Arya Samaj means ‘Society of honourable ones’. It is a modern Hindu reform movement founded in 1875 by Mula Shankara who was later known as Dayananda Saraswati (1824-1883.
It is a movement. Advocating Hindu renewal by a return to Vedic religion. It tried to defend a part of the ancient religion.
Dayananda became a Sanyasin in 1848. He met his blind Guru, Virajananda, in 1860. In 1863 he was commissioned by his Guru to preach the Vedas and he became a Sivabhakta.
He had a contact/interaction with Christian missionaries in 1866 and a change came over him. In 1872 he met members of Brahmo Samaj who influenced him greatly.
Arya Samaj’s motives & Attitudes:
- – The main motive of the Arya Samaj was ‘back to the Vedas’, return to the past along orthodox line.
- – Vedas were literally true and the ultimate source of religious authority.
- – Vedas taught monotheism and morality, not idolatry and caste discrimination.
- – India needed only Vedas as a basis for reforming society.
- – Indians must go back to the Vedas in order to improve their society, and should strip away all the wrongs that had accumulated over the centuries.
- Hindus should be proud of their past, not ashamed of it. They have Indian heritage to be proud of.
Reinterpretation of the Vedas:
1. There is only one God to be worshipped spiritually, not by images. There is no polytheism in Vedas. Many names of God are only its objectives.
2. The four Vedas are the eternal utterances of God containing all religious truth and science.
3. The Vedic mantras are the only authoritative scripture, and the Brahmanas, Upanisads, Itihasas and Puranas are unimpt.
4. The Vedas teach transmigration of souls and the law of karma. Salvation is liberation from transmigration.
5. Dayananda interpreted Homa/fire sacrifice as a means of purifying the air.
6. Vedas were to be studied by all Hindus (men and women). In classical Hinduism only the members of the three upper castes (twice-born castes are eligible to study the Vedas.
7. Dayananda encouraged the Hindus to be proud of their ancient heritage, Vedas and their infallible truths for faith and practice.
Contribution of the Arya Samaj:
1. Arya Samaj’s approach was dynamic and forceful. It was impt factor in revitalizing the Hindu community and in giving it greater self-confidence.
2. Arya Samaj introduced the rite of Suddhi (purification) as a major weapon for the readmission of Hindu converts back to Hinduism.
3. Dayananda opposed ancestral worship, pilgrimage, animal sacrifice, offering of the food to the gods in the temples, caste, child marriage and the doctrine of incarnation/avatar.
4. Arya Samaj invited all Hindus (men and women) to study the Vedas whereas orthodox Hindus allowed only men of the three upper castes to study the Vedas.
5. Arya Samaj taught new marriage laws contained in Satyartha Prakas, published in 1875. It had allowed virgin widows and widowers to re-marry.
6. Arya Samaj introduced congregational service on Sunday mornings.
7. Dayananda contributed a friendship dialogue by listening patiently the Christian missionaries wherever they met him. During the period of 1866-1873 there were 7 such meetings between Him and Christian missionaries.
8. Dayananda attacked the Brahmoism for their denial of many Hindu fundamental teachings like authority of Vedas, varna-ashrama dharma, etc.place of Hindu rishis, howsoever great. He condemned the Brahmo Samaj in various ways.
9. Dayananda, although he did not know English language, read the Sanskrit and Hindi version of Bible, wrote his Satyarthaprakasha containing his interaction with the teachings of Islam and of Christianity. He had faced Christian missionaries in no less than 20 public debates in different towns of Punjab causing suddhi movt. By drawing Hindu converts back to Hinduism.
10. Dayananda, through his Arya Samaj, tries his best to discover the ancient heritage of India from Vedic teaching & any other possible means.
Possible Reaction of the People to the Arya Samaj:
1. Being known as modern Hindu movement, it is only an outward claim but irrelevant for modern period due to its loyalty to ancient scriptures only.
2. The teachings of Arya Samaj, although claiming ‘back to the Vedas’ denied the elligibility of only twice-born caste members to study the Vedas because Arya Samaj members allowed all members of Hindus to study the Vedas. This broad-minded attitude towards the members of Sudras and others degrade the value of the ancient religious scriptural heritage, theVedas.
3. Disloyalty to Vedic religion due to its denial of the existence of pluralistic deities. Its application of philosophical approach to Vedic religion is extreme.
4. The founder, according to some opposers, was influenced easily by the new gurus and members of new movements whom he met. He looked like having no stance on his own.
5. Hindu orthodox concept on Vedas and their teachings was not applicable to those who were spiritually fed and nurtured by Upanisadic/Vedanta teachings. India needs not only Vedas but also other scriptural teachings even from other religious traditions.
6. Arya Samaj’s over emphasis on Vedas denied the value of other Hindu scriptures.
7. Eventhough, Arya Samaj recognized the presence of teaching on transmigration of souls and law of karma in Vedas the climax of these teachings are found in Upanisadics.
8. Homa sarifice is not only means of purifying the air but also worship of the god of fire, Agni.
9. As the Hindus hated attitude of other religious practitioners on conversion issue the Suddhi movement needs to be checked.
10. Doctrine of avatar, opposed by Dayananda, is a living belief of many Hindus, and it should not be discouraged.
11. Many of Arya Samaj’s teachings like new marriage laws, opposition to ancestral worship, over-emphasis on discovery of ancient heritage, are strongly opposed by many of orthodox Hindus.