Swami Dayānand Sarasvatī (February 12, 1824 – October 30, 1883) was an important Hindu religious leader of his time. He is well known as the founder of the Arya Samaj, a Hindu reform movement of the Vedic tradition with which the Theosophical Society was associated from May 22, 1878 until March 1882, changing its name for a time to that of the Theosophical Society of the Arya Samaj.
Works and teachings
Dayananda advocated the doctrine of karma and skepticism in dogma, and emphasized the ideals of brahmacharya (celibacy) and devotion to God. He was the first to give the call for Swarajya – “India for Indians” – in 1876, later taken up by Lokmanya Tilak. Denouncing the idolatry and ritualistic worship prevalent in Hinduism at the time, he worked towards reviving Vedic ideologies. He promoted the equal rights of women, such as the right to education and reading of Indian scriptures, and translated the Vedas from Sanskrit into Hindi so that the common person might be able to read them.
Relationships with Theosophists
In mid-December 1879, Mme. Blavatsky persuaded A. P. Sinnett and his wife to visit with her and Col. Olcott in Benares. Sinnett wrote, "The Vizaanagram Rajah had lent her a house where, in a detached bungalow at the end of the garden, the Swami Dyanand Saraswati was staying. Madame Blavatsky raised our expectations concerning him to a very high level, but they were disappointed as he was either unable or unwilling to give us any manifestation of occult power."
In spite of all his work to revive India, Dayananda was a nationalist and had a negative view of all religions other than the Hindu. He said that the Bible contained precepts that were immoral, that Muhammad (founder of Islam) was imposter, that Guru Nanak (founder of Sikhism) was a "rogue" ignorant about the Vedas, that Jainism was "a most dreadful religion," and that Buddhism was ridiculous and "atheistic". This attitude would eventually make collaboration with the Theosophical Society's work impossible.
Attacks on Theosophical Society
On March 26, 1882, he lectured in Bombay and launched an attack denouncing the Founders and the T. S., and continued to do that in other lectures. Col. Olcott wrote that "as though possessed by some evil spirit, he repeated his insults and misrepresentations over and over again in lectures", and was surprised at "the extreme language of the Swami - who publicly called us liars and cheating jugglers".
He was a chela of the Masters of Wisdom, although eventually failed. On October 1882 Master K.H. wrote to Alfred Percy Sinnett in one of his letters about the Swami's "ferocious ambition that he mistakes for patriotism":
D. Swami was an initiated Yogi, a very high chela at Badrinath, endowed some years back with great powers and a knowledge he has since forfeited. . . . And now see what has become of this truly great man, whom we all knew and placed our hopes in him. There he is — a moral wreck, ruined by his ambition and panting for breath in his last struggle for supremacy, which, he knows we will not leave in his hands.
In 1883 Dayananda was invited by the Maharaja of Jodhpur to stay at his palace, and was eventually poisoned by the cook. Many doctors came to treat him in an attempt to save his life, but all was in vain. He was bedridden and suffered excruciating pain, his body covered all over with large bleeding sores. He died on October 30, 1883, at the age of 59.
According to Josephine Ransom,
He was a learned, powerful and provocative and and an energetic reformer. He was anxious to restore the authority of the Vedas, challenged conventional interpretations of them, and forced orhodox Pandits to discuss his challenges. He stirred many thousands of Indians from indifference to active patriotism. He was an ardent eductionalist and advocate of the freedom of women from certin diabilities, and promoted widow remarriage.
After a strenuous life, he left a great record of reform, and a shining memory in India.
- Rig-Vedâdi-Bhâshya-Bhûmika. Introduction to the Commentary on the Vedas. Translated by Ghasi Fam. Meerut, 1925.
- Sarda, Har Bilas. Life of Dayanand. Ajmer, India: P. Bhagwan Swarup, 1946. Available at Internet Archive.
- Dayananda Saraswati at CSE India Portal
- Alfred Percy Sinnett, Autobiography of Alfred Percy Sinnett (London: Theosophical History Centre, 1986), 25.
- Swami Dayanand's Charges by Colonel Henry S. Olcott at Blavatsky Study Center.
- Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 92 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 293.
- Dayananda Saraswati at Wikipedia.
- Josephine Ransom, A Short History of the Theosophical Society (Adyar, Chennai, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1938), 121-122.