānta-sāra [Sanskrit: वेदान्तस्सार], Vedānta-paribhāshā [Sanskrit: वेदान्तपरिभाषा],1 etc. I then felt anxious to be initiated in the order of the Dīkshitas [Sanskrit: दीक्षित] and to become a Sannyāsin [Sanskrit: संन्यासिन्], and though I was very young, I was consecrated with some difficulty, and received the staff of the sannyasin. My name was then changed into Dayānanda Sarasvatī [Sanskrit: दयानन्द सरस्वती].
1 These are not Yoga books, but very elementary treatises on Vedānta philosophy.
“After some time. I left Chānoda and proceeded to Vyāsāśrama to study Yoga, ascetic philosophy, under Yogānanda. I then spent some more time in practicing Yoga, but in order to acquire the highest perfection in Yoga I had to return to the neighborhood of Ahmadabad, where two Yogins imparted to me the final secrets of Yoga-vidyā. I then traveled to the mountain of Abu [Hindi: माउंट आबू] in Rājputān, to acquire some new modes of Yoga, and in 1855 joined a great meeting at Hardwār [Hindi: हरिद्वार],2 where many sages and philosophers meet for the study and practice of Yoga.3
2 Every twelfth year, when the planet Jupiter is in Aquarius, a great feast takes place at Hardwār, called Kumbha-melā. About 300,000 people are said to attend the festival. See Hunter, Imperial Gazetter, p. Hardwār.
3 This practice of Yoga is described in the Yoga-sūtras. Much of it consists in abstemiousness and regulation and suspension of breath. From this arises tranquility of mind, supernatural knowledge, and different states of ecstasy called Samādhi.
“At Tidee, where I spent some time, I was horrified at meeting with meat-eating Brāhmans, still more at reading some of their sacred books, the Tantras, which sanction every kind of immorality.
“I then proceeded to Śrīnagar [Kashmiri: سِری نَگَر], and taking up my abode at a temple on Kedār Ghāt, I made the acquaintance of an excellent Sādhu, called Gangāgiri, with whom I studied and discussed philosophical books. After two months I, in company with other ascetics, traveled further to Rudra Prayāga [Hindi: रुद्रप्रयाग], till we reached the shrine of Agastya Muni. Still further north is Śivapura, where I spent four months of the cold season, returning afterwards alone to Kedār Ghāt, and to Gupta Kāśī [Hindi: गुप्तकाशी] (hidden Benares). "2
2 A sacred spot where the old town of Kāśī is supposed to be buried.
After this follows a description of various journeys to the north, where in the recesses of the Himālaya mountains Dayānanda hoped to find the sages who are called Mahātmas, and are supposed to be in possession of the highest wisdom. These journeys are described very graphically, but their details have been called in question, and may therefore be passed over. That there are hermits living in the Himālaya forests, that some of them are extremely learned, and that others are able to perform extraordinary acts of austerity, is well known. But equally well known are the books which they study, and the acts of Yoga which they perform, and there is really no kind of mystery about them. They themselves would be the last to claim any mysterious knowledge beyond what the Śāstras supply. Nor are such Mahātmas to be found in the Himālayan recesses only. India is full of men who seek retirement, dwell in a small cell or cave, sleep on the skin of a tiger or stag, abstain from flesh, fish, and wine, never touch salt, and live entirely on fruits and roots.
It is a pity that the rest of Dayānanda’s autobiography has never been published. It breaks off with his various travels, and is full of accounts of his intense sufferings and strange adventures. He seems in the end to have lived on rice and milk, finally on milk only, but he indulged for a time in the use of bhang, hemp, which put him into a state of reverie from which he found it difficult to rouse himself. Here and there we catch a curious glimpse of the religious feelings of the people.
“One day,” he writes, “when recovering from such a day-dream, I took shelter on the veranda opposite the chief entrance to the temple, where stood the huge statue of the Bull-god, Nandī. Placing my clothes and books on its back I sat and meditated, when suddenly, happening to throw a look inside the statue, which was empty, I saw a man concealed inside. I extended my hand towards him, and must have terrified him, as, jumping out of his hiding-place, he took to his heels in the direction of the village. Then I crept into the statue in my turn and slept there for the rest of the night. In the morning an old woman came and worshiped the Bull-god with myself inside. Later on she returned with offerings of Gur (molasses) and a pot of Dahi (curd milk), which, making obeisance to me, whom she evidently mistook for the god himself, she offered and desired me to accept and eat. I did not disabuse her, but, being hungry, ate it all. The curd being very sour proved a good antidote for the bhang, and dispelled all signs of intoxication, which relieved me very much. I then continued my journey towards the hills and that place where the Narmadā takes its rise. "
We should like very much to have a trustworthy account of Dayānanda’s studies from 1856, when we leave him in his autobiography, to 1880, when we find him again at Mirut [Hindi: मेरठ] (“Theosophist,” December, 1880). In 1881 we read of his public disputations in every part of India (“Theosophist,” March, 1881). At a large convocation in Calcutta [Bengali> কলকাতা], about 300 Pandits from Gauḍa [Bengali: গৌড়], Navadīpa [Bengali: নবদ্বীপ], and Kāśī [Hindi: काशी] discussed the orthodoxy of his opinions. Dayānanda Sarasvatī had somewhat modified his opinions as to the divine character of the Veda. He now held that, of the whole Vedic literature, the Mantras or hymns only should be considered as divinely inspired. The Brāhmaṇas seemed to him to contain too many things which were clearly of human origin, and in order to be consistent he admitted of the Upanishads also those only as of superhuman origin which formed part of the Saṁhitās.
Such opinions, and others of a similar character, were considered dangerous, and at the meeting in question the following resolutions were carried against him: -
- That the Brāhmaṇas are as valid and authoritative as the Mantras, and that the other Smṛtis or law-books are as valid and authoritative as Manu.
- That the worship of Viṣṇu, Śiva, Durgā, and other Hindu deities, the performance of the Śrāddha ceremonies after death, and bathing in the Ganges, are sanctioned by the Śāstras.
- That in the first hymn of the Rig-Veda, addressed to Agni, the primary meaning of Agni is fire, and its secondary meaning is God.
- That sacrifices are performed to secure salvation.
But although the decisions were adverse to Dayānanda, the writer of the report adds:
“The mass of young Hindus are not Sanskrit scholars, and it is no wonder that they should be won over by hundreds to Dayānanda's views, enforced as they are by an oratorical power of the highest order and a determined will-force that breaks down all opposition."
In his later years he was not only a teacher and lecturer, but devoted his time to the publication of Sanskrit texts also. He published the hymns of the Rig-Veda and Yajur-Veda, with a commentary of his own, the strange character of which has been touched upon before. He also published controversial papers, all showing the same curious mixture of orthodoxy and free-thought. He believed to the end in the inspiration of the Veda, though not of the whole of the Veda, but of certain portions only. These portions he thought he was competent to select himself, but by what authority he could not tell.
He died at the age of fifty-nine, at Ajmere [Hindi: अजमेर], at 6 P.M. on Tuesday, the 30th of October last. There was a large funeral procession, the followers of Dayānanda chanting hymns from the Vedas. The body was burned on a large pile. Two maunds of sandal-wood, eight maunds of common fuel, four maunds of ghee (clarified butter), and two and a half seers of camphor were used for the cremation.
Whether Dayānanda’s sect will last is difficult to say. The life-blood of what there is of national religion in India still flows from the Veda. As in ancient times every new sect, every new system of philosophy was tested by the simple question, Do you believe in the superhuman (apaurusheya) origin of the Veda? So all the modern religious and philosophical movements, if they profess to be orthodox, are weighed in the same balance. The Brāhma-Samāj, after its surrender of the Veda, became ipso facto heterodox. The Ārya-samāj. though looked upon with suspicion, remains orthodox, at least so long as it upholds with Dayānanda Sarasvatī the divine character of the Veda.
Those who are ignorant of what is going on beneath the mere surface, have often declared that the Vedas have ceased to be the Sacred Books of India, that they have been supplanted by Purāṇas and Tantras, and that they are hardly understood now by any native scholar. The last assertion may be true in a certain sense, but for all the rest, those who know anything of the real issues of religion in India know, or ought to know, that they depend to-day, as three thousand years ago, on the Veda.
The leader of the orthodox Ārya-Samāj, Dayānanda Sarasvatī, the determined champion of the literal inspiration of the Veda, is hardly dead before his followers flock together from all parts of India to carry on their Vedic Propaganda. A meeting was held on November 8 with a view of establishing an Anglo-Vedic College. Between seven and eight thousand rupees, or, according to another statement, 38,282 rupees, were subscribed by those present. An admirer of Dayānanda, living at Amritsir [Panjabi ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤਸਰ], promised ten thousand rupees, and the Ferozepore [Panjabi: ਫ਼ਿਰੋਜ਼ਪੁਰ] Ārya-Samāj collected two thousand rupees. This Vedic College has for its object the revival of the knowledge of the ancient scriptures of the Hindus, and is to work by the side of, and in friendly accord with, Syed Ahmed Khan's [Urdu: سید احمد خان; 17 October 1817 - 27 March 1898] Mohammedan College at Aligarh [Hindi: अलीगढ़], and the numerous Christian Missionary Societies now established in India. The edition of the Yayur-veda-saṁhitā, text, commentary, and translation, is to be continued from the manuscript left by Dayānanda. Of the Rig-veda-saṁhitā, the manuscript, as prepared by him, extends to the seventh Maṇḍala only.
India is in a process of religious fermentation, and new cells are constantly thrown out, while old ones burst and disappear. For a time this kind of liberal orthodoxy started by Dayānanda may last; but the mere contact with Western thought, and more particularly with Western scholarship, will most likely extinguish it. It is different with the Brāhma-Samāj, under Debendranath Tagore [Bengali: দেবেন্দ্রনাথ ঠাকুর, 1817-1905)] and Keshub Chunder Sen [Bengali: কেশব চন্দ্র সেন, 1838-1884]. They do not fear the West; on the contrary, they welcome it; and though that movement, too, may cliango its name and character, there is every prospect that it will in the end lead to a complete regeneration in the religious life of India. "[Source: Müller, F. Max (Friedrich Max) <1823-1900>: Biographical essays. - New York: Scribener, 1884. - pp. 162 - 177]
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